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The Way, The Truth and The Life

X There is a story of a missionary who lost his way in an African jungle. He could find no landmarks and the trail vanished. Eventually, he stumbled on a small hut where a man, native to the area, was living. The missionary asked if the man would lead him out.

The man nodded. Rising to his feet, he walked directly into the bush. The missionary followed on his heels. For more than an hour they hacked their way through a dense wall of vines and grasses. The missionary had no clue where they were or where they were going. The missionary became worried: “Are you sure this is the way? I don’t see any path.”

The African chuckled and said over his shoulder, “Bwana, in this place there is no path. I am the path.”

The final “I am” statement of Jesus that we take up this morning is when he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Jesus told his disciples that he is going away. He tells them that in his Father’s house are many rooms. He said he is going to prepare a place for them. He will come again and take his disciples so that where he is they can also be.

Then our Lord says, “And you know the way to where I am going.” But Thomas, one of the disciples, says “Not so fast. We don’t know the way. How about telling us, Lord.”

That is when Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” And then he says, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

No one can go to the Father except through Jesus? There is no other way? No other person, religious or philosophical figure? No other spiritual path?

Jesus makes an exclusive claim with this “I am” statement. He did not say “I am a way, a truth, and a life.” No, he said “the.”

Some people are deeply uncomfortable with Jesus’ exclusivity. They say it leaves out others who aren’t of Christ. The dominant opinion today seems to be that there are a number of ways to God. Many say we really can’t say one is above another. Some go so far as to say all religions basically say the same thing. Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Moses, Krishna, take your pick. All pretty much the same. Choose what way works for you.

Or, perhaps you have heard people say, “There really isn’t any one truth. You have yours and I have mine.” There are some things where that checks out. If your truth is that living in the country is better than living in the city, well that’s fine. But there is a thing called “truth.” For example, if you ask me how to get to Ogden, and I say just head south on I-15, that is not the way or the truth. Call me when you get to the Mojave Desert. There is a right way to get to Ogden and a wrong way.

Jesus claimed to be the true way to God and the gateway to the Father. He said that to see him was to see the Father. The Father is in him, and he is in the Father. What he says comes from the Father who dwells in him. He said he was going to the Father.

I believe Jesus and what he said that he is the only way to the Father.

But some have used Jesus’ claims in a very strict, narrow and dogmatic way. They have used Jesus’ words to clobber people of other beliefs. They carry an arrogant attitude that says, “Christ is the way. I know the way. You don’t know the way. So, I am better than you.”

Jesus’ words aren’t meant to bring down people of other religions or faiths, or so that worshippers of Christ can gloat over others. Those things are not the point of Jesus’ claim.

Here is what the faith of Jesus says: all humans have rebelled against God, closing us off from him. And there is no way on the human side to access God. We can’t do enough good works, pray enough, be spiritual enough, or do anything else to get to the Father. When all access was closed God came in Christ to open the one way to him.

Yes, Jesus Christ is the way. And that is a foundation of Christian faith. But neither you nor I have an absolute grasp on how he is the way.

We have made “Christ as the way” a formula for which we own the rights. Christians have sometimes made ourselves the gatekeeper to Jesus. Some Christians have made themselves the way to the Way. And we have made people first go through “praying the prayer”, knowing the Four Spiritual Laws, or meeting our tests before a person can find the Way.

Jesus is not a formula. He is a person who is also the divine person. He has his own agenda, will and way. He knows what he is about and what he is doing, quite free from us. We do not possess him. If anything, he possesses us. If he is the way, the truth, and the life then he can bring anyone to the Father he wants.

When Jesus said he is the way, the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through him, it is not meant to be a word of damnation on people who have never heard of Christ or don’t believe in him. It is meant to be good news. A way to God is now open for all people and God has opened that way himself.

He is not putting down anyone else. He is making a statement about himself. He wants people to find him and know the way to heaven and the Father.

One of the big questions I wrestle with, and maybe you do to, is what about people who have never heard the gospel and message of Christ?

C.S. Lewis said that God hasn’t told us “what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.”[1] Cannot Jesus – “the way” – save someone who doesn’t know him? Maybe he knows them?

We think about people like a young woman, born into a strict Muslim culture, who has heard next to nothing about Christ’s love and forgiveness. Or, a man whose father was a church deacon, but was two-faced, abusing the man’s mother at home, causing the man to turn from faith in anger because of his father’s hypocrisy. Or anyone who hasn’t had the chance to know Christ for whatever reason.

Let’s be careful about assuming that we know how God will meet them. We cannot limit how Jesus works and moves as the way, the truth and the life.

I have had the blessing of being born in the United States, in society that is very favorable toward Christianity. I grew up with Bibles, Billy Graham and learning about the Lord. Surely that put me in a much more favorable position in relation to Jesus than if I had been born into a Buddhist background, in an obscure area in the country of Myanmar, and heard nothing of Christ.

Christ is the way. And if the Muslim, Hindu, agnostic, or Christian comes to God, it will be through and only through Christ.[2] The Lord, who knows every heart and experience, will be the judge of who comes to the Father and who doesn’t. Ask the thief upon the cross to whom Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

God hasn’t shared with us his plan for those who have never heard of Christ. The Bible does speak of those who are lost. The biblical revelation does not say all will be saved no matter what.

