English service - November 21, 2021
Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison
I Am the Way and the Truth and the Life
Good morning, everyone. I’m happy to have a chance again today to explore with those of you joining us online and those here at Open Door the I AM sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of John. Christ again uses the name of God, I AM, in describing Himself, and once more uses abstract wording—this time “the way, the truth, and the life.” This is like the image of Him that we learned last month, Jesus as the resurrection and the life. Later, He will return to a more concrete symbol—“I am the vine.”
In John 14, Jesus is continuing a talk with His disciples, which He has begun in chapter 13 and continues through John 17. It is called the Farewell Discourse or the Upper Room Discourse. It is the parting message He leaves with His disciples in the upper room of someone’s home in Jerusalem (Luke 22:7-13) as they celebrate the Passover holiday. After it will come the events of His arrest, trial, death, and so on.
The Easter story, the week of Jesus’ life from His entrance into Jerusalem through His death and resurrection, are a key part of the whole message of the gospels. Roughly one-fourth to one-third of Matthew, Mark, and Luke takes place in this week. In John, it’s close to half of the book. So a crucial time is in focus here.
John gives his message largely through conversations. You may remember His discussion with Nicodemus in John 3 and the woman at the well in John 4. Today’s reading is another clear example.
The famous statement of Jesus before us today, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” is so broad and packed with such meaning, it can easily overwhelm us. I may read these words and feel that I am just not able to take them in adequately. And the same words are often understood and used so differently from the way Christ meant them, they are open to being misunderstood and misused.
Yet Jesus does not just drop them on us from the sky. He says them in a particular time and place inside specific relationships. And looking at these carefully can help us receive His message more accurately. It can help us know Christ more deeply and in greater love. So let’s pay attention both to what has just happened in John 13 and what He will continue to say in John 14 and beyond. Particularly the rest of John 14 unpacks what Jesus means by saying He is the way, truth, and life. So let’s see what He has to tell us there. This will shine light on the path as we seek to know Him more fully as the way, the truth, and the life.
Chapter 14 opens with Jesus telling His followers, (v. 1) “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” We need to remember, though, that the chapters and verses in the Bible were not in the original texts but added later for convenience. If we assume there is some kind of natural break between the events in the numbered sections of the stories, we can sometimes fail to understand them well. Here, for instance, Jesus has just dropped some large bombs on His disciples. He has said that He is going to leave them and go someplace they cannot go (13:33,36). One of them is going to betray Him (13:21). And Peter, apparently their leader, will deny Him three times before the next morning comes (13:38). So their hearts are no doubt troubled at hearing such distressing news.
Here we get a chance to see how Jesus’ words connect with our lives. The whole point of the gospel is that all the world’s people need to know Christ as the way, truth, and life. But He is speaking in a particular sense to people who are troubled in heart. We may have lost someone who was very important to us and feel with the disciples their fear and loneliness at thinking Jesus will no longer be with them as He has up to this time. Like Jesus’ first followers besides Judas, we may experience being betrayed by someone we thought was a reliable friend or trusted brother or sister in our faith. Or we may have betrayed someone, though we never thought we would. Like Peter, we may overestimate how strong our faith is and be shocked to discover how easily we give in and turn away from it when we face opposition or temptation. When these are the feelings and experiences we have, we can find Jesus speaking to us, too, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.”
As a matter of fact, Jesus Himself has just been “troubled” in heart, according to John 13:21, when He told His disciples that one of them would betray Him. The text uses the same word (tarasso) there as in 14:1 (“troubled”). And according to Mark 14:33-34, soon after this Jesus is going to be “deeply distressed and troubled” and “overwhelmed with sorrow” when He is in the Garden of Gethsemane. We read these words remembering that Jesus is our perfect example of how to live as a human being. He never sinned. So I can only conclude that there is a holy kind of “troubled” and Jesus in John 14:1 is talking to us about another, unholy type.
