August 15, 2021
We at Triller house are big fans of Daniel Tiger, the popular animated kids TV show on PBS that’s essentially the modern day version of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. It’s a favorite of Noah’s and we as parents love it because it’s not only entertaining but also educational and practical. For example, we’ve been potty training all week, and as with many things in life it’s been a bit of a two steps forward one step back situation, yet Noah’s been getting the hang of it as he remembers one of Daniel Tiger’s catchiest songs. It goes, “If you have to go potty stop and go right away, flush, wash and be on your way.” It’s been super-duper helpful. And not only is he learning how to use the bathroom, he’s learning good hygiene too. So win-win-win.
Anyway, there’s another Daniel Tiger song that’s been super helpful for us as a family, and it’s one that brings Noah comfort when Callie or I leave the house for any amount of time (and I should clarify, when Callie leaves the house). It’s short and sweet and goes like this, “Grownups come back!” That’s right, grownups come back! And that little reminder, that little bite sized truth calms our little Noah’s heart and puts him at ease. After all, songs really do teach it best.
(Now hold onto that Daniel Tiger song for a moment. I will circle back to it and connect the dots here in a couple minutes.)
This summer we’ve been doing a sermon series on the “I am” statements of Jesus, and this week we’re reflecting on when Jesus says, “I am the way and truth and life.” And over the last few weeks, I’ve found this series to be deeply humbling, because I keep going into preparing these messages thinking I know how Jesus is using these “I am” statements only to find that based on the context and setting he’s using them differently than I originally thought.
He begins by saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Now, why exactly might their hearts be troubled?
Well it’s because on this night, Jesus has made it known to his disciples that he’s about to leave them, saying, “Where I am going, you cannot come.” Once again, just like last week with the vine and the branches, we find this “I am” statement within John’s Thursday Night Discourse, where John, the author of this gospel, records so much of what Jesus said to his disciples on the night before he dies. Jesus has made it clear that he’s about to leave them, not just sometime in the distant future, but in fact the very next day, telling them that where he is going, they cannot come, at least not yet.
So given that, no wonder their hearts are troubled! Here are these teenage guys, they’ve been living and eating and traveling and learning from Jesus day after day for the past few years and now Jesus is telling them he’s about to leave and they can’t come with him? My heart would be troubled too! Fear and anxiety and worry would almost certainly creep in for even the most faithful among us.
And it’s in that very moment, the disciples with all those emotions stirring within them, that Jesus says to them, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
Jesus is saying, “Even though I’m leaving for a while, I promise you, you have my word, I will come back and when I do, I’m taking you with me.” You see, this is his “Grownups come back!” moment, where Jesus is channeling his inner Daniel Tiger if you will, reminding them, comforting them that he indeed will come back.
Even more, you may have noticed there’s an interesting progression in the conversation that takes place here. Jesus says, “I will come again and take you to myself … yet he also says, you know the way to place where I am going.” Which is kind of an odd thing to say because why would Jesus need to come back and show them the way if in fact they already know it?
Well, turns out Thomas is confused a bit himself. He’s likely thinking that Jesus is talking about a literal way, a literal path, with literal Google Maps like directions, and so he asks, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
And it’s at this point that Jesus says, these famous words, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
It’s as if Jesus is gently saying to Thomas, “Hey buddy, we’ve kind already talked about this. I am coming back to get you. I’m the way to the Father. I am telling you the truth. I am the path to eternal life. Don’t let your hearts be troubled. I’m coming back and when I do, I’m taking you with me.
All put together, the setting in which we find this “I am” statement, where Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life” shows us that Jesus doesn’t so much reveal this truth about himself in order to persuade or debate with the purpose of proving that he’s the one and only way to God, true as that might be, but rather he shares this truth about himself in order to bring both his disciples and you and me, well, comfort. Comfort in knowing that he is the source of all life and truth, that he is the way, and that he will one day come again.
And so with that in mind, I want to share with you two points of application from this passage, two ways in which we can bring comfort to others through Jesus. And we’ll continue to unpack our scripture today as we go through these two points of application:
Bring Jesus’s comfort to others by reminding them of everyday gospel truths.
Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”
I’m convinced that those two commands (do not let your hearts be troubled and believe in Jesus) are connected and go hand in hand. By that I mean, the primary way in which we are comforted and therefore that our hearts may not be troubled is through belief in Jesus. That it’s through belief in Jesus and through remembering gospel truths and gospel promises that we find true and real comfort.
In other words, we need to regularly and repeatedly “gospel” ourselves and others, we’ve got to “good news” ourselves and others by remembering gospel truths.
For example, there’s a pastor in Bellevue, Washington, down the road from my previous church, by the name of Jeff Vanderstelt. He wrote a book called Gospel Fluency, the premise of book being that you and I, just like we learn English or Spanish or French or whatever, need to learn a new language, becoming fluent in speaking and remembering gospel truths.
He shares an example about his wife Jayne. Jayne was struggling with a lot of anxiety over her children, with fears ranging from, “Are my kids safe in our neighborhood?” to “Will they ever know Jesus like I do?” And all this anxiety was starting to snowball on her and overwhelm her.
And so her husband, Jeff, wanted to help her process it all and identify why she was feeling what she was feeling. More specifically, he wanted to help her see where she was experiencing unbelief, because as Jeff writes, often times feelings such as anxiety are rooted in a failure to believe a truth about the character and heart of God.
And so Jeff asked Jayne why she was feeling so anxious, and she confessed that she believed that God had stopped loving her. That he had lost control of what’s going on with her children and that He had abandoned her. No wonder she was anxious. She didn’t believe that God was in control.
