As we go through the Gospels we find the Lord using all sorts of metaphors to describe Himself, the Kingdom of God, the way we should live in relation to the two great commandments, and so on. One of the most important occurs when the Thomas gets confused about what is going to happen next and he says, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, how can we know the way?” And Jesus responds, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
As we think about that statement, “I am the Way”, we ought to try wringing from it all the meaning we can, for it is indeed a mighty assertion. Too often we reduce it to just one aspect–Jesus is how we get to heaven. It makes Him into a sort of highway that we can travel to get to the place we want to go. And that is in fact true. But I think Jesus means much more than that for us.
If Jesus is the Way we follow, is He simply like a line on a map, or is He more an example to imitate? Can we say, well, I believe in Jesus so now I can get into heaven and simply leave it like that? I don’t think so. If we’re going to walk this Way in our life, we must also act in the ways He acted when He shared this life with us. I think Eugene Peterson said it best, “To follow Jesus means that we can’t separate what Jesus is saying from what Jesus is doing and the way He is doing it.”
If you’re going to go hiking for the first time you should take time to speak to people who do it frequently. There is all sorts of information that can keep your hiking experience from from becoming painful. If you’re going to drive a car for the first time, you should learn and follow the driving habits of those who are experienced at it. If you’re going to walk the Way of Christ, you should spend the time necessary to see what that way is really like. The Way of Christ means we are to love those whom the world doesn’t much care about. The Way of Christ means we are spend time in prayer and meditation. The Way of Christ means we are to seek to heal rather than to triumph, we are to seek to do good rather than to succeed.
God came to us in Jesus. We go to God in Jesus. He is the Way for both. And the end we seek, eternity with God, can not be divorced from the means we use along the Way.
Think about that.
I apologize for not posting the last several weeks, my wife and I were on vacation. As I’ve gotten older I’ve found that I need more time just being quiet than I once did. Our vacations used to be hectic. Now they’re calmer. I like calmer.
After returning I began preparations for a celebration at church next Sunday. We are celebrating the founding of our congregation 190 years ago. The President of the AFLC will be preaching, there’ll be a meal, and visitors from all over the place are coming to share this time with us. 190 years is a long time and the people who founded this congregation way back in 1826 have long since joined the Church Triumphant in glory. We’re still here, carrying on the work of proclaiming the life giving Gospel of Jesus Christ crucified and risen for us.
It’s been a long time since our congregation was founded. And it’s been even a longer time since Jesus ascended back into heaven. Sometimes we get a little concerned about that. After all, we remember and give thanks for something that happened 2000 years ago–2000 years! Now that’s a long time isn’t it? And there are people who will say that if nothing has happened in 2000 years, nothing is going to happen. Jesus isn’t coming again and we should just get along with our lives in this world.
There have always been doubters of God in this world. David writes “the fool says in his heart there is no god”. So doubters there were even then. And others have pointed out that nothing seems to really change, so everything must just be as it is and will be in the future. There are no end of people who try to measure God by their own standards and deny Him when He doesn’t fit. To them the Lord replies, “my ways are not your ways and your ways are not my ways”.
One of the big differences between God and mankind is that we live within something we call time. Things have beginnings and endings, they come to pass and they are over. God, on the other hand, is not bound by time. He stands outside it and relates to it in a way which the human mind cannot even begin to comprehend. If we could understand God, even for a microsecond, I’m sure we would go insane. The complexity of the human brain is no more comparable to God than a one celled organism is comparable to a human being.
So how do we know that Jesus will return? It’s been a long time coming, right? And yet Peter writes that to the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day. So, in God’s eyes, even if we are to take Peter’s words literally, it’s only been 2 days since ascension. So time is not the answer to the question of how we can know that Christ will return. The answer is God’s sovereign will recorded in the Scriptures and testified to by number of kept promises we find there. In just the right time, Christ came amongst us. In just the right time, He is coming again.
I am fond of bluegrass music. We are very lucky in this part of the country to have the premier bluegrass radio station, WAMU, just down the road in Washington DC. Now their signal is not strong enough to carry the 75-80 miles across 2 mountains to my home. So they have a system which are called boosters and repeaters. In other words, there are electronic that pick up the signal they send out of Washington, boost the signal and send it on to those of us who live in the country. Were it not for the boosters and repeaters we could not pick up that station.
Now I’m sure it’s not the best analogy I could come up with, but I think it fits–you and I are the boosters and repeaters for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Two thousand years ago Christ did His work on this earth, He bore upon His holy shoulders the penalty for the sins we commit. His followers, the Apostles and their associates spread that news throughout the Mediterranean world. They told what they had seen and heard with their own senses. But all of them died and what we have left are their written witness.
Not everyone reads the written witness of these men on their own. In fact, St. Paul goes so far as to tell us that we come to believe because of what we hear. It is the living witness of living people to other living people that spread the Gospel throughout the world today. And we should do that, not by giving our opinions or our takes on things, but by repeating what the Apostles themselves told us .
As witnesses to the Good News of Christ’s sacrifice for us we have nothing new to tell anyone. What we have is the tried and true message that, as Jude says, was handed down once for all. So rather than trying to find new ways to pass on what we know, changing or omitting or adding things to make them “relevant” we would do much better to stick to the ways that we have inherited from the giants upon whose shoulders we now perch.
I’ve been following a dispute that has broken out among some of our Calvinist brethren about the definition of the relationship between the 3 persons of the Trinity. It’s kind of technical, so I won’t bother to deal with it here–there probably aren’t too many people who would find it much more interesting than watching paint dry.
But the dispute made me think about the variations and varieties of Christian theology and what that means for those of us who are followers of Jesus. I am a Lutheran. I am a Lutheran because I believe that the Lutheran Church has the purest expression of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for you. But I also recognize the many commonalities between Lutheran theology and Calvinist theology. Indeed–I go so far as to say that John Calvin was Martin Luther’s best student. Still, we do have differences.
And then there are our brothers and sisters who have an Arminian theology–the Methodists, Wesleyans, Nazarenes, etc. I have more areas of disagreement with them. And don’t start on the Roman Catholics, the Eastern Orthodox, Coptic and Assyrian Churches. And yet, we are all indeed brethren if we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead, for we are then saved. (Romans 10:9)
You see, friends, when Jesus is in the mix, those things that separate us from one another cease to seem very important. Just look at the Lord’s disciples. We have Matthew, a tax collector for Herod whose operation encouraged gouging as many people as possible. And then there is Simon the Zealot. The Zealots were a radical group opposed to Roman rule and to everyone who collaborated with the Romans. Yet here they were, following the same Lord, trusting the same Savior. And Simon didn’t even try to stick a knife in Matthew’s back. There’s something about Jesus that changes us, isn’t there.
I sometimes tell my congregation that American Christians have more in common with a Christian in Tanzania who lives in a mud hut than with the unbeliever who lives next door. When the Lord comes again and the world is remade that guy from Tanzania might very well be your next door neighbor.
In the presence of Jesus everything is different. Everything is better. Everything is forever.