Scripture: John 14:1-14
The bank of England is one of the most secure buildings in the world, and it was constructed with security in mind. It was built in 1734 with walls that were eight feet thick. It was built with an intricate and proprietary lock system, which has only been made stronger with technological innovations such as voice recognition. The reason for this security is because The Bank of England is one of the largest holders of gold reserves in the world. The bank was built to be an impenetrable fortress and it prides itself on the fact that the vaults have never been robbed. However, they have been broken into. In 1836 the bank received an anonymous letter in which the author claimed they had direct access to all of the gold in the bank. Believing such a feat is impossible, the bank directors ignored the letter and considered it a prank. They then received another letter inviting the directors to come to the vault at a specific time to see how vulnerable it was. This was still believed to be a joke in poor taste, but to be better safe than sorry the bank directors gathered in the vault in the evening at the appointed time. Sure enough they heard some odd noises under them and two of the floor boards moved to reveal a man who had just successfully broken into what was the most secure vault in the world at the time.
The man was a London sewer worker who discovered an old and out of use drain pipe that led directly under the vault. The vault was thoroughly inspected to ensure the man had taken anything even though he clearly could have at any time. As a reward for his honesty and for revealing a security flaw the man was gifted 800 pounds, which if you do the conversions would be over $100,000 today. The bank of England was built to be completely inaccessible. Yet one of the least likely of people found that it actually had a single way in. This morning’s scripture reveals a similar truth. We believe in a God who created the entirety of the known universe, whose power is infinite, whose knowledge is all encompassing, and whose presence is inescapable. The sheer scope of God makes God seem beyond our understanding and comprehension. Yet, this morning’s scripture reveal that God is not impenetrable. This morning’s scripture reveals, just like the vaults of the Bank of England, there is one way to know the creator of everything and it is through Jesus the son.
This morning’s scripture reading comes from what is sometimes called the last supper discourse. All four gospels record that on Jesus’ last night before the crucifixion he gathered with his closest disciples for a meal. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke mostly focus on the sacrament of communion, but the gospel of John takes a different approach. In John’s gospel there is a chapter after chapter that record Jesus’ words to his disciples. In this discourse, Jesus seems to know that he does not have a lot of time left so he is trying to prepare them for the future that is coming. In the last supper discourse, Jesus is no longer talking in parables but he is being direct. However, the disciples are still having a hard time wrapping their minds around what Jesus is saying as evident by the grasping questions that both Thomas and Philip ask. The point that seems to have the disciples confused is summed up in verse 7: “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
It is understandable why the disciples had a time getting their head around Jesus was staying, because as Jewish people it went against what they had long been taught. The disciples would have been familiar with passages like we find in Isaiah 55:8, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. “ They would have been familiar with the story of Job and they would have been familiar with verses like Job 11:7, “Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the almighty?” The disciples would have been familiar with the story of when Moses was on Mount Sinai to receive the law. Moses was in God’s presence, but Moses only saw God’s backside because it would have been impossible to gaze upon God any closer and live. The disciples would have believed that God was good and that God was merciful, but they also would have believed that God was unknowable and that God was other and alien to their understanding.
Yet, this is not how Jesus described God the Father in this morning’s scripture. Right at the beginning of this scripture Jesus points out that God is not as distant as they might think. He tells them that God’s house has many rooms, and there is a place being prepared for them. If the disciples are going to dwell in the house of God, then God cannot be all that distant. The idea of living with the deity that they thought was beyond them left the disciples with a lot of questions. This is why Jesus follows up and tells the disciples that not only is God knowable, but they already know God. Jesus makes this clear in verses 9-10 when he said “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” and “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the father is in me?”
