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from Got Questions:

The clause “the Lord is my shepherd” comes from one of the most beloved of all passages of Scripture, the 23rd Psalm. In this passage and throughout the New Testament we learn that the Lord is our Shepherd in two ways. First, as the Good Shepherd, He laid down His life for His sheep and, second, His sheep know His voice and follow Him (John 10:11, 14).

In Psalm 23, God is using the analogy of sheep and their nature to describe us. Sheep have a natural tendency to wander off and get lost. As believers, we tend to do the same thing. It’s as Isaiah has said: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). When sheep go astray, they are in danger of getting lost, being attacked, even killing themselves by drowning or falling off cliffs.

Likewise, within our own nature there is a strong tendency to go astray (Romans 7:5; 8:8), following the lusts of our flesh and eyes and pursuing the pride of life (1 John 2:16). As such, we are like sheep wandering away from the Shepherd through our own futile self-remedies and attempts at self-righteousness. It is our nature to drift away (Hebrews 2:1), to reject God, and to break His commandments. When we do this, we run the risk of getting lost, even forgetting the way back to God. Furthermore, when we turn away from the Lord, we soon find ourselves confronting one enemy after another who will attack us in numerous ways.

Sheep are basically helpless creatures who cannot survive long without a shepherd, upon whose care they are totally dependent. Likewise, like sheep, we are totally dependent upon the Lord to shepherd, protect, and care for us. Sheep are essentially dumb animals that do not learn well and are extremely difficult to train. They do not have good eyesight, nor do they hear well. They are very slow animals who cannot escape predators; they have no camouflage and no weapons for defense such as claws, sharp hooves, or powerful jaws.

Furthermore, sheep are easily frightened and become easily confused. In fact, they have been known to plunge blindly off a cliff following one after another. Shepherds in Bible times faced incredible dangers in caring for their sheep, putting their own lives at risk by battling wild animals such as wolves and lions who threatened the flock. David was just such a shepherd (1 Samuel 17:34–35). In order to be good shepherds, they had to be willing to lay down their lives for the sheep.

Jesus declared that He is our Shepherd and demonstrated it by giving His life for us. “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). Through His willing sacrifice, the Lord made salvation possible for all who come to Him in faith (John 3:16). In proclaiming that He is the good shepherd, Jesus speaks of “laying down” His life for His sheep (John 10:15, 17–18).

Like sheep, we, too, need a shepherd. Men are spiritually blind and lost in their sin. This is why Jesus spoke of the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15:4–6). He is the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for us. He searches for us when we’re lost, to save us and to show us the way to eternal life (Luke 19:10). We tend to be like sheep, consumed with worry and fear, following after one another. By not following or listening to the Shepherd’s voice (John 10:27), we can be easily led astray by others to our own destruction. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, warns those who do not believe and listen to Him: “I did tell you, but you do not believe . . . you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:25–28).

Psalm 23:1–3 tells us that the shepherd meets the sheep’s every need: food, water, rest, safety, and direction. When we as believers follow our Shepherd, we, too, know that we will have all we need. We will not lack the necessities of life, for He knows exactly what we need (Luke 12:22–30).

Sheep will not lie down when they are hungry, nor will they drink from fast-flowing streams. Sometimes the shepherd will temporarily dam up a stream so the sheep can quench their thirst. Psalm 23:2 speaks of leading the sheep “beside the quiet [stilled] waters.” The shepherd must lead his sheep because they cannot be driven. Instead, the sheep hear the voice of their shepherd and follow him—just as we listen to our Shepherd, Jesus Christ—in His Word and follow Him (John 10:3–5, 16, 27). And if a sheep does wander off, the shepherd will leave the flock in charge of his helpers and search for the lost animal (Matthew 9:36; 18:12–14; Luke 15:3–7).

In Psalm 23:3, the Hebrew word translated “paths” means “well-worn paths or ruts.” In other words, when sheep wander onto a new path, they start to explore it, which invariably leads them into trouble. This passage is closely akin to the warning in Hebrews 13:9: “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.” The apostle Paul also alludes to this idea in Ephesians 4:14.

Finally, the shepherd cares for the sheep because he loves them and wants to maintain his own good reputation as a faithful shepherd. As we’ve seen in Psalm 23, the analogy of the Lord as the Good Shepherd was also applied by Jesus in John chapter 10. In declaring that He is the shepherd of the sheep, Jesus is confirming that He is God. The Eternal God is our Shepherd. And we would not want it any other way.

