Knowing the Destination; Knowing the Way, John 14:1-7


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“Knowing the Destination; Knowing the Way”
John 14:1-7
June 28, 2020
Faith Presbyterian Church – Morning Service
Pastor Nicoletti

We continue this morning in the Gospel of John.

Jesus is gathered with his disciples after the Passover meal, speaking with them. Later that night he will be arrested.

Jesus has just laid three difficult things before his disciples. He told them first that he would be going away from them. He said, second, that they could not follow after him. And then he said, third, that they would utterly fail him that night.

When Peter said that he would follow Jesus no matter what – that he would lay down his life for Jesus – Jesus said that instead Peter would deny him three times that very night. And while he said this only of Peter, since Peter tended to be the boldest of the twelve, such a statement did not bode well for the rest of the disciples.

The disciples have reason for fear, and for concern, and for discouragement. They have reason to be troubled.

And that is where Jesus starts in our passage this morning.

With that in mind, let’s hear from our text: John chapter fourteen, verses one through seven.

Please listen carefully, for this is God’s Word for us this morning.

14:1 [Jesus said to them] “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 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? 3 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. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you had known me, you would have known 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.)

“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” [1 Peter 1:24-25]

Let’s pray …

Lord,
Let your saving hand be close to us,
for we have bound ourselves to your precepts.
We long for your salvation, Lord,
because your law is our delight.
Give our souls life, that we might praise you,
and help us now through your word.
We have each gone astray like lost sheep.
As we come to your word now, we ask you to seek us,
for we have not forgotten your word to us.
Grant this, we ask, in Jesus’s name. Amen.
[Based on Psalm 119:173-176]

Our text this morning asks two questions: What is our destination? And how do we get there?

What is our destination? And how do we get there?

And that first question really comes out in verse five.

Jesus talks about where he is going. He talks about the fact that where he is going is where his disciples will go as well. He tells them that they know the way. And then Thomas cuts in and says “Lord, we do not know where you are going.”

Jesus has been speaking of a destination, and Thomas, speaking for the other disciples, tells Jesus that they don’t fully understand the destination that Jesus is speaking of – they’re not sure what he’s talking about. [Carson, 490-491]

It can be easy to get down on Thomas – but his question is not so unique. It is not so unusual. It is a question the Jews were asking in the first century. And it is a question that we often find ourselves asking today. Where are we going? What is our destination?

Christian philosopher James K. A. Smith takes that question up in his recent book On the Road with Saint Augustine. Smith looks to Augustine – the fifth century African bishop and church father – to answer this question of where we are going, and he argues that by looking to Augustine, we can get a clear view into how we struggle with that question today. And I want to spend some time this morning considering what Smith has to tell us, what we can see in Augustine, and how it all relates to the question Thomas has raised about our destination.

Smith, drawing from Augustine, offers several common answers to the question of where we are going – of what our destination is – of where we seek “home” in our lives.

The first answer that is often given, is that “home” – our destination – is just a bit further on, just over the horizon.

From this perspective, we are aimed at something right here in this world, and once we get there, once we lay hold of that thing, we will have “arrived” – we will feel “at home” and at rest.

What that destination, what that “home” is, may vary. It could be a new kind of freedom we are seeking. It could be some form of ambition or worldly achievement. It could be belonging to a particular group. It could be a relationship, or a family that you long to have. It could be recognition, or money, or power, or sex, or security, or any number of things. It is that thing that you seek with the belief that when you get it, then you will have “arrived” – then you will be at peace, at rest, at home.

And that, Smith explains, is what Augustine sought in the early period of his life. He sought to find his peace in his position, and he sought position through achievement.

And so at first, Augustine thought he’d find fulfillment by achieving success in Carthage. And he did succeed there … but soon he was unsatisfied with what he’d achieved. And so, after a time of sitting in that disappointment, he turned his eyes to the next horizon: Rome. And Augustine sought a new home there, in all that Rome had to offer. Rome, he was convinced, was where he would finally find what he’d been looking for – where he’d achieve the success that would bring him peace. And he arrived in Rome, and he worked, and he succeeded … but soon his success there seemed to lose its satisfaction as well. Disappointment set in once more. And so it was not too long before Augustine set his eyes on Milan – the seat of the emperor, and a new prestigious post he could have there. And off he went. And again he succeeded. And this was a key moment for Augustine, because in Milan he attained what he had hoped for … and still he was disappointed again. And Augustine was shaken by this reality. [Smith, 7-8]

“It was ambition that brought Augustine to Milan,” Smith writes, “but it was attainment that unsettled him.” [Smith, 85]

And we can experience the same thing. Smith describes how this works with the various goals in our own lives, describing them as different destinations we can see from afar on the road that is our lives.

