WHO IS JESUS? #9

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God-honouring.

No one appreciates being misunderstood. Confusion, false perceptions, and accusations about and against our person can be exasperating. Sometimes a simple explanation can correct a false impression, but there are times when no amount or degree of clarification can shed light on the matter. It is as if a dark veil lies over our accuser’s mind obstructing the truth from penetrating within.

“I am not possessed by a demon,” counters Jesus against His opponents’ accusations, “but I honour my Father and you dishonour me” (John 8:49). While the Pharisees were resorting to epithets and invectives in their attempt to obscure and yet defend their position of self-righteous social power, Jesus’ reply is simple: My identity consists in honouring the Father. There is no secrecy or ulterior motive to Jesus. Every facet of His character, every intention and action of His being converges on one purpose: to honour the Father. And, He maintains, I accomplish it.

Only a completely sinless person can bring God honour. Christ does not do as we might expect if He were merely a good man or only a mortal ambassador of God; He does not say, I try to honour God. That would leave room for moments of imperfection. He says I honour the Father. Flawlessly.

Jesus even goes so far as to challenge His antagonists, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?” They wanted to. More than anything else His pious accusers longed to pin on Jesus a charge that would allow them to execute Him. A man who lived like Jesus lived, and taught as He taught is infuriating to those whose purposes are self-centred, coarse, and hateful.

This claim Jesus is making, that He is the uniquely God-honouring One, is problematic for us mortals; we sense the contrast against ourselves that is implied in His claim. Jesus honours the Father in everything, absolutely everything He does—but we don’t. Our thoughts, our words, and our actions are often compromised. The best of us have dishonoured God in untold ways. Jesus’ claim seems to unmask us, causing our less-than-perfect motives and intentions to stand in stark contrast to His. What ought we to do with that feeling? Ignore it? Deny it, hide it, or make counter-claims back at Jesus saying His attitude is just a ‘holier-than-thou’ one?

Let’s keep in mind that Jesus is speaking in this pointed way to an audience that has hardened their hearts toward Him. They and their ilk were spoken about by the prophet Isaiah as leaders whose motto toward ‘lesser’ people was, “Keep away, don’t come near me, for I am too sacred for you!” (Isaiah 65:5). Jesus’ succinct remarks to this group are deliberately intended to challenge their self-righteous attitudes.

So firstly, we must ask ourselves, are we one of these? Have we dishonoured Jesus, allowing Him anything less than full access to our hearts and lives? Have we avoided or wandered from our childlike trust in Him? If so, the only response that offers us any hope is to humbly recognize our error and return to Him.

“Come to me,” Jesus invites. “Believe me,” He enjoins. “Remain in me,” He offers, “and I will remain in you”. When we respond to Jesus in the way He summons, His perfectly God-honouring character begins to flow through us, enabling us to be God-honouring too. Alone, we are unable to do it. But living by Jesus’ strength of character, and being moved by His Word and Spirit lifts us up by degrees to be the God-honouring creatures we were designed to be. With Jesus’ Spirit living in us, we escape the twisted degradation our species inevitably slumps toward. The world does not need any more Pharisees.

Secondly, if we have sought to follow Jesus—to honour the One who honours the Father so well—our best response to Jesus’ claim is to keep on keeping on, to persevere regardless of the way things look today. We need to do as the British WWII morale-boosting message urged: To Keep Calm and Carry On. The disappointments of this life, the weight of our own weaknesses, and the devil whose purpose is to deceive, all conspire against us to tempt us to give up on trusting Jesus. Don’t do it. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart,” reminds Scripture, “and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5,6).

(Photo Credit: By UK Government – UK Crown Copyright – expired, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17015658)

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WHO IS JESUS? #8

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Sent One.

There have been some unusual gifts sent over the years: the Greek Trojan horse sent to the city of Troy, the white elephant sent by the king of Portugal to a Pope, and Cleopatra rolled in a carpet sent as a gift to gain an audience with Caesar. Anything sent carries with it the intentions of the sender—an idea that takes on flesh in order to convey some particular meaning.

As Jesus addresses His antagonists in a verbal parlay recorded in the Gospel of John, He adds yet another claim to His list of self-descriptions. He describes Himself as sent from God. It’s another facet of the recurring theme Jesus claims about Himself; He self-identifies as uniquely connected with God with a distinctive task to be accomplished. He is up front and unmistakably apparent with His listeners, but He knows they don’t really hear Him.

“Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me. Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say’” (John 8:42,43).

