Sermon: Beginning, Middle, End

Father, may your Word be our rule, your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

I invite you to open your Bibles with me to John, chapter 13. John 13, beginning in verse 31. John is in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. John 13:31-14:7. As always, you are invited to leave your Bibles open as we read and study God’s word together. Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God.

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God also will glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Very truly, I tell you, before the cock crows, you will have denied me three times.”

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places, if it were not so would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And 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. And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Back in October 2017, I took a trip to Germany to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. I wanted to be in Wittenberg in the place where it began 500 years to the day when Luther posted the 95 Theses. It was a very nerdy item on my bucket list and if you don’t understand what half of those things I just said meant, don’t worry, it is not important at the moment. What is important was that I went by myself. Olga flew to Ontario, while I flew in to Berlin. It was a whirlwind trip – I spent less than 36 hours on the ground in Germany. But I had to navigate all the trains myself to get to my destination. The few times I had been in Europe was with Olga, who is much more accustomed to figuring out train schedules. I woke up around 4 AM on October 31, dressed for the church service I was planning to attend and headed to the train station. It turns out that europeans love their trains. There were easily 20 different platforms with trains coming every 10-15 minutes heading to different destinations. Also, I didn’t speak German. I needed the one train that would take me to Wittenberg. All the trains would lead me somewhere, but only one would lead me to the place I wanted to go.

We pick up the gospel story on the very evening in which Jesus was betrayed and arrested, the night  before he was crucified. Judas, the betrayer, has just gone out, and Jesus turns to the rest of his disciples and begins to talk about glory. At the time, the disciples don’t seem to understand, but every time in the gospel of John that Jesus talks about glory, he is hinting at the cross. For the cross of Christ is the central place in which the glory of God is revealed. This is the gospel irony, the place of glory is not a palace on a hill in the center of the city, but a cross on a hill outside the city. The place where Jesus is crowned a glorious king is not on a throne, but as he dies nailed to a wooden cross. This is glory according to Jesus. So when Judas leaves to betray Jesus over to the authorities to have him killed, Jesus tells them that the time has come for him to be glorified, because his journey to the cross has come. He tells his disciples to prepare, for he will leave them soon. As he goes, they are to be marked by loving one another in the same way that Jesus loved them.

But they don’t understand. Peter asks the question they were probably all wondering, “Where are you going?” Jesus says, “You can’t follow me now.” Peter says, “Why not? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus says, “you will deny me three times.”

Jesus tells his disciples that he is going ahead of them into the Father’s house, to prepare a place for them. He promised to return and take them there. But the disciples are still confused. Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

I am the way, and the truth, and the life, Jesus says, as if he had said, “I am the beginning, the middle, and the end.” So we must begin in Jesus, continue in Jesus, and end in Jesus. All that we need for the beginning, middle, and end of the Christian life, indeed life itself, is found in Jesus. We neither can nor should look anywhere else.

I am the way, and the truth, and the life. We are to begin in Jesus, continue in Jesus, and end in Jesus. Let’s look at each of these in turn to see exactly what Jesus means.

THE WAY – BEGIN IN JESUS

I am the way. Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to the Father, into the Father’s house, and the only way to get there is through him. Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” There is one way to God and that is through Jesus Christ. We must begin with Jesus in order to come to the Father.

We often hear in the world today that the Christian claim that salvation, entrance into heaven, the path to God is only found through Jesus Christ, by grace through faith – we often hear that this sort of exclusive claim is violent and oppressive, it is bigoted and intolerant. We hear this in schools, in popular culture, and, at times, from the government and the courts. Instead, we are told to embrace the notion that different religions are just different paths up the same mountain. As the saying goes, ’All roads lead to Rome’ which is used to say that all religions lead to God and to say that Jesus is the only way is wrong.

I want to suggest that this automatic rejection of the claim of Jesus to be the only way to the Father is misguided for two reasons. First, it misunderstands the nature of what religions teach. Second, it misunderstands the situation we find ourselves in. Both of these reasons will point us to say that, since Jesus is the way to the Father, we must begin in him.

First, saying “Jesus can’t be the only way to God, all religions are paths up the same mountain” is wrong because it is ignorant of what religions actually teach. They are not promising the same thing. The goal of all religions is not to get up the same mountain. Buddhism is not attempting to bring us into the Father’s house. Wicca does not promise to lead us to eternal life for the face of God. Islam does not mean the same thing as Christians do when it talks about heaven, God, and all sorts of other things. Simply put, different religions are not leading in the same direction at all. In fact, to say they are is itself oppressive, trying to make all religions say the same thing and refusing to let them speak with integrity to what they believe.

It is like if, at the train station in Berlin, I decided that all the trains would get me to Wittenberg eventually. Each train was just a different path to get to the same destination. So it doesn’t matter what train I am on, as long as I am on a train. Would I have made it to Wittenberg? No. If, instead of getting on the train heading south toward Wittenberg, I got on a fast train going north toward Denmark and told the conductor, “Don’t worry. This train will get me to Wittenberg. We are all going to the same place,” how would the conductor react? Either I am insulting him, I’m stupid, or I just don’t understand how trains work.