Then Jeff asked her, “What do you really believe about God?” And Jayne said, “God is love.” Jeff asked Jayne what reason she had to believe that God is loving? And Jayne said, “Jesus died for me. He created the world, He overcame the Devil, he defeated sin, he rose from the grave. And he hasn’t abandoned me, in fact I have the Spirit of God in me.”
Jeff continued. So in light of that, what are you believing about yourself right now? And Jayne reflected, “I’m loved, I’m not alone – God is with me. I’m not powerless because I’m more than a conqueror through him.” And Jayne having processed all that remarked that she was now experiencing love, joy, peace and hope.”
By reflecting on gospel, biblical truths, by remembering “Who God is?” and “What he has done in and through Christ?” Jayne’s anxiety was transformed into something far, far better, love, joy, peace and hope.
Now, may that sounds too easy, or maybe even a little trite. And I by no means mean to communicate that if you’re struggling with clinical anxiety or depression that all you need to do is simply think your way out of it and voila! I know it’s not that easy.
But nevertheless, one of the most simple ways in which we can find true comfort is by fixing our eyes on Jesus, reminding others and ourselves of gospel truths, remembering and rehearsing who God is and what he has done, and how Jesus is the one who is the way and the truth and the life.
It reminds me of something that someone once said to Jesus, a man who said in Mark’s gospel, “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.” Lord, help us all overcome our unbelief.
That’s the first point of application. (Bring Jesus’s comfort to others by reminding them of everyday gospel truths.) Here’s the second:
Bring Jesus’s comfort to others by pointing them to an eternal hope and eternal life.
One of the things I’ve noticed in studying these “I am” statements consecutively is just how frequently the word life comes up. He’s the bread of life … resurrection and the life … whoever follows me does not walk in darkness, but has the light of life … good shepherd, that they may have life and have it abundantly. And now he’s the way, the truth and the life.
Life, life, life, life, life. Jesus is talking about life all the time. I think in many ways, these “I am” statement are each offering reflections of the same diamond, each filled with metaphors that are moving us towards and calling us to a belief in Jesus that leads to both an abundant, joy-filled life here on earth and eternal life as well.
And so one of the responsibilities and callings that you and I have as followers of Jesus is inviting others into and extending before them this promise of eternal life.
This summer my family and a few other families have been getting together for a weekly small group here at the park. We share a meal together, discuss a book together and then share prayer requests at the end. A few weeks ago one parent asked for prayers for a family member of theirs who was very ill, to the extent that death seemed imminent. This parent asked for prayers and also acknowledged that this family member didn’t know the Lord and didn’t have an eternal hope. Together as a group we prayed and then the night was over and that I didn’t think much more about it. Until, I heard later, that a student, from another family who’s part of our small group was hearing our prayers and on the drive home asked her parents more about it and then came up with the idea of writing this person who was ill a letter – a letter about who Jesus is, the eternal hope Jesus offers us and how this person too could share this same eternal hope by believing in Jesus’s name. Pretty cool, right? All from a middle school student. I so admired this student’s courage, creativity and love for a person they’d never met before.
And what I love about that story is that it captures the tension of our scripture today. On one hand, it highlights the conviction that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. How he’s the one and only path to eternal life and that no one comes to the Father except through him.
And yet at the same time, it also captures the beautiful reality that Jesus’s invitation is open to anyone and that there’s plenty of room for more to join. Jesus says, “In my Father’s house, there are many dwelling places.”
Years ago, Callie and I were hiking a long section of the Appalachian Trail and every 3-4 days we’d pass through a new town and there were a few times where there’d be one hotel in town, we wouldn’t have cell reception and we’d walk to the front desk, waiting with baited breath for the moment of truth, “Do you have any rooms available tonight? And then the euphoria of hearing, “Yes, we have rooms available.”
That’s how it is with Jesus and in the kingdom of God. There are plenty of guest rooms, plenty of spare linens, plenty of towels, plenty of food, an extra seat at the table waiting for you.
Jesus is the guy at the front desk, who says, “We’re glad you’re here. We’ve got a room just for you.” The same Jesus, who when he entered this world, Mary and Joseph found there was no room at the Inn. Here he is now ensuring his disciples and all who believe in his name that there’ll be plenty of room in heaven for them.
Alright, we’ve got to wrap this up, one more thing I want you to see. Towards the end of our passage this morning, Jesus says something that should make all of our heads turn.
He says, “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do, and, in fact, will do greater works than these.”
Let me repeat that. Jesus says we’ll do greater works than Jesus did.
How could that possibly be? This is a man that healed the sick, cast out demons, raised people from the dead, walked on water, fed the 5000, calmed the seas, he turned water into wine for crying out loud! How could you and I possibly do better than that?
Well, it’s because on this same night Jesus also shares with his disciples the promise of the Holy Spirit. Saying that even though he’s leaving, he’s not leaving them as spiritual orphans. No, no. Rather, we as followers of Jesus are filled with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, and so that means, wherever we go, the presence of God goes with us.
You see, Jesus, during his earthly life, took on the limitations of a human, he could only be in one place at one time, only with one group at any one time, whether he was in Jerusalem or at the temple or in a disciple’s home.
But now, some 2000 years later, followers of Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, millions of them are spread all across the entire earth, being the hands and feet of Jesus wherever they live, work, play or learn. And so friends, as you leave here today, as followers of Jesus, God’s presence goes with you, as you go to your neighborhood and places you call home, to our schools and classrooms, to the parks and coffee shops and grocery stores, to the businesses and offices, ranches and farms where you work. As followers of Jesus, everywhere you go, the presence of God goes with you, and throughout this next week, all those who are worshipping this morning in churches all across town, will go their separate ways and share gospel truths and an eternal hope, bringing Jesus’s healing wherever they live, work, play, or learn. That’s how Jesus can say, “you’ll do greater works than me.”
I’ll finish with some of Jesus’s final words to his disciples, he says this,
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”