What are some things we know about who Jesus is? . . .
What do we know about what Jesus came to do? . . .
We can trust that Jesus reveals God to us. Many of us have operated out of an assumption that we who are Christians are “in” while others are “out,” right? We who believe in Jesus are saved, while those others may not be. Our eternity is secure, while theirs is uncertain.
That’s the way a lot of us were raised. Most adults who have grown up in the church were raised with a little bit of that attitude. We know who Jesus is, got baptized, were taught about him in Sunday School, got confirmed in this Christian faith, and now attend church and stay in good with God. “Going to church” has been for good Christian believing people. We may not be that blunt about it, but for many of us, that attitude is a little bit there. Doesn’t that strike some chord of familiarity for some of us? And so we’ve understood the church from that perspective. The church is for us, for good Jesus-loving Christian folk.
The problem is that it isn’t what Jesus is about. Therefore, it isn’t what God is about. Therefore it can’t be what the church is about. Jesus, when he expressed a preference, sided with the ones outside of the church. He saved his harshest criticisms for those who were part of the church.
There’s an expression that has stuck with me is, “Whenever you draw a line to separate people, Jesus is always found on the other side of it.” That is consistent with who Jesus is and what he came among us to accomplish. God is a very inclusive God. It is a theme repeated over and over and over throughout scripture:
- God is the God of all; there are no other gods.
- God’s redemptive love is for all people and all of creation.
- God’s mandate is to take care of the poor, the immigrant, the widow, the orphan, regardless of their beliefs or anything else.
- Jesus did not come to condemn but to forgive.
- There is no longer insider or outsider, gay or straight, Jew or Greek, slave or free, male and female
- While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
- All people sin and fall short of the glory of God.
- If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
God is always about reconciliation and leveling the playing field for everyone, never about division or superiority. There’s a consistent theme throughout the biblical witness that God doesn’t lift some over others, especially because of what they believe, but that all people are loved by God and equally in need of God’s grace. Those who trust in God’s grace revealed in Jesus aren’t better, but do have the responsibility of sharing that news of God’s inclusive love through their lives and their words.
If, as people of the Word, we take this most basic theme of scripture seriously–that God’s grace, love, mercy, forgiveness, and compassion are for all–what do we do with a verse like v.6? “Jesus said to [Thomas], ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”
With many of us having the upbringing we did, it’s easy to make that exclusive, isn’t it? To lift ourselves up over those who don’t believe in Jesus. Since we believe, we have the way to heaven, i.e., Jesus. No one outside this exclusive believers’ club can come to the Father–sorry, no heaven for you. And we hear this verse abused this way all the time. Even though that interpretation runs counter to pretty much everything else we know about Jesus (therefore God), we have found a way to use verses like this to divide humanity into the good/bad, believers/non-believers, saved/unsaved.
But what does this verse look like if we start from a deeper biblical perspective–revealed in Jesus–that God is inclusive, merciful to all, and covers everyone with grace?
If you read more than just v.6, things look a little different. This whole passage today is part of a five chapter monologue by Jesus while at the dinner table with his disciples. He’s covering a lot of ground, as this is the last meal he will share with them before he’s arrested and condemned to death later that night. But in this part he’s assuring them that since they know Jesus, they also know God. That Jesus’ relationship with the Father means that he reveals who God is. That Jesus came to bring the parent/child relationship that he has with God to them too. That God is loving, caring, and always close–today, tomorrow, even beyond death. That you can take comfort in that. Because you know me, because you’ve seen God at work through me, you already know God.
This isn’t a text about division or exclusivity. It’s a statement our identity as Christian people: that what we know about Jesus is by definition what we know about God; as we know Jesus, we do know God. Take comfort in that. Proclaim that. It’s a perspective on God that needs to be heard in the world; and needs to be heard in the church too. What we know, experience, and proclaim about Jesus is the what we know, experience, and proclaim about God.