JOURNEY OF GRACE

October 2021
Hey Binghamton First Family,

During the next 6 weeks we will be on a Journey to rediscover Discipleship.

We will be using the resource, "WAY TRUTH LIFE" by author David A. Busic.

I will be adding portions of this book here until printed copies become available from the publishing company.  The supply chain is broken right now, but as soon as we receive hard copies, we will edit this page because of copyright regulations. We have received permission to copy this for our congregation.  Please do not copy or send copies to others. You may, however, point them to our webpage or phone app if you would like.

INTRODUCTION
Jesus invites us to a journey. “Come, follow me.” It is a simple invitation to go on an adventure with a beloved friend. The Christian life is more than right belief. It is more than intellectual assent. It is an invitation to a journey with Jesus.
Another word for the journey with Jesus is discipleship. Discipleship, following the way of Jesus with Jesus, has many twists and turns and unexpected bends in the road. Sometimes the path feels easy and other times like a demanding incline. But the end goal (in Greek, telos) of discipleship is always the same: to be like Christ.
If that seems impossible, you are actually in a very good place to start. In fact, it would be impossible if it were not for a very important certainty: we make the journey with Jesus. That is why it is a journey of grace.
When Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), he was talking about more than a sequential intellectual equation or a transactional agreement we make with God. He was describing the relational way discipleship will happen. Indeed, Way, Truth, and Life are not philosophical abstractions or life principles. Way, Truth, and Life are a Person.
Jesus was pointing toward the proper telos (goal) of the journey: real life as God intended, and the means by which we reach the goal are the way and the truth, fulfilled in and through himself.[1] The journey of grace is relational to the core.
James K. A. Smith describes discipleship as “a kind of immigration, from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s beloved Son (Col. 1:13).”[2] This is journey language—moving from one country to another.[3] It is about changing citizenship and allegiances, which is entirely impossible apart from the grace of God in Jesus Christ, who is the Way. Smith continues: “In Christ we are given a heavenly passport; in his body we learn to live like ‘locals’ of his kingdom. Such an immigration to a new kingdom isn’t just a matter of being teleported to a different realm; we need to be acclimated to a new way of life, learn a new language, acquire new habits—and unlearn the habits of that rival dominion.”[4]
I really believe that when Jesus said, “I am going to prepare a place for you” (John 14), that promise included the guarantee that he has personally made reservations for the trip, including accommodations when we arrive. He is our heavenly passport who enables us to become locals of a new country—of his kingdom. Best of all, he promises to accompany us all the way home. Jesus will be our Way for the way. This is the hope of a journey of grace.
I Am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life
When Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” he wasn’t suggesting an abstract life principle to hang on the wall. Rather, it was a response to a question raised by scared and uncertain disciples. It comes from a section in the Gospel of John that biblical scholars refer to as The Last Discourse (John 14–17). These four chapters of John, more than any of the other New Testament Gospels, give us an inside look into what Jesus was thinking about and teaching his disciples during the hours just before his Passion and death on the cross. Thus, they could well be described as the last will and testament of Jesus Christ.[5]
Remember, the disciples have just heard incredibly bad news. They have gathered in a borrowed room. Everyone is packed into tight quarters. Jesus washes his twelve disciples’ feet, which makes everyone uncomfortable. Then he proceeds to tell them that very soon one of them will betray him (13:21). To make matters worse, after several years of traveling everywhere together, Jesus tells them that he is leaving and that they cannot go with him (13:33).
This is all very upsetting! Jesus can feel the weight of his words settling over them. No wonder he says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (14:1). The word translated as “troubled” is the same word used to describe the waters of the Sea of Galilee during a raging storm. When the wind blew, the waters became choppy and churning. The disciples are feeling like that. Their stomachs are churning. Their heads are spinning. Their emotions are on overload. Jesus tries to comfort their raging hearts: “Do not let your hearts be troubled . . . I go to prepare a place for you . . . I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going” (vv. 1a, 2b, 3b–4).
Then Thomas speaks up. History has named him Doubting
Thomas, but I am glad he was there because Thomas has the courage to ask the question everyone else wanted an answer to. He is like a student in a classroom who stops the professor in the middle of the lecture and says, “Excuse me. This may sound silly, but we have no idea what you’re talking about right now.” In fact, it wasn’t a silly question. I can appreciate the fact that Thomas had the presence of mind to identify the large elephant in the room and ask the pressing question on everyone’s mind: “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (v. 5).
Life is like that, isn’t it? There are times when we find ourselves wondering which way to turn. Times when we thought we knew where we were going—or hoped we knew where we were going—but having to admit we’d completely lost our way. There seem to be so many intersections and turns, so many options and dead ends. What we wish for more than anything else in the puzzle of life is a map. However, many people, not finding that map, decide it’s better to go somewhere than stay nowhere, so they pick a direction and head off on whatever seems to be the path of least resistance.
Thankfully, Jesus answers Thomas’s question (and ours): “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (v. 6). It’s interesting that the emphasis of Jesus’s claim is clearly on “the way.” The way is sequentially first. That is not to say that the truth and the life are not important. It simply means that the truth and the life explain how and why Jesus is the Way.[6]
He is the Way because he is the Truth—the revelation of God. He is the Way because the life of God available to every person resides in him and him alone. He is simultaneously both the access to and the embodiment of life with God. The heart of the good news of John’s Gospel is that in Jesus—the incarnate Word and unique Son of God—we can see and know God in a manner never before made possible. He is the authorized self-disclosure of God.[7] In other words, Jesus is not merely a way but the way—because he is the exceptional, visible manifestation of the invisible God whom we know as Father (1:14, 18; 6:46; 8:19; 12:45).[8]
