Friday, May 8, 2020

Easter 5, Year A: The way, the truth, and the life (John 14:1-14)

Jesus is not one teacher among many through whom we might find the way. His Gospel is not one message among many through which we might find the truth. His life is not one life among many through which we might find the life.
Jesus is “the way, the truth, and the life.” You will not come to the Father, except through him.
Now, if that sounds offensive and scandalous, it’s because it’s supposed to sound that way.
The Gospel will always be an offense and a scandal to a world content in its own fallenness.
It is all too easy to cite this verse as we rage against the dying of the light in a world that has arrogantly shoved Jesus aside and ridiculed all those narrow-minded bigots who keep insisting that he is “the way, the truth, and the life.”
But if you’re a careful reader of the Scriptures, you can’t but notice a rather harsh reality: those most offended and scandalized by this message when it first began to be proclaimed were not the godless and the lawless, but the most devoutly religious.
Consider what happened to Paul and his companions when they came to Thessalonica and began proclaiming the Gospel.
A group of “jealous” Jews—not Romans, not Greeks, not pagans—“formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason” (Acts 17:5).
Paul and his companions are referred to as “These men who have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). The Greek term Luke employs for “turned the world upside down” is a form of the word, anastasis, literally “resurrection.” Earlier on, when the original disciples were still in Jerusalem prior to the stoning of Stephen, Luke records that the leaders of the temple establishment were “greatly annoyed” with Peter and John “because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2). By the time Paul and his company reach Thessalonica, the message that had at first “greatly annoyed” the Jerusalem establishment is now said to “have turned the world  upside down,” and, much to the annoyance of the Jews in Thessalonica, devoutly religious people, the men who have been proclaiming it throughout the region “have come here also.”

The message of Jesus and the resurrection is bound to cause an uproar and those who proclaim it can expect fierce opposition. Paul certainly understood this, and not just because of his experience in Thessalonica. But Thessalonica does provide a very clear illustration of the power of the Gospel. Read Paul’s correspondence with the believers in Thessalonica and you will learn how they endured, despite all the affliction. They received the message “with the joy of the Holy Spirit” and “became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia” (1 Thessalonians 1:6-7). In spite of the fierce opposition, which included being dragged before the city authorities and charged with sedition (Acts 17:6-7), the believers in Thessalonica persevered became a model congregation, not only hearing the word, but putting it into practice.
Paul is one of those people who would, by our post-modern standards, be considered a “polarizing figure.” His preaching divided synagogues and entire cities. But he always managed to find believers in every town, both Jew and Greek, men and women. But trouble would arise when his opponents from one town follow him into the next. The “noble” Jews in Berea “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). But the Jews from Thessalonica, upon hearing this news, roll into town to stir up trouble just as they had in their own city (Act 17:5-9).

The word of God is, indeed, a double-edged sword. With one edge, it cuts down the division between Jew and Greek, making one new man out of the two, bringing peace. With the other edge, it divides believer from non-believer, exposing the jealousy and selfish motivations of those—devoutly religious and zealous for what they believe to be the truth—but who would keep the message of salvation as their own private possession.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” says our Lord Jesus Christ. “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Yes, this is offensive. Yes, this is scandalous. But, yes, this is the Word of the Lord.
And because it is the Word of the Lord, we are called not to keep it as our own private possession, not to use it to cast aspersions on an unbelieving and godless world but, as a people set apart as God’s own possession, we are called to proclaim it to those who have not heard it and, especially, to those who don’t want to hear it, that this unbelieving and godless world might be turned outside down by the message of Jesus and the resurrection.

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