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Easter 5, Year A: The way, the truth, and the life (John 14:1-14)
Jesus is not one teacher among many through whom we might find the way. His Gospel is not one message among many through which we might find the truth. His life is not one life among many through which we might find the life.
Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life.” You will not come to the Father, except through him.
Now, if that sounds offensive and scandalous, it’s because it’s supposed to sound that way.
The Gospel will always be an offense and a scandal to a world content in its own fallenness.
It is all too easy to cite this verse as we rage against the dying of the light in a world that has arrogantly shoved Jesus aside and ridiculed all those narrow-minded bigots who keep insisting that he is “the way, the truth, and the life.”
But if you’re a careful reader of the Scriptures, you can’t but notice a rather harsh reality: those most offended and scandalized by this message when it first began to be proclaimed were not the godless and the lawless, but the most devoutly religious.
Consider what happened to Paul and his companions when they came to Thessalonica and began proclaiming the Gospel.
A group of “jealous” Jews—not Romans, not Greeks, not pagans—“formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason” (Acts 17:5).
Paul and his companions are referred to as “These men who have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). The Greek term Luke employs for “turned the world upside down” is a form of the word, anastasis, literally “resurrection.” Earlier on, when the original disciples were still in Jerusalem prior to the stoning of Stephen, Luke records that the leaders of the temple establishment were “greatly annoyed” with Peter and John “because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2). By the time Paul and his company reach Thessalonica, the message that had at first “greatly annoyed” the Jerusalem establishment is now said to “have turned the world upside down,” and, much to the annoyance of the Jews in Thessalonica, devoutly religious people, the men who have been proclaiming it throughout the region “have come here also.”
The message of Jesus and the resurrection is bound to cause an uproar and those who proclaim it can expect fierce opposition. Paul certainly understood this, and not just because of his experience in Thessalonica. But Thessalonica does provide a very clear illustration of the power of the Gospel. Read Paul’s correspondence with the believers in Thessalonica and you will learn how they endured, despite all the affliction. They received the message “with the joy of the Holy Spirit” and “became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia” (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7). In spite of the fierce opposition, which included being dragged before the city authorities and charged with sedition (Acts 17:6-7), the believers in Thessalonica persevered became a model congregation, not only hearing the word, but putting it into practice.
Paul is one of those people who would, by our post-modern standards, be considered a “polarizing figure.” His preaching divided synagogues and entire cities. But he always managed to find believers in every town, both Jew and Greek, men and women. But trouble would arise when his opponents from one town follow him into the next. The “noble” Jews in Berea “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). But the Jews from Thessalonica, upon hearing this news, roll into town to stir up trouble just as they had in their own city (Act 17:5-9).
The word of God is, indeed, a double-edged sword. With one edge, it cuts down the division between Jew and Greek, making one new man out of the two, bringing peace. With the other edge, it divides believer from non-believer, exposing the jealousy and selfish motivations of those—devoutly religious and zealous for what they believe to be the truth—but who would keep the message of salvation as their own private possession.
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” says our Lord Jesus Christ. “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Yes, this is offensive. Yes, this is scandalous. But, yes, this is the Word of the Lord.
And because it is the Word of the Lord, we are called not to keep it as our own private possession, not to use it to cast aspersions on an unbelieving and godless world but, as a people set apart as God’s own possession, we are called to proclaim it to those who have not heard it and, especially, to those who don’t want to hear it, that this unbelieving and godless world might be turned outside down by the message of Jesus and the resurrection.
Truth and love cannot abide apart from one another
There is a world that is passing away and, along with it, all the temporal pleasures and desires which make it something less than the world God intended. The love of the Father for the world he created endures forever, and that love will abide throughout the world to come. It is the love that already abides in “whoever does the will of God” (1 John 2:17), thus making real in this world that is passing away that world which will never pass away. John writes to those in whom the Father’s love abides in varying degrees (“little children,” “young men,” “fathers”) to encourage them to continue in that love, that they might indeed “abide forever.”
This is what Jesus was praying for when he prayed not only for John and the other apostles, “but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21).
