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The Way to Heaven Is a One-Way Street

St. John 14:1-7

Pastor Mark Schlamann

St. Thomas, Apostle
Our Savior/Redeemer  
Pettibone/Woodworth, ND

Sun, Dec 21, 2003
Fourth Sunday in Advent


On Christmas Day, following the Divine Service at Redeemer, I will be driving to my parents' house in Nebraska. They asked me which way I would take to get to their place. If I wanted to take the most direct route, I would take US-281 through South Dakota to O'Neill, Nebraska, and then a combination of four other highways to get there. But, since I will be traveling on Christmas Day, I will be on interstate highways from Jamestown to just south of Seward, Nebraska, and then drive 20 miles to the south. I prefer driving on the interstate because it is quicker and I also know which gas stations will be open on holidays, an important item of knowledge to have when making a long drive through sparsely populated areas. And I know that, when I get to their home, they will have a room ready for me.

In our text, our Lord was about to return to His heavenly Father, where He would prepare a place for each person who believes in Him. It was Maundy Thursday evening, and the Lord and eleven of His disciples were with Him, for Judas had gone out to do what the devil had put into him to do, namely, to betray his Teacher and Lord, and it was night, both in the sky and in Judas's soul. They were somewhere between the Upper Room and Gethsemane, perhaps at one place or another. The disciples were down in their hearts because they have Jesus tell them that one of the Twelve would betray Him and that the time had come for Him to return to His Father. He assures them, saying, "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me…and where I go you know, and the way you know" (vv. 1, 4). The only one of the disciples who spoke up in our text was Thomas. He expressed ignorance of the way, perhaps speaking for his fellow disciples. Their hearts were torn over Jesus' impending death and departure that they were not understanding that Jesus was speaking of the way to heaven. It was not Jesus' way to heaven that He was speaking of here; it was the way His disciples, then and now, are to take to heaven. Jesus, patient with His disciples in their time of hurt and confusion, explains that He Himself is the Way into heaven, that no one gets into heaven to be with the Father without believing in the Son. It was if the Lord had said to Thomas, "I am the Way, the way for whom John the Baptizer prepared, proclaiming Me the Messiah, the very Lamb of God, and calling sinners to repentance that they might escape from the wrath to revealed when I come again in glory." John was preparing his hearers' hearts to receive the coming Messiah. The Messiah, who has come and will come again, prepared Thomas's heart to accept the death of the Lamb of God. Thomas showed that he was slow to understand.

Thomas was also one who was slow to accept what others said. He was stubborn, refusing to believe the testimony of his fellow disciples that the Lord had indeed risen from the dead. They exclaimed to him, "We have seen the Lord!" (20:25a). Thomas said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe" (20:25b). He would not believe the witness of ten fellow disciples. He made them out to be liars. He therefore made the Lord out to be a liar, for the Lord had prophesied to him and the rest of the disciples that He would be crucified and on the third day rise again.

If the Lord is a liar, then there is no point in our being here today. There would be no point to watch and hear the children act out the story of the Savior's birth, for His Word would, in its entirety, be a lie. If His Word is a lie, then we would grieve as those who have no hope, and we would be pitied more than all men. Yet we still pick and choose which parts of the Word we want to believe. Thomas Jefferson produced a version of the Bible, but, being a rationalist, he took out the stories that were not rational to him, that did not make sense to him. This means that Jefferson took out the miracles from the Bible as well as the resurrection of our Lord. He picked and chose what he wanted to believe, and he believed in a false Christ because he could not rationalize the resurrection. Jefferson refused to accept the resurrection on the basis of faith. This is the same Jefferson who wrote in the Declaration of Independence that the "Creator" has endowed us with certain inalienable rights, but his "Creator" could not rise from the dead. Thomas the Apostle could not accept that Christ had risen, either. We struggle with our faith. There are certain parts of the Bible we would much rather ignore and not apply to our very lives, especially that part called the Law. The Law always accuses, and it tells us that we are by nature sinful and unclean, sinning against God in thought, word, and deed, not loving God with our whole heart and not loving our neighbors as ourselves. This is true especially at this time of the year, just a few days before the Nativity of Our Lord, for we want to do away with hearing the Law. We do not want to be told that we have been naughty—but nice. The fact of the matter is that we are worse than naughty. We are sinners. We cannot come to the Father by ourselves and our own works. We must heed the message that John the Baptizer and Jesus the Way preached: we must repent. We must confess our sins and beg for God's forgiveness. We need to have the spirit of the father who brought his demon-possessed son to the Lord and said, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief" (Mk. 9:24).

The Lord had plans for Thomas. It is believed that Thomas went as far east as India, proclaiming the Gospel to the people of the East. He was considered one of the five "Apostles of the East," along with Bartholomew, Matthew, Simon the Zealot, and Jude, the Lord's brother. Thomas was credited with converted an entire tribe with the Gospel and was supposedly speared to death; therefore Thomas is often depicted with a spear, the instrument of his martyrdom, or with a carpenter's square, a tool of his trade. But Thomas had expressed a willingness to die for the Lord. In John 11, the Lord tells His disciples that they were going to Bethany, where He would raise Lazarus from the dead. Thomas was certain that the Lord would be killed there, but he said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with Him" (11:16). Thomas would later die for the Lord, even as the Lord died for him—and for us. Yes, the Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross to open the way to heaven for us. He is our Way, who on this day overcame death and the grave and by His glorious resurrection opened to us the way of everlasting life.

So let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God. Believe in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit brings us to faith in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit sets us on the way to heaven, the way of faith. The Lord has ascended into heaven to prepare a place for you. He has made Himself known to you. Through faith you have seen Him, and you have therefore seen your heavenly Father and you know Him through His Son. He has revealed Himself and His Father to you through His holy Word, where He shows us the way He bids us to go. He is the Way. He is the Truth. Our God sanctifies us by the truth, for His Word is truth, both written and incarnate. The Lord is also our Life, for in Him is life, and that life is the light of all men. Even as an airport lights the runway so that the pilot knows where to land the airplane, the Lord lights the way to the Father with an even brighter light, for He is the Light of the world, the light no darkness can overcome.

We who have been walking in darkness have seen a great light, the light we will behold this Christmas Eve. I invite you to come this Christmas Eve and behold the birth of our Savior, as we hear the prophecies that were fulfilled on that silent and holy night. We will be gathered in candlelight to sing praise to the God of Israel, for He has come into the world to redeem us. I also invite you to come this Christmas Day, as we once again celebrate the Word who became flesh and dwells among us in His Word and in His body and blood, the body of Christ which Thomas beheld. May we, by the Holy Spirit, celebrate the newborn King, making the same confession of faith that Thomas made when He beheld the risen Lord: "My Lord and my God!" You know the way to the Lord's house, and where He is you are welcome to come.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


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