Stick to the Path

For the last couple of weeks, we have been talking about what it looks like to live a life that is plugged in to Jesus. This week, though, we are backing up just a bit to talk some more about the hows of this journey. As Jesus was preparing the disciples for what was to come, it became clear they didn’t really understand where He was going and what He was doing. We know this because they asked Him. His response reveals a whole lot to us about what it takes to stay plugged in to Jesus. Keep reading as we explore His response together.

Stick to the Path

The world can be sorted into all kinds of different groupings based on any number of categories, but one that I’d like to do a little survey on with you this morning is this: Are you the kind of person who reads and follows instructions or ignores them? If you’re in the former group, please raise your hand nice and high so we can all see you. If you’re in the latter group, you can identify yourself however you’d like because we all know you’re not going to follow instructions anyway. 

There are instructions to follow everywhere we look. Every single product you buy in the store comes with some kind of instructions printed on them so that you know how to use them. Even if the operation of the product is self-evidently obvious, they have to put at least something on there so no one sues them over the lack. The writing of these instructions is actually something some companies spend a pretty penny getting just right. You have to balance having too much versus too little information. You don’t want to insult people, but you also want to cover yourself in case someone does something really stupid with the product and then tries to sue because they weren’t told not to do it. It’s a tricky thing. It is always nice, though, when you can tell companies recognize how silly some of their instructions have to be to give them proper legal protection. Just for fun, I looked up some different product labels out there and discovered some real gems. 

For instance, here’s a shampoo that’s honest about what we really do in the shower.

Next is a shirt that tried to make its care instructions about as simple as it could.

Speaking of clothing care instructions, this next one decided to take a bit of a social stand with its label. It’s nothing too political, just a little reminder that household chores are for everybody.

Next up is a coffee mug that wants to make sure its users get the fullest enjoyment out of the cup as possible in the mornings.

Finally, here is another shampoo bottle; this time for dogs. This particular label was produced by someone who has clearly tried to wash a dog at home before. 

Now, those are all pretty fun and funny, but the more serious point is that different things come with instructions for a reason. I’m an instruction follower myself, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been putting together something from the store—usually a bookshelf—didn’t quite follow the instructions as printed, or—as is, embarrassingly, more often the case—got in a hurry and assumed I knew what to do, and put it together wrong in one way or another. The truth is, things don’t tend to work the way they were designed to work unless we follow the instructions. 

This morning we are in the third part of our new teaching series, Plugged In. For these few weeks leading up to Easter, we are talking about not just how to live lives that are plugged in to Jesus, but what that looks like in practice. Leading us in this journey is the apostle John and his telling of the conversations Jesus had with the disciples after their last supper together and on their way to the cross starting in John 13. 

One of the truths about our world is that almost everything runs on a power source of some kind. Your phone plugs in to charge every night…and during the day if you use it a lot. The lamp on your side table plugs into the wall. You have to put gasoline in your car…unless you have an electric car…or a horse as was…parked?…at Dollar General the other day. But whichever form of transportation you’re using, you have to give it some kind of fuel. That even goes for your own body if you prefer to take your bike to get from point A to B. (Incidentally, given the cost of groceries, that’s really not all that much cheaper than driving these days.) Plants have to be connected to the ground. Anything that runs on energy in some form or fashion has to stay connected to its particular source of energy or it eventually runs down and wears out. Even you and me run on more than just ourselves—and I’m not talking about food anymore. We are more than just our bodies, and our spirits have to stay charged up or we start to run down in ways a good meal just can’t fix. 

Well, as followers of Jesus, we believe that He is the source of fuel our whole selves were made to run on. That means we need to know how to stay plugged in to our power source or else we wear out in ways that are hard to recharge by any conventional means. Over the course of this series, we are talking about how and what it looks like to stay connected; to stay plugged in. Two weeks ago we kicked things off by talking about the importance of humility. Humility is fundamentally rooted in our ability to be honest about who God is, who we are, and our accepting those two things. As far as the “who God is” part goes, God in Christ made Himself a servant to all which means we show Christ most in our own lives when we serve others best. Someone plugged into Jesus is a humble servant to everyone. Then, last week, Nate did an excellent job helping us see that being plugged into Jesus means following His example of love for one another. If He could reach out with love to Judas even as he was in the process of betraying Him, there is no bottom limit to our love. Or, as Nate put it so well then, if we are going to stay plugged in to Jesus, we respond to one another in love. 