The prayer of Jesus, still fresh in John’s mind when he wrote his epistle, surpasses any mere desire on our part, noble as it may seem, for some kind of organizational unity among believers across denominational or sectarian lines. The unity for which Jesus prays, the unity which manifests God’s glory to the world, is nothing less than incorporation into the divine community itself. “The glory that you have given me I have given to them,” Jesus prays to the Father, “that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:22-23).
This is a unity that goes beyond any human-concocted scheme. It is the union established by the Father before the world began; a bond of eternal love between the Father and the Son, into which are incorporated all to whom the Son has made the Father’s name known, that is, all to whom the Son has imparted the divine nature through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Those to whom such a gift is given are the true chosen people of God in whom abides the same Spirit which revealed to Daniel the mystery of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel 2:1-30).
By contrast, the one who walks apart from Christ is like the pitiful “wise men” of Babylon, groping about in the darkness, “not know[ing] where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes” (1 John 2:11). As those “wise men” were under the sentence of death before the intervention of the truly wise and righteous Daniel, so are we all under the sentence of death before the intervention of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ. By his coming into the world, he has shown us the way of truth and, by his example of self-giving and self-sacrifice, demonstrated that truth cannot exist apart from love. To his apostles, he imparted the very word which is truth, that is, the same Word of God which he himself made incarnate. He “kept them in [the Father’s] name” and “guarded them” so that “not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:12).
Pilate will later cynically ask, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Jesus has the answer. “Your word,” that is, the Word of God the Father, “is truth” (John 17:17). It is the Word that Jesus himself has made incarnate. Thus, he not only gives the answer, he is the answer. Jesus himself, the very Word made flesh, is the embodiment of the truth, the full revelation of the will and purpose of God from the foundation of the world. To be “sanctified in the truth” is to be sanctified in Christ, made holy as the Father is holy through the truth abiding in us through the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of truth” (John 14:17), whom God has sent to lead us in the way of righteousness.
To abide in Christ, the Word made flesh, the truth incarnate, is “to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6). It is an often difficult road of selfless, unconditional, sacrificial love. “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in the darkness,” John writes. “Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling” (1 John 2:9-10) because the light in which he abides is Christ himself.
Truth and love cannot abide apart from one another. Only in Christ are the two made one; and only in Christ may we be sanctified in the truth to shine forth the glorious light of his love.
You are what you worship
I have long believed the adage, “You are what you worship.” Whatever you establish in your life as your god, you will eventually become like it. When the Israelites grew weary of waiting for Moses to come down from the mountain they rebelled against God and created for themselves a golden calf to worship. When Moses finally did come down, the Israelites were behaving like the animal they were worshiping. The same is true whenever people turn from the worship of the living God and turn instead to the worship of created things.
Psalm 135.15-18 confirms this:
The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
they have eyes, but do not see;
they have ears, but do not hear,
nor is there any breath in their mouths.
Those who make them become like them,
so do all who trust in them!
It is sheer folly on the part of fallen human beings to think we can create a god in our own image. The end result is not a living god who frees us to become all we were intended to be, but a mute, blind, deaf idol who enslaves us to our basest instincts and vilest passions. The god we thought we had created in our image conforms us, instead, to its image: mute, blind, deaf, and dead!
Conversely, when we turn from false idols to the true and living God, worshiping him in spirit and in truth, loving him with our whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, we become like him: holy, righteous, loving, and truly alive!
Indeed, we are what we worship. Whether or not we worship the Creator or the creature, we cannot ultimately escape the reality that we are created beings who bear the image of Whoever or whatever we place at the center of our lives.
Embracing chaos and confusion: The fallen worldview of theological revisionists (with a word of caution to the rising generation of ACNA clergy)
Theological revisionists have, over the years, perfected a way of broaching the issue of homosexuality (and other forms of sexual brokenness that make up an ever expanding alphabet soup of virtuous vices) that is long on emotion and short on substance. Veterans of the ecclesiastical wars that have been fought over the last half century are hardly impressed, much less persuaded, by the now worn out refrain that this is a “very painful and complicated issue.” The rising generation of clergy in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), however, have lately shown themselves to be disturbingly susceptible to the siren call to be more “winsome” when engaging the revisionists who continue to beat the drum of “very painful and complicated.”
