“Directionally Challenged” by Rev. David W. McKinley

The following message was based on John 8:21-30 and was delivered on March 18, 2012 at the Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, PA

Have you heard of the terms: “directionally challenged?” It is someone who has difficulty determining right from left; someone who often confuses directions, and prefers visual aids; someone who has great difficulty reading maps and/or driving while listening to directions. One of the observations made of women, usually by men, is that they are directionally challenged. And one of the observations made of men, usually by women, is that we never stop to ask for directions. Sounds like a match made in heaven!

Directionally challenged are terms that have entered our vocabulary only a few years ago. Maybe we can identify with the couple in the following story written by blogger “Penny”: “Anything in front of me is up and anything to the rear of me is down. I’m good with that. It’s East, West, North, or South that gets me confused. Knowing I’m directionally handicapped is only the half of it. My husband is no better. Maybe worse. And we both blame each other for bad directions.

He told me to pick him up at the Toyota dealership down the road — literally down the road (or up depending on my starting point). It’s a straight shot after a single right turn out of our neighborhood. I waited what I thought was ample time for him to get the paperwork for the car repair completed. Actually, I stalled a little too long — but did I mention my aversion to waiting?

When I arrived, I couldn’t locate my husband. Knowing how he loves to chat, I figured he had either made friends or they had bound and gagged him with duct tape. I looked and looked, then feared for my comfort level. He’d give me the look. His glare has been known to make a Brit cry. I asked at the service counter, and they had no record of him.

About ten minutes later, he pulled in. He had gotten lost. I don’t even know how that was possible.”

Our Lord dealt with those who were directionally challenged. In our passage for this morning, Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees. The Pharisees were oftentimes antagonistic towards Jesus’ ministry. Jesus maintained His unique origin and unique destiny. But they would hear none of it. They were convinced that Jesus was a fraud. But Christ sets out to answer the valuable questions: Who is Jesus? Where did He come from? What was His mission? How do the answers to these questions affect me? This morning, let’s see who was spiritually, directionally challenged.


Jesus begins our passage by making a statement about his death, burial, resurrection and ascension. Verse 21 states: “Then He said again to them, “I go away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin; where I am going, you cannot come.”

When Jesus spoke of going away and the Pharisees being unable to find him, they thought that He was speaking of ending His life. Suicide for Jews was a grave sin, and in violation of the sixth commandment: “Thou shalt not murder.” The Puritans believed it was a great sin calling it “self murder.” Certainly there are some who commit suicide that don’t know what they are doing. Others see it as an escape mechanism. But Jesus was not speaking of committing suicide. Rather, He was referencing His death on the cross, His burial, resurrection and ascension. He voluntarily laid down His life for us. He said in John 10:18, He said: “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. This charge I have received from My Father.”

In the series of statements which Jesus makes, He is introducing a formula called the “I am,” statements. There are many in the Gospel of John, always linked back to God’s revelation to Moses in the burning bush of Exodus 3. In the Old Testament, God revealed Himself as the Great “I am.” This means the all-sufficient one. We read in Exodus 3:14: “God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

Consider the following statements by Jesus: “I am the bread of life (6:35)”; “I am the light of the world (8:12)”; “I am the door (10:9)”; “I am the Good Shepherd (10:11)”; “I am the way, the truth and the life (14:6)”; D.A. Carson states: “For Jesus to apply such words to Himself is tantamount to a claim to deity …”

What’s more is that the Jews were waiting for the Messiah. An empty place setting exists at the table when Jews celebrate the Passover. This was reserved for Elijah the prophet, who would usher in the Messiah. Interesting how John the Baptist was thought to be Elijah come back; right before the Messiah would come. Isaiah 43:10 hints at this idea of God’s servant soon to come, fulfilled in Jesus. “You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me.”

I wonder how many times that we fall prey to the idea that Jesus is just another human, just our good example, and fail to recognize His claim to be God. Peter, an eyewitness to Jesus’ ministry, puts Him on a completely different level, though He was one of us. Matthew 16:16 reads: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Martha said to Jesus in last week’s passage of John 11: “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

The real question is, who is Jesus? In this passage, Jesus gives us many pieces of information of who He is. Notice some of these are the following: “I am from above” and “I am not of this world” in 8:23. Above would be Heaven, the place of the Father, the holy realm. Below would be the earth, the devil, the sinful realm. David Ellis states: “Both realms, meet on earth, the scene, indeed, of their conflict. (These directions) are used in an ethical sense to distinguish the realms of good and evil.” It was on earth that the sin of our first parents would destroy our relationship with God the Father. So Jesus, as the second Adam, came to remedy the situation. That is why the season of Lent is so important- to focus on the ministry and passion of our Lord Jesus, and our great need for Him.