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from Got Questions:

The Bible is very clear as to what our purpose in life should be. Men in both the Old and New Testaments sought for and discovered life’s purpose. Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, discovered the futility of life when it is lived only for this world. He gives these concluding remarks in the book of Ecclesiastes: “Here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). Solomon says that life is all about honoring God with our thoughts and lives and thus keeping His commandments, for one day we will stand before Him in judgment. Part of our purpose in life is to fear God and obey Him.

Another part of our purpose is to see life on this earth in perspective. Unlike those whose focus is on this life, King David looked for His satisfaction in the time to come. He said, “And I—in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness” (Psalm 17:15). To David, full satisfaction would come on the day when he awoke (in the next life) both beholding God’s face (fellowship with Him) and being like Him (1 John 3:2).

In Psalm 73, Asaph talks about how he was tempted to envy the wicked who seemed to have no cares and built their fortunes upon the backs of those they took advantage of, but then he considered their ultimate end. In contrast to what they sought after, he states in verse 25 what mattered to him: “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you” (verse 25). To Asaph, a relationship with God mattered above all else in life. Without that relationship, life has no real purpose.

The apostle Paul talked about all he had achieved religiously before being confronted by the risen Christ, and he concluded that all of it was like a pile of manure compared to the excellence of knowing Christ Jesus. In Philippians 3:9-10, Paul says that he wants nothing more than to know Christ and “be found in Him,” to have His righteousness and to live by faith in Him, even if it meant suffering and dying. Paul’s purpose was knowing Christ, having a righteousness obtained through faith in Him, and living in fellowship with Him, even when that brought on suffering (2 Timothy 3:12). Ultimately, he looked for the time when he would be a part of the “resurrection from the dead.”

Our purpose in life, as God originally created man, is 1) glorify God and enjoy fellowship with Him, 2) have good relationships with others, 3) work, and 4) have dominion over the earth. But with man’s fall into sin, fellowship with God is broken, relationships with others are strained, work seems to always be frustrating, and man struggles to maintain any semblance of dominion over nature. Only by restoring fellowship with God, through faith in Jesus Christ, can purpose in life be rediscovered.

The purpose of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We glorify God by fearing and obeying Him, keeping our eyes on our future home in heaven, and knowing Him intimately. We enjoy God by following His purpose for our lives, which enables us to experience true and lasting joy—the abundant life that He desires for us.

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Merry Christmas!

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From Bible History Daily:

On December 25, Christians around the world will gather to celebrate Jesus’ birth. Joyful carols, special liturgies, brightly wrapped gifts, festive foods—these all characterize the feast today, at least in the northern hemisphere. But just how did the Christmas festival originate? How did December 25 come to be associated with Jesus’ birthday?

The Bible offers few clues: Celebrations of Jesus’ Nativity are not mentioned in the Gospels or Acts; the date is not given, not even the time of year. The biblical reference to shepherds tending their flocks at night when they hear the news of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:8) might suggest the spring lambing season; in the cold month of December, on the other hand, sheep might well have been corralled. Yet most scholars would urge caution about extracting such a precise but incidental detail from a narrative whose focus is theological rather than calendrical.

The extrabiblical evidence from the first and second century is equally spare: There is no mention of birth celebrations in the writings of early Christian writers such as Irenaeus (c. 130–200) or Tertullian (c. 160–225). Origen of Alexandria (c. 165–264) goes so far as to mock Roman celebrations of birth anniversaries, dismissing them as “pagan” practices—a strong indication that Jesus’ birth was not marked with similar festivities at that place and time.1 As far as we can tell, Christmas was not celebrated at all at this point.

This stands in sharp contrast to the very early traditions surrounding Jesus’ last days. Each of the Four Gospels provides detailed information about the time of Jesus’ death. According to John, Jesus is crucified just as the Passover lambs are being sacrificed. This would have occurred on the 14th of the Hebrew month of Nisan, just before the Jewish holiday began at sundown (considered the beginning of the 15th day because in the Hebrew calendar, days begin at sundown). In Matthew, Mark and Luke, however, the Last Supper is held after sundown, on the beginning of the 15th. Jesus is crucified the next morning—still, the 15th.a

Easter, a much earlier development than Christmas, was simply the gradual Christian reinterpretation of Passover in terms of Jesus’ Passion. Its observance could even be implied in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 5:7–8: “Our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the festival…”); it was certainly a distinctively Christian feast by the mid-second century C.E., when the apocryphal text known as the Epistle to the Apostles has Jesus instruct his disciples to “make commemoration of [his] death, that is, the Passover.”