A word of caution, therefore, is warranted to our young colleagues about the dangers of too soon abandoning the field of battle when the real conflict has barely even begun. The real issue at stake, both now and in the stormy decades preceding, has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with who we are as the church and how we propagate the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ in the midst of a secularized culture that is increasingly hostile toward and bigoted against that Gospel.
Veterans and rookies alike would do well to remember that sex (and the various perversions of it that have challenged the church over the last half century) is merely the presenting issue, that is, the point of engagement for a much deeper argument.
Human sexuality, placed within the wider context of the doctrine of creation, is a relatively simple matter. God created human beings, male and female, in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:27). In marriage, as ordained by God, that image and likeness is given full expression as two human beings, male and female, become one flesh (Genesis 2:24). For Adam and Eve, prior to the Fall, their relationship with God and with one another was one of idyllic, blissful perfection. They “were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25).
“Pain” and “complication” came with the Fall. Yielding to the Serpent’s deception (which entailed perverting one simple commandment of God into a complicated set of rules and regulations), Adam and Eve rebelled against God and threw all of creation out of harmony with God’s design. Sin so darkened the minds and hardened the hearts of many that even the simplest elements of God’s will became not only difficult but impossible for them to comprehend. “Claiming to be wise,” Paul says, “they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and reptiles” (Romans 1:22-23).
At the root of all human sinfulness is idolatry, “exchang[ing] the truth about God for a lie and worship[ing] and serv[ing] the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). Absent the truth about God, human beings are also absent the truth about themselves. The result is utter confusion, ultimately manifest in the abandonment of the most basic of all human relationships.
“For this reason,” Paul continues, “God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:26-27).
When the debate over homosexuality began, it was a basic conflict between two competing views of morality. But morality must have some objective basis, so traditionalists soon began attempting to elevate the discussion to one of the authority of Scripture in matters of faith and practice. In so doing, they exposed the revisionists’ true agenda, which was not to legitimize a sinful behavior, but to neutralize and denigrate the Word of God and all the essential doctrines emanating from it.
Revisionists, in a manner that was skillful only in their own eyes, first twisted the meanings of particular Scripture passages, then claimed they had been “mistranslated,” and finally abandoned them altogether as “antiquated.” It serves no purpose simply to quote Scripture to revisionists. To them, it has no authority, particularly with regard to their favorite sin.
What is left for traditionalists is the doctrine of creation and the Fall. The fact that God created human beings male and female ought to speak for itself. Yet, revisionists have even found a way to get around this inconvenient reality. Once again, it goes back to their rejection of the authority of Scripture. As they reject the New Testament implications of the Fall (as articulated by Paul and other writers), so they reject the Old Testament foundations for it, as well. Revisionists who reject the notion that God’s original design was a good and perfectly ordered creation will likewise reject the notion that the present creation is something less than God intended. Thus, revisionists will inevitably reject any notion of a final restoration of creation and of final judgment.
Revisionists are left to offer nothing but a moribund apologetic for the present state of creation. Homosexuality and other expressions of human brokenness are seen not as impediments to be overcome by the grace of God, but as gifts from God to be celebrated. God is neither the loving Father who created human beings in his own image, nor the righteous Judge to whom all human beings must one day give account. Rather, he is a generic deity who may have had a hand in creating the world but tends not to have much interest in its redemption, unless it involves eliminating the so-called “bigotry” of those who tenaciously hold on to the notion that he loves sinners so much that he sent his Son to die for them on the cross.
Ultimately, revisionists are left to embrace nothing but chaos because they have no sense of direction. They do not know where they came from and do not care to know where they are going.
Yes, homosexuality is “painful and complicated,” but only for those who are too obstinate to accept the truth about it and, thus, suffer the devastating effects of sin in their lives. For in rejecting the truth about homosexuality, revisionists reject the truth about God; and in rejecting the truth about God, they reject his offer of forgiveness and new life in his Son Jesus Christ, who came to save, heal, and restore a creation which was serene and in perfect harmony with God’s simple yet profound design before sin made everything “very painful and complicated.”
It is not easy to be “winsome” when reminding a world awash in hyper-sexualization that its present course can only lead to destruction. But the somber task of declaring the bad news that the wages of sin is death often falls upon the church in order that it may ready a people to receive the Good News that the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord (cf. Romans 6:23).
