Are you old enough to remember life before Sat Nav? Remember when you relied on using a road map lying precariously on the passenger seat beside you. If you were like me, you got lost frequently. Now you simply type in a postcode or a road name on your phone or sat nav and you’ll be guided all the way to your destination. But do you know how GPS works? You turn it on and type in the post code. No, that is not what I mean.
The Global Positioning System(GPS) is a constellation of 30+ Earth-orbiting satellites. Weighing around 3,000 to 4,000 pound each solar-powered satellite circles the globe at about 12,000 miles (19,300 km), making two complete rotations every day. The orbits are arranged so that at anytime, anywhere on earth, there are at least four satellites “visible” in the sky. Your GPS receiver in your sat nav locates four or more of these satellites, figure out the distance to each, and uses this information to deduce its own location. This operation is based on a simple mathematical principle called trilateration. In order to make this simple calculation, then, the Sat Nav or GPS receiver has to know two things: The location of at least three satellites above you and the distance between you and each of those satellites.
Your sat nav figures both of these things out in milliseconds by analyzing high-frequency, low-power radio signals from the GPS satellites. Radio waves are electromagnetic energy, which means they travel at the speed of light (about 186,000 miles per second, 300,000 km per second in a vacuum). The receiver can figure out how far the signal has traveled by timing how long it took the signal to arrive. In order for the distance information to be of any use, the receiver also has to know where the satellites actually are. This isn’t particularly difficult because the satellites travel in very high and predictable orbits. The GPS receiver contains an almanac that tells it where every satellite should be at any given time. Once the receiver makes this calculation, it can tell you the latitude, longitude and altitude of your current position.
If you have seen films like Enemy of the State you will know that a GPS receiver not only provides you with information on your location anywhere on the earth, but can give anyone tracking you a fix on your location as well. Complicated isn’t it. But you don’t need to worry about how it works – just turn it on, type in a road or postcode and your handy sat nav will guide you to your destination. If only life were so straightforward as a journey from A to B.
Life is a journey. It has a beginning and an end. Birth and death. That much is certain. What happens in between is the unpredictable, exciting part. We’re all travelers somewhere on that journey, forever on the move, learning, growing, changing.
In our gospel reading today, Jesus tell us that our real home is heaven, we are only visiting this planet.
Some people, especially the younger they are, don’t seem to care about where they are going. As long as life is long and lots of fun along the way. To travel is more exciting than to arrive. That perspective on life changes the older you get.
Can you imagine setting out on a journey and not knowing or caring where you were going? Silly isn’t it. Life is the longest and most significant journey we will ever make. It is therefore important we know where we are going. In our reading from John’s Gospel, we find Jesus telling his followers that He must soon leave them, or to be blunt, that He was going to die, and that they must know why. They are confused, fearful. Jesus explains where heaven is and how to get there. Jesus seems to assume that his friends knew where heaven is. But they didn’t and were honest enough to say so. Peter, always one to speak his mind asks,
“Where are you going? Why can’t we follow you now? “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” Said Jesus “Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. 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.” (John 13:37; 14:1-4)
Like the way a GPS receiver uses trilateration to guide us to our destination, Jesus explains how they and we can get to heaven. He describes heaven as a place – a real place, as real as any place on a map. But we need three things. We need a special map. We need to know where our destination is and we need a guide to get us there. Jesus is the answer to all three. Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) I want us to consider these three great claims of Jesus.
They are like three coordinates that identify how to get from where ever we are now, to our true home in heaven.
1. I am the Way – the Unique Person of Jesus Christ
Life is a journey, and we are all travelers. Sometimes, maybe right now, for you it seems like a desert. Sooner or later we all get lost, we lose our way, we need someone to show us the way. A Pathfinder.
One of the most memorable films I have seen is called “The Pathfinder” It is a Scandinavian film, a folk story about a family of nomadic Laplanders living in the frozen north of Siberia about a thousand years ago, in temporary settlements following the herds of reindeer. But their community is threatened by a tribe of killers known as the Tehudes. The Tehudes are from the east and live by plundering whoever falls across their path. The story centres around a young boy called Aigen who returns from a hunting trip to find his family brutally murdered. He escapes to a nearby village half dead and is accepted as one of them. But the village is afraid that the killers will follow his trail and attack them too. They cannot decide whether to stay put or flee. He and some of the men stay behind to prepare to fight while the other villagers move nearer the sea. There is a fight and the boy is captured, the only survivor. He is forced to turn traitor and lead the marauding band to where the villagers are hiding. But instead he leads them into a deep crevasse where they are killed. Aigen survives and from afar the villagers see their deliverance. In a moving end to the story Aigen is chosen as their new Pathfinder. Even though he is only a child, he is chosen to lead them through the snowy desert to food and safety.
Ever since I saw the film, the word “Pathfinder” has taken on a new meaning, because that is what Jesus is speaking of here. A thousand years before Aigen, Jesus said, “I am the true Pathfinder.” Jesus says to us as He did to His friends, “I am the Way”. I am the road to God, the only road that leads to heaven.
