6. I AM the way, the truth and the life
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Let us pray. O God of love, help us to hear these familiar words so that they may become once again or for the first time that movement of grace which begins within us a heart that is not troubled. For some, perhaps for all of us, this would be a miracle, and we are bold to ask for it. In the name of him who is the way, the truth and the life, even Jesus Christ; Amen.
I cannot be sure about this, but I suspect that if we were able to take some sort of survey we would find that there is no other text of the Gospel that is at the same time such a source of both comfort and consternation. It is second only to Psalm 23 as the most requested text to be read at a funeral. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. Yet, as Tom Wright puts it, “there are professing Christians
for whom it seems that their central article of faith is their rejection of the idea of Jesus’ uniqueness.” “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” How dare Jesus (we think it, we don’t say it) saddle us with this notion that the Christian faith provides the only way to God?
Well, let me say right off the top, none of us truly wants it any other way than this. My purpose today is to tell you why that is so.
You will perhaps remember me saying on several other occasions that the overwhelming majority of the attention in the gospels is paid to the last eight days of Jesus’ earthly life. Let’s do the math. According to John, Jesus ministry was conducted over three years, which equals 1095 days. John’s gospel contains 21 chapters. Palm Sunday is reported in chapter 12, beginning at verse 12, about ¼ of the way into that
chapter. In other words John deals with 1087 days in 12.25 chapters and deals with eight days in 9.75 chapters. We are now, then, dealing with where John pinpoints his focus.
Jesus has washed the disciples’ feet and has told them that he is going somewhere but that they cannot follow him (13:36). Jesus has also dismissed Peter’s bravado by telling him that he will deny him three times (13:38).
The next thing that John reports Jesus saying to the disciples is the well-known beginning of our text. “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” I am sure, however, that Jesus was well aware that troubled hearts is exactly the spiritual and emotional affliction with which these friends are dealing. Think about the Father’s house says Jesus. There is one other text in this gospel in which Jesus refers to his Father’s house. It is another famous story; it concerns the day when Jesus cleared from the Temple the money changers and animal dealers. “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace” (2:16)! We need to take some time to work through this because I think this will help us be more certain as to what Jesus is promising.
The Father’s house that Jesus speaks about in chapter two is the Jerusalem Temple. The central, compelling concept that informed every faithful Jew was that the Temple was the place where heaven came closer to earth than at any other location. But in chapter 14 the Father’s house is clearly not a physical location. It is no wonder that Thomas challenges Jesus to speak clearly to him and the other disciples. I think there was likely a sarcastic tone to what he said. How can we know the way; we don’t even know where you’re going!
Remember, no faithful Jew would talk about there being plenty of space in the house they knew as the Temple. Some of you will remember that I have outlined this before. The outer court was the court of the Gentiles; anyone could congregate in that area. Next was the court of the women, Jewish women that is. Archaeologists have discovered signs that were affixed to the walls near the entrance to that court—any
non-Jew entering was threatened with death. Next was the court of the Israelites or court of the men. After that it was the Holy Place, into which only a priest could go. The inner court was the Most Holy Place; only the high priest could enter there and him only once per year on The Day of Atonement. No, this house would not be thought of as a place where there are many rooms.
This then was something different. The Father’s house has many rooms, lots of space, says Jesus. I am going there to make sure all is ready for you and I will come back and take you there. Wow. We better get it straight where this house of the Father can be found and what road needs to be taken in order to get there.
There are places that are more than just places. This example is going to fail but perhaps it will point in the right direction. Three or four years ago I took my study leave to visit two churches in New York City
and then went on to Philadelphia for a seminar. I was in New York on a Sunday and the Yankees were playing. (In case you are wondering I did attend two worship services in the morning before making my way to Yankee Stadium.) Now this will make no sense to anyone other than a baseball fan, but there is simply something different about Yankee Stadium. There are places that are more than just places.
A member of my first congregation, Calvary Baptist, Cobourg, also taught me this lesson. I began my first full time pastoral job just a few months after her husband had died. She told me it was going to
take a bit more time for her to come back to Sunday worship because every time she sat in her usual place she looked up and saw the spot her husband had occupied for many years as a member of the choir. There are places that are more than just places.