Demas syndrome: A love affair with the present world
To be “in love with this present world,” like Paul’s former companion Demas, is to be deceived by its illusions. Demas deserted Paul in his hour of greatest need, much like the disciples deserted Jesus during his hour of trial. In fact, Paul writes, “At my first defense, no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me.” All of his fair weather friends, it seems, turned out like Demas. They loved “this present world” too much to sacrifice their livelihood for the hope of the world to come. But, in true Christ-like fashion, Paul says, “May it not be charged against them!”
Paul was ready to endure whatever suffering “this present world” could inflict upon him. His wayward companions seemed lacking in perseverance. Being “in love with this present world” clouds one’s perception of things. From a “this present world” perspective, the natural is the reality, not the spiritual. Thus, one can, as Jesus says, “see a cloud rising in the west” and “say at once, ‘A shower is coming.’ And so it happens,” and “see the south wind blowing” and “say, ‘There will be scorching heat, and it happens.” In other words, one can discern all the natural phenomena of “this present world” but be completely blind to the true spiritual climate of “the present time.”
Jesus’ words were a stark warning to a generation blissfully unaware of its impending doom. They could judge by natural appearances, but they could not discern their own sorry spiritual predicament, punctuated by their inability to recognize who Jesus was and what his coming meant. They were all too eager to receive a Messiah who would inflict violence upon their enemies and free them from foreign rule. They were not prepared, however, for a Messiah who would bring division within their own households. But Jesus emphatically declares, “I came to bring fire on the earth,” and the first to get burned will be the household of Israel itself. His coming means not peace, but division, “three divided against two and two against three, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
This is what might be called a perfect division; the kind of division which can only come from the One who wields the double-edged sword of the Word of God. It is not what those “in love with this present world” expected from the Messiah. They expected him to take on Israel’s enemies. They did not expect him to take on the enemy within. But that is exactly what Jesus came to do. He came to cleanse the temple and drive out those who had turned it into a den of robbers. The ones he came to judge first were those who should have known better. But they were “in love with this present world” and did not realize their love affair was little more than a form of spiritual adultery.
Not one, but many
He is the ultimate end times villain: a monstrously evil one-world dictator who rules in the final days before the end of the world. Depending on your theological persuasion, believes are either severely persecuted during his reign or safely whisked away in the “rapture” before he rises to power.
That is the “antichrist” of popular Christian folklore. The real “antichrist,” as actually described in Scripture, is a a little less threatening, but far more subtle, presence.
The term “antichrist” itself appears only in the first and second letters of John. It does not appear in Daniel, Revelation, or any other apocalyptic or prophetic books. Paul does not use the term, and neither do any of the Gospel writers. When John uses the term in his epistles, he is referring specifically to schismatic elements who “went out from us [the gathered faithful], but they were not of us” (1 John 2:19). They are possessed of a spirit that does not confess Jesus as having come in the flesh, that is, they deny the Incarnation, the Word made flesh (cf. 1 John 4:3). The term “antichrist” is, for John, primarily of theological, not political, import.
It is significant to note that John refers not only to “the antichrist” but to “many antichrists” (cf. 1 John 2:18) who had already come at the time he was writing. Antichrist’s name is Legion. He is not one, but many. Unlike the truth, which is singular, falsehood comes in many forms. Thus, while the fullness of the truth is embodied in the one Lord Jesus Christ, falsehood cannot be embodied in a singular entity. Attempting to identify one person as “the antichrist,” the embodiment of all that is false, is a futile endeavor. For just as “many antichrists” had come in John’s day, so many more have come in our day. Their names, however, are of little significance. In the end, they will all be brought to nothing by him who has the Name above every name, the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ.
Herod’s ignominious end
Herod’s reign came to an ignominious end “because he did not give glory to God” (Acts 12:23). No doubt he gloried, instead, in his own vanity, relishing the accolades of the crowd shouting, “The voice of a god, and not a man!” (Acts 12:22). It was precisely the kind of praise Herod wanted from “the people of Tyre and Sidon” who had come to him to ask for peace. It was a coerced form of praise, however. Herod staged the event. He “put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them” (Acts 12:21)
It was the perfect setting for a king to garner the praise of his fickle subjects. “Look at me!” Herod was saying. “See my flowing robes. Look at my glorious throne. Hear my voice. Am I not a god to you? Do I not deserve your praise and adoration?”