But have you ever gotten started on something you thought you understood, only to realize once you got into it that maybe you didn’t have things down quite as well as you thought you did. Sometimes, guys, I think that comes with the territory of being a guy like when I dutifully and confidently led Lisa and I directly to the wrong spot to wait for the shuttle bus last Sunday when we got back from Detroit. She patiently and gently asked if I was sure, and I said I was…until we got closer to the spot I “knew” was right and loudly confessed I was wrong. 

Well, as Jesus was talking with the disciples after dinner, and as they prepared to head for the Garden of Gethsemane to pray before the ordeal of the cross (even though they still didn’t understand that was coming), the disciples thought they understood Jesus pretty well. They had been with Him long enough, listened to enough of His teaching, witnessed enough of His miracles, and they were pretty confident they knew where He was going and how He was going to get there. Then He started talking with them more after dinner and they realized they didn’t grasp Him nearly as fully as they thought they had. Fortunately, they were wise enough to ask Him about it. And this gave Jesus the opportunity to remind them of something very important. They had been talking about some of what it looks like to live life plugged in to Him. When their confusion became apparent, though, Jesus shifted gears on them to reveal a bit more about the how of it all. If you have a copy of the Scriptures handy, find your way to John 13:36 and let’s take a look at where the conversation goes next. 

I actually want to start just a couple of verses before v. 36 there, back into what Nate read to you last week. He rightly gave a fair bit of his attention to Jesus’ laying out of the new command that was to replace all of the other commands in terms of being the primary guide for living their lives after the pattern He was in the process of setting for them. This command, of course, was to love one another. That rightly gets lots of our attention. But just before Jesus gave this command, He explained to them why He was giving it. This is in v. 33. Why did Jesus feel the need to give this particular command at this particular moment? Because He was leaving them soon and wanted to make sure they had the most important stuff down before He went. Look at v. 33 there: “Children, I am with you a little while longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so now I tell you: ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’” Then He goes on to give His new command. 

Now, as I said, we give all of our attention to the new command, and rightly so. Our getting that right is absolutely essential to getting the Christian faith right. Other than the resurrection itself, there isn’t anything more fundamental to the Christian faith than this one command: love one another as I have loved you. But in that moment, that’s not where the disciples’ minds went. In fact, other than perhaps Matthew’s taking good notes that evening and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit when John was writing his Gospel some 60 years later, I’m surprised any of them remembered it at all. As soon as Jesus said He was leaving them and going somewhere they couldn’t follow, that’s the only thing in the world that mattered to them. 

Look now at v. 36: “‘Lord,’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘where are you going?’” Now, pause there for just a second. This is one of those places in the Bible where if you read it with the standard emotionless cadence we usually use when reading, it’s really easy to miss out on the emotion of the moment here. And the emotion here is critical to understanding the next couple of chapters. Everything Jesus says to them over the next couple of chapters is in direct response to their expressing their deep anxiety over His revelation of His forthcoming departure. Simply put: They couldn’t get their minds around what He meant because it didn’t fit with any of their visions of what their future with Him held. So, if you read Peter’s question here—or any of the questions to follow—fairly emotionlessly, you’re going to miss what’s really going on. 

“‘Lord,’ Simon Peter said to him, ‘where are you going?’ Jesu answered, ‘Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow later.’ ‘Lord,’ Peter asked, ‘why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’” Do you hear the wrestling going on here? Peter, as usual, was saying what all the other guys were thinking. None of them wanted to even process the idea they might be separated from Jesus. Peter’s bravado here was simply an expression of his deep desire to stay with his Lord. Jesus knew it was bravado, though, and put him in his place. “Jesus replied, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Truly I tell you, a rooster will not crow until you have denied me three times’” And it feels really harsh of Jesus to respond like that, but He needed to disabuse them of any notion that what was about to come was going to be handled by conventional means. They were about to enter an intense spiritual battle. Physical prowess was not going to accomplish anything. When Peter later tried, Jesus shut him down pretty firmly. 