Jesus’ ministry, miracles, Passion and Resurrection were often of most interest to first- and early-second-century C.E. Christian writers. But over time, Jesus’ origins would become of increasing concern. We can begin to see this shift already in the New Testament. The earliest writings—Paul and Mark—make no mention of Jesus’ birth. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke provide well-known but quite different accounts of the event—although neither specifies a date. In the second century C.E., further details of Jesus’ birth and childhood are related in apocryphal writings such as the Infancy Gospel of Thomas and the Proto-Gospel of James.b These texts provide everything from the names of Jesus’ grandparents to the details of his education—but not the date of his birth.

Finally, in about 200 C.E., a Christian teacher in Egypt makes reference to the date Jesus was born. According to Clement of Alexandria, several different days had been proposed by various Christian groups. Surprising as it may seem, Clement doesn’t mention December 25 at all. Clement writes: “There are those who have determined not only the year of our Lord’s birth, but also the day; and they say that it took place in the 28th year of Augustus, and in the 25th day of [the Egyptian month] Pachon [May 20 in our calendar] … And treating of His Passion, with very great accuracy, some say that it took place in the 16th year of Tiberius, on the 25th of Phamenoth [March 21]; and others on the 25th of Pharmuthi [April 21] and others say that on the 19th of Pharmuthi [April 15] the Savior suffered. Further, others say that He was born on the 24th or 25th of Pharmuthi [April 20 or 21].”2

Clearly there was great uncertainty, but also a considerable amount of interest, in dating Jesus’ birth in the late second century. By the fourth century, however, we find references to two dates that were widely recognized—and now also celebrated—as Jesus’ birthday: December 25 in the western Roman Empire and January 6 in the East (especially in Egypt and Asia Minor). The modern Armenian church continues to celebrate Christmas on January 6; for most Christians, however, December 25 would prevail, while January 6 eventually came to be known as the Feast of the Epiphany, commemorating the arrival of the magi in Bethlehem. The period between became the holiday season later known as the 12 days of Christmas.

The earliest mention of December 25 as Jesus’ birthday comes from a mid-fourth-century Roman almanac that lists the death dates of various Christian bishops and martyrs. The first date listed, December 25, is marked: natus Christus in Betleem Judeae: “Christ was born in Bethlehem of Judea.”3 In about 400 C.E., Augustine of Hippo mentions a local dissident Christian group, the Donatists, who apparently kept Christmas festivals on December 25, but refused to celebrate the Epiphany on January 6, regarding it as an innovation. Since the Donatist group only emerged during the persecution under Diocletian in 312 C.E. and then remained stubbornly attached to the practices of that moment in time, they seem to represent an older North African Christian tradition.

In the East, January 6 was at first not associated with the magi alone, but with the Christmas story as a whole.

So, almost 300 years after Jesus was born, we finally find people observing his birth in mid-winter. But how had they settled on the dates December 25 and January 6?

There are two theories today: one extremely popular, the other less often heard outside scholarly circles (though far more ancient).4

The most loudly touted theory about the origins of the Christmas date(s) is that it was borrowed from pagan celebrations. The Romans had their mid-winter Saturnalia festival in late December; barbarian peoples of northern and western Europe kept holidays at similar times. To top it off, in 274 C.E., the Roman emperor Aurelian established a feast of the birth of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun), on December 25. Christmas, the argument goes, is really a spin-off from these pagan solar festivals. According to this theory, early Christians deliberately chose these dates to encourage the spread of Christmas and Christianity throughout the Roman world: If Christmas looked like a pagan holiday, more pagans would be open to both the holiday and the God whose birth it celebrated.

Despite its popularity today, this theory of Christmas’s origins has its problems. It is not found in any ancient Christian writings, for one thing. Christian authors of the time do note a connection between the solstice and Jesus’ birth: The church father Ambrose (c. 339–397), for example, described Christ as the true sun, who outshone the fallen gods of the old order. But early Christian writers never hint at any recent calendrical engineering; they clearly don’t think the date was chosen by the church. Rather they see the coincidence as a providential sign, as natural proof that God had selected Jesus over the false pagan gods.

