Jesus is the Way (John 14.1-29, Isaiah 10.33-11.9)
A sermon by Lay Reader Ian Lawrie 8 November 2015
Our reading from Isaiah, part of which we often hear as Advent approaches, tells us prophetically about the coming of Jesus whose ancestor David was the son of Jesse. Isaiah pictures aspects of Jesus’ attributes and ministry which we can read in NT. However you may have noted that there is a change at verse 6 and we step forward in time when we begin to get a glimpse into Jesus’ second coming. In fact verse 11, which was not read, talks about the Lord extending his hand a second time. This leads us into our NT lesson from John’s gospel. Now here is a passage of Scripture which is full of teaching; teaching of Jesus which is both forthright and simple for those who are open to receive it. So I have picked out five main themes; ‘the way and the future’; ‘knowing the Father’; the Christian’s work on earth’; ‘Obedience’; and ‘The Holy Spirit’. And this evening we can only touch on each of these themes with a few thoughts.
Many in the Anglican Church speak about a doctrine being based on three main pillars; Scripture, tradition, and reason. Now there is clearly merit in tempering our understanding of Scripture with the understanding of our forefathers and in using the minds that God has given us. However these three pillars are not of equal standing, for it is against Scripture that our tradition and our reasoning must be tested: not the reverse, Scripture being tested against our reasoning and our culture, and where it does not fit, rejected. There is a time to believe what we cannot prove, and a time to accept when we cannot understand. And this was the place where Jesus began the teaching which we have in our NT lesson.
Jesus teaching is simple and clear even though we may not understand it. There is no doubt about his claim to be ‘The way, the truth and the life’ even though that claim may raise many questions particularly about those who have not heard the gospel or who have rejected and seek other ways to God. We can so easily diminish the power of the gospel message by suggesting, out of compassion, alternative ways to God for those who, for one reason or another, did not choose the Christian path. Such suggestions, though compassionate, are based on reason and not on Scripture. And, in consequence, human reason is being placed above the word of God. In heaven there are many mansions, said Jesus. There is room for all, but Jesus asserts that he is the way. How God will deal with those who do not choose that way is for God to decide. It is not for us to contemplate alternatives. That is why the early church was so vigorous in proclaiming the gospel. It was out of concern for those who did not know Christ Jesus.
For some, God may seem remote. As Christians we can address God as Father and our relationship with him can draw closer. But even then some fathers can seem remote and difficult to know, so the image may be marred particularly as some fathers may even present a bad example of fatherhood. It is the humanity of Jesus, his care for those in need, his love for all especially those who expressed their faith in their words and actions. All these things help us to understand the God whom we call Father: the God whom we can call ‘Abba’, that intimate name which means ‘Daddy’. And our record of Jesus life on earth and his presence within us that enables us to better understand and relate to a God who is both ‘Abba’ and also the almighty God creator of the heavens and the earth.
Verses 12-14, which tell of the potential of Christian prayer (if you ask anything in my name …), often seem to show a disparity between these words and what we see – but it is not always so! When we look carefully at these verses we can see that they are hedged by two vital phrases. Before these words comes ‘Believe me, believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me.’ It is not like the creed where we say ‘I believe in Jesus Christ.’ This is at a deeper level, for it emphasizes ‘I believe Jesus, in what he says, in what he did and in what he does.’ After these verses comes. ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments’ So these words which we read about the potential of the Christian endeavour are hedged with conditions which speak of believing Jesus, of expressing love for him and being obedient to his commands. Truly there is an enemy in the world who seeks to frustrate the Christian Church, but he is aided and abetted by the enemy within who seeks to stifle our belief in Jesus words, our love for him and our obedience. There is a time to believe where we cannot prove, and a time to accept where we cannot understand. You may recall the words of the father, who brought his son to Jesus to be healed, ‘I believe: Lord help my unbelief’.
Jesus’ disciples saw what Jesus did, but did not know how. Jesus spoke of things to come in words which they did not understand. To the best of their ability they sought to be faithful followers, but mental strength was insufficient for the task, and Jesus knew it. They needed a power and strength within them which only God could give. They needed the Holy Spirit. So Jesus promised another Counsellor, like the first, but a little different. Who was the first counsellor, why Jesus, of course! And this other counsellor, the Holy Spirit would dwell within each one of them. And so Jesus gives that assurance that he will not leave them desolate but will come to them; the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus; the Holy Spirit who will teach them and bring to their remembrance Jesus words. As we read in the Acts of the Apostles and in the epistles, this promise was for all who follow Jesus. This was the secret weapon of the church which the Devil had never anticipated. Not only was Jesus risen from the dead, but his Spirit dwelt in everyone who had welcomed him in. So he faced not one human Jesus, but millions of Christians, filled with the Spirit of Jesus, anxious to tell others the good news of the gospel.
God only gives good gifts to those who ask.