26 August 2014

John 14:1-14

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (v. 6)


Caution: If you've just read this passage from John's Gospel, then certain alarm bells might be ringing. If you say these words out loud in some parts of the world today then your life could be in danger. Even in so-called liberal democracies, you'll be shouted down for daring to believe such "arrogant" claims. Claims of ultimate truth, claims of 'only one road to God', claims of one Lord being at one with the creator God, are in some places very politically incorrect and in other places blasphemous to the highest degree. It's true that there has been much damage done by the misuse of these words over the centuries, but before we truly enter into this passage we must lay all that baggage aside, find a little peace, and go back to that upper room in Jerusalem. Come and meet the Jesus who is far from the offensive arrogant dreamer often imagined by the cynics, the critics and (sadly sometimes) the Church. Hear his gentle voice: "Do not let your hearts be troubled" (v. 1).

Within this most beautiful extended passage of John's Gospel (chapters 13 to 17), we get a very intimate view of Jesus - gentle and passionate, serving and loving. And yet he also seems very much aware of the realities of the world around him: of the political forces that will have him killed; of the failures and inadequacies of his followers; of the problems and persecutions that will be faced by the Church. Above all, he is driven by an unseen purpose to give his life to ultimately be the world's healer and king. Where's the arrogance in a man who stoops to wash the dusty and sweaty feet of disciples and asks them to do likewise? (John 13:1-16). Where's offence in a man whose final commands to his friends are about loving one another and being prepared to give up their lives for that love? (John 13:34-35; 15:12-17). He who embraced the outsider, the disabled, the poor and the foreigner alike shows a humanity that our progressive culture is only beginning to catch up with. As the master who kneels at the feet of his followers, Jesus turns all our debates about power, coercion and intolerance on their heads. And everything he did and said on that night was preparing them for the criminal's death he would hold to steadfastly as his vocation and purpose in life: to meet evil head-on as God's appointed king. This is the Jesus who deserves to be taken seriously when he says that he is one with the Father God (verses 9-11).

Verse 2 of today's passage has some words that would seem oddly familiar to the disciples: 'In my Father's house there are many rooms and I'm going to prepare a place for you ...". These are almost identical to the words a proposing groom would say to his betrothed, after she has accepted the proposal. In a Jewish engagement ceremony, a young man would offer his intended bride a cup of wine. And for her to accept the wine was to accept the proposal. The groom-to-be would then have work to do, and he would promise the betrothed girl that he would return to his family home and prepare the room for them to begin their married life. When all was ready he would return to take his bride for the celebration. The disciples were clearly confused by Jesus' words on this night, but this interpretation rings true with some of his parables (eg Matthew 25:1-13), his claims to being the bridegroom (Mark 2:19-20, John 3:29, referred to in Isaiah and Jeremiah), and points ahead to a final consummation when heaven and earth will be united as one (Revelation 21): the completion of the new creation.

"No one comes to the Father except through me." This verse may offer little comfort to those who cannot yet believe in Christ. However, it's not simply about how to get to heaven (as our message is often reduced to). This teaching would be reflected upon by Jesus' friends not only over the weekend of his death, but also in the weeks that followed as he appeared to them again, and in the time after he returned to heaven, while they waited for him to "come again" and take them to himself (v.3). In the meantime, the assurance is there that Jesus doesn't leave them without communication (verses 13-14) or without the help of the Spirit (see tomorrow's passage) in the troubled time that will come.

As those disciples went on to live in the light of Jesus' resurrection, their question was never simply, 'How can we make sure we go to heaven when we die?', but more like 'How can we remain united with Christ and serve him as his kingdom continues to be born on earth?' It is in that in-between time with Jesus reigning in heaven and awaiting God's new creation on the earth that we find ourselves today. The news that it's Jesus (and not someone else) who is the way to the Father, and that it's Jesus (and not someone else) who reveals the characteristics and purposes of God ought to be good news for the whole of creation.

To Ponder

  • Jesus used to refer to the Jerusalem temple as "my Father's house" - it was the place where heaven and earth met in a special way, where God could be found living among his people. But in this passage it's clear that he means something different by it. How do you interpret Jesus' words? Where is the house of God for you?
  • Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life". What does this statement mean to you? Does it make a difference in how you live your life?
  • The Church has often been called the 'Bride of Christ'. In this time of waiting, what can we look forward to when all is ready? And how can we prepare ourselves for his coming?

Bible notes author

The Revd Andrew Murphy

Andrew Murphy is married to Emily and they have two children, Phoebe (aged 4) and Benjamin (aged 18 months). Andy is the superintendent minister of the Market Harborough Circuit (a small circuit in the south of Leicestershire, and over the border into Northants). Previously, Andy’s ministry was based in Barwell in the Hinckley Circuit for eight years. And before that, he trained at the Wesley Study Centre in Durham, close to his home-town of Consett. Andy has a passion to help God’s people grow in faith, and occasionally writes hymns, sketches and songs. Spare time includes trips to play parks, watching Disney films or Postman Pat, reading Mr Men books, visiting Middle Earth, and reminiscing over the good old days of supporting Newcastle United. In the picture, Andy is the one in blue (and the snowman’s name is Olaf)!