Jesus is the only way: but there’s more than one way to Jesus
by Jack Wald | April 16th, 2017

Luke 24, John 20

John Fischer has a song titled, “Jesus is the only way, but there’s more than one way to Jesus.” This is disturbing to followers of Jesus when you first hear it. Followers of Jesus resist the world view that all religions have truth and all are valid paths to God. But this is not what John Fischer is saying through the lyrics of this song. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Jesus. (John 14:6)

But how do people come to Jesus? When people tell their story of how they came to faith, it is amazing to hear how differently and creatively God worked to draw them to himself. Gary Thomas wrote a book titled, Sacred Pathways, in which he talks about nine ways people come to God. Naturalists Draw near to God through nature. Sensates draw near to God through the senses. Traditionalists draw near to God through ritual and symbol. Ascetics draw near to God through solitude and simplicity. Activists draw near to God through bringing about social change. Caregivers draw near to God through caring for and serving others. Enthusiasts draw near to God through celebration and mystery. Contemplatives draw near to God through personal adoration and heartfelt devotion. Intellectuals draw near to God through their minds.

I am not going to go through these pathways this morning. I will post a link in the RICEmail this week that takes you to an inventory where you can answer some questions and find out which pathways are most meaningful to you in your relationship with God. I encourage you to take a few minutes to do this in the coming week.

This morning I will take three people who came to understand, in different ways, that Jesus had resurrected from the dead: Mary who recognized Jesus when he spoke her name, Cleopas who recognized Jesus when Jesus broke bread, and John who believed when he saw the evidence in the tomb.

Mary – known by name

John 20:1-2, 11–16

Who is Mary Magdalene? We first read about her in Luke’s gospel when he writes that Jesus was accompanied through cities and villages by his twelve disciples: (Luke 8:2–3 )
and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.

Mary had been healed by Jesus and became his follower. She came from a family with money because she, along with the other women mentioned who had also been healed, provided for the expenses of Jesus and his disciples as they traveled around Palestine. She followed him to Jerusalem to care for his needs and even when all the disciples fled, she followed him to the cross and was there when he died. She watched to see where he was buried and on the day of resurrection, she was among the first who went to the tomb to bring spices for Jesus’ body.

She was a devoted follower of Jesus. When Jesus healed her from the evil spirits, she had given him her heart and she was willing to sacrifice everything for him. I suspect that if it had been possible, she would have taken his place on the cross.

As she watched Jesus on the cross, suffering his terrible agony, her heart broke. She stayed home during the Sabbath when walking and working was not permitted. But then at the first possible moment she went to the tomb with spices to anoint his body. She was in mourning and paying respect to his body. If Jesus had not resurrected, she probably would have gone to the tomb every day or every week to the end of her life to continue to honor him.

When she came to the tomb, before sunrise when it was still dark, she discovered that the tomb stone had been rolled away and the tomb was empty. She wasn’t thinking Jesus had been resurrected, she was thinking that even in death he was being dishonored. Someone had taken his body, not even allowing him to rest in peace.

She went to tell Peter and John and they ran to the tomb to see for themselves. After they left,
Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb. 12 And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”

Before the angels could tell her, “Look behind you,”
she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

Try to put yourselves in Mary’s place. The man who saved you, delivered you from the hell of seven demons, has died. The man you were willing to follow anywhere suffered the injustice of a cruel and torturous death. What was she feeling? Grief, maybe anger, fear and bewilderment, lost and abandoned.

With all the astonishing things taking place that morning and with all the intense emotions being experienced by the followers of Jesus, Mary does not seem to be too mystified at the appearance of angels. What normally caused people to tremble in fear and fall to their knees, seemed to be taken by Mary as just one more extraordinary event on an extraordinary day. It is as if she was in an daze, with too many powerful emotions to process clearly.

The angels said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

She turned to the man standing behind her and thought he might be the gardener.

When Jesus resurrected, his body was in some way different than it had been. His followers, who saw him after he resurrected from the dead, did not know that it was him, at first. There is complete unanimity about this in all of the resurrection accounts in all four of the Gospels.

The man she supposed was the gardener spoke, using the exact same words as had the angels.
“Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

I have no idea who she thought the angels were but she could deal with a gardener. This was his garden, surely he must know what had happened to the body.
“Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

And then:
Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher).

One of the more preposterous beliefs of Jews and Christians is that God knows us by name. From the outside of Christian faith, this is egotistical thinking. God, the creator of the universe, creator of billions of stars far larger than our own star; this God came to be born as a man on the third planet orbiting this little star, suffered and died for the sake of an individual creature who is less than a speck on this third planet of the little star called the sun?