This is not the first time Jesus has described Himself as sent by God the Father. In a conversation held one late night between Jesus and a cautious seeker—a member of the Jewish ruling council who needed to find out from Jesus some answers to important questions—Jesus reveals a similar claim. Again He refers to Himself as sent by God. To this seeker Jesus voices a claim that has become the most well-known verse in Scripture: “For God so loved the world,” He explains, “that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). In the next verse Jesus continues, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” Did you hear the actions Jesus applies to His Father: loved, gave, send, not condemn, and save?

In claiming to be the Sent One of God, Jesus is explaining that God’s idea of loving people is not an existential notion limited to the vast domains of God’s psyche. It’s not just a thought or even a fleeting emotion. Jesus is saying that as God loves His world perfectly—every person ever conceived—He has determined to express that love by sending the perfect gift: Jesus. Jesus is uniquely able to communicate the love of God to us because He knows what it is like to be both God and human. He is saying, I am the love of God here in human form to bring you back into relationship with God, to save you from perishing if you’ll have me. But there’s the rub: ‘If we’ll have Him.’

Sadly, Jesus’ antagonists could not hear what He was offering them because they refused to listen. Rather than hearing love, they heard offense. He wasn’t the gift they wanted. They dismissed this claim as they had His others with slurs and denouncements: “You are demon-possessed!” they sneered. “Who do you think you are?” they spat. They had their own agenda and it didn’t include a God-man sent from beyond earth to do anything for them let alone be a gift to them. So He could not rescue them from their perishing, much as He would have loved to. The hand He reached out to them as they tottered on the brink of disaster was despised. The gift was rejected. The choice was theirs.

The choice is ours too. With each of Jesus’ claims, we have asked how we ought best to respond. Here Jesus tells us that our search for love ends in Him. He is the one sent from God—God in the flesh, love in action—who meets our deepest needs. There is nothing we can do to merit this gift. It’s harder than that. We must receive it with open hands and heart.

Each of us knows the areas in our life we have held Jesus’ love at a distance. He continues to offer His love to you and me, giving us every opportunity to open our ears and hearts to His offer. And how are we to express acceptance of His offer? He tells us. He says, love me in return; that’s why I was sent. So let’s begin each day by saying, “I love you, Jesus,” and follow that up by exploring His Word for more ideas on how to demonstrate that love.”

 

WHO IS JESUS? #7

Recognizable.

The list we have been amassing of Jesus’ claims about Himself in John 8 is extraordinary in the truest sense— Light of the world, Supreme and Valid Judge, the Way, Deity, Sinless One, Above All. He is not the mere man some have identified Him as being. And He is neither silent about His identity nor is He one who may safely be ignored.

As Jesus deepens His conversation with the antagonistic Jewish hierarchy of His day we observe a phrase He uses twice in close succession. This is significant because while the phrases are identical, they carry with them two diverging results depending on how individuals respond to Him.

“(I)f you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins” asserts Jesus (John 8:24), and moments later, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am the one I claim to be” (John 8:28).

In both cases, Jesus explains that the claims He makes about Himself are not merely fantastic: they are authentic and they demand a response—a response from every person in His contemporary culture, but also from each one of us. He recognizes that those who have observed His life, who have listened to His words and have recognized the uniqueness of His claims, must and will make a choice about Him. That choice—like all choices—will be one of personal volition. In other words, it will be considered by God to be a choice each of us has made to believe the evidence Jesus presents or to discount it, to accept its implications or to reject it.

But rejection does not make Jesus go away—that is a blurred view of reality. That is like the perspective of an infant for whom only those within her half-metre range of focused vision exist. Dismissing Jesus and assuming He has therefore disappeared ignores something fundamental about our humanity; it is a denial of the connection between our free will actions and the real effects they have. Part of the value God created within us means that our moral choices have real significance, and that eternity is the stage through which those choices will be displayed. Jesus here gives clues to the ramifications of disbelieving Him.

Of the Pharisees, Jesus describes an unbelief that would become the death of them (“…if you do not believe…you will die…”). This is not the petulant verbal assault of a charlatan who worries his influence is fading. It is the warning of an authentic and reliable expert who sees the ultimate consequences of that disbelief. It is the ringing of an alarm that clarifies an eternal matter; an issue to which every person is accountable.

Jesus is saying that He has made Himself recognizable to each of us—no excuses. He will ultimately be acknowledged as the one who I claim to be by every individual who has ever lived—no exceptions. “For since the creation of the world,” explains the Apostle Paul, “God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).

Jesus’ adds something more. He foreshadows something about the future. “When you have lifted up the Son of Man…” He says. What is this reference to being lifted up? Within that phrase He is layering two ideas. From a historical perspective, He is referring to the impending execution to which He would be subjected—the crucifixion that would lift Him up on a barbaric cross for all to see. He is speaking of His own imminent physical death—not a perishing/spiritual death such as His warning to the Pharisees, but a physical death all the same.