The Temple in Jerusalem was one of those places. Jews believed that somehow, in the providence of God, heaven came closer to earth at that one place in the holy city than at any other place in all of creation. It was the dwelling place of God on earth. I think that it also pointed the faithful Jew toward the idea that it was God’s intention to one day make the whole of the earth his dwelling place, that there would come a day when the whole of creation would once again reflect the righteousness and justice of heaven. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name. Thy kingdom come; thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
The promise of Jesus is that he is the pioneer, the trailblazer, of that path toward God. Friends, I assume you don’t want to waste your time with a Saviour who is going to do less than that for you. You see this is the whole emphasis of John’s gospel. As John concludes that glorious prologue to the story, he says, And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
You may remember me talking about this verse at various times. This is the biblical basis of the doctrine of incarnation—the eternal essence of God became a human being and pitched his tent right here with us. There can be no other reason for that to be done than to show us the way we must take if we are to one day enjoy the fellowship of heaven.
As I thought through this sermon, I realized this is one of the places where I must take my stand or admit that my life has been a waste of time. I am convinced this world is no accident, that there is an intelligence that stands behind the design of creation. Because I believe that is so, I then want to align my life with the intentions of that creator. I need to know the way. The reason Jesus can claim to be my Saviour is that he is that way.
Jesus is also the truth. I think this is one of those places where we must underline or highlight in our thoughts the time and the place when and where Jesus makes this claim. Think about this for a minute. Perhaps you might remember the first sermon in this series: we thought about Jesus’ claim to be the bread of life. That teaching was given after Jesus had fed the 5,000 and the crowd began to speak of him as the prophet who is to come into the world (John 6:14). Jesus has to escape from the crowd that day because he was convinced they were about to take him by force and make him their king, in other words have him lead a revolt against Rome. There was a chance to do what likely all the disciples thought should be done and Jesus had not just let it slip away, he had resisted it. Instead within the next 24 hours Jesus would be a battered, bloody mess of a man hanging on the cross. This is the truth?
Yes this is the truth; Jesus is the truth about God. I can’t explain it adequately. All I can tell you is the Bible confronts us with this reality—that God is holy and than humanity is tainted by the death and darkness of sin and that if God is unwilling to act on our behalf then there is a spiritual span between heaven and earth that no person can cross. The good news is that God is willing to act and God did so in
Jesus. Paul put it this way: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
This leads quite naturally to the third part of what Jesus said. He is the way, he is truth and he is the life.
Jesus is the life. Friends, I am not so self-important that I think I have nailed down exactly how it is that one gains access to one of those many rooms in heaven. But I will tell you I am glad the Bible says that
it is not all up to me. I realize this is my second last Sunday here at Blythwood, so if I admitted all my sins and failings to you, by the time the Board could drawup the dismissal papers and register the letter and give Canada Post three to five days to deliver it, I would be done anyway. I am not counting on any goodness of my own to claim the promise of resurrection and eternal life. I am counting on Jesus. I am counting on Jesus who said there is grace and forgiveness when one comes to God. I am counting on Jesus who said that he came to seek and to save the lost. I am counting on Jesus who even when he was on the cross offered forgiveness to one who was repentant. I am counting on Jesus who at Easter claimed victory over death and invited me to share that through faith. I am counting on Jesus who is the sure way, who is the eternal truth,who is the blessed life. I am counting on Jesus.
Let me tell you the bottom line for me. I have said before that no one has ever mistaken me for the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but I think I could reasonably hold my own in a philosophical discussion about the various attributes of the world’s religions. But at a personal level, I don’t really have much choice. You see I was a deprived child. My mother didn’t take me anywhere but to a Baptist church. She showed that the Jesus who was preached at that church was so important that even if it meant riding a bus and streetcar before she got her driver’s licence, she was going to do that. The only thing ever witnessed to me was that Jesus is the way to the Father. In other words what I was told was that there might be other claims, other religions, other ways, other truths, other lives to lead, but the one found in Jesus was the one that opened the way, revealed the truth and offered a life that was the best expression of the will of God that we could ever discover.
I have no idea what I will discover when I journey from this life to the next. I will no doubt be surprised by some people who are there and be taken aback when I realize they are even more surprised to see me. For now I know this. I am counting on Jesus and he has never let me down. I know of no other way to the Father, no other truth about God’s ways, no other life that fulfils the will of God. I am counting on Jesus, the way, the truth and the life.