“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3 When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going.”
“No, we don’t know, Lord,” Thomas said. “We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.
– John 14:1-6 (NLT)
I open with some bad news and some good news.
The bad news is that Christianity in its traditional form now stands outside mainstream American culture. For those of us over fifty, this is relatively new. Cultural observers saw it coming for decades but it arrived more quickly and with greater force than any of us had anticipated. Because of this, adherents to orthodox Christianity, will increasingly experience the kinds of overt and covert persecutions reserved for cultural outsiders. The false narrative is because we stand firmly in Biblical values that we are intolerant; even haters. The false narrative is that we want to persecute and discriminate against those who reject our values and that said offenders are not welcome in our families, our lives or in our churches. According to the false narrative, traditional Christians have become terrible people overnight simply by believing what Christians have always believed and standing where Christians have always stood. The world changed; we didn’t and we are the problem. We know that narrative is absurd but sub-cultures are forced to live with the narratives forged by the larger culture. That is our new reality and if you don’t yet feel it, you will.
The good news is that Christianity thrives as a counter-culture movement!
When Christianity becomes counter-cultural, four things tend to happen:
- Nominal Christians drift away They don’t quit or formally renounce their memberships; they just slowly disappear. There can be all kinds of reasons for this but in the end, it just got too hard to hang on to something you didn’t believe all that much in the first place. We would call these folks “non-practicing Christians” or “inactive members.”
- Pragmatic Christians accommodate Historically, this is a well-intended play to make Christianity more palatable to the dominate culture. Self-appointed scholars, theologians and pastors sort of negotiate with the culture to get the “cultural barbs” out of the Gospel. They attack the credibility of the Bible, reinterpret consistent and clear teaching and claim to know the true meaning of God’s intentions better than any Christian who has ever gone before them. The theory is that you save the faith by softening it. It never works for very long and is often a slow exit ramp out of Christianity.
- Cultural Christians disaffiliate. This explains the rise in the statistical category “None.” Much has been made in the increase in Americans claiming “None” as their religious preference but these folks were never attending, volunteering or giving to churches anyway. They were not even C and E Christians. By shifting from a “Christians” to a “none” they just checked a different box on a religious survey without changing anything about the way they think or believe.
- Committed Christians lean in In challenging times, Jesus followers are more apt to truly become disciples. They ask hard questions like, “Do I really believe this stuff?” and “Are my sources for belief reliable?” They go deeper into the Bible, make a greater priority of their faith, get in small groups, volunteer more time and give more generously to the work of the church. They are more apt to lean into the power of the Holy Spirit, take their prayer lives to the next level and relentlessly evangelize. Disciples recapture the simple notion that the Gospel is “Good News!” And who doesn’t want to share good news?
When I talk about truth, I am referring to the truth about Jesus. The big “T” truth. When the New Testament offers the specific conditions for salvation, it nearly always centers around the concepts of “Believe and Receive.” We must believe that Jesus is who he says he is, act upon that belief and live in accordance with that belief. So what is it that we are supposed to believe about Jesus? So let’s begin by exploring what the Bible has to say about Jesus.
A part of the genius of Jesus was his refusal to be culturally “relevant.” The hot button issue of his time was Roman occupation and he frustrated people by his refusal to engage. When they tried to lure him into a political quagmire concerning paying taxes to Rome, he simply said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.” When they tried to frame him as a political revolutionary, he spoke of another Kingdom entirely. Instead of talking current events, Jesus dealt with universal principles like love, sin, forgiveness, restoration, use of resources, how we treat people and devotion to God. Jesus seemed to think if we got the big stuff right; the little stuff wouldn’t be all that hard. Jesus was right.
Let me tell you about the Bible’s witness to Jesus. Jesus wasn’t rich or enfranchised. There are no documents in existence that bear the claim that “Jesus wrote this” nor are their serious rumors about lost material that he may have written. What we know about Jesus’ life are primarily contained in four short biographies. Mark was written first, Matthew expands Mark; Luke is a different style all together and John was written much later and to a different audience entirely. That four people over a period of decades wrote many of the same things is compelling evidence to not only the physical life of Jesus, but what he actually said and did. There is almost no rational person in the world who believes Jesus did not exist. But what is the Biblical truth about Jesus?