But His second meaning refers to a time much further into the future, a time of which even we have not yet seen the fulfillment. This lifting up of Jesus will be not one of derision but of exaltation. It is described also by Paul who writes as a hymn: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).

What is our best response to Jesus’ insistence that He is the One—the Recognizable One? It all comes down to living out our belief in Him—to humbling ourselves and accepting Him; to trusting Him in the sometimes-messy situations of our lives. He power to impact us is not only for eternity but also for today. He wants us to lift up our eyes and recognize Him as the true and worthy One who is who He says He is. He wants us to open our eyes and see Him. Here and now.

Open our eyes, Lord – We want to see Jesus – To reach out and touch Him – And say that we love Him – Open our ears, Lord – And help us to listen – Open our eyes, Lord – We want to see Jesus. (Hymn by R. Cull).

WHO IS JESUS? #6

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Above All.

“You are from below; I am from above,” claims Jesus. “You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:23,24).

In order to understand who Jesus here claims to be, He gives His listeners some information about themselves. He explains that they are “from below” and “of this world.” It would be fair to include ourselves in that description—unless you know something about yourself that is ‘out of this world’!

You and I would probably never have described ourselves as “from below”, though, would we? That descriptor carries a vertical element that is just not normally used—unless we come from the Himalayas or some other elevation-above-sea-level-based society. We are more likely to say we are from such-and-such a city, or our family comes from so-and-so country and heritage. Did you notice how these expressions describe the horizontal plane? They presume that the surface of this earth is the environment we all arise from and occupy—that it is the status quo. Any comparisons we might make of our habitat or origins are anchored firmly within the boundaries of latitude and longitude. Not so Jesus.

In contrasting Himself with people of the world, Jesus reveals a perspective that goes far beyond the world. He says He is “not of this world”, but rather “from above.” Our immediate reaction might be to think of ‘above’ in terms of the physical universe—of moon, stars and planets—but from Jesus’ perspective that is not enough above. The elevation of every star of every galaxy in the universe is flattened into mere latitudes and longitudes in contrast to the above of which Jesus speaks. Jesus is claiming to be completely above anyone or anything in creation.

He is above reproach: Christ is claiming to be the all-wise and perfect One who always applies His eternal justice in a right and thoroughly authentic manner. John’s Revelation prophecy records a song to be sung by future peoples in honour of Jesus, “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages” (Revelation 15:3).

He is above and beyond the creaturely constraints of earth: Jesus is the Source of all matter and life, who created the world and came into the world to impact His creatures for their eternal good. The only way He could lift us up into His realm is by being essentially above us.

He is above religion’s failings: Unlike the proponents of this world’s religions, Jesus is unremittingly constant and perfectly successful in doing the Father’s will. He claims access to God because He Himself is God. “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son” (Revelation 21:6,7).

He is above all: Jesus is the Transcendent One whose thoughts and ways are immeasurably beyond ours. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8,9).

How should we respond to this claim of Jesus that He is above all? Firstly, we might look back at the warning He gives His listeners who were also His primary antagonists during His life on earth. Most of them chose not to believe His claims, and consequently Jesus had this to say about them: “(I)f you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.” So firstly, our best response is to simply believe that He is who He claims to be. It is not only true, but it affects the very foundations of who we are and how we will spend eternity. Secondly, our lives ought to display a new focus intended to honour Him in everything we do—lip service is not enough. Our thought life ought to honour Him, allowing only thoughts that are true, noble and right to inhabit our minds. Our language ought to honour Him; words characterized by truth and love best befit those who honour Jesus above all. And our actions ought to honour Him; do we control our greed and selfishness, displaying patience and compassion as He enables us?

The closer we draw to the One who is Above All, the more His beauty is reflected upon our lives. We are changed and that brings Him joy. So let’s consider well His claim to be Above All. Let’s live as if our lives depend upon it, because they do.

(Photo Credit: By NASA – http://visibleearth.nasa.gov/view_detail.php?id=2429http://veimages.gsfc.nasa.gov//2429/globe_east_540.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=512571)

WHO IS JESUS? #5

Sinless One.

Certain truths can be more intolerable to us than their corresponding falsehoods. For instance, accepting a rejection for promotion is more repugnant than assuring oneself that the hiring process was flawed. Or, learning to live with the effects of aging can be more frustrating than spending thousands of dollars trying to reverse those effects. A recent president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) found it more distasteful to be identified as a white woman of European descent than to falsely claim African-American heritage.  “I identify as black,” she claims.