He is not just trying to make us feel better by saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled.” And Christ does not lead us to a peace that is based on refusing to look at the bad things around us and viewing the world through rose-colored glasses. Also, Jesus is clear about where the source of freedom from a troubled heart is. It does not come from within us. If we relied on our own goodness and inner strength to give us peace in our hearts and minds, we would always have troubled hearts. We cannot find peace just by looking inside.
Jesus says peace of mind comes through faith (14:1b): “Trust in God. Trust also in me.” How is your faith impacting your life? Jesus’ words here show us one way to tell. A sign your faith is real and having the effect Christ wants it to is that you are learning to live in peace, even while bad things are happening.
Here the Lord turns His followers’ attention to heaven. He has told them He is going to leave them, and now He explains more about His plans. He is not only talking about Himself. Where He will be is the source of the deepest peace they can have, too. “I am going there to prepare a place for you” (v. 2). The Jewish people have already seen God going ahead of them into the Promised Land (Numbers 10:33), and a man during the engagement period would go ahead of his bride and prepare a home for them to move into after the wedding. Jesus may have something like that in mind in saying these words. It’s not that the God who created the whole universe somehow has not gotten around to preparing everything in heaven yet. No, this is part of God’s plan. Jesus may be talking about preparing the eternal home for His followers by going to the cross, paying for our sin, and making it possible for us to go to heaven. Without that, we can’t get there. That’s our need for the gospel. When we have a home waiting for us there, that changes everything, including the way the troubles we have in this world look.
Jesus continues (v. 3), “And I will take you to be with me. Then you will also be where I am.” This is heaven—being present with God. Christ does not promise us heaven as a place where our greed, lust, and desires are all satisfied constantly forever. It is a place where we enjoy being with our Father, Savior, Lord, and God. And we can be present with Him, live in the kingdom of heaven, here and now. That is what Jesus wants His friends to do, especially as they go through the hard trial of His death and return to heaven. He wants that for you and me, too.
Now Christ says something that gets a reaction from His disciples. “You know the way to the place where I am going” (v. 4). He is probably looking at Peter as He says this.
That is because back in John 13:36, Peter hears Jesus say He is leaving and asks, “Lord, where are you going?”
Jesus replies, “Where I am going you can't follow now. But you will follow me later.”
That is not a very satisfying answer to Peter, and he responds, “Lord, why can't I follow you now? I will give my life for you.” That’s when the Lord tells him the hard, sad truth that he is soon going to deny three times that he even knows Jesus.
Now, moments later, in 14:5 we find that Peter is not the only one having trouble understanding Jesus’ point when He tells them He is going someplace they can’t come, yet somehow they know the way there. Thomas is confused, too, so he says, “Lord, we don't know where you are going. So how can we know the way?”
This is where Christ says some of His best-known words, (v. 6), “I am the way and the truth and the life.” I want to spend the rest of our time today looking at these phrase by phrase. I am so glad that we have some help in this task from Peter and Thomas, who speak up when they don’t understand Jesus very well. Pretty soon, Philip will do the same. Thank God for their questions and confusion and willingness to take their lack of understanding to Christ and let Him teach them. They make me feel better when I still don’t get what God is telling me, either, even after all these years since I became a Christian.
Again and again during this long conversation, Jesus’ disciples say that they just don’t get it. But He patiently tells them in different ways what they need to see. Eventually, they end up saying to Him (16:29-30), “Now you are speaking plainly. You are using examples that are clear. Now we can see that you know everything. You don't even need anyone to ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.” Well, they have not yet come to have a perfect faith, and shockingly quickly, events will make that obvious. But the seed of faith has been carefully planted, and their will and ability to trust in Christ are growing. In time, under God’s care, they will grow into people of great faith. We are here to learn to live in the same assurance.
