John 14:1-12 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going." 5 Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" 6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." 8 Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." 9 Jesus answered: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? 10 Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. 12 I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”
The other day, out of the blue, my eight-year-old asked what happened to the people in the stories above where the planes hit the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. I answered her that everyone above the planes died. They had no way to escape and survive.
After I gave her that answer, I did some checking. To my surprise, there were some survivors. Four of them. This is their story.
When United Airlines Flight 175 smashed into the 77th floor of New York’s World Trade Center, almost everyone on or below the 77th floor of that building escaped. Almost everyone above the 77th floor died. Above the 77th floor, 595 people died. Only four managed to live.
The first of the four was Brian Clark. Brian was Executive Vice-President for Euro Brokers. When part of the jet hit his floor the tower twisted, air-conditioning ducts fell and floors buckled. Clark turned to his friend, Senior Vice-President Robert Coll and said, "Let's go." A total of five men started down Stairwell A.
On the 81st floor, they met a large woman and a frail man trying to make their way up to the roof. The woman told them, "You can't go down. The floors are in flames." The men debated: up or down. Four of Clark's friends decided to go up, two of them helping the woman manage the stairs. Clark and a co-worker, Ronald DiFrancesco, continued down Stairwell A. As they descended, they heard some banging and pulled Stanley Prainath out of the rubble. DiFrancesco had second thoughts about the direction they were going. He was having a hard time breathing, so he turned around and climbed all the way back up to the 91st floor. For ten minutes he lay on the landing to rest. Then, moved by a desire to see his wife and children, Ron got up and started down Stairwell A again. This time Ron made it past the smoke; this time he made it all the way down to the lobby. As Ron left the building, a fireball rolled toward him; he put his arms in front of his face. That was all he remembered until he awoke three days later at St. Vincent's hospital. Ron was the last person to make it out of the South Tower. These three, along with one other who also made it down Stairwell A were the only people who survived above the 77th floor of the Trade Center's South Tower.
I told you this story - this real story - for a reason. There were 600 people in the upper part of that tower - only four survived. When those 600 souls entered the building on the morning of September 11th, they felt secure. They knew there were many ways in and out of the Tower, many ways which they believed could take them to safety, should the unlikely need arise. That is what they believed. They were wrong. When the end came, there was only one route, and only one route, which lead to safety. Every other path, every other route in that Tower was, quite literally, a dead end. Those people who thought it was safer to wait until the New York Fire Department made it up to them - they all died. Those individuals who gravitated to the windows so they might get away from the smoke and gasp a breath of fresh air into their aching lungs - they all died. Those folks who waited for the elevators to be brought back into service - they died. Those persons who tried to make it up to the roof so they might be rescued by a helicopter found the roof doors locked - they died. Those people who tried to go down Stairwell B found it blocked - they died. Those who went down Stairwell C found it impossible - they died.
On that day of disaster it didn't make any difference whether the people thought their situation was fair or unfair. It didn't make any difference if they thought Stairwell B and C should be functional. It didn't make any difference if they thought the building's architectural plan was insufficient and flawed. It didn't make any difference if those people thought having one means of escape was too exclusive. The truth is this: on the morning of September 11th there was one way - and only one way - to go if you wanted to live. To trust yourself to Stairwell A meant life, to trust anything else meant death.
What is the point of this story? In this modern-day parable, the World Trade Center is our little world. The terrorists of sin, Satan, and death have attacked us. They have done all they can to kill you, to murder your eternal soul, to create panic and havoc in your life.
What will you do? There are plenty of voices calling you to go this way or that. Plenty of voices pleading for you to follow them. Plenty of voices declaring theirs is the way to salvation.
All of them sound rational. All of them sound influential. All of them sound popular and powerful.
That day in the South Tower there were many such voices. One person said: “Go up to the roof.” Another said: “Wait here for the elevator.” Yet another encouraged: “Try this stairwell.” They were sincere voices, concerned voices, authoritative voices. Unfortunately, they were wrong voices. Every one of those voices, earnest as they were, took people to a path which was locked, blocked, and led to a dead end.
It is no different for you today. One voice loudly shouts that you had better be accepting of a gay NFL player or you will be labeled as a bigot. Another voice whispers that you can be spiritual without being religious, which is just a slick way of saying you don’t need to be committed to any particular god. Another voice tells you plainly that your church’s teachings on the roles of men and women or infant baptism or closed communion or sin and grace are all too old-fashioned. You will never get your church to grow while holding onto that way of thinking. Your own voice advises that you are just fine on your own, that you have no sin, so you have no need for a Savior.