As Jesus stations Himself to engage in a conversation with the hypocritical religious ruling class of His day, He claims something that infuriates them.

“I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come” (John 8:21). His listeners’ ears would have burned hearing that absolutely intolerable phrase— “you will die in your sin.” A flush of anger would have arisen up necks and merged with darkened faces. Not only had Jesus communicated a condemnation of their lifestyle (you sin— you die), but He had also deliberately conveyed a ‘holier than thou’ message.

Foreshadowing His own imminent death at their hands (“I am going away”), Jesus was not saying ‘like you, I too will die in my sin.’ Rather He contrasts Himself with all of humanity by claiming, “Where I go you cannot come.” He would die, but with not even a shadow of sin staining His person; contending to be uniquely sinless, He claims sole admittance to eternal life.

He is not saying that the concept of sin is passé. Jesus is not an early forerunner of today’s materialistic ideology that promotes tolerance of all personal choices, of the broad-mindedness that condones all pursuit of ‘trueness to self,’ of the rejection of the concept of sin.

He is saying, You are all sinners and will perish in never-ending death. I will die but will not perish because of my sinlessness. I possess the power of eternal life.

Now that standpoint is intolerable to many. To those who have never really explored Jesus’ claims about Himself it might even come as a shock. That perspective seems so illiberal and parochial—so old fashioned. Yet without that foundation to our understanding of Jesus we cannot move on to the offer He makes us. We must accept His sinlessness and its corollary—our sinfulness—if we want to avail ourselves of the eternal life that He possesses.

Most of the Pharisees never accessed the hidden offer in that so-offensive claim of Jesus. One or two did. They took the bad news along with the good. They understood and accepted the reality of Jesus’ sinlessness as the redeeming exchange for their own sinfulness and became recipients of Jesus’ gift of eternal life. Nicodemus was one of them and the Apostle Paul was another.

Here’s where we come in. How ought you and I to respond to this dichotomous news, this claim that Jesus is the Sinless One—eternally holier than us—and that we are dying in our sin?

If we accept that Jesus’ claim represents the magnificent intolerance of God to sin’s destructive presence and of God’s intention to ensure that the final end of it will be the death of death itself for those who entrust themselves to Him, our whole attitude to sin will change. We will by increments embrace a lifestyle that desires pure and holy living. We will respond more and more quickly to our conscience’s urgings to love God and to love the people around us like Jesus. We will choose to be more patient with people in our world; we will care for others’ needs to the point that our resources are more focused on them than ever before.

Rather than being offended by His claims, we can take comfort in Jesus’ sinlessness because it means He is the perfect lover of our soul and supplier to us of power to love others. One of the most beautiful epithets ever applied to Jesus—ironically by the self-righteous Pharisees themselves—was ‘Friend of “sinners”.’ May Jesus be that and much more to each of us as we have a fuller understanding of who He really is.

WHO IS JESUS? #4

Deity

Who in this entire world, foolish or wise, can say with complete sobriety and truthfulness, “My decisions are right”—always right? Never wrong, never contestable? In John’s gospel (8:16) the Apostle records Jesus making just such a claim. “(My) decisions,” says Jesus, “are right, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father who sent me” (John 8:16). It’s a bold claim—and offensive if it is not true. Beyond that, isn’t it a bit confusing to hear Jesus defending the validity of His decisions based on the company He keeps?

The fool thinks he is right—and surrounds himself with like-minded friends—but finds himself amid a cluster of falling dominoes because he has not truly considered the consequences of his thoughts. The madman thinks he is right because his rationality is based on illusions of identity—of grandeur, victimization, or some other self-deception—and has a somewhat more limited scope of friends perhaps because his grasp of reality obstructs relationships.

C.S. Lewis’ memorable alliteration concludes that to make such a claim as “my decisions are (always) right” a man must be either a liar, a lunatic, or—the only other option—Lord. Jesus is claiming to be LORD—Master of omniscience and supreme authority on everything from environmental to ethical decision-making. He is claiming deity, isn’t He?

With complete candour, Jesus gives this alibi as His defense: “I am not alone. I stand with the Father who sent me.” It’s an interesting defense. Let’s take a deeper look at what Jesus is saying here.

Firstly, Jesus is saying that He has the complete endorsement and corroboration of God the Father authenticating every thought, word, and action He undertakes. Every intention of the Father for earth and its inhabitants, claims Jesus, is embodied in me. Taken in context with everything else we know about Jesus through the gospels, it is not incoherent to believe He is speaking the truth. We ourselves cannot imagine claiming that role, but it is not inconceivable that Jesus can and does.

