"I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life"
Mar.15, 2009 Jn.14:1-14
ON-SITE THE WAY TO GO
Sometimes just showing up can save a pile of explaining. This past week a worker with a para-church agency in the area called up asking for some computer help, so of course I was immediately interested (my middle initial should have been "G" for "Geek"). A computer they'd been using on loan was going back to the owner, and my caller was anxious to remove any personal or confidential files. Now, I could have tried to explain generally how to approach this over the phone - but I doubt that would have been much help, since the other person isn't much of a 'techie'. I could have taken more time and composed an email with detailed instructions, but without an idea what email program they used, what operating system, etc., that likely would have failed as well. But I happened to be scheduled to be in the neighbourhood the next day. Would it be all right if I came in person? Sure! They were able to show me then exactly what was involved, and we were able to copy off files and emails onto a memory stick without any problem. So much easier for both of us to be able to resolve it 'hands-on' rather than them alone trying to decipher complicated instructions.
A traveler hired a guide to take him across a desert area. When the two men arrived at the edge of the desert, the traveler, looking ahead, saw before him trackless sands without a single footprint, path, or marker of any kind. Turning to his guide, he asked in a tone of surprise, "Where is the road?" With a reproving glance, the guide replied, "I am the road."
At times life can seem like a confusing maze or map-less wilderness, with all sorts of puzzling choices to make. God knows we need help. Rather than just supplying a complicated list of instructions, He opts to come alongside. Jesus says in John 14, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." As if to say, "I am the road." Today we look more at what it means for Him to be our Way and our Truth; hopefully at Easter we'll come back to 'the life' when we find out what it means for Him to say, "I am the Resurrection and the Life."
JESUS, THE WAY TO THE FATHER
Before we begin, let's acknowledge that to call anything "The Way" in today's pluralist culture makes one highly suspect, if not automatically offensive. Christianity is first referred to as "The Way" in terms of a religious movement in the book of Acts (9:2 etc). Other religions would find it tolerable if we called ourselves "A Way" as in "many paths lead to the mountaintop" or "all roads lead to God". But from the beginning Christianity has been THE Way - a claim to uniqueness that goes back to its Founder. In today's multi-religious climate, are we making ourselves unnecessarily obnoxious to use terms such as 'The Way'?
We'd better examine closely what Jesus is implying. What exactly does 'the way' refer to in the context of Jn 14:6? Is it more specific than just 'the way to live'? At this juncture, Jesus has become increasingly conscious that 'the time has come' for His departure; the shadow of the cross looms ever larger as both His popularity, and corresponding opposition by the authorities, grow. Jesus is conscious of doing things for the last time. In chapter 12 some Greeks come requesting an audience with Him; Jesus responds, "The time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." He acknowledges His heart is troubled as He faces 'this hour' when He will be 'lifted up from the earth'(12:23,26,32). V31, "Now is the time for judgment on this world..." 13:1, "Jesus knew that the time had come for Him to leave this world and go to the Father..." 13:31 after Judas has gone out, Jesus says, "Now is the Son of Man glorified...Where I am going, you cannot come" (13:31,34). Peter then asks in 36, "Lord, where are You going?" Jesus answers mysteriously, "Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later."
Then in chapter 14 He speaks of going to prepare a place in His Father's house; v4, "You know the way to the place where I am going." And v28, "I am going to the Father." So Jesus is not talking vaguely about being 'the way' to travel philosophically in life in general, but very specifically about the route to a particular location. The second half of 14:6 spells this out: "I am the way and the truth and the life.No one comes to the Father except through me."
So Jesus is claiming to be the only way to God - not just one of many enlightened ways to live one's life. "Such audacity! How exclusive!" some might protest. The apostles understood His meaning exactly, as we find Peter 'filled with the Holy Spirit' claiming in Acts 4:12, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." Such nerve! Is Jesus being arrogant - or appropriate?