Buddha is dead, Gandhi is dead, Mohammed is dead, Lenin is dead. You can visit their graves. Instead, Christ followers worship at an empty tomb. Most of the world tries to walk in the shoes of dead guides and gurus, and fails. Jesus is alive. He came back to life to show us the Way. In a world of competing religions and guides, prophets and gurus, Jesus says “I am the way to God”. Not “a way” but “The Way”. No other religious leader made such claims or offered such convincing proof. Jesus said “I am the Way”, and He came back from the dead to prove He had been there, to prove He knew how to get back, back to eternity. The true Pathfinder. I am the Way: The Unique Person of Jesus Christ. Here’s the second coordinate.
2. I am the Truth: The Unquestioned Authority of Jesus
Jesus is the way, and His teaching in the Bible is the truth. It is our map. A few years ago I visited St Petersburg and as is my custom, being an intrepid geographer, I bought a street map. I carried it around with me for ten days. Admittedly it was in Russian but even with my compass I still had a hard time getting the road names to match up with those on the map. On the last day I asked a Russian to help me locate myself on the map. He smiled and told me in broken English I had bought a facsimile of an antique map originally printed in 1918. No wonder I had got lost….
A map or a guide book may be unreliable, defective, out of date. Most modern so-called “guides” have a notoriously short life. Apparently new books can have a shelf life of six weeks before they are remaindered and then pulped. This book on the other hand has been the number one best seller world-wide for around 2000 years. Have you ever wondered why? Because eternal truth is always contemporary, always relevant. Why follow Jesus? First, because He is the Way to heaven. Secondly, because He is the Truth, the route to heaven. But Jesus promised more. He didn’t just say. “Follow my example, read my book, bye for now, see you there, hope you make it.” No, Jesus gave a third coordinate.
I am the Way: The Unique Person of Jesus Christ.
I am the Truth: The Unquestioned Authority of Jesus Christ
3. I am the Life: The Unparalleled Work of Jesus Christ
The distinctive work of Christ was to do what no one else had the ability to do. All religions agree that the world is in a mess, each has its own way of trying to deal with our desperate situation. Imagine we are like the man who has fallen down a deep well. The question is how to get out. First comes Mohammed who looks over the top of the well and says, “If you will only keep the five rules of Islam you will be able to escape out of the well. You must pray five times a day, eat no pork, drink no alcohol, keep the feast of Ramadan, and make a pilgrimage to Mecca.” But a man has only his own strength to keep these commandments and after a few steps he falls back again and cries out for help. Then along comes Buddha, who looks over the top of the well and says, “I can see you are in a mess; the problem is due to pain and desire. If you follow the noble eightfold path you will ultimately escape from these into Nirvana.” But the trouble is we are still down the well. So how is Christianity unique? In Jesus Christ, God comes to the top of the well and looks down and says, “I can see that you are in a mess; you will never get out by means of your own resources. I will have to let down a rope and come into the well myself in order to rescue you. I will hold you firmly because you do not even have the strength to hold onto me yourself.”
Only Christianity speaks of a God becoming one of us to rescue us, to save us from our lostness, our blindness, from having gone astray. Other religions say we must work hard to deliver ourselves. Religions are about the word “do”. Christianity is about the word “done”. We don’t have to do anything because Jesus has done it for us. Religions are all about effort, Christianity is all about grace. Jesus promised them, “I will come back and take you to be with me.” And He did, and He continues to. Jesus has shown us by his death and resurrection that death is not the end of the journey, that we were created for eternal life, a living relationship with God as our Father. And he has given us His Spirit to indwell us and guide us home, to help us follow Jesus and obey his word. Jesus said “I am the Way, the truth and the Life.” In his book The Imitation of Christ, Thomas A’ Kempis helpfully explains how all three complement each other.
“Follow me, I am the way and the truth and the life. Without the way there is no going; without the truth there is no knowing; without the life there is no living. I am the way which you must follow; the truth which you must believe; the life for which you must hope. I am the inviolable way; the infallible truth; the never ending life. I am the straightest way; the sovereign truth; life true, life blessed, life uncreated. If you remain in my way you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free, and you shall lay hold on eternal life.” (The Imitation of Christ, 56.1)
Foolish to believe? Foolish to ignore? That’s for you to decide. Jim Elliott was a missionary in South America. He was murdered, along with five other young men trying to help the feared Acuwa Indians. Before he was killed he wrote this in his diary,
“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” You may feel a fool for contemplating becoming a Christ follower, afraid of what your friends or colleagues might say, then think through the consequences. “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Maybe you have been a Christian for many years but only half heartedly, then reflect upon where you are heading.
“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Following Jesus involves entrusting your life, with all its warts and wrinkles to Him, a life which you cannot keep, and in return receiving, in exchange, his Spirit, his wisdom, his values, his power, his life, a life you don’t deserve, a life you cannot earn, a life you can only receive, a life that is eternal. Jesus is the one through whom we can experience the life we were created for, destined for, both now and for eternity. In the midst of life’s uncertainties, its joys and tragedies, Jesus comes along side us and makes this promise,
“Do not let your hearts be troubled…Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. 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.” (John 14:1-4)
May you have the assurance today, of knowing your location in life, your destination in heaven and by God’s grace, how to get there. Then share that good news with someone who is still lost. Lets pray.