All men and women do need salvation, and our job, as given to us by Christ, is to preach, share, and demonstrate the good news of Christ to all people so that they can hear, know and respond to the person and redeeming work of Christ. If a Hindu tells me his way is equally valid as Jesus, I would have to differ. Hopefully, we would talk.

X Jesus Christ is exclusive in that he is the only way to God. But he is inclusive in his work and love so that none may be apart from him. Nothing shows us this like the cross.

Think of the vertical (up and down) beam of the cross as the exclusivity of Christ, as the one way of salvation. This beam is high and deep, and it is what we preach. As Paul said, “we preach Christ crucified” which is a stumbling block to some and foolishness to others.[3]

But there is another beam which goes horizontally (across), and that is attached firmly to the exclusive beam. This horizontal beam is “as wide as the world, as far reaching as the most desperate sinner.”[4]

“For God so loved the world…” that all may come to know and be known by Christ. You can’t be any more inclusive than the whole world. God’s reach is so wide.

Could not God apply the blood of Christ to a person, who may have no real understanding of the gospel, but senses his deep need for God and cries out to God? By the Holy Spirit could not the Father forgive that person, thereby including him or her in Christ’s reconciling work?

Maybe we can think of it like this:

The Christian message is exclusive in that Christ is the only way to the Father, but it is not exclusive in the sense that it denies the possibility of the salvation of a non-Christian. God can do what God wants to do. He hasn’t told us his plans for a range of people.

The Christian message is inclusive in that the saving grace of God is extended beyond just members of churches alone, but it rejects an inclusiveness which sees non-Christian religions or systems as ways to salvation and to God.[5]

We might be able to say that we acknowledge the gracious work of God in the lives of all human beings without limit. No matter a person’s background, language, circumstances or person, God’s grace is for them and can reach them. But we reject any thinking that denies Christ as the One through whom God has uniquely spoken and acted for us.[6]

If anyone is going to be saved, it will come through Christ, and Christ alone. The fullness of God is in him.

The disciple Philip asks Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father.” Jesus tells him that to see him is to see the Father; that he is in the Father and the Father is in him, that to hear him is to hear the Father.

At the beginning of his Gospel John writes, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” John 1:18

X Many years ago, Karl Barth, one of the most prominent theologians of the twentieth century, was speaking at a seminary.

A student asked Barth, “Sir, don’t you think God has revealed himself in other religions and not only in Christianity?”

Barth answered, “No, God has not revealed himself in any religion, including Christianity.” People were shocked. He went on to say, “He has revealed himself in his Son.”[7]

It isn’t about religion. It is about God’s Son, the person Jesus Christ who is the Word. And God has spoken for himself uniquely and only through Christ.

Every human being is created with a hunger and thirst for God. We have this sense of the divine and that “Someone” is up there and humans have come up with all kinds of different forms and ways to get in touch with that. The reason religions exist is testimony to the fact that people have this sense of the divine.

Jesus claimed to be the way to the Father. Jesus claimed to be able to satisfy the thirst people have, and that he was the only one who could quench that thirst.

To know him is to know God;

To see him is to see God;

To believe in him is to believe in God;

To receive him is to receive God;

To hate him is to hate God;

To honor him is to honor God.[8]

And he wants all people to be where he is, in his Father’s house. God has revealed the way there in Jesus.

X The past seven weeks we have heard Jesus say,

“I am the resurrection and the life.”

“I am the light of the world.”

“I am the gate.”

“I am the good shepherd.”

“I am the bread of life.”

“I am the true vine.”

“I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

The things he said were very different from any other teacher or religious figure. He claimed that no one can come to the Father except through him. He said if people try to save their life it will lead to ruin, but to give yourself away will lead to being saved.

He claimed to be able to forgive sins. He said he had a kingdom. He said his body and blood have to go into us. He said that if we are ashamed of him then he will look away from us when he comes again.

No one said the things and made the claims that Jesus made. To again quote C.S. Lewis, the only person who can say these kinds of things is either God or a lunatic suffering from delusions.[9]

I have preached on the “I Am” statements of Jesus to help us meet Jesus. Whether we are longtime believers, new believers, or yet-to-be believers, that we would meet him anew. My hope is that we would trust him with our lives, see him, know him, and follow him.

He is the great I AM. If you want to know who God is, look at Jesus.

Prayer: Jesus, you are the fountain of life, of salvation, and from whom every person must drink to know God. You came to reveal the Father, and to open the way for us to him. Your death, your love, is for the whole world. Help us to stand on that and proclaim the message of forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God through you.

Forgive us for any ways we have used you to arrogantly proclaim the rightness of our faith. And forgive us if we have watered down your words and claims to be the way, the truth and the life.

And give us the passion to point and lead people to you, so that all may drink of the living God.


[1] Mere Christianity, Book II, ch. 5 [2] The People’s New Testament commentary, Boring and Craddock, p. 337 [3] I Corinthians 1:23 [4] Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A commentary, p.827 [5] Leslie Newbigin, as quoted by Bruner, p.829 [6] ibid [7] Found in The Book That John Wrote, Earl Palmer [8] John Stott [9] God In The Dock, What Are We To Make of Jesus Christ, p.158

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