You get where I am going with this. Jesus says I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. It does not work to say that all religions are leading to the same destination when they explicitly teach they are heading in different directions. Don’t believe me? Do the research. They are like trains heading in different directions.

However, the train analogy breaks down because of the second thing we need to consider about the claim that Jesus is the way: Jesus made a way where there was no way.

There was no way into the Father’s house apart from Jesus Christ. We are estranged from God because of our sin. We are not in the Father’s house, but have given up our inheritance. We are far from home and cannot find our way back. There are no trains running there.

When Jesus says, “I am the way” he is not saying that there were a lot of different ways to get to God, but now I am saying that you can only take this path. He is not like a divine bouncer who won’t let you go in through the back door of the house, but forces you to enter through the front and pay a cover charge. Instead, there was no path. There was no entrance. There was no way. Then Jesus made one for us.

It was as if there was a huge gulf separating us from God – our sin – and there was no way to cross it. No matter how far left or right we went there was no way across. There was no bridge until Jesus laid down his life on the cross to make a way where there was none before.

Jesus goes to the cross to make a way where there was no way. It is only by coming to him that we can gain entrance into the true promised land. It is only by coming to Jesus that we can enter into the Father’s house, enter into salvation, be redeemed and restored to right standing before God and be welcomed into his presence. But we must begin in Jesus. To start anywhere but coming to Jesus is a false step that will lead to disaster.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus, by the blood of his cross, has made a way for us into the Father’s house. There is no other way but the one he made as he was glorified on the cross. There is no other way to God but to begin with Jesus. There is no other way than through faith in Jesus Christ.

THE TRUTH – CONTINUE IN JESUS

But we must also continue in Jesus. Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is also the truth. We not only enter salvation through Jesus, but we continue in the way of salvation by continuing with Jesus. Jesus is the truth that leads us daily in our walk with God. We do not leave Jesus behind after having placed our trust in him for salvation. Having stepped on the way through faith, we do not leave behind the way, but continue on it by walking according to the truth revealed in Jesus Christ. This is why John later says, “It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us” (2 John 4). We who have trusted in Christ for salvation are to walk in the truth. We must continue in Jesus Christ.

This is why I think it is no accident that when Jesus talks about his glorification, his crucifixion, he also gives his disciples a commandment. I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. We do not need to look anywhere else but Jesus and his Word to know how we are to continue in the faith. That Jesus is the truth means that we must listen to him and remain in him, walking according to his ways.

THE LIFE – END IN JESUS

Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus Christ is the beginning, middle, and end of the Christian life. He is the only entrance into the Father’s house. Apart from him there is no other way. Not only do others ways, other religions, not promise this, but even if they did, they could not deliver. Only Jesus Christ has paid the cost on the cross to redeem so we can enter into the Father’s house. No one else has done this. So we must begin with faith in Jesus Christ, the way. But we also continue in Jesus Christ, the truth, trusting his Word to guide us in all we do. But Jesus is also the end of faith. He promises us eternal life and also proclaims that he is the life. He is the life we are promised in him. To go back briefly to the train analogy, he is not only the train we ride and must stay on, but he is the goal and destination.

We see this beautifully in verse 2 and 3 of chapter 14.

When a man wanted to marry a woman, right before the wedding, he would go into his father’s house and prepare a room for them to live in. Once the soon-to-be-married couple’s room was ready, the wedding would take place and the groom would come and get his bride and bring her into their new home. Listen to what Jesus says:

In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places, if it were not so would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And 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.

This is marriage language. Not only is Jesus the warrior who is going to battle to redeem his people, but he is the bridegroom who is going to prepare the wedding chamber for his bride. It is no accident that the book of Revelation, as it reveals the second coming of Christ, is filled with the image of a wedding. The end of the journey, the goal and perfection of faith, is the wedding between Jesus and his bride, the church. We begin with Jesus, continue in Jesus, but the end of all things is to be with Jesus. The goal of faith is to be with God, to come before the Father in the Son by the Spirit.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In saying this, Jesus proclaims himself to be the beginning. He is where we must start if we are to come into the Father’s house. There is no way but by grace through faith in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus also proclaims himself to be the middle. He is the truth we must remain in as we walk in faith and obedience to God in this life. Jesus also proclaims himself to be end. He is the life we are promised.

Wherever you are this morning, these words are for you.

Perhaps you are still standing at the train station, wondering where to go. Maybe you have tried other ways, but have never placed your trust in Jesus Christ as the true way into the presence of God. If so, begin with Jesus. He fought for you, made a way for you, took your sin for you. Place your trust in him.

Perhaps you have trusted in Christ. You know him as your Lord and Saviour. Continue in him. Walk in his truth. Draw closer to Jesus as you seek to live according to his will.

Perhaps you wonder if you are reaching the end. Take comfort. The bridegroom has gone ahead to prepare a place for you. Fix your eyes upon him, for he will come again for his bride.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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