Consider the nature of holiness and evil. A fallen creature could never, by their own merit or effort, make themselves acceptable to a holy Supreme Being. So only God could reconcile a stubborn, rebellious, independently-minded fallen world to Himself. But how could that happen? God would have to be both the appeased and the appeaser. This is where the mystery of the Trinity that is unique to Christianity becomes so significant. The Perfect Agent of Atonement issues forth from God, IS God yet is distinct from God in such a way as to identify with the fallen creature and make propitiation (payment for guilt). So the very dynamic of the reconciliation process suggests Christianity as compared with other religions may have something unique to offer.
The testimony of eyewitnesses is that Jesus Christ is that singular, unique, holy agent especially suited to make atonement. The Virgin Birth qualifies Him as begotten of God yet also human, without the generational sin attributed to Adam. Jesus' behaviour was peculiarly free from sin: as we saw last week in Jn 8:46 He could challenge His opponents, "Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?" Hebrews 4(15) states we have a high priest "who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin."
While Jesus was perfect and holy, He was killed on behalf of others, taking on Himself their guilt and penalty. John the Baptist introduces Him to the public stage in these words: "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (Jn 2:29) Caiaphas the official high priest of the Jewish people says prophetically, "It is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish." (Jn 11:50, 18:14) Die FOR the people - on their behalf, in their stead. The very timing of Jesus' death associates Him with the Passover lamb, whose blood applied to the doorframe was a sign preventing the destroyer from entering Hebrew homes to kill the firstborn sons (Ex 12:22ff; 1Cor 5:7). Because of the lamb, they were spared, 'passed over'.
Jesus made a way for us to the Father; this was God's doing, putting us right with Himself - it had to come from Him, not our own merit. Paul explains in 2Cor 5(18f,21), "All this is from God...God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them...God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
On the one hand we have the theoretical impossibility of reconciliation between God and a fallen creation without something like the Trinity. On the other hand, we have the eyewitness attestation of the perfection and uniqueness of Jesus' divine origin and earthly existence. No other religious leader predicted they would die for sins and rise again, then managed to pull it off. Put them together and it all points to the appropriateness of Jesus claiming to be the way to the Father. Robertson comments, "There is no use for the Christian to wince at these words of Jesus [in 14:6].If he is really the Incarnate Son of God, they are necessarily true."
Will we be labeled as arrogant, exclusivist, bigoted when we maintain publicly Jesus is the Way? Perhaps. God Himself will back you up on the Day when Jesus returns, the secrets of people's hearts are weighed and His righteous judgment is revealed (Rom 2:5,16). Is there the slightest reason for our witness to smack of superiority or triumphalism? Absolutely not - it's Christ's doing that has saved us, not our own shameful past. Jesus is the Way - but don't 'get in the way' of others being saved, putting them off by your pride or prejudice against other religions. At one point, before Christ's grace found you, you (and I) were as lost as anyone!
JESUS, THE TRUTH - ABOUT GOD
Jesus is 'the way'; He is also 'the truth'. This week Yvonne and I were blessed to watch the recent movie Fireproof - highly recommended. In it a firefighter (Caleb, played by Kirk Cameron) struggles to fend off divorce by winning back the affections of his wife. One of his co-workers at the fire station advises him he needs God's help to love his wife more. Caleb is wary of this 'faith' stuff at first, but he can't deny the integrity and conviction he sees in this other fireman's life. Caleb remarks to a third fireman, "You can say what you like, but you and I both know that he's the real deal!"
The real deal; the genuine article. Someone who's not 'faking it'. Caleb was attesting to the truth-quality that was evident in the other man's life. Living authentically carries great impact. Jesus did that. He could say with utmost sincerity, "I am the way and the truth and the life..." (Jn 14:6) What's this mean, He is the truth?
We live in a world swamped with information. Facts flood by us. We struggle to pick out the truths that are important to us, but it's like someone trying to drink out of a firehose. Which of several dozen channels of TV are you going to watch? Which 'slant' of newspaper editorial are you going to give your attention to? We use junk filters on our email to eliminate questionable information there. Similarly we filter out all sorts of other information in what we see and hear. Facts are one thing; they can be true but they still don't matter. Real 'truth' is something else. An accident report on the news can seem irrelevant until you suddenly realize the victim was related to a classmate of yours, or a neighbour, or an acquaintance. That's 'truth' with actual relevance, it hits you.
