by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts February 6, 2005
Preached at Irvine Presbyterian Church
Copyright © 2005 by Mark D. Roberts
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Scripture Reading: John 14:6
Jesus said . . . , "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
The Kickoff that Matters
A momentous kickoff happens today. After months of preparation, the moment we've been waiting for will finally arrive. Now you may think I'm talking about the kickoff that happens at 3:30 p.m. Pacific Standard Time, the kickoff for Super Bowl XXXIX. That would be a logical conclusion . . . but it would be wrong. I'm actually talking about a "kickoff" that happens four hours earlier, the kickoff for Veritas, our new Sunday morning worship gathering at 11:30 a.m.
I do indeed believe that this kickoff is momentous. In fact, from the perspective of eternity, I would argue that what we're beginning at 11:30 this morning is more important than what will happen in Jacksonville, Florida at 3:30 in the afternoon. I'm not kidding or exaggerating. Yes, I realize that the Super Bowl will get more press than the beginning of Veritas, but I'm still convinced that our small start will have a giant impact for the kingdom of God. That's why I've been calling the beginning of Veritas "the kickoff that matters."
In my last sermon I talked about the purpose of Veritas, why we're launching a new worship service in a distinctive "post-contemporary" genre. (If you missed that sermon, you can check it out at my website.) Today I want to talk further about veritas, not the service by that name, but veritas itself. Veritas is a Latin word for "truth" or "truthfulness" or "reality" or "sincerity" or "honesty." That's what I want to talk about today: truth and the difference it makes in our lives.
Veritas in John 14
Let's return to our Scripture text for a moment. The context for the verse I read is Jesus's discourse with his disciples, in which he calls them to keep on believing in him (John 14:1). Then he reassures them by explaining that he his going to prepare a unique place for each one of them in the company of God the Father. "You know the way to the place where I am going," Jesus adds (14:4).
But Thomas isn't so sure: "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?" (14:5). Don't you love that response? It's so candid, so unrehearsed, so filled with veritas. Thomas feels safe enough with Jesus to tell him the truth, to be honest. Even when Jesus says, "You know the way," Thomas feels free to respond, "No I don't. Lord, I don't get it. I'm confused."
I want to interrupt our examination of the text for a moment to reflect on the implications of Thomas's response to Jesus. My friends, God is looking for Thomas-like honesty from us. He isn't fooled by our pious platitudes. He isn't looking for religious rhetoric. God wants us to be open, to share our true selves with him, including our confusion and even our doubts. Veritas - truth, truthfulness, honesty - this is what God wants from us. Now back to John 14.
In response to Thomas's question, Jesus says one of the most shocking things even to proceed from his lips. Thomas asks, "How can we know the way?" Jesus answers, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Jesus was speaking Aramaic when he said this. In Latin, however, it comes out even more poetically: "ego sum via et veritas et vita." Via, the way. Veritas, the truth. Vita, the life.
This is one of those passages that you can't chalk up to Jesus's being a "great teacher" and an all around cool guy. Great teachers point to the truth, but they don't claim to be the truth. Jesus, however, makes this stunning claim about himself. As C.S. Lewis has argued, Jesus must therefore be a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord himself.
But what does Jesus mean by claiming to be the truth? In what sense is he the truth? And what difference does it make to us today, to our church, and to our community?
Jesus as Veritas
In the time I have available this morning, I want to share with you three things I've learned about truth and Jesus from the Gospel of John.
1. Jesus Reveals the Truth of God
In John it says that Jesus "speaks the words of God" (3:34). His words are "spirit and life" (6:63). They are in fact "the words of eternal life" (6:68). God has sent his Son to speak God's own words, so that we might believe them. Notice that accepting the words of Jesus as true isn't burdensome. Rather, it leads to eternal life, life in all of its fullness both now and forever.
Our response to Jesus the revealer of truth is to believe what he says. It's really that simple, though at times we have to work at understanding what Jesus meant. The consistently hard part, I think, is believing the words of Jesus when they don't fit our own preferences and prejudices. When Jesus calls us to costly discipleship, for example, there's a part of us that wants to believe there must an easier way to follow him. Yet discipleship of Jesus requires acceptance of his teaching even when it's tough. Jesus himself said in John 8:31-32: "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples. And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
2. Jesus Embodies the Truth of God
Jesus doesn't only speak the truth about God, he also embodies that truth. We find this right at the start of the Gospel of John, in chapter 1, verse 14: "And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth." The Word of God, the One who joined with the Father in creation, the One who is God's Wisdom and knowledge, this Word became fully human in Jesus. Why? In part so he could die on the cross for us. But also so that he might show us who God is, not only in words, but in deeds.
I know it's an overused platitude, but it really fits here: Actions speak louder than words. If Jesus had gone about speaking of God's love, but failed to love, then he'd have been forgotten days after his death. If he had spoken of God's kingdom without doing the works of the kingdom, nobody would have believed his message. Yet in Jesus the words and works came together to form a seamless banner celebrating the grace and justice of God.
Sisters and brothers, may I add that this is also how it should be in our lives. We are called to speak of God's truth, to share the good news of God, not only with each other, but also with our neighbors. Like Jesus, we are to embody the truth we believe, to put words into actions. Pay close attention to what Jesus himself said in John 3:21: "Those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God." Like Jesus, you and I are to do what is true, even as we believe it and speak it.
3. Jesus Brings the Truth with Grace
The third point about Jesus and truth is this: Jesus brings the truth with grace. Let me quote once again John 1:14: "And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth." Notice: Jesus is full of grace and truth, not just truth. John makes a similar point again three verses later: "The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).
Why is this important? Why do we need grace with truth? There a lots of reason. Let me mention a couple.