Yet, after challenging Peter—and all of them—on their thinking they could somehow force their way into remaining with Him, Jesus shifted gears to comfort. Look now starting in John 14:1: “Don’t let your heart be troubled.” Why did He say that? Because their hearts were troubled! “Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” In other words, you can place the same trust in me that you do in God Himself. Continuing: “In my Father’s house are many rooms [not “mansions” as the King James Version erroneously translates the Greek here; Jesus is preparing us a place, not offering some vision of temporal luxury for His most faithful followers]; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you. If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also.” 

Now, again, put yourself in the disciples’ sandals. That had to be enormously reassuring to them. They were no doubt starting to grumble among themselves at Jesus’ initial response to Peter. The whole room visibly relaxed here. They were going to get to be with Him after all. Maybe He was just talking about going on some sort of journey to establish His stronghold from which He would launch His kingdom campaign against Rome. But then He trashed that notion as well. Verse 4: “You know the way to where I am going.” 

You could have heard a pin drop. The disciples all looked around the room at one another, all of them thinking the same thing: “No we don’t; you haven’t told us. In fact, you haven’t even told us where you’re going.” Finally, Thomas, the most linearly thinking member of the group spoke up: “‘Lord,’ Thomas said, ‘we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way?’” And that makes sense, right? Jesus hadn’t told them where He was going. At least, that’s what they thought. Had they been paying sufficient attention, He had actually told them exactly what was going to happen. In fact, He had told them over and over again. They simply couldn’t understand what He meant because it didn’t fit with their worldview of the Messiah. Jesus had told them again and again that He was going to Jerusalem to die. They weren’t able to go on that journey with Him. But when He returned in the future after preparing a place for them, they would be able to be with Him again. All of that, though, was music thrumming along to an entirely different beat than they were able to process. In other words, as far as they understood, no, Jesus had never once told them where He was going. How on earth could He expect them to know the way? 

Jesus looked Thomas in the eye and responded with a truth about Himself that was so powerful it’s reverberations have still not stopped ringing throughout the ages of human history since. Look at v. 6. You’ve probably heard this before even if you’ve only been around the church for a little while. In spite of that, though, do your best to hear this like one of the disciples sitting around the table with Jesus that evening. “Jesus told [Thomas], ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” In other words, “Do you want to know how to get where I’m going? I am the way to get where I’m going. If you want to be where I am, to go where I’m going, I’m the way to get there.” 

Okay, but where was Jesus going? John already told us back at the very beginning of chapter 13. Do you remember what he said there in that editorial statement I told you helped to frame everything that followed it? “Before the Passover Festival, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world to the Father.” Then in v. 3 there: “Jesus knew that the Father had given everything into his hands, that he had come from God, and that he was going back to God.” There was Jesus’ destination. He was going to God. The disciples wanted to know how to get where He was going? How to get to God? He was the way to get there. Jesus is the way to get to God. In fact, He’s the only way to get to God. 

And listen, I know that idea is not a terribly comfortable one given where our culture is nowadays. In a culture that wants options in everything it does, the notion that getting to God—the ultimate thing for which we want multiple options—is a destination that only has one option is as hard for us to sell as it is for them to fathom. But just because it’s a hard truth doesn’t make it anything less than true. Can I do just a bit of reframing of this idea for us, though? We’re used to hearing John 14:6 here through a single set of lenses: Jesus is the only way to get to God and don’t you forget it! And that’s true. He is the path we have to take in order for that journey to end successfully (with “success” defined as “actually getting to God”). This verse spells that out more clearly than anything else in the Scriptures. But I don’t think that was where the disciples’ minds went first when Jesus said this because that wasn’t the question they were asking. 

