I AM: The Way, The Truth, The Life

Good morning and welcome to Journey Church.  My name is Phil.  We started Journey more than ten years ago with the purpose of helping people who are just starting, or perhaps restarting their faith discover the real Jesus.  We feel that once you know the real Jesus you will find him irresistible.  And so wherever you might be on your spiritual Journey, we are glad that you are here.

If you are newer to understanding the Bible then today’s passage we are looking at is a good one.  It’s a verse in the Bible that some have described as the entire Bible boiled down to one sentence.  This passage we are reading today is basically the entire message of the Bible and Christianity.

But – we also started this church to be able to help people who are cynical about the church or skeptical about Jesus – and this same verse we are studying today is one of those verses that people read and they say – “See – this is why I can’t be a follower of Jesus.  It makes me feel uncomfortable.  It makes me wince.   I’m not sure it aligns with my own philosophy because it sounds disrespectful of sincere believers of others faiths. It’s not nice of Jesus to say this.

And I might even agree – it’s not nice, unless he telling us the truth – and if so, then these words are far more than nice – they would be the most important words and most loving words Jesus could have uttered.

In fact-  if what Jesus is saying is true, then to NOT utter them would have been cruel and mean.

Obviously, it’s really important we understand the passage and exactly what it means.  Because here in John 14 Jesus clears the air of any ambiguity regarding how one is made right with God.

I’ll read from John 14.

1“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”

5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

What is the path to God?  Certainly you’ve asked this question, haven’t you?  I remember as a middle school student wondering about God.  I had decided that surely there must be a God, but I was unfamiliar with Christianity other than Christmas.  Surely there must be a God but if there is, How do I know Him?  How do I get to him?

What is the path to God?  If you asked a Buddhist they would explain the eightfold path to Enlightenment – right actions, right intentions, right words, right understanding….

What is the path to God?  If you asked a Muslim they would explain the five pillars of Islam – pray five times a day, give to charity, take a pilgrimage, etc.

What is the path to God?  Be a really nice person, the moralist might say.  Obey all the rules!  A Legalist might say.  Which God, a pluralist might say.  What God?  An atheist might say.

I’m thankful that 2000 years ago, my namesake asked Jesus the question.  Upon learning from Jesus that He will soon be leaving them to go to the Father, a confused Philip asks the question that every seeker of God has ever asked.  How can we know the way?

And the shocking answer from Jesus is – that the way to God is NOT by by following a path.  The way to the Father is by following a person.

Do we realize just how shocking this statement is?  Jesus didn’t come to earth to establish Jesus’ 8-step pathway to enlightenment.  He didn’t come to write out the pillars – or the path to truth.  The path to God isn’t even correct doctrine – it’s not by believing the right things – although those things aren’t unimportant.  Jesus tells us the way – the path – is a person.

The way to the Father isn’t informational.  It’s relational.  It’s not a system it’s social. It’s not a philosophy – it’s a friendship.

See if Jesus came to establish a system – the way to God – then what we do is we lay out these competing systems out on a table – or maybe we create a spreadsheet.  Christianity/ Islam/ Atheism/ Buddhism – and we begin to evaluate them – and we bring our concerns to the table.

How does each of these deal with the problem of suffering?  What do they require of me is it, reasonable?  Is it encroaching?  And like getting competing bids for a house project we lay them out and say – this one seems like we get the most out of it for a reasonable price.

Christianity is not a philosophy.  If it were – then we’d bring our own personal philosophy of life to it and see if it meshed well enough with our own ideas about life – and we ask – does this system satisfy me?  Is it doable?

But Christianity is not a path – it’s a person.

There is an incredibly interesting conversation that Jesus has with Pilate as he is being tried on trumped up charges – where Pilate asks Jesus a question that has reverberated through history – Pilate cynically asks – “Truth?  What is truth?”

“I am truth.  I am the truth”  says Jesus.  Truth has a name.  The way is huggable.  Touchable.  Nailable.  Killable.

