The whole thing was coming “down to the wire,” as they say in horse-racing circles. These men who had followed Jesus, betting, so to speak, everything they had and were on Him, now began to see some hazards and horrors for which, quite frankly, they had not bargained.
They had followed in the confidence that here and now, in flesh and blood, Jesus was to be the bringer of a new Kingdom, something to be touched and felt and in which they could hold positions of prominence and influence, some sitting on His right hand and some on the left. So it may be safely said that from the very beginning we who follow Christ have suffered from what has come to be called “triumphalism,” earthly grandeur, blowing trumpets, with pomp and circumstance as the mission and destiny of the church.
Of late, their leader had been talking strange talk about His approaching end. Slow-witted though the disciples were, they were beginning to see for themselves that things were not going well for either their master or their cause. Disquieting rumors were coming to their ears of sinister and ominous plots against Him being planned by the authorities.
Jesus, Himself, seemed to feel from the way He talked to them that His death was only an arms-length away now. There seemed to be a crack in their own solidarity, for Judas had been acting strangely of late. Simon Peter, so bold and forward, had been told that his loyalty was in question once the storm would break.
Bewilderment and consternation sat starkly on their faces. Looking at them, Christ shows the unbelievable patience of God Himself. It was like a teacher drilling His students once again, and yet not irritably, over lessons which the pupils should know by heart.
And so He starts that 14th chapter, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Remember how I have taught you and led you. You believe in God, believe also in me. Over at Father’s house there are many rooms and I must go away. I will come back. I’ve told you so many times and in so many ways. You know where I go and you know the way. We have gone over it so many times.”
From Best Sermons 2, (c) 1989 by Harper & Row Publishers. Used by permission. Available at local book stores or call (800) 638-3030.
Thomas could not take it any longer. This loyal man felt comfortable only with the rock of solid fact beneath his feet. Thomas cried out, “Lord we know not whither thou goeth, and how can we know the way?” Then the words which form the text: “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man cometh unto the Father but by me.”
“I am the way.” Jesus is the way out. We are all captives and slaves. There is something wrong with our humanity. We feel a disquiet, a deep and true dis-ease.
We are not satisfied with what we are; we sense that we are born for some spacious destiny from which we feel somehow barred. We feel trapped and flail about in our own refined way, longing to be free.
Most recently we have thought that our way out is by acquisition, so greed has become our new religion, prettified to be sure by nice sounding political phrases uttered with a practiced unctuousness. This self-centeredness has been baptized and sanctified by the “health and wealth” TV evangelists in their worship of and service to mammon. All of this results in the greater transgression of becoming calloused to the needs of those most vulnerable in the society: the young, the old, the disabled, the disadvantaged.
What is saddest about all of this is that we are training our children to believe that worship at the altar of greed is the way out of our sense of unfilfilled destiny. A California university carried on a survey recently of more than 200,000 college students in the U.S. More than 70% said that their purpose was to make money. Less than 30% of those surveyed said that they felt a meaningful philosophy of life to be of paramount importance. What a harvest of disillusionment and collapse of the civic contract we may expect in our country!
Jesus is the way out of our foiled sense of destiny and purpose. He declares us to have august connections, a relatedness to the eternal God, intimate and abiding. We are children of a Father’s house and our ways may be ordered of the Lord. We are born for greater things than creature comfort; we are heirs of all that God has and wills. A person so believing walks with a firmer tread through the winding and often troubled ways of life.
We are the children of the God who steadily leads us onward and upward to a destiny so worthful and so wonderful that the eye of man has not seen and the mind of man cannot imagine the final issue of our days and years. Christ is the way out!
“I am the way,” says Jesus. He is the way through life’s hardness and harshness, its pain and its penalties, its fears and its failings. Jesus is the way through.
We all know full well that there are many religions and philosophies and creeds which claim to be able to spare us, to get us around the pains and problems of life. Brand any religion as false which says that it can spare its adherent the burdens and cares which are the lot and legacy, the inheritance and portion of every person born of a woman. Laugh to scorn any religion which claims it can make you able to avoid hard trials and great tribulations. This is our lot, and it is far wiser to find out, if at all possible, how to deal with these things than how to avoid them.
“Life is real, life is earnest” sang Longfellow, and it is. Our days know hardness and harshness, fear and failings, sin and sorrow, sickness and death. It is, therefore, no wonder that a wistful, and frequently anguished, note runs through the world’s noblest literature and worthiest music. Brave truth incarnate. Jesus said it to us plainly: “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” Then, joining our paltry strength to His triumphant power, He added, “but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.” Following Him, joined to Him, we may do the same.
How lustily ought we to be able to sing and to believe:
When through the deep waters, I call thee to go
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.
Yes, and He is the way in. There was a play on Broadway years ago in which the distinguished actor Louis Jourdan starred. It was called “Tonight in Samarkand.”
Sent into the village to purchase supplies for the estate, a servant is terrified at meeting death, dressed as a blonde woman wearing a trench coat, with a red kerchief around her neck. The servant is terrified and returns panting to the estate.
With terror-filled eyes and voice quaking, the servant tells his employer of his experience and then desperately asks use of the fleetest horse in the stables that he might flee from this woman, whose real name is “Death.” Permission is granted and the servant frantically races off stage. The master of the estate calls out, “but where will you flee?” “To Samarkand,” is the reply.
Later the estate owner goes into the village and meets the same woman. He asks her why she had terrified his servant. “Terrified him?” replied the trench coat wearing person. “I was the one shocked — shocked to see him here in the village when I have a date with him tonight — in Samarkand.”
And so do we all. It may be that we are not too fretful about our “date in Samarkand,” but we are greatly concerned about those whom we love and who love us, and surely about those dear souls we have “loved long since and lost awhile,” as Newman put it so unforgettably.
If Jesus told us anything at all, He told us that this world is not all; we have dual citizenship. This we know now, for Christ taught and proclaimed that this present existence is but a narrow, cramped room hardly to be compared with what else God has in store for us. He gives us no intimate details, as if to say it is all too wonderful to submit to description.
He did say that He is the way! The way home! The way to bright glory! The way to sunlit shores of an everlasting country!
Still, this is not enough. Suppose the poor pilgrims cannot find the way, though it is said that “… a highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called the way of holiness … it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein.”
Suppose we cannot find the way and cannot discover the path to glory. “I go to get things ready,” said Jesus. Still, it may be we cannot find the way! Then says the Lord, “I will come again, and receive you unto myself that where I am, there ye may be also.”
So the Shepherd will search and find His sheep “and when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbors, saying unto them, “Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.”