“You Know the Way”
April 20, 2008 - Fifth Sunday in Easter
“You don’t have to be crazy to drive this road, but it helps.” That sign was once actually posted on the Black Bear Road in southwestern Colorado. It’s a one-way, east to west shortcut between Ouray and Telluride. By “shortcut” you should understand “a shorter distance than driving on the paved highway,” not “a faster way to get there.”
Back in my youth in 1975, C. W. McCall immortalized the Black Bear Road in a blazingly quick spoken ballad with guitar accompaniment. As he might say, there’s no good way for me to ’splain it to ya, you’ll just have to listen sometime to this little gem of a story about a family driving an impossibly steep and curvy route up a pass, getting stuck in the mud, and finally having their jeep roll off a cliff (without them in it). The consequences of seeking a shortcut.
In our text today, the disciples fail to recognize the main road upon which they are traveling. Their confusion began back in John 13:36, when Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, where are you going?” Peter, Thomas and Philip all asked the question in different ways. They don’t really like the way things are headed, the way they’re on, so they’re looking for some kind of alternate route, some sort of shortcut.
Most of us like shortcuts, the kind that get you there faster. Coming from Springfield, I drive down 6th Street and take the crazy little cut-off to the left just after it turns into Highway 99. For some weird reason, a left off 6th Street swings me onto 5th Street, down through an industrial area, around the backside of some wetlands and out onto Bailey Hill Road headed south. It’s actually a mile longer than other routes, like my usual route home, but it’s 5 minutes faster. Less stops, less traffic.
Shortcuts through life are tempting. They tempted the disciples. Peter wanted to know where the end of the road was, but Jesus only told him the about the next dangerous curve. Peter would soon disown his Master, not just once, but three times. Peter wanted a shortcut. He would have gladly given up his life for Jesus. But now Jesus told him he was on a road leading to sin and failure.
Peter didn’t know where Jesus was going. Jesus knew Peter was definitely headed for trouble. Yet Jesus predicted Peter’s denial at the end of chapter 13 and went straight to these words at the beginning of chapter 14, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” “You’re going to fail, Peter, but do not be troubled.” Then Jesus tells Peter and all of them that, whatever else may happen, He is making a place for them, a place in His Father’s house, where there is plenty of room.
There are no real shortcuts. What there is, is grace. Grace is not a shortcut. The wonderful grace of Jesus is no easy, simple, direct route around and out of all the troubles and trials of our lives. Grace is a way, the only way, to get from the bad places we take ourselves—the Black Bear Road, stuck-in-the-mud, falling-over-the-cliff kind of places—to get from those places to the Father’s house.
That’s the promise of verse 3: “I go and prepare a place for you, and I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” It’s a promise of grace. It’s not a shortcut. It’s a promise that Jesus is going to find us wherever we have wandered, whatever trouble we’ve gotten ourselves into, and take us with Him. Where we get so confused is just where the disciples got confused. We forget or never quite understood that it’s grace. It’s Jesus who’s going to get us there.
Jesus confused the disciples when He told them, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” “You know the way.” It sounds like we should know some secret, profound set of directions for life. You know the way. Like there’s a spiritual guidebook we have that allows us to navigate safely and serenely through all the curves, detours, road blocks and dead ends we meet along the road to heaven. You know the way, or, at least, we should know it. Isn’t that what Jesus is saying?
Thomas thought so in verse 5. Jesus left something out. Maybe He just forgot. He hasn’t answered Peter’s question. They still don’t know where He’s going. Where is His “Father’s house?” The don’t know where, and they certainly don’t know the way. If you don’t know where you’re going, how can you possibly know the way to get there?
Verse 6 is one of the great central passages of Scripture. In just a few simple words, Jesus answered Thomas and spoke to all sorts of profound questions. When He said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” He told us He is, as the Nicene Creed puts it, “true God from true God.” Jesus is the way of God, the truth of God, the life of God. He is God Himself, of one being with the Father. And when He said, “No one comes to the Father except through me,” He told us as clearly can be that there is no other way, no other savior, no other God. There are not many paths up the mountain to heaven. There is only one way.