This is really incredible thinking. And yet it is true. The history of God’s interaction with men and women on this planet is one in which he shows concern for individuals.

When the disciples returned from their first mission trip, they were excited about all they had experienced, but Jesus told them (Luke 10:20)
“However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

When Jesus died on the cross, he died for each one of us. Jesus saved us into a community of relationships but he saved us one by one and when we accept his gift of salvation, our name is written in the book of life. We are not anonymous creatures in a sea of humanity.

Jesus taught in John 10
The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep.  3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
He calls his own sheep by name. Not, “Come sheep,” but individually by name.

When Moses asked God for a sign, God responded: (Exodus 33:17)
“I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”

Jesus called to a tax collector up in a tree trying to catch a glimpse of him,(Luke 19:5)
“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”

Jesus called to a Pharisee on a trip to Damascus with the mission of persecuting Christians, (Acts 9:4)
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

We are known by Jesus by name. We are not anonymous. On Good Friday at our service, we nailed our names to the cross that we decorated this morning with flowers. Jesus’ love, his sacrifice, was made for us because he loved us and loves us by name.

Cleopas – known in breaking of bread

Luke 24:13–35

Little is known about Cleopas, but the fact that only one of the two travelers is named indicates that he was a source for Luke in writing this gospel. Neither of these two were in the inner circle of Jesus, but their familiarity with the twelve indicates they were among the larger number of followers of Jesus.

On Easter morning, the day of resurrection, they were walking out of Jerusalem. They had heard the reports that Jesus’s body was not in the tomb and that angels had said he had risen from the dead. They knew that the disciples had gone to the tomb and seen for themselves that the tomb was empty, but they had not seen Jesus.

So with all this news, why were they walking away from Jerusalem? Why not stay where the news was happening and see what unfolds? When there is big news, it is difficult to drag me away from the television and live reports. Why did they walk away from the news? Maybe they had pressing business. Maybe they came to Jerusalem for the Passover feast but now had to go back home to their responsibilities. For what ever reason, they were walking away from Jerusalem, three days after Jesus had been crucified and the day they had heard these early morning reports.

As they walked, Jesus came up to them and joined them. As with Mary, he was not recognized. They talked. They shared with him the reports of what had happened, surprised he did not know about it. And then Jesus began his first class: Post-resurrection 101

And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

As they came to the village where Cleopas and his companion were headed, they urged Jesus to stay with them and share a meal.
When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. 31 And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight.

Mary recognized Jesus when he called her by name. Cleopas and his companion recognized Jesus when they shared a meal with him.

This was not a communion meal. This was not the first Lord’s Supper of the church. There was no wine. This was a simple meal and it was in this meal that their eyes were opened and they recognized Jesus.

Sitting down and sharing a meal together is a spiritual act. Think about meals in the Bible. When Abraham received his visitors from heaven, they shared a meal together. When God told Israel to remember their deliverance from slavery in Egypt, he told them to remember this at a meal, the Seder, which some of us celebrated last Thursday night. When God gave instructions to Israel about their tithe, 10% was to be used each year to come to Jerusalem and celebrate with food and drink at the three annual festivals. Meals together were a central part of their worship. In Exodus 24 when the covenant with Israel was made, Moses offered the sacrifice, sealing the covenant with the “blood of the covenant”, and then he and the elders and Aaron and his sons went into the presence of God on the mountain where (Exodus 24:11)
they beheld God, and they ate and drank.

Is this detail, that they ate and drank in the presence of God, a significant detail? Of course it is. The sharing of the meal celebrated the fellowship between Israel and God. It was a spiritual feast.

It may not be surprising given that Jesus lived in a culture that valued hospitality, but there are ten meals Jesus shared with others recorded in the gospels. Jesus took the Passover Seder and used it to institute the sacrament of communion which is an anticipation of the wedding feast we will share together in heaven. And when Jesus resurrected, he ate in their presence to prove he was not a ghost. In John’s gospel it is recorded that he cooked breakfast for them.

It is not simply the food that is important. Eating as you drive in the car is not particularly spiritual, nor safe. A family going into the kitchen and grabbing something to eat and then each person going back to their computer or TV to eat is not particularly spiritual.  And if the family or friends are sitting around the table, each one talking into their phone or listening to their own music, that is not particularly helpful or spiritual.