 “No one comes to the Father except through me” (14:6). Many of us can relate to Thomas’s question, “How can we know the way?” (v. 5) because every person, whether articulated or not, is searching for answers to spiritual questions. Our society today is more spiritually open than it has been in many years. The problem is that people are open to many different avenues of spirituality.
The modern Western worldview—drawing from an all-encompassing consumer mentality and linked with the very recent political concern for gracious plurality—causes many to view one spiritual path to be just as relevant and legitimate as any other, as long as our personal needs are being met, and as long as we are being authentically true to our own selves. And so it is assumed—whether one chooses Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Scientology, Judaism, Christianity, or any other religion—that, as long as one is sincere and is gratified by one’s choice, then that alternative is as good as any other because all paths lead (so the worldview says) to the same God.
One of the many problems with such a view is that these different beliefs often contradict each other and make mutually exclusive claims. When Christianity is viewed in light of the many other diverse religious systems, it is the only faith that makes the definitive claim that Jesus is the exclusive way to God. One cannot believe in Jesus Christ’s exclusive claim, “No one comes to the Father except through me,” and still maintain that there are other ways to gain access to the Father. In effect, to do so would deny the very Christ who spoke those words. Jesus did not say, “I am one of many ways to the Father.” He did not say, “You can choose to follow me if you like, but there are other choices that are just as viable.” Nor did Jesus say, “Whichever spiritual path you walk down will be fine with me, as long as you’re sincere.” Jesus never even hinted at that. He stated clearly that he is the only way to the Father.[9]
Not long after our family moved to a new city, my wife and I had an appointment across town. We had to take separate vehicles. Because her sense of direction has always been better than mine, she led the way. Suddenly we were caught in dense traffic, and I lost her. I thought I was following her, but by the time I realized I wasn’t, I was on a completely different road, and it was too late even to get to the appointment. I simply turned around and went home. The moral of the story is simple: You can be sincere in the path you choose and simultaneously be sincerely wrong. The fact is, it takes more than sincerity to find the right way.[10] It takes truth! A person can be making good time in the direction they are going, but if it’s the wrong way, it doesn’t matter how quickly they arrive.
Jesus’s claim is radically inclusive because all are invited to follow the way, but it is radically exclusive in that every path a person follows to find the truth winds up as a dead end—unless it is the one Way that leads them to the one true God.
Every person—every single one of us—is guilty of taking the wrong turn, spiritually speaking. As a result, we find ourselves far from God. The prophet Isaiah pointedly writes: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way” (53:6a). The apostle Paul reiterates in Romans, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). Why? Because we have all taken the wrong road in life. We have all chosen to follow our own way instead of pursuing God’s will and way for our lives.
The gospel (good news) is that Jesus came for people like us. Another Gospel writer, Luke, tells us that Jesus’s stated mission purpose is “to seek out and to save the lost” (19:10). Rather than leaving us standing indecisively at a fork in the road, or worse, aimlessly following the wrong path entirely, Jesus came to show us clearly the only way to God, to the new country of the kingdom, and to eternal life.
One commentator paraphrases Jesus’s words this way: “I, I am the Way there, and I, I am the Truth that will lead you on the Way there, and I, I am the Life that will give you the power to follow the Truth along the Way there.”[11] Not a set of directions, not a roadmap, not a set of clues—I am[12] the Way. Not a set of life-organizing principles or philosophical presuppositions—I am the Truth. Not an alternative way to live with a more optimistic viewpoint—I am the only real Life, the singular means to becoming truly human.
This claim of Jesus Christ to be not merely a way, and a truth, and a life, but to be the true and unique Son of God, is the bedrock of Christianity. That is not to malign other faith systems; it is simply to say there is only one way to the Father, and it is through Jesus Christ. He is the only means by which we may be saved. As Frederick Bruner has pointed out, “The East has perennially longed for ‘the Way’ (the Tao), the West for ‘the Truth’ (Veritas), and the whole world (east, west, north, and south) for ‘the (real) Life.’ Jesus is, in person, all three.”[13]
Imagine you are in an unfamiliar town and you ask someone for directions to a particular destination. The person you asked for help could say, “You have to veer to the right at the next big intersection. Then cross the square, go past the church, stay in the middle lane, which will take you directly to the third street on the right, until you come to a four-lane stop.” Even with clear guidance, when the way is complicated, the chances of making a wrong turn or getting lost are fairly high.
Suppose that instead, the person you ask says, “You know, there is no easy way to get there. It is fairly complicated if you have never been there before. Just follow me. Better yet, come with me, and I’ll take you there.” That person not only becomes your guide, but they also essentially become the way, and you cannot miss getting where you need to go. That is what Jesus does for us. He doesn’t just give advice and directions. He walks with us on a journey of grace. Indeed, he does not tell us about the way—he becomes the Way!
British theologian and renowned missiologist Lesslie Newbigin powerfully articulated this perspective: “It is not that he [Jesus] teaches the way, or guides us in the way: if that were so, we could thank him for his teaching and then proceed to follow it on our own. He himself is the way. . . . To follow this way is, in fact, the only way to the Father.”[14]
In Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice comes to a crossroads and asks the Cheshire Cat a question: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to go,” answers the Cat.
“I don’t much care where I go,” Alice replies.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
Perhaps no one has more eloquently summarized Jesus’s unique claim than Thomas à Kempis in his devotional classic, Of the Imitation of Christ:
Follow thou me: “I am the way, 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 thou oughtest to follow; the truth, which thou oughtest to trust; the life, which thou oughtest to hope for. I am the way inviolable, the truth infallible, the life that cannot end. If thou remain in my way, thou shalt know the truth, and the truth shall make thee free, and thou shalt lay hold on eternal life.[15]
In Jesus, we find the Way to the Father. He is the way home.
In Jesus, we find the Truth. He embodies the unchanging, sure, and certain truth of the character and nature of the Father.
In Jesus, we find Life—abundant life, both now and in the promised new creation of God to come.
This is the journey of grace.
 