That’s all good theological information. We should spend more time on it. We should get clearer about it. We should affirm it more boldly. Jesus is God and there is no other way but Jesus to know and to come to God. It’s crucial doctrine. But the point right now is to grasp Jesus’ answer to Thomas’s complaint, “how can we know the way?” Jesus said, “I am the way…” “You know the way because you know Me,” says Jesus. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.
The disciples wanted to hear secret information from Jesus. Here’s the way to decode the hidden messages from Moses in the Torah. Here’s the way to interpret your dreams so they will guide your life. Here’s the way to pray so that God will always hear you and do what you want. Here are the mysterious symbols written into the Bible that will reveal exactly when the end is coming and what to do then. Here are 7 fool-proof guidelines to a happy marriage, 12 steps to a fruitful spiritual life, 4 simple rules for finding peace. I think that’s the sort of thing Peter and Thomas were asking for. It’s the kind of thing we look for.
Tell us the way, the secret path, and we will follow it, as diligently and relentlessly as Nicholas Cage following a hidden route to “National Treasure.” But despite all the books you can spend your money on that seem to say otherwise, there’s nothing like that in Christian faith. Jesus tried to tell His disciples. He’s trying to tell us. “I am the way,” He says and follows up in verse 7, “If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
There is no secret way to God. Ever since Jesus came (that’s why He says, “From now on…”), the way is obvious to anyone who knows Jesus. The way is Jesus. There’s nothing else to know, nothing else to discover. You don’t need to wait for or expect somebody really clever to show you something you haven’t figured out yet. The road to God is not a computer game or program that requires a brilliant teenager to tease out hidden pathways or concealed features. The way to God is Jesus, because Jesus is God.
You’re probably dissatisfied with this. Just saying “Jesus is the way” isn’t enough. We haven’t gotten very far beyond Sunday School, where children get the impression that the answer to every question is the same. You know, like the little boy who hears his Sunday School teacher ask, “What has a long, bushy tail, lives in trees, and eats nuts?” He raises his hand and says, “It sure sounds like a squirrel, but I know it’s got to be Jesus.”
“Just Jesus” feels like too simple an answer. It doesn’t really address all our concerns. It doesn’t tell us anything about global warming or divorce. We’d like a little more, please. Philip was dissatisfied too. In verse 8, he’s the third disciple to jump in with a question, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” O.K., he says, we’ll give up on where and how to get there and all that, but just give us a little more, please. Just let us see God and that will be enough. Let us know for sure that it’s all for real, that the Father is really with us, and we’ll be content.
In verse 9, Jesus answers Philip by hauling him back around to the very same point. “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you such a long time?” “You know,” Jesus says, “you know.” The Father is no great secret, no mysterious man behind the cosmic curtain, remote and invisible. “Anyone who has seen me,” says Jesus Christ, “has seen the Father.” That’s it. The whole story. The sum total of the Christian life. Know Jesus and you know God. That’s the way. That’s the truth. That’s the life. Jesus.
But how can Jesus be the answer? There are too many questions like the one the Sunday School boy tried to answer, too many dilemmas for which it seems that Jesus just can’t be the solution. Our world is too squirrelly for Jesus to be the answer to everything. With Peter and Thomas and Philip, we’re left worried that it’s just not enough. It’s why we’re still looking for other secrets, the hidden things no one’s told us yet. But we won’t find them. All there is, is Jesus. He’s the way. You already know it.
Jesus is a simple answer, an easy answer, but that doesn’t mean life is suddenly simple. Jesus is the answer to life, not a shortcut through life, or around it. Life is still complicated, hard, sometimes overwhelming. But when we trust in Christ, we know there is a way, because He is that way.