They all thought Jesus was going somewhere physical, and Peter was ready to risk his own death in order to go to that place with Him wherever it happened to be (or, at least, he thought he was ready). They were thinking about being with Jesus, about being connected to Jesus, in very worldly terms. Those were the only terms they knew. Jesus was trying to help them understand that being connected to Him, being where He was, getting to where He was going, was not something anyone could accomplish through physical means. It was a spiritual journey (with nonetheless physical implications) that was only going to be accomplished through spiritual means. Jesus was going somewhere physical, yes, but more importantly, He was going somewhere spiritual. And if they wanted to be in that place with Him—namely, the place God is—they were only going to get there when they were willing to journey like He did. He was the way. He is the way. 

Let me break this down just a little bit more for you. What Jesus is saying here is that if someone wants to stay connected or plugged in to Him, which will result in their being plugged in to God the Father, they have to be willing to do life His way. His is the only life that ever managed to stay connected to the Father from start to finish. Sin never interrupted His connection even once. No one else in history has managed to do that. What Jesus was offering was not some sort of restrictive, narrow minded, take-your-options-away approach to getting to God. He’s simply saying, “Look, I did this. If you want to do it too, do it like me.” Actually, He went just a bit beyond that. He said, “Do it through me.” He said, “Let me help you do life my way by sending my Spirit to enable you to succeed.” Or, very simply, if you want to stay plugged in to Jesus, you have to do life His way. 

Come on, you know as well as I do that we try so many different ways to get to God. We try to be good. We work really hard. We serve other people. We amass huge fortunes as if there was some cover charge we think we’re going to manage to pay. We make enormous sacrifices. We go on personal quests. We create incredibly complex systems that are guaranteed to get us there if we can just figure out how to use them. We just about move heaven and earth to be able to get to God and stay connected to Him. Peter was ready to lay his life down to do it. Every one of those young men to a man would have followed Jesus to the ends of the earth if it meant staying with Him. For all this effort and energy, though, we’ve never quite managed to figure it out on our own. And then Jesus gave us the way. Better than that, He gave us Himself. We just follow Him—which means doing life His way—and the rest works itself out. If you want to stay plugged in to Jesus, you have to do life His way. 

Doing life Jesus’ way, though, means you can’t do it your way. I can’t do it my way. It’s tempting to take that path. It’s natural to take that path. It’s normal to take that path. It’s ridiculously easy to take that path (at least, it’s easy until the fruit of that path begins coming to bear…then it’s not so easy). But your way won’t get you there. Jesus’ way will. If you want to stay plugged in to Jesus, you have to do life His way. 

And how do you manage that? Well, it’s probably not a bad idea to start with being humble and loving one another as we talked about in the past couple of weeks. It means putting others first. It means engaging regularly and actively in a community of faith like this one. It means serving your neighbors and sharing the good news about Jesus’ easy way with the people around you who haven’t heard that news yet. It means staying grounded in the Scriptures and diligent in prayer. It means gathering for worship on a regular, consistent basis. For some of you—I don’t know what God may be doing in your heart—it means stepping up to serve in this church in a way you haven’t done before. It may mean answering a call God has been germinating in your spirit for quite some time to take a more active role in leading in worship here or being on mission in a more active way than you’ve ever done before. Mostly, though, it means looking well at Jesus’ example and following suit. If you want to stay plugged in to Jesus, you have to do life His way. 

The result of all of this will be a connection with God the Father that won’t ever fail you no matter how much of life’s chaos you find crashing against your walls. Jesus is the way. Jesus is the truth. Jesus is the life. Jesus is how you will get to God the Father. If you want to stay plugged in to Jesus, you have to do life His way. Imagine living in such a way that you never knew a moment without that connection’s being firmly in place. Imagine the hope and joy and peace that would bring to your life. Imagine the ways you could impact the lives of the people around you for the good. Imagine all the ways you could change the world living like that. In Jesus, you can. If you want to stay plugged in to Jesus, you have to do life His way. Let’s commit to doing just that together. 

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