But secondly, Jesus is not only the absolute representative of the Father—in office and in character—but He is saying He is deity Himself.

“I and the Father are one,” Jesus would later spell out, and “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” The Apostle Paul would also explain it this way, “He is the image of the invisible God” (Col.1:15). In declaring that He stands with the Father, Jesus is asserting His privilege as the visible second Person of the triune God. As the Son, He is inextricably bound to the Father and the Holy Spirit as a member of the incomprehensible One God.

The Jewish rulers understood what Jesus was claiming by saying He stands with the Father. Their attempts and eventual success in killing Jesus was their response, in their words, “because you, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:33). They displayed the ensuing results of disbelieving Jesus’ claim to deity—they attempted to completely remove Him from their world. The modern expression of this reaction is to maintain that He never existed, He was merely a good man, or that He is dead and irrelevant to our present world.

But if we choose to accept that Jesus’ claim to be the visible image of the invisible God is believable, how will that affect our lives? There is no guesswork left but to determine that our full loyalty, obedience and worship should be focused upon Him.

The gospels are rich with Jesus’ wisdom, practical guidance and overt commands waiting to be applied to our hearts and lives. There are more than enough to keep us busy for the remainder of our earthly days. It will not be a burden, but rather a joyful process enabling us to gradually build lives of Christlike character. This is what Jesus intended by coming to earth. This is how He wants to bless each and every one of us. So let’s pick up our Bibles, dust them off if necessary, and begin to pour over, reflect upon and apply everything the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) record Jesus as saying. If He is God, we owe it to Him.

(Photo Credits: By Famartin – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29114992; By ESO/A. Fitzsimmons – http://www.eso.org/public/images/potw1320a/, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26190225; By Hernán Piñera from Marbella – Locked in his world, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=42201535)

 

 

WHO IS JESUS, #3

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The Way

“I know where I came from and where I am going,” Jesus challenges His antagonists; although an enigma to the religious ruling class of His day, Jesus is completely conscious of His role as the peoples’ way back to God. He speaks of His origins (“where I came from”) and His objectives (“where I am going”) with the composure of one who is singularly omniscient (all knowing) and resolute in His role. Unswerving faithfulness to His relationship with His heavenly Father informs His eternal purpose to be the redeeming exchange for the consequences of humankind’s sin.

With these words He claims identity as the One who alone can re-open the pathway of relationship between God and created persons. “I am the way,” Jesus later explains to His closest followers. “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

It’s quite a claim Jesus makes about Himself. He does not say, “I am one of a variety of ways back to the Father.” Some would rather He said that. Then we could design our spirituality with a more eclectic flavour. We could have a little ‘mindfulness (spiritual-but-not-religious)’ here, a little ‘diversity-tolerance’ there, and add Jesus into the mix to fit our personal whims. But Jesus Himself doesn’t give us that option. He claims the exclusive right to meet all people’s total and complete spiritual needs. Period.

Just what is our best response to Jesus’ outrageous claim to be the only way to the Father? First, we need to rout out that niggling part of us that is irked, irritated and rankled with Jesus’ claim. We need to give it the name Malignant Pride, and release it to Jesus. He will dispose of it for us. “As far as the east is from the west,” says the psalmist, “so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103).

In its place we must accept humility, awe, thankfulness, peace, and a new insight into following Jesus’ Way. We will, in effect, be set back on the path we were created to follow when earth was young and life was a garden of possibilities.

But earth and its inhabitants have suffered an illness. Those that have submitted to the surgery to have the malignancy removed are in convalescence. Like John Bunyan’s character ‘Christian’ in his classic allegory ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’, there are still challenges along the path of our journey. There is the potential failure to daily treasure God’s Word, leaving it at the wayside and becoming entangled in bypass routes. There is the tendency to take shortcuts that land us in the ‘slough of despond’ or in the giant ‘Despair’s’ castle of bondage. There is the temptation to turn back from the Heaven-focused journey in fear of the lion’s threats, or to give in to the suggestions of ‘Mistrust’ and ‘Timorous’.

We must cooperate with Jesus as He places us on the high but narrow road to Life; we must follow His every word of guidance and refuse to invite malignant pride back into our hearts.

Our best course is to remain close to Jesus, the One who personifies the “Way of Holiness” (Isaiah 35:8), who alone is qualified to “lead (us) in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:24)—to an eternity of purpose and God-centered living. And like the best of adventures, not only is the final destination important, but so is the route itself; Jesus’ way bring travelers satisfaction and joy because Jesus journeys alongside us. He is our closest companion. So think again about Jesus’ claim to be the Way. It’s the best news we’ve had in a long, long time.