Date: May 7, 2023
Festival: 5th Sunday of Easter
Text: John 14:1-14
Preaching Occasion: Zion Lutheran Church, Mt. Pleasant, MI, and CTKLC
Appointed Scriptures: Acts 6:1-9; 7:2a, 51-60; 1 Peter 2:2-10; John 14:1-14
Sermon Hymn: LSB #633 At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
“I am the way, the truth, and the life,” Jesus says. The way, the truth, the life—not a way, not a truth, not a life. With such definite grammar, this means there is no other way, no other truth, and no other life that does not come from and through Jesus Christ. As Christians, we make the bold claim that Christianity is the only true religion in the world. In a world of religious pluralism—of cultural relativism—this is a bold claim to make, and it can be a dangerous claim to make. The world says every religion is just one aspect of the greater spiritual reality—that they are like blind men who are feeling different parts of an elephant—the roughness of its skin, the smoothness of its ears, or the end of its hairy tail—and so think they are touching different creatures when in truth they are feeling different textures of the same creature. So says the world about religion—Christianity is just one of many aspects of a single, spiritual reality, or one of many ways to get to “heaven.”
Yet we Christians have the audacity—the “intolerance”—to say this is a lie. “No,” Jesus says, “I AM the way… No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Buddhism cannot get you to God, nor Taoism, nor Islam, nor Hinduism, nor Mormonism, nor Sikhism, nor Wiccan, or any other kind of paganism—only those who believe in Jesus of Nazareth who is the Christ, the Son of God, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, fully God and fully man, co-eternal and co-equal with the Father, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; who descended into Hell, rose from the dead on the third day, ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, and who will come again to judge the living and the dead find the way to salvation and eternal life.
Christianity is the only religion made up of people who believe this. No one can call themselves a Christian if they do not confess this second article of the Creed alongside those that confess God the Father and the Holy Spirit. This isn’t our rule; we didn’t make it up. This is what God has laid before us in the Holy Scriptures—what Jesus says of Himself! Before Christians were even called Christians, our religion was simply called “the Way” because of this bold claim from Jesus [e.g., Acts 9:2]. We follow the Way—we follow Jesus, and we are called Christians simply because we follow the Christ, which is what Christian means: follower of Christ, people who take up their cross daily and follow Him. “Enter by the narrow gate,” Jesus said. “For the Gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” [Matt. 7:13-14].
The way that leads to life is hard and narrow. Why is it so hard to walk and stay on the trail? Because there is only one way, and that way is Jesus Christ. The way to destruction is easy and wide because there are many ways not to follow Jesus—many false religions, many idols we fear, love, and trust more than God. If you were to drive the opposite way on a one-way street, what’s going to happen? Destruction! Death! Or at the very least, a maimed body if you’re lucky enough to survive. The Holy Spirit only ever points one way, which is Jesus Christ—not to your feelings, not your good works, not some eastern religion or meditation, not to a celebrity, not to a presidential candidate, but only to Jesus. Anything else that does not point you to Jesus points in the opposite direction—the way of destruction, which is the way of the antichrist, which is that evil spirit that has already been in the world for nearly 2,000 years [1 John 2:18-26; 4:1-3] whose only motive is against Christ (that’s literally what antichrist means) and whose only goal is to point you in the other way away from Him so that you might perish. But the way of Jesus is that you believe in Him only so that you might not perish but what? Have eternal life [John 3:16].
The other bold claim we make is that only Christianity has the truth, which is absolute, not subjective. In a world of moral relativism—of our postmodern culture—the people of the world throw their hands up in the air like Pontius Pilate and say, “What is truth?” [John 18:38]. They, like Pilate, do not listen carefully to the words of Jesus just before Pilate’s dismissive question, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice” [v. 37]. Did you hear the truth? “Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.”
Last Sunday was Good Shepherd Sunday. We didn’t hear it last week, but a little later in that Gospel reading Jesus says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” [10:27]. Ah, there’s that Way again. Christ’s sheep hear His voice, and they follow no other way but where the Good Shepherd leads them—to the still waters of Holy Baptism and the pastures of the Church to be fed with His Word [Psalm 23]—because He is the Truth. This is one of many things that makes Christianity so different than every other religion because for us, truth is not a system of morals or political beliefs. No, Truth is a person, and He has a name: Jesus Christ. What is truth? Truth is Jesus Christ. Everything He says is truth. Everything He does is truth.
