What worries you? What are your fears for the future? I want us this evening to consider some words of Jesus. If what Jesus says is true, then we don’t need to fear – but we do need to learn to trust Jesus. These words of Jesus can be found in John’s Gospel 14.1-7 – that’s on p 1082 in the Bibles in the pews. They are also printed there on p 3 of the service sheet. Take a look at them and please keep them in front of you. Jesus says (in verse 1):
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”
And then a little later he says (this is verse 6):
“I am the way and the truth and the life.”
Now there is a sense in which we all trust in a god of some sort. We could say that for each one of us, our god is that thing, or person, or being in whom we trust for the way, the truth and the life. We all trust something or someone. The issue is whether what we are putting our trust in is worthy of that trust.
What Jesus is saying to us is that there is only one true and trustworthy God – and that is the God who shows himself to us in Jesus himself. And in that case, all other gods are false gods. And the consequence of trusting in the wrong god is fear – a troubled heart.
Some trust in the god of money. The god of money promises us happiness if we just have a bit more of it. But it keeps moving the goal posts. As soon as we get what was supposed to bring happiness, we find that the god of money is now promising us happiness when we’ve climbed one step further up the ladder of riches. And we start to fear we’ll never get there. What is more, as the stock market ads always say, the value of investments can go down as well as up. Money is an unreliable and untrustworthy god. Trusting it brings a troubled heart.
Some trust in the god of pleasure. But the benefits that this god provides are so short term! And they are so physical, when we’re all too aware that the physical decays. We know in our heart of hearts that physical pleasure cannot last. And that’s true whether we find our pleasure in music, or a walk in the country – never mind bungee-jumping or whatever you might get your kicks from. So trusting in the god of pleasure leaves our hearts troubled about what will happen when the pleasure ends. Then what?
Others trust in themselves. They might not say it out loud, but the fact is that their god is themselves. They trust in themselves above all. But deep down we know how undependable we are, so trusting in yourself leads to a life of fear. What will happen when you let yourself down?
Some trust in the god of Islam. But the question nags away at them: “Can I ever do enough to please him and secure eternal life?” And they can never be sure, so their hearts remain troubled.
Others trust in the Hindu (and Buddhist) hope of ultimate personal obliteration that will bring a final end to suffering. But that, too, leaves a gnawing fear: “Can I be good enough? What will I be reincarnated as next? The truth is I don’t want to be extinguished!” Questions like these rise in the troubled heart of the Hindu or the Buddhist.
All of these are rival gods of the true God and they tell us not to be disloyal to them. They demand our loyalty with seductions and threats. They tell us not to trust Jesus. They tell us that Jesus lies to us. They tell us that Jesus is not God. But if what Jesus says is true, then we don’t need to fear – but we do need to learn to trust Jesus.
So let’s think more closely about what Jesus is saying. We’ll do that under three headings.
First, THE RIGHT DIRECTION IN LIFE CAN ONLY BE FOUND IN JESUS
“I am the way…”
And there in verses 2 and 3 he says:
“In my Father’s house are many rooms… I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
What does Jesus mean when he talks about ‘going’ and ‘coming back’?
What is happening when Jesus says these things? In a nutshell, he is about to die. Jesus knows exactly what he’s heading towards. His weary disciples don’t. They’re confused. They don’t understand. But they know enough to feel their hearts gripped by anxiety and fear and uncertainty about their future.
They’ve thrown in their lot with Jesus. They’ve given up everything. And now he says more and more insistently that he’s going to leave them. So, back in 13.33, he says to them:
‘My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.’
In 13.36, Peter presses him to explain himself:
Simon Peter asked him, ‘Lord, where are you going?’
And Jesus’ answer is here in our passage:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms… I am going there to prepare a place for you.”
He is going, in a word, to heaven. He’s going to be with his heavenly Father. He’s going back to his Father’s house. And what is more, he is going to prepare a place for them. And that is the issue that’s at stake. It is eternal life and eternal death. It is heaven and hell.
How do we find eternal life? How do we find a place in heaven? How can we know the way? When Jesus says there are many rooms in his Father’s house and he’s going to prepare a place, he doesn’t mean he’s going to dust the rooms and make up the beds. He means he’s on his way to be crucified for their sins – to open the way for them to join him at his Father’s side.
And Jesus doesn’t just say that he is going. He also says that he will come back to take his disciples to be with him. How will he come back? The Bible shows that he comes back in three ways. First, he comes back when God raises him from the dead and he appears again to these disciples. Secondly, after he has ascended to the right hand of God his heavenly Father, he comes in the person of the Holy Spirit to be with his disciples on earth always, in spiritual form. In these two ways Jesus has already come back. And his spiritual presence now is the constant experience of those of us who are disciples of Jesus today. Then, thirdly, Jesus will one day come back bodily when he returns as he promised to judge the world and to gather his people to himself for ever.