It’s not until the 12th century that we find the first suggestion that Jesus’ birth celebration was deliberately set at the time of pagan feasts. A marginal note on a manuscript of the writings of the Syriac biblical commentator Dionysius bar-Salibi states that in ancient times the Christmas holiday was actually shifted from January 6 to December 25 so that it fell on the same date as the pagan Sol Invictus holiday.5 In the 18th and 19th centuries, Bible scholars spurred on by the new study of comparative religions latched on to this idea.6 They claimed that because the early Christians didn’t know when Jesus was born, they simply assimilated the pagan solstice festival for their own purposes, claiming it as the time of the Messiah’s birth and celebrating it accordingly.

More recent studies have shown that many of the holiday’s modern trappings do reflect pagan customs borrowed much later, as Christianity expanded into northern and western Europe. The Christmas tree, for example, has been linked with late medieval druidic practices. This has only encouraged modern audiences to assume that the date, too, must be pagan.

There are problems with this popular theory, however, as many scholars recognize. Most significantly, the first mention of a date for Christmas (c. 200) and the earliest celebrations that we know about (c. 250–300) come in a period when Christians were not borrowing heavily from pagan traditions of such an obvious character.

Granted, Christian belief and practice were not formed in isolation. Many early elements of Christian worship—including eucharistic meals, meals honoring martyrs and much early Christian funerary art—would have been quite comprehensible to pagan observers. Yet, in the first few centuries C.E., the persecuted Christian minority was greatly concerned with distancing itself from the larger, public pagan religious observances, such as sacrifices, games and holidays. This was still true as late as the violent persecutions of the Christians conducted by the Roman emperor Diocletian between 303 and 312 C.E.

This would change only after Constantine converted to Christianity. From the mid-fourth century on, we do find Christians deliberately adapting and Christianizing pagan festivals. A famous proponent of this practice was Pope Gregory the Great, who, in a letter written in 601 C.E. to a Christian missionary in Britain, recommended that local pagan temples not be destroyed but be converted into churches, and that pagan festivals be celebrated as feasts of Christian martyrs. At this late point, Christmas may well have acquired some pagan trappings. But we don’t have evidence of Christians adopting pagan festivals in the third century, at which point dates for Christmas were established. Thus, it seems unlikely that the date was simply selected to correspond with pagan solar festivals.

The December 25 feast seems to have existed before 312—before Constantine and his conversion, at least. As we have seen, the Donatist Christians in North Africa seem to have known it from before that time. Furthermore, in the mid- to late fourth century, church leaders in the eastern Empire concerned themselves not with introducing a celebration of Jesus’ birthday, but with the addition of the December date to their traditional celebration on January 6.7

Read the full article here.

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from Got Questions:

Yes, Jesus is the only way to heaven. Such an exclusive statement may confuse, surprise, or even offend, but it is true nonetheless. The Bible teaches that there is no other way to salvation than through Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” He is not a way, as in one of many; He is the way, as in the one and only. No one, regardless of reputation, achievement, special knowledge, or personal holiness, can come to God the Father except through Jesus.

Jesus is the only way to heaven for several reasons. Jesus was “chosen by God” to be the Savior (1 Peter 2:4). Jesus is the only One to have come down from heaven and returned there (John 3:13). He is the only person to have lived a perfect human life (Hebrews 4:15). He is the only sacrifice for sin (1 John 2:2; Hebrews 10:26). He alone fulfilled the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). He is the only man to have conquered death forever (Hebrews 2:14–15). He is the only Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). He is the only man whom God has “exalted . . . to the highest place” (Philippians 2:9).

Jesus spoke of Himself as the only way to heaven in several places besides John 14:6. He presented Himself as the object of faith in Matthew 7:21–27. He said His words are life (John 6:63). He promised that those who believe in Him will have eternal life (John 3:14–15). He is the gate of the sheep (John 10:7); the bread of life (John 6:35); and the resurrection (John 11:25). No one else can rightly claim those titles.

The apostles’ preaching focused on the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Peter, speaking to the Sanhedrin, clearly proclaimed Jesus as the only way to heaven: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Paul, speaking to the synagogue in Antioch, singled out Jesus as the Savior: “I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin” (Acts 13:38–39). John, writing to the church at large, specifies the name of Christ as the basis of our forgiveness: “I am writing to you, dear children, because your sins have been forgiven on account of his name” (1 John 2:12). No one but Jesus can forgive sin.

