This morning’s passage finds Jesus at the table in the Upper Room with the disciples. You can also hear the clock of history counting down the moments. Jesus and his disciples are in Jerusalem. Jesus has just predicted his betrayal and Peter’s denials. There is a growing tension and a feeling of finality in the room. It is palpable. Jesus speaks, telling his disciples to not let their hearts be troubled, that his is going to prepare a place for them and that he would come back and take them to be where he would be. The disciples could not accept these words. They did not want Jesus to leave them.
Yes, they had seen Jesus heal the sick, feed the crowds, walk on water, calm the storm, cast out demons, and other acts that were beyond their wildest imagination. They had been there when Jesus’ raised Lazarus from the dead. They had been with Jesus on the side of mount and listened to him teach. They had witnessed his exchanges with Pharisees, Sadducees, and community elders that wanted Jesus to act and speak in terms to which they were most accustomed. They were there when Jesus preached and taught from a boat to crowds that had gathered along the shoreline. They had been there every step of the way. But, they were not satisfied. They still thought they needed to know more. They still longed to experience more at Jesus’ side.
Thomas asked the question that probably many of the disciples were thinking but did not have the courage to speak out loud. Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” This long into Jesus’ ministry; this long at Jesus’ side; the disciples still struggled to understand the scope of what Jesus was doing and where he was going. We listen in and Jesus answers; “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. This is one of the great “I am” passage found throughout Scripture. It is one of those moments when God reveals the heart of His nature. We hear it when God speaks to Moses and tells him that when the people asked who sent him, he is to respond that it is “I AM WHO I AM.” In Jesus’ teaching we hear him proclaim:
· “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35)
· “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
· “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.(John 10:14-15)
· “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26a)
There is exclusivity to the “I am” statements that separate Jesus from being a pious itinerant teacher and makes it crystal clear that he and the Father are one and the same. Jesus is the bread of life that satisfies our spiritual hunger and nourishes our soul. Jesus is the light in the darkness and the shepherd that sacrifices himself for his flock. Jesus is way to life now and life forever with God. In our passage we again hear his exclusive claims. Jesus teaches that he is the way, not a way or one of the ways, but the way to the Father. Alyce McKenzie, a preaching and professor at SMU sees it this way; Jesus is saying to his disciples then and now, "Come on, now. You know this. I've taught you this. We've been through this before, you and I. Hold onto this promise. It won't let you down now: 'I am the Way.' In me you see God. In me you meet and will meet God. My teachings will guide your feet. My presence will sustain your spirit. In all the twists and turns your future path may take, 'I am the Way.'"[i]
Jesus teaches that he is the truth. This sound almost startling in our world filled with uncertainties. It sounds out of step with a culture that contends that truth is relative – that you can have your truth and I can have my truth. Jesus speaks that he is the truth, not a truth or one of many truths, but the truth that leads to the Father. Jesus speaks that he is the life. Did you hear that? Jesus is the life. His words speak to more than a troubled existence or a struggle just to get by. He speaks of life, real life, a life in God and through God. It is the life that snatches sting from the pain of death; it is the life that restores us and redeems us. Life as it was intended at the moment of creation. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and the only way to the Father is through faith in Jesus. Jesus speaks; If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
You can also feel the room still as Jesus finished. Then Phillip asked the question that was on his heart and is often quietly on ours. Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Faith is hard, so Philip asked for proof. Jesus is asking them to have trust and to believe. Philip asks for some sign, some visual indication, that if they were coming to a defining moment when Jesus would leave them, that Jesus would do something to let them know that their choice to follow him was the right choice. Philip wanted to know that it was worth it, that it was worth the price. “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
Can you imagine how Philip’s question must have stung Jesus heart? After all they have been through, all that he has taught them, and after all that they have seen, this still don’t get it. 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. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? Philip’s question is at the heart of the story of Jesus. It means that he still does not understand the incarnation, that Jesus the very presence of God that had come to live and walk among us. It means that Philip still does not understand that Jesus is the great “I AM.”
So Jesus takes one more shot to teach those that had been walking with him for the past three years. They must understand this. It is essential. The dark hours are coming and they will desperately need to be able to cling to the fact that Jesus was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Listen closely to what Jesus says because it is as essential for us as it was those gathered in the Upper Room. Jesus teaches; The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Jesus was not a grand moral teacher, he was and is much more than that. Jesus was not a good man willing to suffer to show the inhumanity of how we treat each other. He was and is much more than that. Jesus is not one of the great religious icons, one of the manifestations of goodness. He was and is much more than that. Jesus was not the creator of a new religion or a new expression of Judaism. He was and is much more than that. Jesus did not come to earth to bless America and to entrust us with God’s manifest destiny to us. He was and is much more than that. Jesus was the incarnation of the God of all of creation – the God that loved us so much that he showed up and moved in among us so that he might make the way for forgiveness and our redemption. Jesus is the great “I AM,” I am in the Father and the Father is in me.
I can almost see the look on Jesus’ face when he gazes at his disciples and says; at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. Jesus reminds them of what they have seen – of God at work in their midst, and that this was just the beginning of the story. Today we listened to the testimony of our youth that God is alive and at work in their lives. Today we walked by the giant shoe box that in only two weeks has nearly three quarters filled and still more than a 100 additional pairs of shoes have been pledged. God is at work. In a few minutes we will commission Betsy Stewart for a mission exploration trip with a refugee ministry in Las Vegas. God is at work. A season of struggle has been replaced with a season of expectation. God is at work. Youth, young adults and now a mature leader among us have heard and responded to God’s call to missions and ministry. God is at work. Good Shepherd Ministries has been blessed by a grant that will allow us to touch the lives of thousands more each year. God is at work. Joyful worship fills this room. God is at work. People are coming to faith and are growing in their walk with God. God is at work. God is at work among us. God is at work in you. We are the living testimony, the walking around evidence that Jesus is the great “I AM.”
As we move toward Easter we walk with Jesus, we walk with God, who will choose a cross and nails as his testimony of love for us. In Jesus we have seen the very heart and nature of God on display. In Jesus we have seen the face of God. In Jesus we see that God of all of creation loved us so much to come and do the work of salvation that we could not do for ourselves. In Jesus we discover that the God of all of creation is now at work in and through us. Jesus is the Way to the Father. Jesus is the Truth – the eternal truth. Jesus is the Life - only way to real life now and life forever with God. Come and believe. Come and follow. Come in faith to the way, the truth and the life.
[i] Alyce M. McKenzie, “I am the Way: Reflections on John 13:1-14,” available online at http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/I-Am-the-Way-Alyce-McKenzie-05-16-2011?offset=1&max=1 on 2/21/2013