Has this ever happened to you?
You go to the grocery store with a list of eight items in your mind. You’re confident that you’ll remember every item because you rehearsed the list over and over again earlier in the day. You get a cart and start to pick up the items. Bananas; check. Lettuce; check. Asparagus; check. Gluten free bread; check. Lunchmeat and cheese; check. Orange juice; check. You look at your cart: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 items.
But what was the eighth again? You think and think, but can’t remember.
You’re still not worried, though. You’ll just saunter up and down the aisles, hoping that you’ll spy the eighth item on your mental list.
The saunter strategy only makes things worse because, as you see things on sale or items you think you might need, you load up your cart with them. It only buries the forgotten item into the deeper recesses of your brain. You keep on forgetting until, just as your garage door goes up, you remember that you needed to pick up the main course for the night, chicken!
Our memories can be faulty. Unless we take the proper precautions, we are all at risk of forgetting the most important things in life. If we’re not careful, we can forget the important things that we know.
This is even true of our relationship with the God revealed to all of us in Jesus. In the rush of daily living, we can forget Jesus.
I’m not talking about forgetting the facts surrounding Jesus. Nobody who knows the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed is apt to forget that Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, was true God and true man, died for our sin, and rose to give life to all who believe in Him.
But, though all of these statements describe life-giving truths about Jesus, knowing them and even memorizing them without knowing Jesus won’t bring us life with God. Only Jesus does that. And only those who maintain a relationship with Jesus, daily turning from sin, daily following Him and trusting in Him, have life with God.
Christian faith isn’t a set of religious propositions. Christian faith is a relationship with God enfleshed, Jesus Christ.
And you know what? Relationships have to be nurtured.
A woman was married to a man who loved her. But he was boring, not flashy, predictable. She had an affair with a man who was none of those things. But after the excitement wore off, she realized that this man didn’t love her the way her husband did. So she committed herself to reconstructing her relationship with her husband. Later, she told a friend, “I took my husband for granted. I’d forgotten who he was and what he did with me and for me. I nearly lost him.”
As our gospel lesson for today begins, the disciples are in danger of losing their relationship with Jesus. Jesus, heading for His crucifixion, speaks to them in what we call His “farewell discourse.” He tells them: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that 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. You know the way to the place where I am going.”
The disciples should have known exactly what Jesus was talking about when He claimed to be one with God. They had heard Him say: “Before Abraham was born, I am,” using strange grammar to claim for Himself the same name God revealed to be His to Moses back at the burning bush, Yahweh, I Am (John 8:58). The disciples had heard Jesus say, “I and the Father are one" (John 10:30). They had watched Jesus raise His friend Lazarus from the dead (as well as countless other signs).
They also should have known where Jesus was going. They’d heard Jesus tell Lazarus’ sister, “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). They had heard Jesus tell Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
But now, in the rush of their daily lives, looking down the barrelhead of opposition and death in Jerusalem, they seem to have forgotten everything. They had gotten so accustomed to live with “the Word [made] flesh,” that they forgot that this flesh and blood rabbi they followed was (and is) also God. (John 1:14)
Verse 5: “Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?’ Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’”
Dr. Jim Nestingen says that Thomas was looking for a roadmap. We don’t need a roadmap. If we know Jesus and follow Him, we know the Way and that’s enough.
Jesus is the way because He’s the foundational truth on which the new creation is built. Any life not built on Jesus is a lie. Other ways promise life, but only Jesus can deliver. Jesus told Pilate: “Everyone on the side of truth listens to Me” (John 18:37).
Jesus is the way because when He ushers us into intimacy with the Father, we are connected to the only One Who can make life or make life new. Thomas should have known all of this already; but he forgot. We too can forget. We too need to be regularly reminded or risk forgetting the Way.
Verse 8: “Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.’”
Philip, one of Jesus’ first followers, the disciple who told his friend Nathanael, “Come and see” (John 1:46), had evidently forgotten the things he had seen and heard: the miracles, the teaching, the changed lives. He demands that Jesus show them the Father. Jesus reminds Philip that Philip had already seen the Father in Jesus. And, Jesus pleads, “If you don’t believe what you’ve seen in Me, then believe in what you’ve seen Me do.”
I sometimes forget Who Jesus is and what He has accomplished for you at the cross and from His empty tomb.
I forget His promises, promises for which His death and resurrection are the downpayment and the guarantee.
I get so caught up in all my doing, that I forget that the God we know in Jesus Christ is the One in Whom “‘we live and move and have our being.' “ (Acts 17:28)
Jesus’ death and resurrection prove that He can deliver on His promises to us, promises like forgiven sin, new life, the presence of God with us along this life’s way.
And promises like the ones He makes at the ends of our lesson today: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”
Jesus promises that the people who remain connected to Him, His Church, will do even greater things than He did during His three decades on earth.
He promises too, that whatever things we ask in His name--in other words, whatever things we ask of God that conform to Jesus' will, that draw others to life through Christ, that reflect His character of love and goodness, Jesus will see that they happen.
Some of you know the amazing thing that happened when my mother was dying a few weeks ago.
At the hospital, my niece contacted a friend of hers who also is a friend of my brother’s and asked her to tell my brother what was going on.
We hadn’t seen my brother in six and a half years. But we had prayed that before either of our parents left this life, there would be a reconciliation. We didn’t want our brother to live with any unnecessary guilt. I dreaded the thought of that.
My brother came to the hospital. We didn’t know that he had only moved back to the Columbus area two weeks earlier! (The God we know in Jesus is the master orchestrator of events!) There was a wonderful reconciliation.
What if we had given up on praying for reconciliation?
What if my niece had given up on trying to reach out for my brother?
What if my brother had turned a deaf ear to the Savior in Whom he believes?
When we remain connected to Jesus, trusting in Him, not everything in this world goes as we want. (After all, this isn't heaven!) But Jesus gives us the strength to endure when all seems hopeless. And He enters the places and the lives into which we invite Him to transform hurt to healing, despair to hope, life to death. In fact, He specializes in doing just those kinds of things.
I have no magic formula on how you can remain connected and intimate with the Savior, Who by His grace, saves all who trust in Him. This is a relationship that requires time, commitment, and work, not as the prices we pay for salvation, but as the sacrifices we willingly to make to remain intimate and alive with the Lord Who sacrificed all for us.
Do you want to always remember Jesus and stay connected to Him? Here’s how:
- Be in corporate worship every week you can. We are strengthened by God's Word and God's Truth as we gather in Christ's name.
- Receive Christ’s body and blood, which brings you His life and forgiveness, every time they’re offered. Someone once asked my mentor, Pastor Bruce Schein, how often people should receive Holy Communion. His answer: "Every time you can!" In this supper, Christ comes to us, giving us His very life and imparting His forgiveness to us. Holy Communion is God's Word incarnated. It's a treasure not to be passed by or forgotten!
- Join hands with your Christian family for prayer, study, mutual encouragement and accountability, and service in Jesus’ name.
- And spend time each day personally in God’s Word, asking the Lord what He wants to tell you and how He wants to lead you that day.
Jesus never forgets you; please, never forget Jesus.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This was the message for worship on Sunday, May 14, 2017.]