I Am….the Way, the Truth, and the Life

Series: Preacher: Date: April 22, 2001 Scripture Reference: John 13:33, 36; John 14:1-6

John 13:33

33 – My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for Me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

John 13:36

36 – Simon Peter asked Him, Lord, where are You going? Jesus replied, Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will later.

John 14

1 – Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me.

2 – 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.

3 – 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.

4 – You know the Way to the place I am going.

5 – Thomas said to Him, Lord, we don’t know where You are going, so how can we know the way?

6 – Jesus answered, I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.

A few years ago while en route to Maine for a family vacation we stopped and spent a few days in the Boston area. There were several things we wanted to see and do while we were there…like visiting Plymouth Rock or touring Cape Cod. We even talked about taking a boat ride out on a whale watching trip. But the first thing we planned on our schedule was to hike the Freedom Trail which is marked with a huge red line that leads through downtown Boston to all kinds of American historical sites…places like the Boston Harbor, the Old North Church, and the homes of Paul Revere and Betsy Ross.

Well, I carefully consulted the map and we left our motel in plenty of time so I felt confident that we could get where we needed to go which was to the parking lot for the start of the trail near Bunker Hill…but it turned out that we had a great deal of difficulty finding our way. I could see where I wanted to go. It was in sight but with Boston’s confusing maze of one-way streets and with the interstate packed with commuters, I just could not seem to get there. Several times in the ordeal we would come to a hill and be able to see the Bunker Hill monument a few blocks away, but the harder we tried, the more wrong turns we took, and the more wrong turns we took the greater the family tension we experienced. I think I blew my top several times before we finally pulled into the parking lot.

Now, I think all of us know how troubling…how frustrating…it can be to want to get somewhere that you know you need to be but not know how. I imagine most of you have had experiences like this on vacation. Well, as we read a moment ago, at their last supper together Jesus told His disciples that He was going away and that they could not follow Him just yet. They asked Him WHERE He was going and He told them about Heaven and the plans that God already had underway to prepare for their arrival at that celestial city. At this point I think they all thought, That’s great! We want to go to heaven and be with You, Jesus….but how do we get there?

Like me wanting to get to Bunker Hill, they could see Who they wanted to be with. I mean they knew where they wanted to go but they didn’t know how to get there. And in response to Thomas’ request for directions, Jesus said. I…am the Way…the Truth…and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.

Now, I want you to be sure and note that in this particular I Am… statement Jesus summarized everything He had tried to teach His followers for the past three years. Along the highways and byways of Palestine Jesus had used parables and scripture and sermons to guide His followers to understand that what all people need most is God .but that due to our sinful nature, and God’s perfect holiness, all people are separated from God. So Jesus came, and by virtue of having lived a sinless life, He would take the sin punishment for all mankind on His body as He died on the cross. In this sacrificial act He would make a way…THE way…from mankind to God. Jesus in essence would become a bridge…the only access to God. This then is what our Lord meant that night when He said, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.

Now, these days most people like the LAST HALF of this I am… statement. They want to come to the Father. That is to say they want to spend eternity with God in heaven. They yearn for the LIFE AFTER DEATH that we spoke about last Sunday. And they also want the other thing Jesus mentioned. They want …the Life. They long for a life NOW that is exciting and full of purpose and meaning. They crave the LIFE BEFORE DEATH that we also discussed last week. So they like the last half of what Jesus said here in John 14:6 . But, they don’t like the FIRST HALF of what He said that night before His crucifixion…the part where He described Himself as THE Way and THE truth. And the problem is you can’t have one without the other. You can’t have truly abundant life and the promise of eternal life in heaven unless you embrace the TRUTH that Jesus is the only WAY to God.

Well, this morning as we continue our study of Jesus’ I am… statements, I want us to focus our time on studying these two somewhat controversial phrases Jesus used to describe Himself in the hopes that we will be better prepared to explain to our friends and neighbors and co-workers how they can make their way to God so they can experience the life both now and forever that He graciously offers.

1. First of all let’s examine the meaning of Jesus’ words when He said, I am…the WAY.

Now, the Greek here is emphatic. So what Jesus literally said was, I…and no other… ALWAYS am the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus was saying that there never was, nor will there ever be, any other way to have eternal life in heaven with God other than through His Son’s sacrifice on the Cross. Now as you know, if you read the papers these days, this statement is not easy for many people to swallow. In fact, Christians who embrace this conviction that Jesus is the ONLY WAY to Heaven are often referred to as narrow-minded, bigoted…even snobby or pious. Rabbi Schmuley Boteach reflected this attitude toward Christians who believe this when he said,

I am absolutely against any religion that says that one faith is superior to another. I don’t see how that is anything different than spiritual racism. It’s a way of saying that we are closer to God than you, and that’s what leads to hatred.