First, “I am. . . .” When we accept Jesus’ claim to be the way, truth, and life, He is our top priority. We do not claim that Open Door is the way, truth, and life. We do not claim the Baptist denomination or evangelical Christianity as the way, truth, and life. We cannot say that our understanding of God is so complete and accurate that our system of beliefs is the way, truth, and life. No, clearly above all these good things, we have the best thing. For us as followers of Christ, our life is all about a relationship with the living God through His Son, Jesus Christ. We say with Paul (Philippians 1:21), “For me to live is Christ. . . .” And all these other priorities find their meaning as they help us strengthen our bonds with the Lord.
The early church did not yet have a set of beliefs written down in confessions of faith as we have today. After the risen Christ met the disciples, He took them back to the Old Testament and began showing them the many references to Himself as the Messiah that were there all along, Luke 24:17 and 44-49 tell us. That process of discovering Christ through the Bible no doubt continued long after He returned to heaven. But as they tried to figure out more and more about God, His Son, and His world, they did not all come to a common understanding. For example, did God send the Holy Spirit, or did Jesus send the Spirit? Some parts of the Bible seem to say one thing, and others another. Probably most Christians today read these teachings and say they are not necessarily in conflict. But in the end, we don’t all see God exactly the same way. And even believing that all of the Bible is God’s inspired word, how many of us can claim to have a perfect understanding of it? We all know the number is zero, don’t we.
But what all the disciples of Jesus in Bible times and every time since then have been very clear about is this: Christ Himself is the living Lord, our way, our truth, and our life. The relationship with Jesus Christ is the essence of our life of faith. He does not teach, “I know” or “I have” or “I can show you” or “I can give you” but “I am.” It’s all about who Jesus is, and that strongly suggests a relationship is what He wants and we need. Life as a Christian is first, last, and always being in a relationship with God through Christ. That really sets it apart from other views of the world, lifestyles, religions, and philosophies. “I am the way and the truth and the life.”
Next, “I am the way. . . .” We have already seen much of what Jesus means about being “the way” in His earlier teaching, “I am the gate” to the sheep pen (John 10:7). And in Matthew 7:13-14, He has presented Himself as the narrow gate that leads to life, to God’s kingdom, as opposed to death.
Other religions such as Shinto speak of “the way.” There are many “ways” of developing the human character through disciplined practice, such as kendo, judo, and aikido. Some are religious and others have religious roots but are mainly secular now. Yet they are different at one key point. They are human-based and rely on human effort. Christian faith is fundamentally based on God Himself, not humans, and the power for developing and living as humans grows out of our habit of relying on Him to teach, guide, and empower us. That is why it made sense for early Christians to be called followers of the Way (Acts 22:4). That was their name before they were called Christians (“little Christs,” which was more of an insult but came to be a name followers of Jesus were proud to have).
“The way” Jesus is talking about in John 14:6 is especially the way to God, to life with God, to heaven. To go to heaven is to “come to the Father” (v. 6b). “The way” is the way to the Father and His house. It’s not just a style or mode of living in this world or techniques to use in becoming a certain kind of person. “The way” is always linked to a relationship of love and trust with the living God.
You may remember Thomas as the disciple who will have trouble believing Jesus has risen from the dead (John 20:25). He says he won’t until he sees and touches the nail marks of His death on the cross in the Lord’s hands and side. He is a reasonable man, we may say. People today, too, may stumble over Christ’s claims, especially if we are raised to have a materialistic worldview and screen out of our thinking things that we can’t explain through our systems of human logic. Thomas is saying to Jesus something like “How could I possibly know something like that?” Yet the simple answer he receives is like, “You know me, don’t you, Thomas? That’s enough.”
Sometimes in connection with my work at Hokusei Gakuen University, I go to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the U.S. One time I had been staying at a hotel near the airport. I had finished my study, packed my suitcase, and gotten on a bus to catch my flight back to Japan. I thought I had just enough time to get there, but suddenly I realized I was on the wrong bus. Oh, no! It was the right number and route but headed the wrong direction! So I got off at the next stop and started searching for the right bus stop. I couldn’t see it. It was probably somewhere across the highway, but how could I get over to it? Would I find the right bus in time for my flight? How safe was that neighborhood, anyway?