The way of Jesus is different from other ways. It’s like walking into a home store with your broken plumbing part in your hand. You will be lucky to find an employee, and then all you’ll get is the wave of a hand in some general direction, a few mumbled words that sound like “Aisle 18” and then you set out on your own, trying to find the aisle, then trying to locate the right part. But at a good store, like Jerry’s, the employee won’t just point the way, she’ll often say, “Let me take you there.” She’ll guide you to the right aisle, to the right shelf, to the right item, and then give you solid advice on how to install it. You can shop there with confidence. That’s more like Jesus. He doesn’t just point the way. He is the way.
Imagine a store even more like Jesus. The clerk doesn’t just take you to the right aisle and find you the correct replacement. She says, “O.K., now I’ll go home with you and coach while you put it in. We’ll have it installed in no time!” There she’ll be while you wield the wrench, “Remember the washer. Don’t tighten it too much. Check for leaks.” What kind of confidence would that give you? You could hardly fail. Plumbing, electric, drywall, carpentry—bring it on! With a store and employees like that behind you would be a home improvement superstar.
Jesus meant us to be spiritual superstars. Not on our own, not by our own goodness or wisdom. But with the kind of confidence He meant to give us when He said, “I am the way.” He promised He would come back and take us to place He is preparing for us. Trusting in Jesus, we know we’re going to make it, that He will bring us home. We don’t have to follow His directions and find our own way. He is our way. He won’t leave us to flounder around alone. He’s going to make sure we get where He means us to go.
Such assurance lets Jesus make the incredible promises we find at the end of our text, in verses 12-14. Those who have faith in Him will do what He did, and do even greater things. He just finished saying we could believe in Him because of the miracles He did. Now He tells the disciples they’re going to do even better.
We could talk for awhile about how it came true, how the apostles did miracles and preached to more people Jesus did, how Christian hospitals have healed millions and Christian missionaries have brought the Gospel to billions, how Christian morality has made whole countries better places to live. Christians have done greater works than Jesus did, because He is the way. He brought them there. We could talk about all those big things for quite awhile.
But look at just one small example out of our reading from Acts 7 this morning. It’s Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Here was a man who knew Jesus is the way. He trusted Jesus to be his way, trusted Him enough to stand and testify as a mob rushed him with rocks to throw. Almost his last words are an expression of complete confidence that Jesus would be his way through this, not out of it, but through it. Verse 59 says that as the stones flew, “Stephen prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’” Take me home, be my way, only you can get me there.
Yet Stephen had one more thing to say, as he lay dying in complete confidence that Jesus is the way. Jesus from the Cross said, “Father, forgive them…” and Stephen beneath the stones cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”
Jesus said, “All who have faith in me will do the works I have been doing.” That includes forgiving enemies. It includes showing kindness to strangers. It includes giving up one’s self for the sake of others. Faith in Jesus, belief that He is the way, gives us the confidence to become new people, people who look more and more like our Lord.
The promise of verses 13 and 14 seems incredible, impossible, and not at all true to experience. “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.” We know that’s not true. We’ve asked Jesus to heal people we love, to end a war, to find us a job. We ask and it doesn’t happen. What’s He mean, then? Is there some secret after all that we haven’t been told?
No, the truth of the promise lies in becoming the kind of people who know what to ask, who know what our Lord wants us to ask in His name. Stephen being stoned didn’t ask to have the rocks deflected. He didn’t ask to be made invulnerable to their impact on his flesh. He asked Jesus to receive his spirit and to forgive his enemies. Stephen had walked far enough along Jesus’ way that he knew what to ask, and Jesus did it for him.
When Jesus said, “I am the way,” He meant more than that He is a free ticket to heaven. From everything I’ve heard and read about the Black Bear Road, driving it might change your life, if you survive. The way that is Jesus will certainly change your life. Living in the promise that, by grace, you will survive, you will become a new person, a person so much in tune with Christ that you can and will ask whatever you want, and He will do it for you. The way of Jesus is the way of transformation. May you and I walk a bit further on that way today.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2008 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj