Friday 8 May 2020

I am the way, the truth, the life

The passage I have chosen to speak to you about this morning is one of the best-known passages in the New Testament, even to non-Church people, and comes from St. John’s Gospel in Chapter 14.

The scene of this story is known as the Upper Room, where Jesus was spending His last night with the Apostles for the Last Supper. Judas was about to betray Him, and would commit the greatest betrayal in history as he left the room to ‘go out into the night’ (darkness) to sell out Jesus.

Jesus knew what he was about to do and told him to do it quickly, and when Judas had left Jesus told the remaining Apostles that the time for Him to be glorified had come. 

What Jesus meant by this, it was the last time He would speak to them before He was to die.  His glory is that He is on His way to the Cross, His work on this earth is over, and the crucifixion will also bring glory to the Father.

Jesus then for the only time called His Apostles, ‘little children’; this was obviously an endearing term of affection, like a father who is about to go away from his family.  Jesus noticeably waited until Judas had left before saying it.  It is the end of a close relationship of three years and time to say goodbye.   

When Jesus tells the Apostles, he is going to leave them, they are devastated and fear for their future. He tells them He is leaving them, but they cannot go with Him.  They had only managed to stay together through His unifying spirit, otherwise they would have parted.   Peter spoke up first to plead to go with Him, but Jesus refused and even foretold what would happen to Peter.       

Perhaps you can imagine their feelings if you reflect on how people feel when a Minister, they are happy with, suddenly tells them that he is moving to another Church.  This invariably causes sadness unless there is a poor relationship.  I have experienced this on three occasions in ministry, and it is hard to disassociate oneself completely

Prior coming to Bedford, I spent the happiest and most rewarding three years of my life in a Church where I had such a happy time, with the loveliest congregation possible.  When I gave notice that I had to leave for family reasons, there were tears and much sadness, and I still have such wonderful memories of three golden years.  I am sure the Apostles had even more to grieve over.

Jesus calls on them to love one another, a fundamental principle of our faith, yet we find some awful failings to obey that command. He was calling on them to stay together and be faithful to each other, something all Christians should show as an example to the world.  So often Christians are seen to be fighting with each other, due to some following a false line of teaching and not obeying Scripture, when they should be seen as a happy family.  This is a complete turn off to people who do not normally attend Church.

When Jesus said ‘love one another’, He meant we should get along with each other.  We are not talking of physical love or even sentimental feelings, but rather fellowship, compassion, tolerance and loyalty.  We are not called upon to ‘like’ everybody, indeed, there are people in the Church you just couldn’t possibly like, they are so unlikeable. 

If we are true to our faith, we can’t be at odds with each other, yet we find people walking out of Church if they can’t get their own way, or are not given the deference they feel due to them.  We should be able to resolve any issue calmly and amicably.

When non-Church people see Christians as a mixed gathering of different ages, different sexes, different backgrounds, getting on and being happy together, they will be inspired by us and respond, but if they see us as an arguing fractious lot, falling out all the time, they will justly say ‘look at those hypocritical Christians.’  .

Jesus was speaking to His disciples, teaching and giving guidance, and that same teaching is passed down for the benefit of all Christians throughout the ages.
Jesus said, ‘do not let your hearts be troubled’.  The heart is the seat of all our emotions and when that is upset it affects thoughts and actions and causes personal disturbance. Jesus wanted to reassure them He was not forsaking them. He calls for trust in Himself as well as in God.     

Since we are also disciples of Jesus, and can rightly include ourselves in words like this, we must ask ourselves, "Is it wrong for Christians to be troubled like this? Are we expected never to succumb to moments of pressure, or to feel anxious and worried? Are we supposed to be cheerful and confident all the time?" Many Christians think this is what this verse means. But they forget that Jesus himself was not immune to this kind of reaction to pressure.

Thus, it is clear that we may expect to feel troubled at times. Christians are exposed to pressure and danger. We have the record of the epistles to confirm this. The apostles went through times of great peril, during which they feared and trembled.

He told them they were to believe in Him, as well as God. Most people believe in God, but have less thought for Jesus.  He was putting Himself alongside God and wanted them to trust Him and maintain a personal relationship.
He said there were many rooms in His Father’s house, meaning heaven, and He was going to prepare a place for them.  This meant there was the prospect of living for ever with Him there.

When Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for them, this was referring to the fact He was going to the Cross to die for the forgiveness of sins for all people, and by that death He was making it possible for them to go there.

This passage is widely quoted in funeral services when people       assume that everyone is automatically going to heaven.  I have taken thousands of funerals over the years and there has never been doubt in anyone’s mind that the deceased is going to heaven irrespective of the life led.  Nowhere in the Bible is this view upheld.  Jesus was very clear in His teaching that it certainly was not so. In parable after parable He spoke of two roads, of sheep and goats, of tares and wheat, of heaven and hell.

Whilst it may be comforting to believe that we can all get to heaven regardless of one’s beliefs, and we like to please our fellow men and women, it is quite cruel to mislead if it is not true.  It is like telling a blind person standing on the sidewalk of a major road it is safe for him to cross when ready.  If we say to someone who has no Church commitment, has only a tenuous belief in Jesus Christ, never reads a Bible or prays, that they are going to Heaven we are deliberately misleading them
In this passage before us He is talking to His followers, people
who have made a personal commitment to accept Him as Saviour.  This is why it is so important for each person to make his/her own decision whether to follow Jesus in His teaching, commands and demands He makes on us.

You see the Bible is all about commitment. We are reminded of the superficiality of commitment in our own time.  Less than 10% of people think God worthy of one hour per week to visit a Church.  Yet if you were to ask people their religion, the vast majority would reply C of E and seriously consider they were Christians.  They would be mortally offended if you suggested otherwise. Very few people seem bothered to think of Jesus, even less to do anything about it.

It is easy to say I am a Christian, easy to say I read the Bible. 95% of the population today believe as long as you are honest, kind and helpful to others and do no harm, you are a fully fledged Christian. Jesus speaks firmly and rather profoundly when He says not all who think they are to enter the Kingdom of heaven will in fact do so

In every action of life, we are confronted with a choice, where we must make a decision to do one thing or another.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus confronted us with a hard or an easy way.  He makes uncompromising and tough demands of commitment, which many people cannot take, and are not prepared to commit.     Then as now, some are ready to listen and walk with Him, learning to depend on Him, whilst others are just occasional supporters. 
The Church in general in its desire to be nice and friendly to all, with a craving to please society in general, has not always given sound teaching on this and some misguidedly preach that Jesus was giving a blank promise for everyone when He is clearly addressing His followers, and if we do not follow Him our end will not be in the rooms of His Father’s house.

If you want to go to stay at a hotel in some foreign country, you invariably go to a travel agent who arranges everything for you, and when you arrive at the hotel, they have a reservation waiting. You cannot just turn up because you think you are entitled to stay there without some preparation.

In v 4/5Jesus suggests that they know the way to the pace where he was going.  When Jesus said they knew the place where He was going, Thomas asked Him how they could know when they didn’t know the way.  This brought forth from Jesus that profound immortal statement, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’

In verse 6 Jesus makes a profound statement which goes to the heart of Christian faith and belief. He states He is the only way to God. This is not generally liked as it is seen as being too restrictive, too bigoted and intolerant, and to be judgmental is not liked.  Consequently, some clergy will not quote it, whilst others just will not accept it.  Frankly, I think if any man/woman does not accept this verse, then they should not be allowed to preach, for they are betraying the Lord who said it, and the Church which they serve.

There is always a temptation for some people to say what is popular and liked. We have to be authentic about being true to the Gospel and preach without fear, which our Lord has entrusted to us

Some time ago I went to Birmingham and had to find an address.  I asked a man walking on a road if he could tell me the way, and he answered, ‘it is pretty difficult for you to get there on your own, but I am going that way and could take you’.  He got into my car and we went directly there.  That is what Jesus does for us.  He says you can’t get there on your own, but I will direct you, guide you, and take you myself.  He is saying there is no other way.  This is an exclusive offer.
Jesus said He was the truth.  If a person is to teach moral truth that person must have an impeccable reputation and have no hidden misdoings.  Only Jesus can claim moral perfection, which is why He can say ‘I am the truth’.
Thirdly Jesus says ‘I am the life’, meaning the opposite of death.  He is the source of life and gives life to His own.  Just as death mean separation from. 