Just when all those thoughts were going through my head, suddenly a delivery truck stopped right in front of me. The driver slid open his door and called out to me, “I’m headed toward the airport. Need a ride?” That’s when I did something I taught my children never to do: I took a ride from a stranger. Within five minutes, that thoughtful, generous man had me in front of the airport and walking into the terminal to catch my flight on time. I never found the way by myself, but the gospel (good news) for me was, I didn’t have to. He was the way. I just needed to be sure to be with him. The same thing that was true for Thomas was true for me and is for all of us. If you know Jesus, you know more than you may realize you do. You know the way to life with God.
Then “I am the . . . truth. . . .” He means especially the truth about God, about who He (Jesus) and His Father (God) are. They are one, together with the Holy Spirit. Christ tells this truth in particular to Philip in vv. 9-10. Philip has said to Him (v. 8), “Lord, show us the Father. That will be enough for us.” It seems that He wants some special vision or revelation of some extraordinary type. But instead Jesus seems to scold him.
Don't you know me, Philip? I have been among you such a long time! Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. So how can you say, “Show us the Father”? Don't you believe that I am in the Father? Don't you believe that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. The Father lives in me. He is the One who is doing his work.
What is the truth about God? When you look at Jesus, you see it. When you hear what He teaches and see the way He acts, the kind of person He is, you see what God teaches and does and is. He is the truth because He represents God accurately.
Now that might not be exactly the type of thing you and I have in mind when we talk about truth. That was probably true for many people in Bible times, too. The New Testament was written in Greek, but the original conversation we are reading about was no doubt in Aramaic. The basic thought patterns of the people in that room were Hebrew and Jewish, and they no doubt thought of truth as people with that cultural background. People with a Greek worldview thought more of truth vs. incorrectness, or reality vs. non-reality. But those with a Hebrew or Jewish view of things tended to understand truth a lot more as faithfulness or reliability or honesty. Think of a true friend, for example. It’s not mainly ideas but relationships at the core here. So we read things like Psalm 52:3, which, says, “You love evil instead of good. You would rather lie than tell the truth.” To live in that kind of truth, you need a pure heart more than a lot of intelligence. Jesus is not saying that facts and accurate information don’t matter, of course. But even more, He is saying that He is a reliable guide to life. We can trust Him.
So it makes sense when Jesus promises to send the Spirit of truth (vv. 16-17), the Holy Spirit, to teach His followers all that we need to know. Again, He is not just giving ideas or resources but God Himself, God the Spirit.
I will ask the Father. And he will give you another Friend to help you and to be with you forever. The Friend is the Spirit of truth. The world can't accept him. That is because the world does not see him or know him. But you know him. He lives with you, and he will be in you.
Further, in v. 26, Jesus tells how God will continue to give the truth to His people after Christ has left this world in human form. “But the Father will send the Friend in my name to help you. The Friend is the Holy Spirit. He will teach you all things. He will remind you of everything I have said to you.” In the next chapter, Jesus comes back to this theme (15:26). “I will send the Friend to you from the Father. He is the Spirit of truth, who comes out from the Father. When the Friend comes to help you, he will give witness about me.” This is certainly encouraging news for Jesus’ disciples, who are probably feeling overwhelmed by all that is happening and the many deep truths He is placing in their minds and hearts. As this “Upper Room Discourse” continues, He comes back to this point once again in John 16:12-13a. He says, “I have much more to say to you. It is more than you can handle right now. But when the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.” And once more in this same talk, Jesus returns to the matter of truth. He asks God in His prayer for His friends in 17:17, “Use the truth to make them holy. Your word is truth.” Here we get a clear picture of how closely God’s word and Jesus Himself are tied together as the places where truth exists. We get an idea of why John started His gospel by using “the Word” as a name for Jesus when he wrote (1:1b), “The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Praise God for loving us enough to give us the truth.
And last, “I am . . . the life.” Jesus has already told us in John 11, “I am the resurrection and the life” (v. 25). “I am the way and the truth and the life” also shows us that when you say Jesus, you are talking about the true way to the full and unending life that God intends for His people to have.
And what is the life? Jesus asks what eternal life is in 17:3 as He prays. Then He answers the question, “It is knowing you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Again, more than physical or emotional or intellectual, it’s relational. Our lives as Christ’s disciples are all about knowing Him, living every day in close connection to Him. That is why He says to His followers, “Because I live, you will live also” (v. 19b). And in v. 20b, “. . . You are in me, and I am in you.” That is the life. In v. 23b, He says about anyone who loves Him, that He and God, His Father, “will come to him and make our home with him.” That, too, is the life of Christ, in Christ, and with Christ.
What is God’s hope and plan for you and me? John tells us this near the end of his book (20:30-31).
Jesus did many other miraculous signs in front of his disciples. They are not written down in this book. But these are written down so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. If you believe this, you will have life because you belong to him.
How is Jesus the life? We have already seen how He leaves the Spirit of God behind Him when He goes, who will be there to live in the hearts of all His followers, “to help (them) and to be with (them) forever” (v. 16b). That is also how Christ continues to be the life in His disciples, of all times and places, living with us and being in us (v. 17b).
Today we’ve seen Jesus present Himself as the I AM, God Himself, who is way, the truth, and the life. He is not talking about the way, truth, and life just in some vague, general sense but revealing Himself in particular as the way to God, the truth about God, the life with God. (The article the is there in every case. He does not leave us the option of taking Him as one alongside others.) That is why He immediately follows up this remarkably bold claim with “No one comes to the Father except through me” (v. 6b).
That may sound narrow-minded or exclusive if you have a worldview or beliefs that conflict with such a grand claim to truth, as we noticed in last month’s message. But if He is right, then what He is saying is not narrow-minded or exclusive in a harmful way at all. It is the most honest and inclusive and loving thing He could do to give everyone who will believe the word that leads to life with God forever.
But there is no denying that Jesus’ presenting Himself as the way, truth, and life is provocative and upsetting. It forces us to make a response to Him, a decision about Him. As C. S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity and you may recall hearing here before, Christ’s words leave us really three options. We can conclude that He was crazy, a lunatic, “on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg” (Lewis, p. 41). Or we can determine that He is a liar. Someone who would intentionally mislead so many people about such a crucial part of life is not a great teacher but “the Devil of Hell” (Lewis, p. 41). The third possibility is to believe Him as telling the truth and accept Him as Lord. Whether we will choose to view Him as a lunatic, liar, or Lord, He has come to us again today through His word. And we each need to make a response. So I invite you to join me in prayer as we answer Him.
God in heaven, we can only bow before you in thanksgiving for sending us your Son as the way, the truth, and the life. We confess that we, like His first disciples, are far too lacking in mental ability, character, will, and faith to fully understand and follow these great, life-transforming teachings. But You have planted the seed of faith in our hearts, too, and we believe that You are able to help it grow day by day and produce something of beauty and value in Your sight. Through the power of the Spirit, Who Jesus promised would make our hearts His home, lift us up. Strengthen us. Fill us. And lead us every day on the true path, which Christ has opened, to your home, where we will be with you always. In His name we ask it, amen.
Lewis, C. S. (1960). Mere Christianity. New York: Macmillan.
Piper, J. (March 30, 2013). I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Retrieved November 5, 2021 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPm-TYv9gfk
Robertson, A. T. (1960). Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament. Rev. ed. Broadman Press. Retrieved November 6, 2021 from https://www.studylight. org/commentaries/eng/rwp/john-14.html
Utley, B. (February 9, 2014). John 14:1-31 Sermon by Dr. Bob Utley. Retrieved November 10, 2021 from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FgRQAsdOjoY