That’s what Jesus means when he says, “I am the way…” And that is why the right direction in life can only be found in Jesus.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been on one those scary looking white-water rafting expeditions that you sometimes see advertised if you visit a mountainous area with steep and fierce some rivers. Well our lives are rather like a white-water raft ride. It might be calm in the early stretches, but we all know that further down we have to navigate the grade 5 rapid of death. Death is up ahead for every one of us. Who do you want as a guide? Surely you want someone who’s been through and out the other side, and come back. Someone who’s willing to help you and guide you and stay with you. It’s no good any of us pretending this rapid of death isn’t up ahead! We have no choice about this one.
So who is the right one to tell us about what the purpose of life is? And where we’re heading? And how to survive death? The right one to tell us is the one who designed life in the first place, and who has been through death and out the other side. And that’s Jesus. The Bible’s claim is that God is our creator and that Jesus is God. He says:
“If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.”
That’s verse 7. If you know Jesus, you know God. They are one. If you don’t know Jesus, you don’t know God. The right direction in life can only be found in Jesus. That’s the first thing to learn from what Jesus says here.
Secondly, THE TRUTH ABOUT LIFE CAN ONLY BE KNOWN IN JESUS
Jesus says: “I am the truth…” And when, there in verse 2, he says that there are many rooms in his Father’s house, he adds:
“if it were not so, I would have told you.”
That is: “This is the truth. I always speak the truth, so if this wasn’t true, I wouldn’t say it.”
How do we go about establishing someone’s trustworthiness? I suppose there are a couple a questions we ask ourselves. First, we ask, “Does this person tell the truth?” This is an issue of character. If they tell the truth, that will be demonstrated by their track record of consistent truth-telling. Secondly, we ask, “Do they know what they’re talking about?”
The character of Jesus is attested even by his enemies. They couldn’t prove any sin in his life, and at his so-called trial they struggled even to find false witnesses who could pin anything remotely credible on him. His track record of truth-telling was supremely established when he predicted his execution, and promised that he would rise from the dead – and then those things happened just as he said. What is more, he then promised that his fearful disciples would be given the power of the Holy Spirit to bear witness to him around the world. And since then, billions of people have believed in Jesus through their testimony. So for Jesus we can give the character test a tick.
Then, does Jesus know what he’s talking about on these big questions of life, death and eternity? His claim is clear. His claim – and the Bible’s claim – is that Jesus does indeed know what he is talking about because he knows both sides – both God’s side, and our side. He is fully God and fully man in one person. That’s the claim. So we have to decide. Is he mad – is he lying but doesn’t know it, that is, deluded? Or is he bad – is he lying deliberately, that is, evil? Or is he God – that is, telling the truth?
If you are weighing up the truth of Christianity, that is essentially your choice. Is Jesus mad, or bad, or God? And, by the way, that means that you have to decide similarly about us who are believers (and very imperfect followers of Jesus). Are we deluded? Or deliberately lying to you in order to get your money or whatever? Or following Jesus who is the Son of the one true and living God?
The other day Vivienne, my wife, was talking to a shop assistant about two almost identical looking water-proof jackets. You’ll be touched to know that she was looking for a birthday present for me. One of the jackets was considerably more expensive than the other. Vivienne asked the assistant why this was. He gave a reason. Without going into details, Vivienne knew from what she could see of the jackets and from her experience, that what he said was wrong. She told him so. So without batting an eyelid the assistant simply came up with quite another reason for the difference in price, which Vivienne also knew was wrong. She told him. So he came up with another reason. Which was also wrong. Though he wouldn’t admit it, it was clear that he didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. He was just making it up as he went along. If you’re a shop assistant, can I advise you not to try that with Vivienne. Your credibility will be destroyed in front of your eyes.
When Jesus talks to us, what he says rings true with us. It rings true with our experience. It is clear he knows what he is talking about.
I recently had a rather different experience. I was on a somewhat complicated train journey and when I happened to tell the ticket inspector where I was planning to change trains he told me I was wrong – I ought to change at Sheffield. Now, admittedly, his first thought was that I should change at Liverpool, which was nonsense, but he had second thoughts on that. So once he’d moved on down the carriage, I asked myself, who did I trust more on this? Him or me? Was he telling me the truth? My decision mattered to me in that it had a direct bearing on which station I was going to get off the train at. And I decided I trusted him. Why? Because he’d been there. He knew. And he was right. Trusting him saved me a good deal of time.
Jesus knows what he’s talking about. He tells the truth. He is the truth. Believing him doesn’t just save you some time. It saves your life – for eternity. The truth about life can only be known in Jesus. That’s lesson number two.
Thirdly, ETERNAL LIFE CAN ONLY BE GAINED IN JESUS
Jesus says: “I am the life.” Life is to be found in him, both now and beyond death. If Jesus speaks the truth, and if he is the life, then there are massive consequences for our understanding of reality. Here are some of them.