In this scripture Jesus reveals one of the great mysteries of our faith: God is beyond understanding and God is knowable. These statements do seem to be opposed at first yet in our faith we hold them as both true. Our understanding of God does not differ a lot from the disciples. We also affirm that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and God’s ways are not our ways. We believe that the nature of God is that God is all-powerful, all knowing, and all present. We believe that God knows the exact number of the grains of sands on every beach and the number of the stars in the skies, and we believe that God knows that because God designed and created every star and every grain of sand. The greatness, the vastness, the sheer scale of God boggles our imagination and no human language quite has the capacity to define it. Yet, at the same time we believe that not only are we known by God but that we can know God. We believe this is possible because of Jesus the son. Jesus is knowable and understandable to us because Jesus was fully human just like us. Yet, we also believe that Jesus, as the Nicene Creed states is “eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.” This means that when we know Jesus, we know God. Through Jesus the unknowable has become known, the unreachable has become reachable, and the distant has been made close. Perhaps Jesus himself said it best, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life is a claim at the heart of the Christian faith. In our increasingly pluralistic culture, claiming that through Jesus the son is the only way to know God is a somewhat controversial take. It is a belief that pushes back and challenges the attitude of the current era. However, it is also a belief that can surprisingly challenge those who believe it. There are two ways that believing that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through Jesus the son should cause us to challenge and reflect.
We have to be careful in how we understand and apply this verse. We do tend to reject the idea that if God is a mountain, then there are many paths up the mountain. Because, again we believe that Jesus is the way, that no one comes to the father except through him. There is one path but there are multiple onramps onto that path. There are many ways that someone can come to know Jesus. Some people came to know Jesus through a grandmother who loved them, nourished them, took them to church, and loved to tell bible stories. Other people find Jesus when they hit rock bottom with nowhere else to turn they finally look up and take the hand that Jesus has been offering them. Other people wrestle with a search for truth until they become convinced there is a case for Christ. Still other people find a loving church truly functions as the body of Christ and through the full acceptance of a faith community Jesus is made known. There are nearly as many different stories of coming to know Jesus as there are followers of Jesus.
Given that fact, we have to be cautious not to let this morning’s scripture to be misinterpreted as an invitation to be gatekeepers. Jesus said that the only way to the Father is through him, but he did not specify that people come to know him through a specific way. Other people have different experiences than our own, so we should not invalidate the experience of another because it is not the experience we had. There is diversity in the kingdom of heaven, and that includes the journey that got us there. Ultimately, we do believe that the no one comes to the Father except through Jesus the Son, but how we come to know Jesus can differ radically and we should celebrate that diversity.
The second way this morning’s scripture can challenge us is even more fundamental. In this scripture Jesus makes the case for how he and the Father are connected, that through knowing Jesus we know God, and how Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. So this scriptures challenges us to search our feeling and ask ourselves, do we know Jesus or do we just know of Jesus? Because knowing Jesus is more than just saying a one-time prayer. Knowing Jesus is more the claiming the name as a way to endorse a talking point. There is a difference between being familiar with the idea of Jesus and actually knowing Jesus as a person. Knowing Jesus is a relationship, and it has the potential to be the deepest relationship we can have. Remember in this morning’s scripture Jesus said, “Believe in me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” When we draw closer to Jesus, then we draw closer to God the Father the creator and maker of all things. Being a Christian is not about closing the deal on eternal fire insurance, it is about coming into the ever deeper knowing with the God who made us and loves us enough to be known by us. When we know Jesus, the love, the grace, and the forgiveness that we experience from him then we know the very love of God.
In this morning’s scripture Jesus told his closest followers that he was going to prepare a place for them in God’s heavenly kingdom, and that they could do what they always thought to be inaccessible. Moreover when they ask about this Jesus tells them that this is possible because he is the way, the truth, and the life. The disciples were there that night because Jesus had invited them each to follow him. The invitation is a standing invitation. The invite to follow Jesus and to know Jesus is open to all. If that is an invitation that you have accepted, if you have found a path to Jesus then may continue to follow the way, the truth, and the life. May your life be filled with never ending wander as you come to better know the great God of all. And if you know that you have not accept that invitation, if you have never gone from knowing of Jesus to knowing Jesus then let us some time talk about what it means to take a first step into a larger world. May we all the praise the Lord as we come to the father through Jesus the Son, and give him the glory, great things he hath done!