Thursday, June 4, 2009

A clean pair of eyes to see…The Way, the Truth, the Life

What is the Way of Jesus?

Jesus’ claim was very bold: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one can come to the Father except through me. To have seen me is to have seen the Father.” [1] What is the Way of Jesus? What is the Truth of his claim that to have seen him is to have seen the Father? What is the Life that he promises us? If our reading of Scripture is to get us beyond the surface of the words, then these questions are most important ones we must reflect upon.

The Way: “Follow me”

The invitation Jesus makes to his disciples was (is) quite simple: “Follow me.” For us to come to know the Father and to be able to become his children, we have to accept Jesus. The way to the Father is the way of Jesus. The call that Jesus addresses to us today, just as he did to his first disciples, is the same call: “Follow me.”

When we freely choose to follow Jesus, we are required to be more than a Christian in name only, or of being a passive member of a church, or learning a lot about our Christian heritage, or strictly obeying a moral code. Following Jesus involves entering into a personal relationship with him, and acknowledging him as our Lord and Savior. To follow Jesus does not mean that we are to be respectful spectators of the life of Jesus from a distance (if you will). Jesus invites us to walk alongside him in obedience and trust.

To follow Jesus involves more than taking a step on the path that he laid out for us. It also means following after him, day after day. It means constantly renewing our commitment to him. And it means modeling our lives on his. Jesus invites us not simply to “tag along for the ride”, but to imitate him in his ways and to grow up into his image. When we accept the call to follow Jesus, we make him the focus of our lives, the image constantly before our eyes. He must become our way of life.

The way to the Father is the way of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” [2] So it is that we must always turn to Jesus and accept him as Lord in order to have forgiveness of our sins and receive life. This is why his call, “Follow me” has such seriousness when we hear it. Jesus Christ was not simply a great prophet arisen among us; he is the Word of God to us, the way to the Father provided for all of humanity. Only Jesus is the Way.

The Truth: “To see me is to see the Father”

When people saw Jesus, what did they see? The outward appearance of Jesus was certainly not ‘otherworldly’. Yet when he appeared to Peter, James and John during his transfiguration on the mountain, he must have normally looked like an ordinary human being. His neighbors during his time in Nazareth apparently saw nothing extraordinary about him. Considering him to be only the son of a carpenter turned preacher, they failed to believe and have faith in him. Even his relatives were surprised that people would gather in crowds to listen to him: “He went home again, and once more such a crowd collected that they could not even have a meal. When his relatives heard of this, they set out to take charge of him, convinced he was out of his mind” [3] If his appearance had been in any way extraordinary, no doubt greater reverence, would have been shown to him.

Even after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, he did not appear to people in a dazzling light. Mary Magdalene mistook the risen Christ for the gardener [4] - something that would have been unthinkable if Jesus’ appearance was in any way extraordinary. If to see Jesus is to see the Father, we will need to go beyond mere physical appearance: Jesus looked like an ordinary human being of his time.

Perhaps the clue to seeing the Father in Jesus was (is) provided by Jesus himself: “You must believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; believe it on the evidence of this work, if for no other reason” [5] The works that Jesus did are the clue to seeing the Father.

The works that Jesus did were not mere signs and wonders – or a magic show demonstrating a superhuman power. They had a much deeper significance: they were a direct assault on the kingdom of darkness to repair the sickness and death that afflict man because of sin (from the beginning of Adam and Eve’s fall from grace). They were works of love, works revealing the Father’s love for mankind. Just as we are concerned when our children are sick or hungry; so our Heavenly Father is concerned for each and every one of us. This concern of the Father was expressed in Jesus by his works, works which revealed the Father’s love for all people.

The Life: “Love as I have loved you”

The works of Jesus - carried (carry) a special meaning for his followers. They were (are) not merely signs of God’s infinite love to be admired; they were (are) not only occasions for thanking God for his outpouring of love for us. They were and continue to be, works to be performed by all those following Jesus, in imitation of him. “I am in the Father and the Father is in me; believe it on the evidence of this work, if for no other reason. I tell you most solemnly, whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, he will perform even greater works, because I am going to the Father” [6]

The works that we are to do in imitation of Jesus are not primarily extraordinary miracles, but they are the works of love. “I give you a new commandment: Love one another. Such as my love has been for you, so must your love be for each other. This is how all will know you for my disciples: your love for one another” [7] This “new command” might not seem revolutionary to us in today’s world, but when Jesus first proclaimed it, it must have struck his disciples as new indeed.

In the Old Testament, the law read: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” [8] And whenever the law of love came up during Christ’s ministry he simply reaffirmed this Old Testament law. [9] But during the intimacy of the Lord’s Last Supper, Jesus revealed a new law for his disciples to follow: not merely love of others according to the standard by which we love ourselves, but love of others according to the new standard set by Jesus.

Jesus also demonstrated the meaning of this new command by washing the feet of his disciples before the Last Supper meal. This was a lowly service usually performed by a household slave or servant, and Peter at first rebels at this new idea. But Jesus deliberately washes their feet and then tells the disciples: “What I just did was to give you an example: as I have done, so you must do” [10] The love of Jesus was a love of humble service – a love that went (goes) far beyond simply extending a form of self-love to others. This was (and still is today) a radically self-sacrificing love.

The love of Jesus for his apostles was love to the point of death. This realization must have ‘come home’ to the apostles during the Last Supper, because they knew that it was to be literally their last meal together before Jesus died. Jesus had told them that ‘his hour had come’, that he was returning to the Father and glorification – but he was returning by way of Calvary, for their sakes (and the sake of all mankind). This too was an important part of the new command: “This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you. There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” [11] Jesus could not have made the meaning of this new commandment any clearer to his apostles than by presenting it to them on the very eve of his death. “Such as my love has been for you, so must your love be for each other” [12]

In Jesus we see the Father; in the love that Jesus has for us, we see the love that his Father (and our Father) has for us. In following Jesus we have our way to the Father. In listening to the words of Jesus and obeying them, we enter into union with the Father (through Jesus himself): “If any man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him” [13] In Jesus we have life.

Even though Jesus does not physically (in person) walk in our lives today, he is still with us, he is always our life. As he himself confessed to us, through him, we can be in union with God: “In a short time the world will no longer see me; but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will understand that I am in my Father and you in me and I in you” [14]

As the Way, the Truth, the Life, Jesus is the revelation of God come to man. He gives us not only knowledge about God, but he also gives us knowledge of God; not only a message from a God who is distant from us, but a path to our Father in heaven; not only a description of the good life that is promised to those who believe and obey, but the life itself. And we are given all this through his Holy Spirit.

[1] John 14:6, 9
[2] Acts 4:12
[3] Mark 3:20-21
[4] John 20:15
[5] John 14:11
[6] John 14:11-12
[7] John 13:34-35
[8] Lev 19:18
[9] Matt19:16-19, Luke 10:25-27
[10] John 13:15
[11] John 15:12-13
[12] John 13:34
[13] John 14:23
[14] John 14:19-20

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