It can be very difficult to be able to proclaim to be a Christian
in this country at the present time, and many find the going too hard and strenuous and the opposition oppressive.  We have come to a state in this country now where a Christian person may not express a personal view based on sincere religious belief if it might offend someone    Any open expression of our faith is likely to lead to suspension or dismissal from work, and even the most innocuous adverse comment upon human behaviour will raise hysterical shouts of phobia or bigotry. There is so much harassment of Christians which is not reported here, and you have to listen to the American news channels to discover what is going on in this country.  This does not apply apparently to other faith speakers.    
I cannot understand how we can share in multi-faith worship and maintain Biblical integrity.   Whilst I believe we should respect other faiths and try to live amicably with them, in view of the unique teaching of our Lord that He alone is the way to God, we cannot justify sharing in multi faith services when our beliefs are so different, and it is matter of recognising the unique authority of Jesus.  Only Christianity maintains that Jesus Christ as divine and salvation was earned by Jesus on the Cross.  Jesus is quite unequivocal on this statement.
It is widely claimed, erroneously, that we all worship the same God and all religions have the same way to heaven.  Islam worships ‘Allah’ and see Jesus as a good man in the social sense, or a prophet at best.   Indeed, the Islamic faith states, ‘God has no son’, which is in direct contravention of Jesus’ nature.    We should each respect the right of the other in their belief, and try to live peacefully together.
I do admire the devotion and loyalty of Islam. Muslims are Muslims in the full sense of the word, and they find difficulty in understanding how Christians reject their faith so completely.  Why, on the Lord’s birthday so many get drunk and engage in orgies. They will fight and defend their faith, and the men will not feel embarrassed or ashamed to be seen going to worship. Put many Englishmen in a Church and they feel lost and disorientated.
It is a common perception these days that religious thoughts should not be expressed in public arena.  Christians have gone along with this and divided their lives into two spheres, spiritual and secular.  No other group would accept such a deal.  Try telling a Socialist they should keep their thoughts to themselves; or telling an LGBT activist he shouldn’t call for same sex marriage, then wait for the howls of outrage.  BUT, let a Christian state he believes in marriage as only being between a man and a woman. I was prevented from taking a funeral because a member of the deceased family knew that was my belief, even though it had nothing at all to do with the funeral. No one had the courage to support me.
We are accused of being narrow minded and improper for bringing up our children as believers, and if we should commit the ultimate crime of suggesting our faith influences how and what we teach them, and object to them being asked if they thinking they are of the right gender, we are of course a multiple of phobias.

We are allowed to visit the sick and care for the poor, as long as we don’t mention praying for them.   We are told by activists that we must allow people to make their own decision, but what they mean in effect is, as long as that fits in within what they decide.    
Jesus warns us that there must be a clear acceptance of His teaching and total obedience to it.  Just to recite a creed and attend Church is not enough. We honour Jesus by calling Him Lord and sing hymns expressive of our devotion to Him.  The lips that sing His praise should never be the lips that challenge Holy Scripture. 
The temptation for us, as Christians, is to say what makes us popular.  Too many preachers have forgotten about being authentic; about being true to the Gospel we have been entrusted with by our Lord; to be true to our values, and to proclaim them without embarrassment and fear. 
The Bible tells us we must contend for the faith once given to Christians.  The faith once given means the faith that which was given by the Apostles, who had been taught by Jesus and which was blessed by God, when the Church was first established.  Let this be the faith we adopt,  and believe and not that now being re-interpreted to suit modern culture.  Our faith is not something someone made up, it is historical and spiritual fact.
 May God bless His Word to us and enable us to give our service to Him.

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