John 14:1-7, 12, 27-29
“Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. You know the way to the place I’m going.” Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you have really known me, you will also know the Father. From now on you know him and have seen him.”
I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father.
“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid. You have heard me tell you, ‘I’m going away and returning to you.’ If you loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than me. I have told you before it happens so that when it happens you will believe.
Lewis & Clark set out from Illinois to find a water passage to the Pacific Ocean – the Northwest Passage. Then came the Rocky Mountains. What a daunting task paddle upstream and ultimately portage to the crest of the pass. It was Lemhi pass, between today’s Montana and Idaho, there they expected to see waterways renewed and winding down toward the Pacific. Instead they found what seemed endless mountains stretching out to the west. Had their mission failed? Should they turn around and return to President Jackson, telling him there is no waterway to the Pacific? No. They believed in their mission, which was far more than finding the Northwest Passage. They were also on a mission to chart this vast territory, discover new species, to meet new peoples, and, yes, to arrive at the Pacific Ocean. In spite of obstacles, they believed and pressed on.
I am so proud of Janna and her work to learn and use sign language. Many years ago, I learned the Sign Language for “believe.” It begins with a touch of the index finger to the forehead, then brings the hand down to clasp the other hand – a gesture of sincerity. Many translations of John 14:1 use the word “believe.” The Common English Bible uses the word “trust.” Belief is trusting in something you ascent to with your mind – mind and heart combined if you will. [Repeat the sign]
Our Lenten Theme this year stems from Jesus’ purpose of giving the disciples (and us!) what they needed to continue in the way of faith. Last week we spoke of our Need for Cleansing, based on Chapter 13. AS disciples of our Lord we need to be continually cleansed – refined if you will. This week I want us to address our Need for Belief. Notice what Jesus says in verse 29 of John 14: ”I have told you before it [that is my going away and returning to you] happens so that when it happen you will believe.”
My first question came to be, ‘belief in what?’ John 14:1 starts us off with, “Believe in God, believe also in me.” This is the grounding absolutely necessary for us to stay the course of faith, to endure the tough times, and to prosper the mission Jesus has given us. Remember, this is not merely an intellectual ascent to a doctrine. It is trusting that God is real – putting our faith in the Father, in Jesus Christ, and in the holy Spirit.
Then Jesus moves on to say there is a place for us. It is this very scripture that I use at almost every funeral and memorial service. Ultimately Jesus is saying that heaven is prepared for us. God’s house has room for us, and Jesus will come and take us to himself. What an amazing affirmation to experience when we lose a loved one. God has come to take them home.
But, given Jesus opening words in this chapter, what about a place prepared for us in Jesus’ continuing mission of bring salvation to the world? This just adds meaning – another layer – to this passage. It envisions Jesus going steps ahead of us, then inviting us to come along? Believing in Jesus – believing he has made a place for us in the future, Jesus leads us to a “way” forward as we navigate ministry in His name. This in no way detracts from the image of our ultimate place in heaven. It merely reminds us that we have a lot to accomplish in this world before we reach that heavenly rest.
So, with all this talk about belief and places prepared, Jesus says that we know the way to where he is going. Thank God for Thomas! Thomas expresses our greatest questions – vs. 5. ‘We don’t know where, so how can we know the way?’ We are so much like Lewis and Clark. The way is uncertain. Every corner brings new challenges, new obstacles. We don’t have a comprehensive map of our lives – where we’ll go and how we’ll get there. We don’t even know what today will bring. The question rings in our ears, “How can we know the way?”
John’s Gospel reveals seven “I Am” statements made by Jesus. Jesus says, I Am Bread of Life, I Am Good Shepherd, I Am the Door for the sheep, I Am the True Vine, I Am the Resurrection and the life, and I Am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. Jesus’ reply to Thomas’s question is the greatest and most comprehensive “I Am” statement in the Gospel. In John 14:6, Jesus says, “I Am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you have really known me, you will also know the Father. From now on you know him and have seen him.” The only way forward is to believe that Jesus is the Way, the truth and the life. “He is the way because in him the truth of the Father is revealed. That truth is not in concepts or ideals, but through coming to know Him, and we know Him through Jesus, so Jesus is life. Go back to John 1:4. In the Prologue to the Gospel, John says,
“In the beginning was the Word
and the Word was with God
and the Word was God.
2 The Word was with God in the beginning.
3 Everything came into being through the Word,
and without the Word
nothing came into being.
What came into being
4 through the Word was life,
and the life was the light for all people.”
The Word (capital W) is another way of referring to Jesus. Jesus is life and the life was the light for all people. The way is not a map, it is not prescribed steps. The way is a person, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. A person in whom we can trust!
In the face of the tough stuff of life we need belief – full-on trusting belief. It is like the old “trust walk” that corporate team builders used back in the seventies. One member of the team would be blindfolded. Another member of the team would lead them verbally through a maze of obstacles. The process depended on the clarity and accuracy of the one giving the directions, as well as the trust of the one receiving them. The receiver needed to listen carefully and act on what they heard. People learned to trust their team members to work together to get the job done. God asks us to take a trust walk everyday of our lives. The beauty is that the one giving instructions is God himself. Our task is to listen, believe, and act on what we hear.
The result of this belief – this trust, is magnificent. Listen again to John 14:27. “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.” It is not a coincidence that “Don’t be troubled” appears both in 14:1 and 14:27. Peace comes in the form of these bookends - don’t be troubled or afraid. Our belief and trust stand ready to open us to the peace of Christ which passes all our understandings. What Jesus was saying to the disciples, and now says to us, is ‘Step into life in Jesus’ name and truly find life.’ He is the way! Amen.