He writes that the road of our lives “offers an unending ribbon of sights and stop-offs whose flashing billboards promise exactly what you’re looking for – happiness, satisfaction, joy. Indeed, the road has a strange way of showing what looks like a destination in the distance that, when you get there, points to another destination beyond it. So just when you think friendship or wealth or a family or influence was your ultimate destination, you hang out there for a while and the place starts to dim. What once held your fascination – even, for a time, seemed like it was your reason to live – doesn’t ‘do it’ for you anymore. You won’t admit it to yourself for a long while. After all, you sent out all those celebratory announcements about your new existential home. You effectively told everyone you’d arrived; you believed it yourself. But at some point you’ll finally be honest with yourself about the disappointment, and eventually that disappointment becomes disdain, and you can’t wait to get away. Fortunately, just as you start to look around, you see the promise of a new destination down the road.” [Smith, 4]

Do you see that pattern in your life?

What are the things – the worldly goals – that you believe, in your heart, will give you the satisfaction you long for – the destination you seek? What is it for you? Where are you looking for home?

Maybe more importantly – what has it been for you in the past? What are the things that you thought would give you that satisfaction … but when you laid hold of them, they soon grew dim … they failed to satisfy … they turned out not to be a home after all? And when that happened, what did you move on to next?

We can move on from one thing to another … like Augustine did. But that only works for so long. Soon the repetition begins to wear on us. Dissatisfaction can begin to grow in us through repeated disappointment. [Smith, 16]

And soon we get tired of striving.

What do we do when that happens? What do we do when the destinations we have sought fall short again and again, and none seem to provide a true home for us?

Well, when that happens, we often turn to detours. This is the second answer James Smith says our culture provides when we ask what our destination is.

When the pursuit of our hopes and our goals fails to satisfy, and we get tired of chasing destinations that fade upon arrival, one option we may pursue is to tell ourselves that we are home right where we are. And then we try to drown out the tug in our gut that tells us that this is a lie.

“The most popular way to quell [our] unsettling sense of not-at-home-ness,” Smith writes, “is by trying to make ourselves at home in the world, even if that looks like mostly distracting ourselves from the unsettling fact of our alienation. […] We learn to forget our alienation by letting ourselves be taken over by the distractions and entertainments and chatter of the world. […] ‘You belong here’ is the lie told to us by everyone from Disney to Vegas. […] [And so we fool] ourselves into thinking we’re at home with distraction, [trick] ourselves into feeling ‘settled’ only because we’ve sold our home-hunger for entertainments.” [Smith, 41]

Maybe, as Smith suggests, this takes the form of entertainment – of drowning out the home-hunger we feel with shows, with hobbies, with noise. Maybe it takes the form of busyness – tasks that we tell ourselves are important even though we might not be able to explain why they are so important, but still we use them to fill every moment and to avoid hearing the discontentedness of our hearts. Maybe it takes the form of filling our mind with content – news stories, information, social media debates – engagement and discussions in which we tell ourselves our participation is of utmost importance … though if we weren’t there everything would pretty much go on the same without us. Maybe it’s a combination of all of these things.

But what is it for you? How do you drown out that voice – that voice from your gut that tries to tell you that you are not really home?

We can try to distract ourselves. But in the end, the busyness and the entertainments of this world cannot silence the cry of our heart – the testimony of our gut – that still, we are not at home. [Smith, 41]

We know that these engaging distractions are empty. We know that our hearts remain restless. But when we cannot deny that any longer … what do we do next?

The destination, we know, is not just at the horizon. It’s also not right here where we already are.

And so, the third answer our culture provides is what often appears to be the only option left. If our home is not the destination we are aimed at, if our home is not the place we are starting from, then perhaps our home is on the road itself.

We tell ourselves that life and purpose are not about where we are going, but about the process of getting somewhere. We tell ourselves that life isn’t about our destination, but about the journey.