Eternal life in heaven is made possible only through Christ. Jesus prayed, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3). To receive God’s free gift of salvation, we must look to Jesus and Jesus alone. We must trust in Jesus’ death on the cross as our payment for sin and in His resurrection. “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:22).

At one point in Jesus’ ministry, many of the crowd were turning their backs on Him and leaving in hopes of finding another savior. Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” (John 6:67, ESV). Peter’s reply is exactly right: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:68–69, ESV). May we all share Peter’s faith that eternal life resides only in Jesus Christ.

 

 

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from Got Questions:

Jesus’ command not to judge others could be the most widely quoted of His sayings, even though it is almost invariably quoted in complete disregard of its context. Here is Jesus’ statement: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1). Many people use this verse in an attempt to silence their critics, interpreting Jesus’ meaning as “You don’t have the right to tell me I’m wrong.” Taken in isolation, Jesus’ command “Do not judge” does indeed seem to preclude all negative assessments. However, there is much more to the passage than those three words.

The Bible’s command that we not judge others does not mean we cannot show discernment. Immediately after Jesus says, “Do not judge,” He says, “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs” (Matthew 7:6). A little later in the same sermon, He says, “Watch out for false prophets. . . . By their fruit you will recognize them” (verses 15–16). How are we to discern who are the “dogs” and “pigs” and “false prophets” unless we have the ability to make a judgment call on doctrines and deeds? Jesus is giving us permission to tell right from wrong.

Also, the Bible’s command that we not judge others does not mean all actions are equally moral or that truth is relative. The Bible clearly teaches that truth is objective, eternal, and inseparable from God’s character. Anything that contradicts the truth is a lie—but, of course, to call something a “lie” is to pass judgment. To call adultery or murder a sin is likewise to pass judgment—but it’s also to agree with God. When Jesus said not to judge others, He did not mean that no one can identify sin for what it is, based on God’s definition of sin.

And the Bible’s command that we not judge others does not mean there should be no mechanism for dealing with sin. The Bible has a whole book entitled Judges. The judges in the Old Testament were raised up by God Himself (Judges 2:18). The modern judicial system, including its judges, is a necessary part of society. In saying, “Do not judge,” Jesus was not saying, “Anything goes.”

Elsewhere, Jesus gives a direct command to judge: “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly” (John 7:24). Here we have a clue as to the right type of judgment versus the wrong type. Taking this verse and some others, we can put together a description of the sinful type of judgment:

Superficial judgment is wrong. Passing judgment on someone based solely on appearances is sinful (John 7:24). It is foolish to jump to conclusions before investigating the facts (Proverbs 18:13). Simon the Pharisee passed judgment on a woman based on her appearance and reputation, but he could not see that the woman had been forgiven; Simon thus drew Jesus’ rebuke for his unrighteous judgment (Luke 7:36–50).

Hypocritical judgment is wrong. Jesus’ command not to judge others in Matthew 7:1 is preceded by comparisons to hypocrites (Matthew 6:2, 5, 16) and followed by a warning against hypocrisy (Matthew 7:3–5). When we point out the sin of others while we ourselves commit the same sin, we condemn ourselves (Romans 2:1).

Harsh, unforgiving judgment is wrong. We are “always to be gentle toward everyone” (Titus 3:2). It is the merciful who will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7), and, as Jesus warned, “In the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).

Self-righteous judgment is wrong. We are called to humility, and “God opposes the proud” (James 4:6). The Pharisee in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector was confident in his own righteousness and from that proud position judged the publican; however, God sees the heart and refused to forgive the Pharisee’s sin (Luke 18:9–14).

Untrue judgment is wrong. The Bible clearly forbids bearing false witness (Proverbs 19:5). “Slander no one” (Titus 3:2).

Christians are often accused of “judging” or intolerance when they speak out against sin. But opposing sin is not wrong. Holding aloft the standard of righteousness naturally defines unrighteousness and draws the slings and arrows of those who choose sin over godliness. John the Baptist incurred the ire of Herodias when he spoke out against her adultery with Herod (Mark 6:18–19). She eventually silenced John, but she could not silence the truth (Isaiah 40:8).