  [1] . Richard John Neuhaus defines telos as “the ultimate end that gives meaning to the thing in question.” Neuhaus, Death on a Friday Afternoon: Meditations on the Last Words of Jesus from the Cross (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 127.
   [2] . James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016), 66.
   [3] . John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress (1678) was a fictional early version of this same concept of the journey one takes to change countries/kingdoms.
   [4] . Smith, You Are What You Love, 66.
   [5] . Frederick Dale Bruner refers to John 14–16 as Jesus’s discipleship sermons, with chapter 17 serving as a closing prayer and, taken altogether, “Jesus’s compact systematic theology for his missionary church.” Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), 786.
   [6] . Considered by many to be the preeminent Johannine scholar of his generation, Raymond Brown believes, “the way is the primary predicate [of the statement of Jesus], and the truth and the life are just explanations of the way.” Brown, The Gospel According to John XII-XXI, The Anchor Bible Commentary (New York: Doubleday, 1970), 621. If this is correct, the truth and the life are explanations of the way—or, said differently, Jesus is the Way because he is the Truth and the Life. Jesus personally embodies all three.
   [7] . Bruner, The Gospel of John, 811. Bruner reminds us that “Jesus’s disclosure of God the Father gives us great hope that the Father too [like Jesus] will be—and, indeed, is and always has been—very, very good.”
   [8] . I draw inspiration for this sentence from a poetic footnote in The Wesley Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, Joel B. Green and William H. Willimon, eds. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009).
   [9] . This is not to limit the sovereignty of God to graciously reach adherents of other religions and faith traditions who may die without knowing or even hearing the name of Jesus. God is always free to do that which God sovereignly chooses to do. I fully expect to be surprised by grace in the reconciliation of all things.
   [10] . No one is more sincere about their truth than suicide bombers. However, sincerity—no matter how passionately committed one is to their truth—is not enough if it isn’t grounded in ultimate reality.
   [11] . Bruner, The Gospel of John, 823.
   [12] . The pronoun [ego, “I”] is emphatic, turning the emphasis from a method to a Person. It is also noteworthy, and has been highlighted innumerable times, that Jesus’s “I am” sayings in John are a not-so-subtle reference to God’s burning bush pronouncement to Moses, “I am who I am” (Exod. 3:14). “I am” became known throughout the Hebrew scriptures as Yahweh.
   [13] . Bruner, The Gospel of John, 812.
   [14] . Lesslie Newbigin, The Light Has Come: An Exposition of the Fourth Gospel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 181. Emphasis added.
   [15] . Thomas à Kempis, Of the Imitation of Christ, Book 3, chapter 56 (c. 1418–1427).

OCTOBER 2021