We decide to try to convince ourselves, Smith says, “that the road is life, making restlessness peace, uprootedness home.” And so “we’re always on the move, restless, vaguely chasing something rather than oriented to a destination.” [Smith, 5] We “turn our estrangement into a philosophy: ‘The road is life’ is a motto you try to convince yourself is true when you never feel at home with yourself.” [Smith, 39]

And so we tell ourselves to give up on a destination – to give up on ever “arriving” and to make our home on the road of life itself. We tell ourselves that the sense of uprootedness is natural – that that is where we belong. We tell ourselves that constant change, constant movement, that is the answer. The journey is what it’s all about. We tell our hearts to give up on the dream of arriving home – of coming to our true destination – of finding rest somewhere.

“And yet,” Smith writes … “it’s hard to efface the home-hunger that […] is an impulsion.” [Smith, 39]

Something never quite feels right about the philosophy that tells us that the road is life – that the journey is more important than the destination. And Smith identifies what may be wrong with that by turning to a concrete example in this world.

Imagine, he writes, trying to take this philosophy that “the road is life” and present it as a message to “actual migrants, to those risking their lives today,” he writes, “in boats submerged to the gunwales, ferrying hopeful refugees across […] [the] Mediterranean, [and] all too often failing to arrive. Or imagine young parents, toddlers in tow, making the harrowing journey from murderous Honduras to the southern border of the United States, parched and depleted by the desert journey, trying to cross this fabled line to apply for asylum, only to be refused and returned over and over again. Are they supposed to [believe that the road – that the journey – is life]? Should refugees’ hearts be filled every time they step foot into another laden dinghy, casting out into the threats of the Mediterranean, wondering if this is the time they’ll make landfall, or perish? [Are] […] [such journeys] where they should determine they’ll find joy?” [Smith, 39-40]

“Or,” Smith asks, “do such […] [philosophies] that ‘the road is life’ […] turn out to be the bourgeois luxuries indulged by those safe enough to pretend this is all there is? Does the hunger and hope of the migrant show us something more fundamentally human? Maybe our craving for rest, refuge, arrival, home is a hunger that can’t be edited – […] an obstinate […] suggest[ion] [that] there might be another way. If there’s a map inscribed in the human heart that shows where home is, the fact that we haven’t yet arrived doesn’t make it a fiction. It might just mean there’s a way we haven’t tried.” [Smith, 40]

When our worldly destinations don’t feel like home … and the place we’ve started from doesn’t feel like home … and the road itself does not feel like home … then where do we turn to next?

What Augustine found, and what Jesus will tell us in our text this morning, is that, as Smith puts it: “The heart’s hunger is infinite, which is why it will ultimately be disappointed with anything merely finite.” This is why every destination in this world seems to fall short of the home our hearts long for. “Humans,” Smith goes on, “are those strange creatures who can never be fully satisfied by anything created – though that never stops us from trying. […] We foist infinite expectations upon the finite. But the finite is given as a gift to help us get elsewhere.” [Smith, 13]

“There is joy in the journey,” Smith writes, “precisely when we don’t try to make a home out of our car, so to speak. There is love on the road when we stop loving the road. There are myriad gifts along the way when we remember that it’s a way. There is delight in the sojourn when we know where home is.” [Smith, 13]

As we let go of each of these answers that the world provides about where we should find our destination – where we should find home – one of the first things we need to do is believe once again that that home actually exists – even if we have never been there.

“Imagine,” Smith writes, “a refugee spirituality, an understanding of human longing and estrangement that not only honors those experiences of not-at-home-ness but also affirms the hope of finding home, finding oneself. The immigrant is migrating towards a home she’s never been to before. She will arrive in a strange land and, in ways that surprise her, come to say, ‘I’m at home here,’ not least because someone is there to greet her and say, ‘Welcome home.’ The goal isn’t returning home but being welcomed home in a place you weren’t born, arriving in a strange land and being told, ‘You belong here.’” [Smith, 44]

And that is what Jesus speaks of in our passage this morning.

Jesus tells the disciples that their true home is not to be found in the created things of this world, but in the Creator of this world. He tells them that their home – their true destination – is God, their Father.

“In my Father’s house are many rooms,” he says. And, he adds: “I go to prepare a place for you”.

When Thomas expresses confusion, Jesus says it even more clearly: their destination is the Father – it is he that they long to come to.

That is, after all, what Jesus was getting at when he spoke of his Father’s house. While the picture Jesus uses is a house with many rooms, the architecture or the building are not the point. The presence of the Father is the point. The presence of God is the destination Jesus is speaking of. [Carson, 489; Wright, 58]

“God is the country we’re looking for” Smith writes – he is the “homeland we’ve never been to.” [Smith, 51]

And that is what Augustine found as well.