When Jesus is on trial before the Roman governor Pilate He says, "...In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me." To which Pilate retorts, "What is truth?" and promptly exits. (Jn 18:37f)
Pilate was not ready for Jesus' definition of truth. In Jn 17:17 He prays to His heavenly Father, "Sanctify them by the truth.Your word is truth." Of course, only God can define what's 'really real'. But the gospel-writer's understanding of 'word' is different than mere bits of speech. How's he open his gospel? "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." 1:14, "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." Here then Jesus is 'the Word', expressing or communicating to us, showing us the Father's glory and goodness. 1:18, "No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known." When you want to find out the truth about something - go to the source! Jesus who has been with the Father (at His side) from eternity is the One best qualified to interpret God to us. Jesus' purpose was to make the Father known. 17:26, at the end of His earthly career He could sum it up: "I have made You known to them, and will continue to make You known..." - so that God's love and Jesus Himself might be in us.
So, first of all, Jesus conveys to us the truth about God. 14:7, "If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." 9b, "anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father" - so how Philip can you ask to see Him? Back in 12:45 Jesus put it even more directly, "When [a person] looks at me, he sees the one who sent me." How wonderful that is! We're not left to conjure up imaginings of God based on our own dim minds or human folklore. Would you trade a God projected from Jesus for any god of the Greek or Roman pantheon, or thousands of Hindu gods and goddesses, or an animist god? Let's allow Yahweh the freedom to communicate on His own terms to us what He wants us to know about Him! Paul wrote, "For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form." (Col 2:9)
Jesus went on to describe this identification with the Supreme Being in Jn 14:10, "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." Both Jesus' words and works were what God wanted said or done. Elsewhere He could say, "My words are not My own," and the Son "can do only what He sees His Father doing" (14:24; 8:28; 12:49f; 5:19).
Jesus' whole life shows us the truth about what God is like in His being, His character. What is the picture the person of Jesus presents about God? Not an angry old man with a beard ready to hurl thunderbolts from the sky, like the Norse Thor. Not a God of law and condemnation, but steadfast, merciful, give-it-all-up-for-you love. Back to 1:16f, "From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another.For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." ('Truth' here echoes Old Testament 'faithfulness', someone you can trust, they're not going to let you down.) 3:16 - this one you should know off by heart - why did God give His only begotten Son? Because 'God so LOVED the world', that believers should not perish (zap!) but have eternal life. The next verse elaborates that God didn't send Jesus to condemn the world but to save it through Him. How we need to repent of any faulty images of God we have in our subconscious, and let Jesus paint a true picture for us!
The truth about God as Jesus conveys it is that God seeks an intimate ongoing love relationship with you - something beyond fear-the-rod compliance, doing it 'cuz you have to'. Who wants their child to come visit them in the nursing home 'because they have to'?! Is that love?
Yes there IS obedience - but it springs voluntarily from the love-bond. 14:21&23, "Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him...If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." Can it get any better than that - 'at home with' God? Jesus and the Father coming to us?
While teaching us the truth about God, Jesus also teaches us the truth about God's sovereignty - and, indirectly, the truth about Satan, how limited the enemy is. 14:30, "the prince of this world is coming.He has no hold on Me," NLT "He has no power over Me." 12:31, "Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out." 16:11, "the prince of this world now stands condemned." You see this played out in Judas' actions in chapter 13. The Devil had already enticed Judas to carry out his plan to betray Jesus (13:2). Then at the Last Supper Jesus predicts someone's going to betray Him (13:22). He gives Judas a piece of bread. V27: "As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him. "What you are about to do, do quickly," Jesus told him..." Think about that. The Lord is not the initiator of the action, but He's influencing the timing - the course of events that will climax in destroying Him. Jesus uncannily knows what no one else except Judas knows, and keeps Satan's plot within divine bounds. So, mysteriously, even evil is limited by God's sovereignty - yet God is not the author of evil. So Paul could write that great verse when things seem to go wrong, Romans 8:28: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him..." In ALL things.
