This sermon was first delivered to the congregation at the Girard First United Methodist Church on April 9, 1978. Dad subsequently shared this message with five other churches, including his home church, Trinity United Methodist Church in Youngstown, Ohio.
I would like to pose a question to you this morning. What would your reaction be if the minister of this church, or any other church, proclaimed from the pulpit that HE was The Way, The Truth and The Life? I don’t think your reaction would be very positive because you have a frame of reference with an immortal who said these very words long ago, a man called Jesus. You would doubt your minister just as many of those who heard Jesus doubted him, or had trouble understanding His meaning.
Jesus was trying desperately to make His Disciples understand who He really was, and what His mission was here on earth.
He said these words to 12 men who urgently needed direction in their lives…men who needed hope…men who needed truth, not lies from the religious and political leaders of their day…men who yearned for a lighter yoke…a better way of life.
The setting for these words by Jesus was in The Upper Room during the last Passover meal Jesus and His Disciples would have together. Jesus was trying to prepare them for the long, trying hours ahead, and for their future lives. He could see how confused and troubled they were. He told them not to be troubled. He said, “Believe in God, believe also in me. I go to prepare a place for you. I will come again and receive you unto myself that where I am, you may be also…and you know the way I am going.”
Right here was where the disciples’ confusion, apprehension and even fear became evident. It was here that Thomas said to Jesus, “Lord we do not know where you are going. How do we know the way?” And Jesus answered him, “I Am The Way The Truth and The Life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.”
Isn’t it puzzling? Jesus had issued each one of the twelve men in that Upper Room a simple command, “Follow Me.” And they rose up, left home, family, and friends and followed Him. Now, after being with Jesus all this time, after seeing Him heal the sick, the blind and the infirm, after seeing Him calm a raging sea, after listening to His preaching and watching His life style, they puzzled over His words. And today, many of us are having the same problem. We don’t know The Man From Galilee as well as we would like to. We yearn to know Him better, to become as much like Him as we can.
We can be fairly certain of the salient points of Jesus’s earthly life. We know of His birth under most unusual circumstances at Bethlehem. We read of His parent’s concern when they had to return to the Temple to seek Him out and find Him among the priests and scribes discussing theology. He was just a boy, but even then he amazed his parents by saying He was going about His father’s business.
Jesus grew up as other boys grow, increasing in stature, strength, maturing in wisdom and ripening into favor with God. In our mind’s eye we see young Jesus working in his father’s carpenter shop at Nazareth as he broods over the burdens of His people, troubled over their sins and sorrows, his mind filled with a longing to help them.
One day he learns of the stir caused by a dramatic, to-the-point, fire and brimstone preacher called John the Baptist. He travels to hear this preacher and persuades him to baptize him in the Jordan River.
As He rises up out of the river we read what happened in the third Chapter of Mathew, the 16th and 17th Verses: “And Jesus, when He was baptized went straightway out of the water; and lo the heavens were opened unto Him and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lightning upon Him; and lo a voice from heaven saying, ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.'”
Right after this He is immediately led out into the wilderness, there to be tempted by Satan himself. While in the wilderness those 40 days and nights, Jesus suffered hunger as he was taunted by Satan to turn stones into bread and eat. But Jesus resisted and answered, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.”
Then Satan took Him into the Holy City, and in effect said, “Here’s a terrific publicity stunt. To prove you are truly The Son of God, jump off the pinnacle of the temple because it is written that angels will catch you in their hands and you won’t be hurt.” But, Jesus said to Satan, “It is also written that thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” Then Satan tried again. He took Jesus up on a high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world. And Satan told Him that all these kingdoms would belong to Jesus if Jesus would bow down and worship him. But Jesus said, “Get thee hence, Satan. For it is written that Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and only Him shalt thou serve.” Then Satan left him and the angels came and ministered unto him.
After baptism and the 40 days and nights in the wilderness, Jesus leaves His family and the carpenter shop to teach what he terms “The Abundant Life” which is possible in what he calls “The Kingdom of God”. He demonstrates such amazing healing power that throngs follow Him wherever He goes. They listen intently as His teaching parables speak their language, the language of the farmer, the shopkeeper, the rich, the poor, the infirm, the tax collector, and yes, even the prostitute. They listen. They watch. and they tell others, “Come and listen!” His popularity grows and opens the way for possible political leadership. But, He turns away from the cheering crowds and takes a course that He knows will most surely lead Him to His death on the cross. He is determined to die to save His people. His motive and goal is love. His mission is salvation. But He is either loved and adored or feared and hated.
Jesus, living as a mortal, was beset with the pains and hungers that beset us all. He was human enough to say on at least one occasion, “I thirst.” He became angry enough at one point to physically drive the money changers and peddlers out of the temple. In Gethsemane just before His arrest he told his disciples that, “His soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death.” Later on, as He prayed while the Disciples slept, his anguish was displayed as he said, “O my Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me, Nevertheless, not as I wilt, but as thou wilt.” And, as he hung on the cross he cried out, “My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?”
Yes, Jesus knew what it was to be a mortal. He lived among us. He was beset with the “ills of man”, but He so triumphed over all of them that we never read anything about Him talking about His health. He was tempted, as we are, yet He sinned not. He lived with His people under oppressive conditions – harassed by officials of state and church, but His spirit was never broken. He was a patriot, but He was no narrow nationalist. He died not only for His friends and His people and for us, but also for His enemies. As He was dying on the cross He said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” What compassion! He was offered a crown of gold but it did not tempt Him. Instead, he chose a crown of thorns and faced the cross, but it did not harden or break His heart. He lived what He taught, and He died for what He lived.
An ancient Roman who became interested in Christianity came to the conclusion that it would amount to nothing. He said, “It will never succeed because it is founded upon a catastrophe. It is founded upon the death of its own leader. It will never last.”
Well, he and countless others would be quite right if the story had ended at the cross and a sealed tomb. If that was “the end” it certainly would be “the end” for all hope because the Scriptures declare, “If Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins”.
But, there is the wonder of God’s great working! The good news really begins where all the tales of men must end. It begins with Jesus death, which at the time appeared to His followers to be the end of everything they had hoped for. And it goes straight ahead to reveal its triumph in His resurrection.
It is because Jesus lived a human life in the form of a human being that His triumph over sin, pain and death takes hold of our hearts. We feel a strong and continued need for a Savior who not only tells us how we ought to feel and how we ought to live, and what we ought to be, but who has actually lived the victorious life we all long for.
Jesus is ever beyond us, yet we follow him. His perfection baffles us, yet we continually strive for that perfection. We cannot give Him up, for His everlasting love will not let us go. He died to redeem our sinful ways, yours and mine.
Is it any wonder then that we ponder, and take to our hearts the words he proclaimed so long ago, “I Am The Way The Truth and The Life. No one comes to the Father but through Me.” How true that was then. How true it is today.
A CLOSING PRAYER…
Father, help us to listen to Jesus words, “Follow me.” Help us to follow him in our daily lives. Help us to know deep in our being that he truly is The Way, The Truth, and The Life. And through Him we come unto you.
In Jesus name we pray, Amen.