As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. Herod got the praise of the people, but his own failure to praise God cost him his life. As the people gloried in his vanity, Herod was struck down by “an angel of the Lord.” God tolerated no pretenders. To him alone belonged the glory, but his striking down of Herod was no mere act of petulant jealousy. In failing to give glory to God, Herod was failing the people. He was causing them to bow at the feet of a mere man and proclaim him a god. In pouring out his wrath upon Herod, God was showing mercy to the people who had been acting out of ignorance.
Herod’s rotting corpse was “eaten by worms.” In fact, a strict reading of the text suggests the worms starting feasting on him even before “he breathed his last.” Whatever the order of events, it was a gruesome end (cf. Acts 12:23).
“But the word of God increased and multiplied” (Acts 12:24). Did the people, having seen Herod struck down, then glorify God? Perhaps some did but, as was so often the case during Jesus’ ministry, some people were hard of hearing even when God spoke through the Person of his own Son.
Through many tribulations
Those who say the church will not have to endure tribulation are not careful readers of Scripture. Paul and Barnabas told the disciples in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch that it is “through many tribulations” that “we must enter the kingdom of God.” Paul knew this all too well, having been stoned and left for dead during his first visit to Lystra.
There is an old saying that “you have to go through hell before you get to heaven.” This is not, however, what Paul and Barnabas meant when they said “that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” Entering the kingdom of God does not simply mean going to heaven when we die. There is the promise of rest for those who have persevered and finished their course of faith on earth, but there is also a sense in which “the kingdom of God” is already present even in the midst of “may tribulations.”
The grace to persevere under trial, to keep focused on that ultimate destination, is itself a gift from God to the faithful. Through the example of suffering, the faithful bear witness to the in-breaking of the kingdom of God upon the kingdom of this world. As Jesus suffered before entering into glory, so the church shares with him in his suffering in order that she might share also with him in his glory. The kingdom of God is present in both the suffering of this life and the glory of the life to come.
The “many tribulations” which the faithful must endure are the birth pains of the new creation. The seed of the kingdom is there, planted and taking root, but the germination process will often be difficult. The sun may seem, at time, unbearably hot; the wind, intolerably strong; the storm, unceasing. Through it all, however, is the abiding, personal presence of of him who endured it all for the sake of his chosen ones. When those “many tribulations” seem intense and impossible to endure, it is his voice we hear, saying, “Peace. Be still.”
Where Christ is, there his kingdom begins.
Apostasy, resurrection, and a little common sense
In preparing them for his ordeal of suffering and death, Jesus told his disciples they would “all fall away” in fulfillment of the prophecy, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Mark 14:27). There is an element of commons sense here which is often overlooked. In Greek, the words for “apostasy” and “resurrection” are antonyms. There is the sense that one must “fall away” before one can “stand up again.” In other words, the familiar teaching in Christian eschatology that there must first be a “falling away” before the consummation of all things, that is, before the resurrection, is rooted in this very basic premise.
Jesus cast the ordeal of his suffering, death, and resurrection against the grand backdrop of God’s plan for the redemption of his creation. In the midst of his ordeal, his disciples would “fall away.” The intensity of the conflict would be such that they would abandon the faith and look instead toward self-preservation. Peter would embody this “falling away” with his three denials “before the rooster crows twice” (Mark 14:30).
Things would be quite different following the resurrection, however. Jesus assured his disciples that “after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee” (Mark 14:28). Rising from the dead, Jesus would restore the faith of those who had fallen away. The meaning and purpose of the resurrection is intensified by the fact that it would be preceded by the apostasy. Had there been no apostasy, there would have been no need for the resurrection; but because there was an apostasy, the power of the resurrection to restore all things is all the more glorious.
In order to appreciate fully what Jesus accomplished in rising from the dead, it is first necessary to realize how far we human beings have fallen from our original state of righteousness. We are children of Adam and Eve and, therefore, heirs of the great apostasy by which we lost our standing in right relationship with God. Only the cross can atone for our sin. Only the resurrection can restore our standing with God.