The essence of Christianity is personal knowledge of Jesus.  Everything else comes second.

Someone might ask, Phil, isn’t the essence of Christianity obeying Jesus’ teaching?  Doesn’t Jesus say that if you love me you will obey me?

That’s exactly what he says – but obedience is secondary to loving him.  Relationship trump rules.  If we know him, and what he he is like, and his love for us, then we will become the kinds of people who naturally and easily trust him and see him as someone who knows better than we do about life and how to live in it.

Perhaps you are here today and you are thinking – “I’m interested in spiritual things – and I’m considering becoming a follower of yours Jesus, but I’m not sure I can buy into what you tell me about how to deal with enemies, love them?  Really?   I’m not sure I see eye to eye with the bible on what to do with my money, or how to view my sexuality or my dating life, or my marriage.

First things first, Jesus replies. What do you say about me?  Am I the way and the truth  and the life?  Or perhaps you view me as a life coach, or a personal assistant? Who am I to you?  What do you say about me?

Because until you believe that I am the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep?  Unless you believe that I am truth, and I am life?  Then you probably aren’t going to get answers that will make sense to you.

If Christianity were a philosophy or a collection of Jesus’ greatest teachings, then we can go to the teachings for answers, but Christianity is a relationship and so we have to go to the person first.

You ever have a moment – with a good friend or spouse, when you want to say – hey can we talk about this issue – there’s something important we need to hash out – but maybe there is an unresolved issue between you and your spouse or friend, and you are trying to deal with the business at hand but it’s going no where, right?

It’s going nowhere until maybe your spouse or friend says – listen, I know we need to figure this issue out –  but can we talk about us first?  Can we make sure we’re good?  We need to resolve this issue, I agree, but let’s resolve the issue in our relationship first.

Listen – we can bring all of our questions, our objections, the things we don’t understand or see eye to eye on with Jesus – and Jesus says – yea we can deal with all of those things, but – first things first –  How are we doing?  You and me?  Who do you say I am?

Christianity isn’t a set of teachings.  Guidelines for living.  It’s not a list of sins to avoid.   And if we try to turn it into that it will crush us and suck the life out of us.

Let me ask you a personal question that you can answer in your own heart.  Are you right now, do you feel more dead or alive on the inside.  If you had a needle – like a gas gauge –  is it pointing towards empty or full?  Are more dead than alive?

Listen – did Jesus say that he is the gateway to a listless life?  The one who believes in me will have life!  Joyless?

No – he said it would be an abundant life.  A life that stands up to this world.  A life that doesn’t melt in the heat of hardship or trial.  A life that is natural and easy even in the midst of unfavorable, even awful circumstances.

And so – if Jesus says He is the Life, then wouldn’t we say there must be something askew with us if we are feeling the needle pointing more toward listless than it is toward alive?

And so – let’s just say that if the gauge in our heart is pointing more toward empty than full, we are going to take that as a symptom that we need to carve out time this week to spend time with our Savior.

It’s important that we do.  Otherwise, we do realize, don’t we, the trap that Philip fell into is a trap we must be careful to avoid as well?

What trap?

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. 

Jesus turns to Philip – who in John is the third disciple that Jesus recruits, and says, “Philip, you’ve been with me all this time – and yet, don’t you know me yet.”

Is it possible to be with Jesus and near Jesus and listen to Jesus and watch him, and yet not know him?

Of course, you know the answer is yes.  And that’s because many of you have a story that sounds something like, “I grew up going to church, but it wasn’t until I was 25 that I really understood the message and began to follow Jesus.”

There was for you an “Aha” moment.  I remember in my own life feeling like there was a time when the knowledge I had of Jesus went from my head to my heart.”

And it might be that there are people in here now who might be in the same boat.  You have an informational knowledge of Jesus, but not a personal knowledge of him.

And what Jesus is telling Philip is, that it’s not enough.  Because the real power of Christianity is found in the pronouns.