For Augustine, Smith writes, “the Christian gospel […] wasn’t just the answer to an intellectual question (though it was that); it was more like a shelter in a storm […]. It was, he would later testify, like someone had finally shown him his home country, even though he’d never been there before. It was the Father he’d spent a lifetime looking for, saying to him, ‘Welcome home.’” [Smith, xii]

Or as Augustine says to God at the beginning of his Confessions: “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” [Confessions I,1,1]

The first thing our passage does this morning is that it identifies our true home – the destination our hearts truly seek.

That destination is not the achievements or riches of this world that we grasp at, and journey to, again and again. It’s not the distractions that lower our vision to just the here-and-now. It’s not the road itself, with its constant changes and pursuits.

Our true home – our true destination – is God himself. For God has made us for himself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in him.

That is the first thing our text points us to.

But the second question it raises is how we are to get there. Where can we find the way?

And again, before we get to Jesus’s answer, it is worth considering the answers our world often provides for us.

Where can we find the road – the way – to our Maker?

Of course, one popular answer in our day is that any road we choose will lead us to God, and so we should spend less time agonizing over which road to take, and just get on with the journey.

Let it be Christianity or Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism or even better yet, find your own path – your own road to the divine.

Often those who promote these ideas want to stress what these roads have in common. The morals they share. The principles that are similar. The ritual practices that have resemblances. A list of such similarities might be made. And then the conclusion is drawn that they all really do lead to the same place.

And yet … maybe the analogy of a road is helpful for us once again.

Because roads can have a lot in common … while leading to very different places.

Of course we realize this in regular life. When you leave here today, you will come to an intersection. And it matters which road you take. In our own experience, every road does not lead to the same place. And arguing that the roads have similar features – that they look similar, have similar lines down the middle, require that you follow similar laws and similar speed limits – all of this says nothing about where each road actually leads.

And so as we ask how we get to our Maker, the first thing we need to consider is which road leads to our Maker. Jesus says that he is the Way that leads to God the Father – and we can know that because as we look at him, we see the Father. That is what Jesus begins to say here in verse seven, and goes on to elaborate on in the verses that follow. As we look along the road that is Jesus, to where he points, we can see God the Father. And with that we see both our destination, and the way to get there.

But it doesn’t stop there. Because we do not just need a way – a road – that will point us in the right direction. We also need a way – a road – that will support us along the way.

When I was in high school, I played football on our varsity football team, and each school year for us began in August with double sessions, when we would spend the entire day at the athletic fields by the school, having two or three football practices a day, preparing for the season before the school year started.

One year, while football practice was going on on one side of our high school building, there was construction going on on the other side of the building – they were adding a new wing onto our school. And on one particular day we were having our lunch break, between practices, and I got into my car to run a quick errand. And on my way, I pulled onto the semi-circle driveway in front of the school. And to get from one end to the other, you had to drive around this big arch of a driveway. But the thing was that in order to accommodate the trucks bringing construction supplies, they had set up a temporary gravel road that cut right across the arch, on a diagonal. I was at one end of that semi-circle, and I wanted to get to the other. I could drive along the big arch … or I could just cut across the gravel road that was made for the large trucks.

I decided I’d cut across on the gravel road.

The gravel road wasn’t really a gravel road – or at least not a typical one – because it was made with larger rocks than I’d normally seen on a gravel road … they were each a couple inches in diameter.

And there wasn’t dirt right under them – but for several feet down it was just these rocks. And they were piled pretty loosely.

Which is fine, apparently, for a big eighteen-wheeler.

But, it turns out, it was not so good for a ’91 Nissan Stanza. My car got to about the half-way point of this gravel road, and then it started to sink into the rocks. The more I pressed the gas, the more it seemed to sink down … until the undercarriage had sunk into the rocks and I was stuck.

I had to walk back to where the rest of the football team was and get a bunch of teammates to push my car up and forward, while I pressed on the gas. Finally, we got the car our, and off of that gravel road. For a while after that, as I drove around town, rocks kept falling out of the undercarriage. I eventually brought it to a mechanic who pulled out over a hundred more rocks still stuck in there.

Now … why do I tell that story?

I had two roads that each led to the same place.