Jesus entered the world in the very early years of the first century in the Galilee region of an Israel occupied by the Roman Empire. He was raised by his mother Mary and her husband Joseph in a Galilean village called Nazareth. Jesus came from an artisan class and devout Jewish family. Sometime around the age of thirty Jesus emerged as a teacher or Rabbi and his ministry quickly trended. The reason? Miracles. Jesus of Nazareth gave people their lives back. He could turn water into wine, calm storms, multiply fish and bread, cure incurable diseases, make the blind see and the lame walk, cast out demons and even raise the dead.
In addition to the forty plus recorded miracles in the Bible, we have a significant body of his teaching. If you read the red letters of the Gospels, and I suggest you do, you will find that his teaching style was provocative, his message counter-intuitive and his moral force was anti-establishment. Jesus seemed most sympathetic to those furthest from God and most critical of the religious establishment. Jesus’ teaching seemed to unravel people and his audience was often left bewildered or just plain angry. The disenfranchised flocked to him and the religious elite intuitively understood he was a threat. It doesn’t take long to see that Jesus was on a collision course with power. He was eventually charged with blasphemy by the Temple, convicted by an unconvinced Pontius Pilate and sentenced to death on a Roman cross.
It seemed like a tired plot with a predictable ending. A charismatic populist leader arises and he becomes too popular, too brazen and too difficult for the establishment to control. When he can’t be bought, the authorities kill the leader in a public spectacle and the rest just dissipate. But what they didn’t figure was that Jesus was going to raise from the dead. With Jesus undeniably alive; he commissioned his disciples, promised to return for his church and summarily Ascended into Heaven. In the aftermath, the Holy Spirit arrived, the church was born and all the sudden the stuff Jesus talked about and no one understood, made perfect sense. That is the claim about Christ but what was the claim of Christ? What did Jesus say about himself?
Our text outlines six claims like no others.
CLAIM #1: Jesus is God V. 1 Don’t be troubled. You already believe in God, so also believe in me. Throughout this section of John Jesus is consistent that “if you have seen me, you have seen the Father.”
CLAIM #2: The way to God is prepared V. 2-4 There are many rooms in God’s house and I am going to prepare one for you and when everything is ready, I will come for you and you will be with me and you will know where I am. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus prepares the way.
5 Thomas said, “We have no idea where you are going so how can we know the way?”
6 Jesus replied, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to God except through me.”
CLAIM #3: Jesus is the WAY Finding our way to God is the essence and aim of religion. Jesus said, “I am the way. You want to get to God, you believe in me, live by the values of my Kingdom and get involved in my work.” The earliest moniker we have for Christians is “The Way.” Our culture finds this claim exclusive and offensive but the Bible just can’t seem to care. We want Jesus to be “a way” or the “best way” but he leaves us no room to so categorize him. Jesus is either “the way” or “no way” but he is not “a way.”
CLAIM #4: Jesus is the TRUTH Truth in the Greek means completely true. It is the opposite of spin, which contains some truth. If you cut Biblical truth into a thousand pieces, all one thousand would be 100% true.
CLAIM #5: Jesus is the LIFE There are two features here, Jesus is absolute life and Jesus is the restorer of absolute life. Life in this sense is an existence teeming with God. This God-life was diminished by the Fall but is restored in Christ. Jesus said in John 10: 10, “I have come that you might have life and have life abundantly.”
CLAIM #6: No one comes to God but through Jesus No one comes to God but through me So there you have it! Who is Jesus? Jesus is the only way to God. Being good is not the way. Being an activist is not the way. Being religious is not the way. Being political is not the way. Having all the right answers is not the way. Being moral is not the way. Being right is not the way. Jesus is the only way to God! He doesn’t show us the road to God; he IS the road to God. That is the truth about Jesus.
We live in a time when telling the truth about Jesus hurts people’s ears but tell the truth we must. Our culture is manic, desperate, unhinged, outraged, addicted, lost and dying. Jesus declared his mission to be to, “Seek and save the lost.” And that is why we have to tell the truth about Jesus when telling the truth is hard. Only churches serving Jesus at full-strength will have the fire power to see lives transformed! Jesus is who he said he is or he is a total impostor. Jesus is either everything or nothing. There is no in-between. We can accept Jesus or reject Jesus but we don’t get to modify him.
I am not ashamed to tell the truth about Jesus Christ.
He is my everything.
He is the hope of the world.
Salvation comes from Jesus alone.
There is no other.
And that is the truth about Jesus.
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.