If you say that God became flesh and dwelt among us.  That Jesus was the son of God, the savior of the world.  That he was born, that he lived, that he died and that he rose again from the dead.  That doesn’t make you a Christian.

But – If you say that God became flesh for me- and dwelt on the earth for me.  That Jesus was my savior.  That he was born for me, that he lived for me, that he died for me and that he rose again from the dead for me.  That He is my good shepherd and he will never leave me – therefore I have nothing to fear – He is with me.

The pronouns are everything – it’s the difference between being informed and being a follower of Jesus.  Who is Jesus to you?

Jesus calls us to know more than informational knowledge of Him.  He invites us to have personal knowledge of Him.

When I first met my wife Jody – the first question I asked her was “What’s you name?”  Where are you from?  San Diego? Have you been to the zoo?  What’s your favorite animal?  Informational knowledge of Jody.

About two years later I asked her another question.  Want to get married?  Have kids and stuff?  That’s personal knowledge.

How did we move from information to personal knowledge of one another?  We talked.  We became friends.  We listened to one another – We shared our hearts.   That what friends do.  Friendships change us.

How wonderful of Jesus to declare that we are his friends.   Not servants – friends.  What kind of friend?

Let me ask you, what kind of friend would you lay down your life for?  Who would you be willing to give up your life for?  Only the people in your life you love the most.

Jesus says, I’m the kind of friend who loves you enough to lay down his life for you.  And that’s exactly what he did.  He took our place on the cross.  He took the penalty for our crimes.  So that we might have life abundantly through an ongoing friendship with him.

And maybe you are thinking – yeah Phil – I know this – but is it okay for me to ask – has that information ever made it’s way from your head into your heart?

Okay Phil – I get it.  I want to get to know Jesus- how do I do this.  Let me share with you one idea that comes to us from an author named Ruth Haley Barton, in her book Strengthening the soul of your leadership.   And this might be something very different for you but hear me out and maybe it’ll be a good little spiritual exercise for you to try this week.

If you were to develop a friendship with someone here in Journey, how would you do it?  Maybe you’d start with a cup of coffee – just to hang out with one another.

I’d like to propose that you do the same thing with God this week.  Find about 15 minutes of quiet – get up before the kids – find a quiet place – and for fifteen minutes sit quietly before the Lord.

Don’t bring a list of prayer requests.  Don’t even read scripture for this time.  Sit quietly and simply ask the Lord – what do you want to talk about today?  And talk with the Lord as thoughts come to your mind.

If a person comes to mind?  Pray for them – invite that person into your conversation with the Lord.  If a scripture come to mind – meditate on it.  If nothing comes to mind – then don’t force anything.  Just sit and listen.

If words come, or if you have something to ask for – then by all means go ahead and ask for it.  But try your best to let go of this idea that, God is super busy and doesn’t have time to just sit with you – so come prepared!  Bring your lists!  No – trust that God will bring to your mind the subject he wants to chat with you about.

What would happen if you were able to cultivate that kind of friendship with God?  That you could feel certain that you have given him the chance to talk about what He wants to talk about?  How would that change your spiritual walk?  How would it change your prayer life?  Would you begin to grow in confidence that you know God and that he knows you enough to know what to talk about?

Jesus is the way and the truth and the life.  And no one comes to the Father except through him.  And that information is solid and perhaps unsettling, until you come to the place where you personally know him and what he is like and what he is up to in your life and the lives of people you love.

Does it sound too mystical?  Well, Jesus says – don’t settle for being around him and learning about him without really knowing him.

He asks Philip – is it possible Philip that you’ve been around me and don’t know me?

If it’s difficult to do the first day, try it again.  And I’m interested to hear what you discover.  See if that time spent with God in quiet personal conversation – talking only about what you feel he is bringing to mind – doesn’t open up the logjam that is keeping your head knowledge from pouring into and enriching your heart knowledge of Him.