Last week I spent several days having a computer voice tell me what to do, and I was careful to do everything it said. Amy, Timothy and I were driving around the El Paso area – a place we had never been before and knew nothing about. Amy is our family navigator, but in this case it meant that she had pulled up directions on her phone and Google Maps was running the show. She was giving me clarification about the directions the phone provided, and also advanced warning about what we would be doing.
It’s hard to believe that there was a time when you had to use a map to figure out how to get somewhere. We no longer even need special navigation devices. Instead every smart phone has GPS capability and several map options that will provide the route to a destination, and then also guide us there. We live at a time when we never have to wonder about the way to get somewhere.
In our text tonight, the disciples have no idea about where Jesus is going, or how to get there. And it turns out that even if they had our technology, it would have been of no assistance. Though they do not yet understand, Jesus tells them that they already know the way because they know him. And because they know Jesus, they also know the Father.
Our text tonight is from the beginning of what is often called Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse.” At the end of chapter thirteen the Last Supper has just ended, and on the night when he was betrayed, Jesus and the disciples start to make their way to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus begins to talk to the disciples and his words stretch from chapter fourteen to chapter seventeen. This is the last extensive teaching that Jesus did before he died, and so during this season of Lent as we prepare for Holy Week, our Lord’s words are a fitting subject for our consideration.
When Jesus and the disciples had gone out he began to speak about his coming death as he said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.” And then he added, “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’”
This statement confused and alarmed Peter who said, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, "Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” Peter wanted to know why he couldn’t follow Jesus now. After all, he declared that he would lay down his life for the Lord. Yet Jesus told him that instead, before the rooster crowed he would deny Jesus three times.
The prospect of Jesus leaving them was obviously very disturbing for the disciples. So at the beginning of our text Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. 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 will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”
Jesus said he was going away to prepare a place for the disciples. However, he also promised that he would come again and take them to himself, so that they would be with the Lord. And he assured them that they already knew the way to where he was going.
Thomas was utterly baffled by this and said, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In this statement by Jesus we begin to understand that the destination is not so much a place, but a person. The “destination” is eternal life with the Father. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life because of what he is about to do. By his death on the cross he will be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. By his resurrection from the dead he will grant life that conquers death, and he will be the guarantee of eternal life for all who believe in him.
Our Lord then added, “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip couldn’t understand what Jesus was saying and so he said, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”
For Jesus, this demonstrated the fact that Philip truly did not yet understand who he was. Jesus said to him,
“Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.”
In our text, Philip asks for a direct revelation of the Father. Martin Luther famously identified this request as being an example of the theology of glory. Philip wants to see the Father directly. Yet that is not how God works. Instead, God reveals himself in ways that look the opposite of the glorious. He works in the way of the cross.
We saw this at Christmas as we celebrated the incarnation of the Son of God. In the first chapter of this Gospel John writes about Son of God – the Word: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And then he adds, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.”
God the Father reveals himself in the flesh of the incarnate Son of God. This is God, but it is also God hidden and indirect. And now Jesus prepares to go to the cross. He goes to carry out the saving action for us. As Jesus said earlier, “And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Jesus has spoken the words of the Father, and now he will carry out the work the Father had given him to do.
God revealed in the flesh. God revealed in flesh nailed to a cross. This is how God works. And this is not what we want. We want to see God directly, and not in a way that requires faith. We want something that looks mighty, and not like suffering, weakness and failure.
Because you see, the way of the cross is not simply an explanation of how God worked to save us. It is a description of how God works in general. The cross is the pattern by which God continues to work in our world and lives. It describes the preaching of the Word and all of the Means of Grace which are in no way impressive to the world. It describes the way that God allows hardships to enter our lives, because they crucify the old Adam and force us to turn to God in faith. It describes the way God’s Church experiences persecution and suffering.
Jesus speaks these words as he is about to die on the cross. But as he says in our text, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” The cross looks like failure, but in fact it is God the Father’s work carried out by Jesus to give us forgiveness and life. Because Jesus gives his flesh into death on the cross, the way to life with God is now open. And because he will rise from the dead on Easter he is the source of eternal life.
We prepare during Lent to observe these events once again – the events of Holy Week and Easter. In remembering them we see not only that the cross was the means by which Jesus provided himself as the way to the Father. We also see that the cross in our own life is not the absence of God. Instead, it is God at work to draw us to himself. It is God at work to strengthen us in faith as we must believe and trust in him. We know this, because Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. And in Jesus, we see the Father’s loving work to save us.