Believers are warned against judging others unfairly or unrighteously, but Jesus commends “right judgment” (John 7:24, ESV). We are to be discerning (Colossians 1:9; 1 Thessalonians 5:21). We are to preach the whole counsel of God, including the Bible’s teaching on sin (Acts 20:27; 2 Timothy 4:2). We are to gently confront erring brothers or sisters in Christ (Galatians 6:1). We are to practice church discipline (Matthew 18:15–17). We are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

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from Got Questions:

“I am the way and the truth and the life” is one of the seven “I Am” statements of Jesus. On the last night before His betrayal and death, Jesus was preparing His disciples for the days ahead. For over three years, these men had been following Jesus and learning from His teaching and example. They had placed their hopes in Him as the Messiah, the promised deliverer, yet they still didn’t understand how He was going to accomplish that deliverance. After the Last Supper, Jesus began speaking about His departure, which led to questions from His disciples.

In John 13:33, Jesus said, “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.” This prompted Peter to ask where He was going (verse 36). Peter and the others did not understand that Jesus was speaking of His death and ascension to heaven. Jesus’ response was, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later.” Peter was still misunderstanding and declared that he would follow Jesus anywhere and even lay down His life if necessary. As Jesus patiently continued to teach His disciples, He began speaking more plainly about heaven, describing the place He was going to prepare for them (John 14:2–3). Then Jesus said, “You know the way to the place where I am going” (verse 4). Speaking for the others, Thomas said they did not know where He was going, so how could they know how to follow Him there? It was in answer to this question that Jesus uttered one of the seven famous “I am” statements.

I am – In the Greek language, “I am” is a very intense way of referring to oneself. It would be comparable to saying, “I myself, and only I, am.” Several other times in the Gospels we find Jesus using these words. In Matthew 22:32 Jesus quotes Exodus 3:6, where God uses the same intensive form to say, “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” In John 8:58, Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say unto you, before Abraham was, I am.” The Jews clearly understood Jesus to be calling Himself God because they took up stones to stone Him for committing blasphemy in equating Himself with God. In Matthew 28:20, as Jesus gave the Great Commission, He gave it emphasis by saying, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” When the soldiers came seeking Jesus in the garden the night before His crucifixion, He told them, “I am he,” and His words were so powerful that the soldiers fell to the ground (John 18:4–6). These words reflect the very name of God in Hebrew, Yahweh, which means “to be” or “the self-existing one.” It is the name of power and authority, and Jesus claimed it as His own.

The way – Jesus used the definite article to distinguish Himself as “the only way.” A way is a path or route, and the disciples had expressed their confusion about where He was going and how they could follow. As He had told them from the beginning, Jesus was again telling them (and us) “follow me.” There is no other path to heaven, no other way to the Father. Peter reiterated this same truth years later to the rulers in Jerusalem, saying about Jesus, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The exclusive nature of the only path to salvation is expressed in the words “I am the way.”

The truth – Again Jesus used the definite article to emphasize Himself as “the only truth.” Psalm 119:142 says, “Your law is the truth.” In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus reminded His listeners of several points of the Law, then said, “But I say unto you . . .” (Matthew 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44), thereby equating Himself with the Law of God as the authoritative standard of righteousness. In fact, Jesus said that He came to fulfill the Law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17). Jesus, as the incarnate Word of God (John 1:1) is the source of all truth.

The life – Jesus had just been telling His disciples about His impending death, and now He was claiming to be the source of all life. In John 10:17–18, Jesus declared that He was going to lay down His life for His sheep, and then take it back again. He spoke of His authority over life and death as being granted to Him by the Father. In John 14:19, He gave the promise that “because I live, you also will live.” The deliverance He was about to provide was not a political or social deliverance (which most of the Jews were seeking), but a true deliverance from a life of bondage to sin and death to a life of freedom in eternity.

In these words, Jesus was declaring Himself the great “I Am,” the only path to heaven, the only true measure of righteousness, and the source of both physical and spiritual life. He was staking His claim as the very God of Creation, the Lord who blessed Abraham, and the Holy One who inhabits eternity. He did this so the disciples would be able to face the dark days ahead and carry on the mission of declaring the gospel to the world. Of course, we know from Scripture that they still didn’t understand, and it took several visits from their risen Lord to shake them out of their disbelief. Once they understood the truth of His words, they became changed people, and the world has never been the same.

So how do we follow Him today? The same way the disciples did long ago. They heard the words of Jesus and believed them. They took His words and obeyed them. They confessed their sins to Jesus as their Lord and God. They believed that He died to take the punishment of their sins and rose from the dead to give them new life. They followed His example and command to tell others the truth about sin, righteousness, and judgment. When we follow Him in “the way,” we can be assured of following Him all the way to heaven.

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