One: there is a whole unseen supernatural reality. God is there. So are angels and demons, of which the worst and most powerful is Satan.
Two: physical death is not the end of our existence.
Three: this universe as we know it is provisional. It will come to an end.
Four: Jesus will return visibly and gloriously to judge the world.
Five: there will be a new heaven and earth.
Six: hell is real.
Seven: whether we will belong to Christ’s Kingdom, escape hell, and have eternal life depends on whether or not we reject or accept - that is, trust and live for – the King, Jesus himself. So accepting that Jesus is what he says he is – the way, the truth and the life – involves no slight adjustment in our thinking. It involves a radically new way of looking at the world and our lives.
And, of course, if this is true, then eternal life can only be gained in Jesus. He is God! He is King! We cannot reject Jesus and want nothing to do with him and refuse to listen to him and still imagine that we can be welcomed in to his house!
Imagine someone coming to your front door, and either ignoring your greeting when you answer the door and standing there as if you didn’t exist; or asking for the person who lives there and telling you you’re wrong when you tell them you live there; or telling you that some friend of yours, of whom you’ve never heard, told him he could live there. Would you let them in? Of course not.
My son Ben is, for this year, an international student in Spain. One of the first things he had to do was find somewhere to live. He had to go round visiting apartments and looking for a room. There was only one way he had access to those rooms, and that was through the people who were living there. He couldn’t ignore them or bypass them in some way.
We cannot ignore or by pass Jesus and still hope to enter eternal life. He is the owner. He is the householder. And what is more, he has paid a very heavy price so that we can enter eternal life – because we don’t deserve to. Because of our rebellion against the living God, what we all deserve is to feel the full force of God’s righteous anger against us for ever. That is hell. But God loves us. And he has taken the punishment that we deserve for our rebellion on himself in the person of Jesus as he died on the cross. Jesus has paid for our eternal life with his own blood. It is only as we plead before God the Father the death of his Son in our place that the door into the Father’s house is opened to us, and one of those many rooms promised by Jesus becomes available to us. Forever. We cannot ignore or by pass Jesus and still hope to enter eternal life. Of course not. Eternal life can only be gained in Jesus.
If you’re going to trust your life to somebody, you need to be confident in them. I don’t know if you saw the TV series called ‘Band of Brothers’. It depicts the true story of an American World War II paratrooper company that flew into Normandy on D-Day. Just a few days before D-Day, all the non-commissioned officers of the Company decided that they just were not prepared to serve under their Captain – even at the risk of court martial. Why? It wasn’t because he was tough on them – which he was. It was because they didn’t trust his leadership. He kept making potentially fatal mistakes. He kept getting lost. As one of them put it, after D-Day, “He gets lost – we die.”
They were afraid because the person into whose hands their lives had been entrusted was simply not trustworthy. That is the problem with all false gods. They cannot be trusted with our lives. If we’re relying on them, then we’re right to be troubled and fearful. There is only one person who can be trusted with our lives and our eternal destiny – and that is Jesus. And not only can he be trusted. He must be trusted. If we say no to him, we have nowhere to turn and we have no hope. If we say yes, we are secure for ever.
So, where have we got to? Jesus says to his troubled disciples (from verse 4):
“You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going [He’s just told them, in fact], so how can we know the way?”
Then Jesus hammers it home in verse 6:
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.”
I started by saying that what Jesus says here makes clear that we don’t need to live in fear – but we do need to learn to trust Jesus. Why? For three reasons. First, the right direction in life can only be found in Jesus. Secondly, the truth about life can only be known in Jesus. Thirdly, eternal life can only be gained in Jesus. So what are we to conclude? Surely this: Only Jesus is totally trustworthy – so put your trust in Jesus and follow him.
How can you go about doing that? It’s a simple matter of telling him that’s what you’re doing – he knows what goes on inside your head, so just talk to him – and then getting on with it. But here are some practical things you can do if that sounds too simple for you.
One: take and read a copy of this red booklet called ‘Why Jesus?’ In the back of it you’ll find a form of words you could use to tell Jesus you mean business.
Two: Ask someone you know who is trusting Jesus how they started and how they go about it now (on the principle that a reliable guide is somebody who’s already done something you want to learn to do.)
Three: Come along to one of our Christianity Explored groups to hear more and to ask questions. David mentioned those earlier, and in particular there is a new group starting on Thursday 9 November that’s designed especially for you if English is a second language for you. You don’t have to be a student. Pick up the blue ‘International Christianity Explored’ leaflet for details.
Then, four, keep coming here to JPC on Sundays – watch, listen and start joining in by talking to God (that’s prayer), by listening to God’s voice (that’s through the Bible), by getting among God’s children (that’s in some small group that suits you), and by starting to obey Jesus (that’s putting your new found trust into practice).
If you don’t feel up to it, and you doubt that you’d be able to keep it going, then you’re right. But remember, it’s not you you’re trusting. It’s Jesus. And he won’t ever let you go.