JESUS AND THE TRUTH ABOUT US
Jesus tells us the truth about God; He also shows us the truth about ourselves. First, He knows we are PERSONALLY IMPERFECT. He had the scoop on Judas, as we've seen. When Simon Peter boasts he's ready to lay down his life for Jesus, the Lord replies, "Will you really...? I tell you the truth, before the rooster crows, you will disown me 3 times!" (13:37f) When He restores Peter in John 21(18f), He already knows about Peter's upcoming death. Jesus knew all about the woman at the well with her 5 husbands (4:18,29). John writes (2:24f), "But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men...he knew what was in a man."
Second, the truth about us is, though we're fallible and imperfect, we have POTENTIAL IN PARTNERSHIP with Him. In 14:12-14 Jesus states those believing in Jesus will do even greater things than He did - because when we ask, Jesus will do it, because that brings glory to the Father. What a promise - what potential! Greater things than Jesus? Perhaps instead of feeding the 5000 ONCE, pray-ers like George Mueller and Harvey Jesperson have fed hundreds of orphans or homeless children for years. But they knew they were depending on God.
Third, the truth about us is that we're PUPILS OF THE PARACLETE. Jesus was going away, but He said the Holy Spirit was coming - in fact, it was better for the disciples that He go so the Paraclete could come (16:7). The Holy Spirit ministers Jesus' presence to us - we're not left as 'orphans', the Spirit gives us that sense of God 'making His home with us' (14:23). And it's by the Spirit that the Lord continues to lead us into His truth. 14:26, "But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you." Jesus had more to tell the disciples than they could bear just then, so He provided an alternative - "But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth...He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you." (Jn 16:13f) There's that 'making-known' again, the Spirit teaches us what God wants us to know.
Fourth, the truth is we have a PRIORITY THAT'S A PROOF. That last night, Jesus gave His disciples a new command: 13:34f, "Love one another.As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." And in case they missed it, He repeats it a couple of chapters later: "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." (15:12f) That's the proof to the world we're 'for real' as followers of Jesus: are we loving each other? Baden-Powell said, "If it's not fun, it's not scouting." We could adapt that to say, "If it's not loving, it's not Christian." The priority of love.
Fifth - to wrap up where the chapter begins - the truth about us is that we have a PERMANENT PLACE. And thus, hope! 14:2f, "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." Jesus didn't just die and 'that's that'. He went to heaven, that alternative dimension, that spiritual world that may even overlap ours without us even being aware of it. The Father's house, with many dwelling places. The best part, of course, is not pearly gates but that Jesus is coming back to take us to be where He is. It's not that we just die and 'that's that'. So even death is no longer a gloomy prospect, but as John describes it for Jesus, 'entering into glory'.
NOT DRIVING - JUST ALONG FOR THE RIDE
Because God loves us, He's arranged for Jesus to be our way to the Father, so we can fully experience how much God loves us in this life and the next. His love becomes our ultimate truth, what really matters - something He empowers us to share.
For the past 7 years, Father Hernan Astudillo - pastor of Toronto's only Anglican parish for Spanish Americans - has taken surplus vehicles from Toronto to its twin city in El Salvador, Soyapango. Recently he switched from donated schoolbuses to decommissioned ambulances. Thus far that makes 32 school buses and 6 ambulances. He estimates the buses have made it possible to save 500 seniors and 2,000 children, in the face of earthquakes and flood. Money collected has allowed the building of a new town, "St.Lawrence of Toronto".
The drive each year is quite an ordeal - 11 days, 7,000 kilometres. But how he described his role caught my attention. Father Astudillo says, "I don't do the driving; I let the Holy Spirit be upon me.This is my spiritual road trip, my 'road to Emmaus' experience."
As the Lord leads you in simple practical ways to share His love, may you sense His Holy Spirit upon you. Life is a 'spiritual road trip' when Jesus is the Way. Let's pray.