Jesus' Most Controversial Teaching

Today's sermon.
John 14:1-7

Today we're finishing our after-Easter sermon series on the I AM sayings of Jesus. Our next series will begin June 3: "The Crown," a summer-long exploration of the monarchy of Israel. Amazing stories and a must-hear for history buffs!

Today we'll examine one of Jesus' most misunderstood, and therefore controversial, sayings: "No one comes to the Father but through me." This text is often used as a weapon by those who wish to inflict their theology on others-- people likely to ascribe to a "my way or the highway" mentality. This saying of Jesus is attractive because it seems exclusionary. If you feel superior to others as a Christian, it is easy to pull out John 14:6 and let it rip. "Hey Muslims: Jesus said no one comes to the Father but through him!" Hey Jews! Hey Buddhists! Hey Hindus! Hey everyone who is walking away from me all of the sudden! Stop and listen!

This attitude could not be any further from Jesus' intention. Jesus and his followers were Jews. Why would he invalidate his own faith? He is interested in the hearts of his followers. When we rip John 14:6 out of its context it's easily misunderstood; in its context we catch a startling glimpse into the heart of the Almighty.

Jesus and his disciples have just finished their final meal together. He washed their feet and announced that one of them would betray him. Judas left by himself into the darkness to bring the police to arrest Jesus. Now Jesus and the remaining eleven disciples are walking through Jerusalem to a garden, one of Jesus' favorite places to pray. He is ministering to the disciples, who are distraught.

"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there is room for everyone. I'll leave a place for you, and when it's ready I'll come back to get you. You know the way to the place." But one of them said, "No Lord, we do not know the way. Where's the map?GPS? Bread crumbs? Anything? How can we know the way if you will not show us?"

"I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me." This has nothing to do with outsiders or other faiths. It's very personal. He's talking to eleven people. He is speaking to their grief. A little further on in the text he says, "So you have pain now. But I will return, and I will take away your pain. I will trade your sorrow for joy, and no one will take your joy away. Ever." I read this week that the infamous "No one" of this text can also be translated as "None of you." None of you can come to the Father but through me. It's personal. There is just his remaining eleven disciples. No bigger audience.

When we are frustrated about our own faith, when we don't have it all figured out but something tells us we should, we tend to lash out. Add to that a sense of superiority and we can be downright abusive. I randomly pulled Rabbi Harold Kushner's Who Needs God off the bookshelf the other day and discovered an old Jewish parable: a disciple was frustrated with his prayer life. He couldn't figure it out, nothing he asked for happened, couldn't maintain focus, nothing worked. So he asked his teacher about it. "Pray to learn how to pray," the rabbi said.

The book went on to explore Psalm 73, written by someone who was struggling. The world was corrupt. The sleazy people prospered while the righteous suffered. He was dismayed. Check it out:

Psalm 73

Here are the most relevant points: Until I entered God's sanctuary-- remember what Jesus said? In my Father's house there is plenty of room. It's good for me to be near God. I have take my refuge in you.

"We do not know the way." Do you know who said that? Thomas. The same disciple who would later say, "Unless I see the wounds of his hands and touch his side I will not believe." The same one to whom the Risen Christ said, "Do not be unbelieving, but believing." The same one many of refer to, with a sense of superiority at times, as Doubting Thomas. The psalmist said everything changed once he entered God's house. It's good to be near God. Thomas knows that truth-- he doesn't want Jesus to leave! When Jesus is real-- right next to us in Thomas' case or in prayer or worship or service in ours it's a wonderful feeling. But when he's gone? Leaving us? Not good. No one likes feeling alone or abandoned.

And Jesus knows that. He knows Thomas' anguish. After the resurrection, before Thomas can even say to him, "Hey will you show me your wounds so I can believe?" Jesus says to him first: "See my hands. Tough my side." How much harm do we do to Jesus when we take one of his more intimate and personal statements and use it to harm and exclude others? No one comes to the Father but through me does not invalidate anyone's belief system. It validates the belief system of those eleven disciples, and everyone else who refers to themselves as Christian. Come and find God in the Sanctuary. Sure, life is unfair at times. But it is good to be near God. Worry less about others and focus on your own need to be near God's heart. There's more than enough room for everyone. As we sing at church camp every summer:

It's a big, big house, with lots and lots of rooms. It's a big, big table, with lots and lots of food. It's a big, big house, it's my Father's house.

Jesus is inviting you over, not just to visit, but to stay. A never-ending life in God's house, where it's good to be near God. Not one of you can come but through him. Everyone is welcome. In the name of the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Amen.