And finally, He is the Life. Oh, even this is controversial. The prologue to John’s Gospel says, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men” [1:4]. Only Jesus can give you life that lasts forever—not your beauty products, not diet and exercise, not capitalism, not socialism, but only Jesus. “For by Him,” writes Paul, “all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him” [Col. 1:16-17]. There’s that cheesy song that’s kind of annoying, “He’s got the whole world in His hands,” but there’s tremendous depth to that truth, isn’t there? All things were created through Him and for Him. The fact that the sun rose this morning, that the seasons continue, that the sun hasn’t exploded, or that the black hole 26,000 light years away in the centre of the Milky Way galaxy hasn’t come to earth and swallowed us whole, that you and I continue to breathe at this moment, all of life on earth and the cosmos continue to do what they were created to do because Jesus—the one through whom all things came into existence—continues to hold it all in His hands. If He were to let go, everything would cease to exist instantaneously.
But He holds it all together. Even more, He promises life that will last forever. Your good works cannot get you there; your delusion that you’re good enough to get to heaven won’t get you there either. Nor any other religion. Your good works or how good you are, or Allah, or Buddha, or Vishnu, or Lakshmi, or your pride, or any other false god we fashion with our hands all leads to the wide and easy way of destruction. Only Jesus, who is Life Himself, in whom all life subsists, can bring you to the way and truth of eternal life. When Mary Magdalene saw the risen Jesus and thought He was the gardener of the place, she really was seeing a gardener. She was seeing the Master Gardener who continues to breathe the breath of life into all creation, even you, until your room is ready.
Every way—every road—has a destination (and no, they don’t all lead to Rome). Since Jesus is the Way, where is He taking you? It’s in the same sentence: He’s taking you into the Truth and the Life. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, so this means He is taking you closer and closer to Himself until you finally comprehend and experience what Job meant when he said, “I know that my Redeemer lives… And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” [Job 19:25-26]. Every morning the sun rises and you open your eyes, you are one more mile on your way to Jesus. Pay close attention to what Jesus says in our text this morning, “In My Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also” [John 14:2-3]. Though my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God—I shall see Jesus.
As I am always fond of saying, Jesus in His ascension is not on vacation; He is at work. He’s ruling as King of the earth and the cosmos [Matt. 28:18], He’s interceding on your behalf to give you forgiveness of sins (which happens here right at this altar [Heb. 4:15-16]), and He’s preparing a place for you. Beyond that, we leave it as a mystery. We don’t know what the intermediary state is like—what it’s like that our souls will be with Jesus in heaven as our bodies remain on earth. In Revelation [6:9-11], John writes that the blood of the martyrs cry out to God for justice, so will we be conscious and aware? If so, will we be aware of events on earth, or will we not care less because we’ll be in the presence of the Lord! Or will it simply be like sleeping? Like Paul writes of those who have fallen asleep in the Lord [1 Thess. 4:13 ff.], like Jesus said of the dead girl, “The girl is not dead but sleeping” [Matt. 9:24], and that we rest from our labours [Rev. 14:13]? The unconsciousness of sleep is most plausible since this image is used more by Scripture, and the blood of the martyrs “cry out” in the same way God heard the blood of Abel when he was murdered [Gen. 4:10].
So, we know that when we die our destination is heaven—Paradise—and it will be just as if we were only sleeping when Jesus raises us from the dead. This means heaven is not your final destination, for what did we just confess in the Creed a few moments ago? “I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” For you, the final destination is not death, and it’s not even heaven, though we will certainly rest in Paradise there, whatever that looks like. The final destination of the Way is the resurrection of your body—it is your soul and body God knits back together to enjoy the fruits of eternal life in the holy city of New Jerusalem [Rev. 21]. It is in that city where these rooms Jesus is preparing awaits each and every one of you. And it is at this resurrection, the new creation with the new heavens and the new earth, where you and I shall see Jesus face to face. Though my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see Jesus.
…This is the body of Christ, “a people for His own possession” [1 Peter 2:9]. Piece by piece, He is building His Church “like living stones” [v. 5]. Living stones, my beloved. “Though you die, yet shall you live,” says the Resurrection and the Life [John 11:25-26]. Though my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see Jesus. The Church is not dying; she cannot die. Christ the Lord, the Master Builder and Gardener, is building her up into “a spiritual house” [1 Peter 2:5]. And this “spiritual” does not mean spirits without bodies, but literally people who are spirits and bodies, just as you are now, knitted back together, filled with the Holy Spirit to the brim, the Lord and Giver of life, now and forever.
We pray: May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Amen.
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