Jesus also links Himself with the Father, the “sending one.” Jesus said: “He who sent Me is true….” Verse 26: “I have many things to speak and to judge concerning you, but He who sent Me is true; and the things which I heard from Him, these I speak to the world.” 27 They did not realize that He had been speaking to them about the Father.” To make Himself connected to the Father is also a claim toward deity.

“You will die in your sin.” Jesus clearly states the two destinies of humanity. Not all will be saved; some cannot go where Jesus is going. The only way of salvation is to believe. Where you and I will spend eternity is largely dependent upon who you say Jesus is. This designation has to do with the cross, as well. He says in 8:28: “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.’” Being “lifted up,” is a reference to the cross.

Yet we live in a world where this is often taken for granted. A Denver woman told her pastor of a recent experience that she felt was a sign of the times. She’d walked into a jewelry store looking for a necklace. “I’d like a gold cross,” she said. The man behind the counter looked over the stock in the display case and said, “Do you want a plain one, or one with a little man on it?” Jesus said in John 12:31: ‘Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.’

It is the cross that identifies who Jesus is. Donald Carson states: “One of the functions of the cross is to reveal who Jesus is. That is when the Jews will know the truth. By this John is not saying that all of Jesus’ opponents will be converted in the wake of the cross. But if they do come to know who Jesus is, they will know it most surely because of the cross.” Remember that after Jesus was crucified, the Roman soldier said in Matthew 27:54: “ When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” By the cross, Jesus is set part from the world and yet for the world.

The cross sets Jesus apart from all others. In just a moment, you are going to sing such words. Heaven came down and glory filled my soul, when at the cross the Saviour made me whole; My sins were washed away and my night was turned to day; Heaven came down and glory filled my soul!

This whole thing about direction reminds me of how God can take our lives, lacking direction, lacking a compass, and completely change it for the better. Consider the one we know as St. Patrick. He was born in the late 4th century. In his early years, he was quite rebellious- being sold into slavery and became an under-shepherd in Ireland. After he escaped, he went to seminary, and then was commissioned as a pastor.

But God called him to return to Ireland. Pastor Mark Driscoll states: “In faith, the forty-something year-old Patrick sold all of his possessions, including the land he had inherited from his father, to fund his missionary journey to Ireland. He worked as an itinerant preacher and paid large sums of money to various tribal chiefs to ensure he could travel safely through their lands and preach the gospel. His strategy was completely unique, and he functioned like a missionary trying to relate to the Irish people and communicate the gospel in their culture by using such things as three-leaf clovers to explain the gospel.

Upon entering a pagan clan, Patrick would seek to first convert the tribal leaders and other people of influence. He would then pray for the sick, cast demons out of the possessed, preach the Bible, and use both musical and visual arts to compel people to put their faith in Jesus. If enough converts were present he would build a simple church that did not resemble ornate Roman architecture, baptize the converts, and hand over the church to a convert he had trained to be the pastor so that he could move on to repeat the process with another clan. Patrick gave his life to the people who had enslaved him until he died at 77 years of age. He had seen untold thousands of people convert as between 30-40 of the 150 tribes had become substantially Christian. He had trained 1000 pastors, planted 700 churches, and was the first noted person in history to take a strong public stand against slavery. Patrick is just one example of how God changes our direction for His glory! He puts our feet in the right path and adjusts our course for the better.

Published by davidmckinley

I am the Senior Pastor of Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, PA. The Schwenkfelder Church is a community of faith birthed from those persecuted in Silesia (Poland) during the 16-18th centuries, whose adherents traveled to Pennsylvania circa 1734. For more on the Schwenkfelders as a historical movement, see www.schwenkfelder.com. Central Schwenkfelder is a Christ-centered, Bible-believing congregation. For more info, see www.cscfamily.org. My ordained standing is with the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference. See www.ccccusa.org or www.easternpa4c.org.

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