But it’s not enough that a road leads to the right place. That road also needs to be able to support you along the way. Otherwise, you sink.

Jesus says to his disciples – and he says to us: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Jesus’s comments here are not intended to be hateful or intolerant. Jesus is stating a bald fact. No one can get to the Father – no one can reach their true destination, their heart’s true home – except through Christ.

Christ is the way. First, he is the way that leads to God our Maker, in a world with many roads that lead to many other places.

But second, he is the only road that can support us on the way to God our Father. He is the only road that can bear our weight. He is the only road that we can rely on as we make the journey.

People propose other roads. They see other ways that seem to point to the Father. But none of those ways can bear our weight. We can try to earn our way back to God, but we will sink under the weight of our sins. We can assume that we deserve our own way to him, but we will soon sink under the weight of our presumption. We can propose all sorts of man-made roads to get to the Father, but in the end, each one is like that gravel road. We may make a good start. But before we are halfway there we sink into the gravel, and we remain homeless and far from our destination.

But Jesus has not left us to man-made roads. He has provided for us, and as we rely on him, we can make the journey to our heart’s true home.

For he is the One who prepares a place for us with the Father. It is in his going to the cross – in his dying and rising again – that he prepared a place for us to be with the Father. [Carson, 489]

He also is the Way for us. And it is crucial for us to see that Jesus does not just make a way for us, but he is the way for us. It is in reliance on him – relying on his word as truth, relying on his power as life, relying on his death and resurrection on our behalf for forgiveness – it is in all these ways that he is for us a way – a road that will support us on our way to our Maker. [Carson, 491]

And finally, Jesus does not leave us to travel alone. “I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also,” he says in verse three.

At the end of time Jesus will return and he will raise all his people from the dead and bring them into the new heaven and the new earth to dwell with God our Father forever. [Carson, 488-490] But, of course, that’s not the only time he will come to us. He will come to us on the day of our death, to bring us into the presence of God. And he comes to us even now, by his Spirit, to be our comfort, our help, and our guide, as we travel on the way.

He is with us as we walk on the way of discipleship. And discipleship itself is a journey.

It begins at conversion, but doesn’t end there. Conversion puts us on the right road. It faces us the right direction, by the revelation of Christ. It places our feet on the solid ground of the road that is Christ. It gives us a companion on the way, who is Christ. And it gives us a company to travel with, which is the Body of Christ.

The life of discipleship that we are called to is a life of journeying towards God, in reliance on Christ.

If you are here this morning and you are not a Christian, that means you need to consider seriously where your heart’s true home can be found – and therefore what destination you should be aiming for.

Your true home is not found in just the next town – the next achievement or attainment. Neither is it found in the distractions all around you or in the process of the journey.

You were made for God. And your heart will be restless until it rests in him.

And once you see that, you also need to see that only Christ can get you to him. Christ is the only road that clearly leads to the Father. And he is certainly the only road that can bear your weight along the way.

The call for you this morning is to turn to Christ, and trusting in him, to set out towards your Maker.

If you are already a Christian, then you need to consider to what extent you may have lost your way. You have set out for the Father, you have set out on the road that is Christ, you have oriented your life to God and your way to a reliance on Christ … but maybe you have lost your direction along the way.

Maybe you have taken your eyes off the Father and become enthralled with the offerings of another town on the horizon. Maybe you have become distracted by all that is going on around you and have stopped your journey. Maybe you’ve taken your eyes off the destination and become infatuated with the road itself.

Or maybe you’ve stepped onto another road that seemed to be pointing the same direction, but is made of loose rocks, and you are sinking in, rather than moving forward. Maybe you too need to call some fellow travelers with you this morning to help pull you out where you are stuck, and get you back on that solid road that is Christ.

Where do you need to aim your life and your heart again at your Maker?

Where do you need to place your full reliance again on Christ?

There are no greater questions in your life than where you are heading and how you will get there.

God, your Father, calls you to himself. In his house are many rooms. One of them can be yours, for all eternity. You can find your heart’s true home in the presence of your loving Heavenly Father forever.

Jesus Christ is the way. He will direct you. He will support you. He will accompany you.

Place your trust fully in Christ. For no one can come to the Father except through him.

Amen.

This sermon draws on material from:
Carson, D.A. The Gospel According to John. PNTC. Grand Rapids,
Smith, James K.A. On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2019.
Wright, N. T. John for Everyone, Part 2: Chapters 11-21. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2004.

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