It is the community aspect of a meal that is important and it begins with the preparation of the meal. If you can, pick your vegetables from the garden. If you cannot do that, then buy the vegetables from the market. Resist buying food already prepared. Part of the spirituality of the meal is the community that is formed as you work together in the kitchen peeling the vegetables and preparing the meal. Then the whole community gathers and the food is brought out to the table and everyone sits down and shares together. Conversations flow, sometimes everyone listens to one person, other times there are three or four or more conversations going on at the same time. There is news and thoughts and laughter being shared.

It is the fellowship around a meal that is powerful and draws us to Jesus. This is why it is important to say grace before we eat. We remember, with gratitude, that all we have, all we share, comes from God and we give him thanks. This places us with God at the table as we share together. Jesus makes himself known to us when we share together around the table. Jesus saves us and brings us into a community. When we open ourselves to that community around the table at a meal, we are blessed.

John – convinced by the evidence

John 20:1–10

On Sunday morning, after the Sabbath, some women went to the tomb to anoint the dead body of Jesus with spices, as was the custom of the time, probably like going to a grave and putting fresh flowers on it today.

They came back with some stunning news that the tomb was empty and Jesus was not to be found. The other Gospels report that the women saw some angels, but not Jesus. They ran back to the disciples and told them,
“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

How do you handle this kind of news? In this case, John and Peter ran to the tomb to see for themselves. John, being younger and faster, arrived there first. It was true; the stone that had blocked the entrance to the tomb had been rolled aside. John looked into the tomb and saw the strips of linen that had been wound around Jesus lying there but did not go in.

Then Simon Peter, who was behind him, arrived and went into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.

Why are the details of the linen and cloth given?

The tomb in which Jesus had been laid was probably a tomb carved out of the rock with a shelve carved into the side of the tomb. It was on this shelve that Jesus had been laid.

When Jesus was laid in the tomb, his body had been prepared for burial by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, Pharisees in the Sanhedrin, both were secret admirers and followers of Jesus.

In preparing Jesus for burial, they revealed a great deal of devotion and respect. Joseph brought with him about 75 pounds (34 kilograms) of a mixture of myrrh and aloes which made this a very expensive burial. A piece of cloth was tied around the head of Jesus from the top of his head and under his jaw. This was done to keep the mouth closed.

They then took the body of Jesus with his arms by his side and after soaking rolls of linen cloth in a mixture of myrrh and aloes, wrapped Jesus’ dead body around and around until he was covered from his neck to his feet in this wrap of linen cloth, wrapped up like an Egyptian mummy.

This is how Nicodemus and Joseph left Jesus on Friday, laying on the shelf of the tomb, wrapped up in the linen with a cloth tied around his head.

Now it is Sunday morning and John looks into the tomb to the shelf where Jesus had been laid and he sees the linen cloth that had been wrapped around the body of Jesus but no Jesus. Peter was always the boldest of the disciples so John waited for Peter and after Peter went in to take a closer look, John finally followed him.

What did they see? John writes that Peter saw the strips of linen lying there as well as the burial cloth that had been around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen.

This detail was important to John when he wrote his Gospel. Why did he include it? What did this detail mean to him? John wrote that he saw and believed, and then added this parenthetical comment (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) John believed Jesus was alive but how had this happened? Had he never really died?

Luke wrote in his Gospel that Peter ran to the tomb and: (Luke 24:12)
Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.

What was it about the strips of linen and the cloth that made John believe that Jesus was not dead? What was it that made Peter go away wondering to himself what had happened?

Let me ask a question: When was there another time in the experience of John and Peter when they had seen a body come out of a tomb? It was not that long ago, just a few weeks earlier in Bethany, when Jesus had called Lazarus to come out of the tomb after he had been dead for four days. (John 11:43-44)
Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

In this case, an experience which was still fresh in their minds, Lazarus had come out and stood there. He was helpless, his arms imprisoned in the strips of linen wrapped around him. Others had come to him to untie the cloth that was around his head and to unwrap him so he could be free.

But this time something was different. After Lazarus had been set free from his graveclothes, they just lay there in a heap where others had helped to remove them. In this case, there was something about the way the cloth and the strips of linen lay there that puzzled Peter and John.

There is a lot of debate about the detail of John’s description of the cloth and strips of linen with every word examined for its meaning and interpretation. As I understand it, the cloth that was wrapped around the head of Jesus lay on the stone shelf just where Jesus’ head had laid. The strips of linen were laying just where they had been wrapped around the body of Jesus. The cloth was still knotted as it had been when Joseph and Nicodemus had tied it around the head of Jesus. The strips of linen were still layered as they had been when Joseph and Nicodemus had wrapped them around and around the body of Jesus.

It was as if the body of Jesus had just evaporated and the wrappings around him had been left undisturbed.