I’m sure many of these voices sincerely believe what they are telling you. But their sincerity means nothing if they are directing you the wrong way; if they are encouraging you to trust an alternate way of escape which will finally, ultimately, eternally, lead to your death.
What does the ultimate authority, Jesus Christ, have to say about the way of escaping the eternal hell fires?
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
Thomas doesn’t quite get it, so he asks, “Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Jesus leaves us with only two options. Accept Him as God or reject Him as a megalomaniac. Call Him crazy or crown Him as King. Dismiss Him as a fraud or declare Him to be God. Walk away from Him or bow before Him, but don’t play games with Him. Don’t call Him a great man. Don’t consider Him only a moral teacher. Don’t patronize Him by calling Him only a prophet. He is either God or godless. Either liar, lunatic or Lord. Heaven-sent or hell-born. All hope or all hype. But nothing in between.
Jesus didn’t imply that He was one of many ways. He didn’t say He was a way, a truth or a life. He used definite articles. He is the only Way, the only Truth, the only Life. Jesus doesn’t merely show the way, He is the Way. He doesn’t merely reveal the truth, He is the Truth. He doesn’t merely lead us to life, He is the Life.
Jesus does not apologize for being exclusive. He is inclusive in everyone He invites to follow Him. But He is exclusive in that He is the only way.
What this really means is that we are saved not by following some prescribed laws or a set of rules, nor are we saved by each of us making up our own set of rules and religions, but we are saved by following a Person. Jesus says very clearly that He is that Person. His way to life with Him is His truth.
The only way to the Father is through Jesus. Take away Jesus and there is no way to come to the Father. Take away Jesus and there is no truth we can rely on as being absolute. Take away Jesus and there is no assurance for eternal life. Jesus is the reason to stop letting your hearts be troubled. Jesus is the way into the eternal mansion of heaven.
Jesus is the way at arriving at the impossible. It is more that just giving directions. Jesus will personally lead you through this dark valley of death and the deserted plain of despair and call you out of the grave to relax in the green pastures and quiet waters of paradise, to eat from the transplanted Tree of Life, to be surrounded by your fellow saints and sing with the angels, to live in God’s mansion in heaven in your own room that Jesus has already prepared for you through His perfection, suffering, death and resurrection.
Jesus is the truth for believing in the impossible. It is more than just believing in a teacher, moralist, preacher or prophet. Jesus is the truth who did the impossible, who calmed storms, healed the sick, loved the lepers, befriended sinners, drove out demons and raised the dead. He is the Shepherd laying down His life for His sheep. The Creator of Life dying for His creation. The Son of Man reversing what happened in Eden at the tree by dying upon the tree of the cross on Calvary. The Son of God living in humility for nine months in the womb of His mother and now sitting in glory at His Father’s right hand. God washing away your sin with the sprinkling of water and spoken Word. God present to feed and forgive you as both Host and Meal at His Holy Supper. The Father forgiving the sins of you, His prodigal sons and daughters and welcoming you into His home.
Jesus gives us a Life of doing the impossible. And when Jesus says, “I am the Life,” He means just that – the Life! He alone faced death and conquered it. He alone did battle with the Prince of Darkness to bring light and salvation to those living in the land of darkness. He alone went through hell on the cross to promise us heaven.
Many people claim that all religions are the same. And in one way, all major religions are the same because they all have a grave. Their leaders and prophets are all dead and in the grave. Ours is the only religion where the grave is open and empty. Christ is alive!
For the people of the South Tower of the World Trade Center, safety depended on their taking Stairwell A; for you it depends on trusting Jesus. Jesus is God's escape from certain death. Jesus is God's Truth who alone can save. Yes, I know what I'm saying may not sound very open-minded. If that's the case, let me say it differently: today the Lord Jesus Christ calls to every man, woman, and child, to every rich man and poor, to the brilliant and the challenged, the healthy and the ill; today the crucified and risen Savior extends the most open-minded invitation this world has ever heard. Today the Lord says: “No matter what you have done wrong, or how often you have done it, come to Me; trust in Me; believe that I can lead you to safety. I am the way – the only way to heaven.” Amen.