First, part of the truth we need to hear is bad news. It's the bad news of our sin. It's the bad news of our separation from God. Without grace, that news would be devastating. It would batter us down and leave us even more broken than we already are. But with grace, the bad news comes in a way that gives us hope of healing and redemption.
Second, we need grace and truth together because, left to our own devices, we can't grasp the truth. This reminds me of one of my favorite scenes in any movie. The movie is A Few Good Men, in which Tom Cruise stars as an uppity, insolent Marine attorney, Lt. Daniel Kaffee, and Jack Nicholson is a crusty, tough-as-nails Marine colonel, Nathan R. Jessep who is suspected of criminal behavior. In their courtroom confrontation, Kaffee is pestering Col. Jessep for answers, but Jessep is resistant. Finally we come to this point in the dialogue:
Colonel Jessep ... "You want answers?"
Lieutenant Kaffee ... "I think I'm entitled."
Colonel Jessep ... "YOU WANT ANSWERS?"
Lieutenant Kaffee ... "I WANT THE TRUTH!"
Colonel Jessep ... "YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH!"
You can't handle the truth. A great line, and one that God could very well shout at you and me. We can't handle the truth without his grace. We can't understand it. We can't accept it. But by grace - God's undeserved kindness - we can indeed receive the truth, believe it, and be forever transformed by it.
Believing in Jesus
Let me review what we've seen today:
1. Jesus Reveals the Truth of God
2. Jesus Embodies the Truth of God
3. Jesus Brings the Truth with Grace
I've talked about various responses to Jesus the truth, but there's something else I need to talk about: believing in him.
Our response to Jesus the truth is, partly, to believe what he says. And we're also called to believe certain things about him: that he is the Son of God, that he is the Word of God incarnate, that he is the Savior of the world, and so forth. Yet our response to the One who is the truth goes beyond believing that certain things are true about him. Jesus calls us to believe in him. John 14 begins with "Believe in God, believe also in me," as it leads up to "I am the way, and the truth, and the life."
"Believe in" is one of the most misunderstood of all biblical phrases. In common English if I ask "Do you believe in ghosts?" I'm asking if you think there really are such things as ghosts. So it's only natural for us to think that Jesus wants us to believe that he is the Son of God, Savior, truth, and so forth, and that's it.
But in fact this only gets "believing in" half right. The other half has to do with your personal choice, your commitment, your trust. Believing in Jesus means, not only believing the right things about him, but also putting your personal trust in him. It means, quite literally, putting your life in his hands.
If you've even done serious rock climbing you know what this means. Believing in is essential to climbing when when you're using a belay. If you're not familiar with this term, let me explain.
A belay is a device that uses a rope, some carabiners, and a couple of harnesses to guarantee the safety of the climber. The belay connects the person upon on the rock to another person on the ground, who ensures that the climber won't fall. An accomplished belayer will allow the climber full freedom on the wall. Yet if the climber begins to fall, the belayer will almost instantly stop it.
When you go rock climbing, you always examine the equipment to make sure it's functioning well: the rope can't be frayed; the belaying harness must be in good working order, and so forth. And you also need to make sure the belayer on the ground is securely attached to something so he or she won't be pulled up into the air if you fall. At the end of your equipment check, you believe that the belaying apparatus is fully functional. You believe that it will keep you from dying. So far, so good. But you're still not a the believing in stage.
That happens when you put on the harness and start climbing. It really happens when you're far enough up on the rock that a fall might very well be terminal. At that point you're not just believing certain truths about the belay. Now you're believing in the belay. You're putting your life in the hands of the equipment and the belayer. This is like biblical faith. It's investing your trust in someone.
And that's exactly what believing in Jesus is all about. Yes, it begins with believing the right things about Jesus. But then we come to the point of decision, the point of full faith. It's the point where you think, "Okay, I believe that Jesus is the Savior of the world. But will I trust him to be my Savior. Will I put my soul in his hands? Will I accept that he is the way, the truth, and the life, the one through whom I can know God and live in the fullness of God's life?" Believing in Jesus is living high up on the sheer rock of life, trusting that Jesus will protect you, guide you, and always be there for you.
Trusting in Jesus
Do you believe in Jesus today? I'm not asking only if you believe what Scripture teaches about him? Rather I'm asking if you're living this day by leaning upon Jesus, by trusting him with your life? Are you following his teaching because you trust him? Are you seeking to live like him because you trust him? Are you experiencing all of life in a trusting relationship with Jesus Christ?
If you have answered these questions affirmatively, let me remind you that the Christian life involves living daily in a trusting relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, it surely involves learning and believing more truth, more veritas about the things that matter most in life. But truth is not merely something to be studied and believed. Truth is a person, Jesus the Son of God. We will know the truth as we know him. And we will grow in the truth, not only by accumulating all sorts of biblical knowledge, but also by living each day in relationship with Jesus and with his people. So if you're already a Christian, I'd urge you to keep on believing in Jesus. Live your life each day with him as your belayer.
If you do not have a trusting relationship with Jesus Christ today, I want you to know that you can. It begins simply, with acknowledging your personal need for a Savior, and with believing that Jesus is the one you need. It involves telling him this in honest, veritas-filled, prayer. The words don't matter; your honesty does. And then you simply lean back into the Jesus, allowing him to be your way to God, your truth for each day, your source of life, both now and forever.
Whether you've been a Christian for decades, or whether you will take that first step of faith today, the word of Jesus to you is clear:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. . . . I am the via et veritas et vita. I am the way, and the truth, and the life. Come to me and I'll lead you to the God. Come to me and you will find the truth. Come to me and you will find life, life in all of its fullness.