What did this mean? What they did not see was Jesus. That much is clear. So where was he? Had someone stolen his body? Had he not really died and later, in the coolness of the tomb, regained consciousness?

You can imagine that Peter and John were puzzled. If Jesus had woken up, not having died, he would have struggled quite a bit to squirm his way out of the strips of linen wrapped around his body. Finally when his hands were free, he could have taken off the cloth from around his head.

If thieves had taken the body, they would have had to tear off the graveclothes. Was it possible that the strips of linen had been removed and then carefully arranged to look as if they had not been disturbed?

When Peter and John took a closer look, did they see something that made them even more puzzled? Did they see that where the blood and other fluids had soaked through the linen strips and coagulated, the dried blood and fluids had formed a kind of seal and that seal had not been broken? It used to be that when a letter was sent, a seal was imprinted in wax on the flap of the envelope to prove that the letter had not been opened. In this case, the strips of linen had not been unwrapped and then re-wrapped. They were in the same condition that Joseph and Nicodemus had left them. The seal made with the dried blood and other bodily fluids of Jesus had not been broken.

You can take an egg and blow out the contents of the egg, leaving the egg looking as if it had never been disturbed. But how do you blow a body out of graveclothes that has been tightly wrapped around the body?

Peter and John knew Jesus was no longer in the tomb. They suspected he was alive, but that he had resurrected and lifted up out of his graveclothes was beyond their comprehension at this point.

When Peter went away wondering, do you think he tried to figure out the difference between the experience they had witnessed with Lazarus and this baffling experience in the tomb?

John put the detail of linen and cloth in his gospel because he wanted to make absolutely sure we see the reality of the resurrection of Jesus. There is no explanation for what happened to Jesus other than that he died and was resurrected. He lifted right out of his graveclothes with a new resurrection body.

John saw the evidence, he examined the evidence, and he concluded Jesus had risen from the dead. Looking at the evidence was important to John. When he wrote the first of his letters that are part of our Bible, he wanted to convince people that Jesus was the Messiah. How did he begin his letter? (1 John 1:1–4)
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. 3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.

There is a long list of people who set out to disprove the resurrection and in the process, as they examined the evidence, they submitted to God and became followers of Jesus. Frank Morrison was a lawyer who wrote about his journey in a book titled, Who Moved the Stone? Lee Strobel wrote The Case for Christ. In Evidence That Demands a Verdict Josh McDowell wrote, “After I set out to refute Christianity intellectually and couldn’t, I came to the conclusion the Bible was true and Jesus Christ was God’s Son.”

Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis and The Reason for God by Tim Keller have been used to bring many people to faith as they examine the evidence for Christianity.

Jesus is the only way, but there is more than one way to Jesus. What is clear is that God’s love for us causes him to use his enormous creativity to work with each of us, using our culture, our background, our unique individuality, to speak to us and draw us to himself.

We may look up at the sky at night and say (Psalm 8:1)
Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.

The tradition of the church may pull you into a relationship with Jesus. It may be the experience of fellowship and the love you perceive that draws you to Jesus. It may be an intellectual examination of the evidence for the claims of Jesus. It may be an awareness of beauty and creativity that helps you see that God exists and wants you to be in relation with him.

However it is, God is calling you. Wanting you to come closer, to become more intimate, to walk deeper into eternal life. The love and creativity of God is at work to draw you to himself. He knows you. He knows your culture. He knows your experiences. He knows your personality. And he is at work to help you understand that you are his beloved daughter, his beloved son.

This morning we celebrate with Mary, Cleopas, and John the glorious truth that death is no longer our enemy.

When Lazarus was raised from the dead, he was raised to life, still facing his physical death. Death was still the enemy of Lazarus. Someday he would die and be put in a tomb and his life would be over. But when Jesus resurrected from the dead, he demolished the power of death. He blew open the doors of death and walked into eternal life. He met death and defeated it so it is no longer to be feared. It is no longer the final enemy.

So Paul could write in I Corinthians: (I Corinthians 15:54-56)
“Death has been swallowed up in victory.”
55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus offers us, through his death and resurrection, the hope of eternal life that allows us to live this life without fear of death. Our physical death is not the end but a glorious beginning.

Jesus said, (Revelation 3:20)
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.

Will you pray this morning to God and offer to him your life, confessing your need of him? It has been perhaps for you many years that Jesus has stood knocking at the door of your life and you have resisted him. This morning, will you accept this Easter gift? Jesus waits at the door for your response.

Jesus said (Matthew 7)
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

Pray and he will answer. Surrender your life and your will to God and receive from him new life and the hope of eternal life in his kingdom.