The views of Rabbi Boteach are illustrative of the day in which we live…a day of religious pluralism and tolerance, where this exclusivity claim of Jesus is politically incorrect and is considered a verbal slap in the face of other belief systems. You see, we live in a culture where there are endless options in virtually every arena of life. And people expect there to be options in the spiritual arena as well. They think of Christianity as just one more option on the spiritual buffet table of life. Many people these days believe that it is okay to think you are right but not okay to think others are wrong. I mean most people don’t mind your saying that Jesus was the Son of God. But they do get upset when you say He was the ONLY Son of God.

I believe it is important to point out here that Christians aren’t the only ones who claim their way is the only way. Muslims, Mormons, Hindus, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Buddhists, Orthodox Jews…all of these faith systems also make this claim. But, for some reason Christians are the only ones who are criticized for doing so.

Now, embracing this ONE WAY belief is not popular in our culture because many people feel that all religions are basically identical. They think that all spiritual paths lead up the same mountain so to speak. And you know, Christians SHOULD concede that there is some common ground shared by many of the world’s religions, especially when you look at their teachings of basic morality. But at the same time, there ARE drastic and irreconcilable differences between Christianity and other faith systems that cannot be papered over.

All religions are not the same! For example you can’t say that all religions believe in the universal Fatherhood of God because they don’t. Buddhism doesn’t even claim there IS a God. And Hinduism says that everything is God…You are god…I am god…this pulpit is god. Christianity’s written source of authority is the Bible. As you and I say every Sunday after we read the sermon text….we believe this is the Word of the Lord. But Mormons take their authority from the book of Mormon and Muslims use the Koran. Another essential difference is the fact that Christianity affirms the deity, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ whereas other faiths like Islam deny all three of these Scriptural truths.

And then, as C. S. Lewis pointed out, one other major difference is that-unlike any other religion-Christianity proclaims a GOSPEL OF GRACE and not works. Every other religion is based on people DOING something. Adherents struggle to somehow earn the favor of God. Some faiths teach that people have to use a Tibetan prayer wheel, or they have to go on pilgrimages. or they have to give alms to the poor, or they have to avoid eating certain foods,

or they have to perform a certain number of unspecified good deeds, or they have to pray at a certain time in a certain position each day, or they have to go through a cycle of reincarnations,

OR WHATEVER.

You see, other religious systems are essentially DO-IT-YOURSELF propositions. Follow this way of life, they say, and you stand a good chance of gaining favor with God and eventually achieving salvation. Other faiths are attempts by people to reach out to God. But Christianity teaches that, in Jesus Christ, God is reaching out to us. We know that Scripture says that God’s gift of salvation through Jesus was GOD-given, GOD-driven, GOD-empowered, and GOD-originated. Salvation does not come from man to God through our efforts. No! It is from God to man.

And Christianity alone is based on this philosophy of grace and not works. It teaches that God reached down to us because we are INCAPABLE of reaching up to Him. As it says in I John 4:10, It is not our love for God; it is God’s love for us in sending His Son to be THE WAY to take away our sins. Now, on the basis of this point alone, Christianity is set apart from any other religion in the world. No other system, ideology, or religion proclaims a free forgiveness and a new life to those who have done nothing to deserve it and in fact deserve judgement instead. John MacArthur writes, As far as the way of salvation is concerned, there are only two religions the world has ever known or will ever know-the religion of divine accomplishment, which is biblical Christianity, and the religion of human achievement, which includes all other kinds of religion, whatever name they may go under.

This distinction is starkly demonstrated by comparing a parable that was taught by Jesus with a similar story found in Buddhist literature. Both stories involve sons who became rebellious and left home in a huff, but who later saw the error of their ways and decided to return home to be reconciled with their families. But it’s the ENDING of the two stories that so clearly points out the difference between Christianity and all other belief systems. In the Buddhist story, the errant son is required to work off the penalty for his past misdeeds by spending years in servitude. But the Christian Parable of the Prodical Son ends with the repentant son being warmly welcomed home by a loving father who showers him with undeserved forgiveness and grace. You see, grace-LESS religions are DO religions-adherents must constantly DO things to even hope to earn their salvation. But Christianity is a DONE religion-it is based on what Jesus Christ has DONE for us in dying on calvary’s cross.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The Bible teaches that Christians should do good works but we do them as a demonstration of our HAVING RECEIVED God’s forgiveness, not as a badge of merit of having EARNED IT.

And you know, because of this profound difference, Christianity alone offers ASSURANCE of salvation. In every other religion it is impossible to have any certainty that you have achieved eternal life. I mean, when do you know that you have done ENOUGH good works? You NEVER know and you never can. Paul Little writes,

I have often asked Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists whether they would achieve nirvana or go to paradise when they died. I have not yet had one reply in the affirmative. Rather they referred to the imperfection of their lives as being a barrier to this realization. There is no assurance in their religious systems because salvation depends on the individual’s gaining enough merit.

Well, as we know, thanks to the Bible, no sinful human could ever gain enough merit to atone for their sins. You see, there is a penalty to pay for our sin and that penalty must be equal to the offense committed. Since our sin is against an infinite God, we need a sacrifice of infinite value. It follows then that only our infinite God can supply the sacrifice that He Himself demands and that is exactly what He has done in sending His only Son to die for us. Martin Luther once spoke to people who thought they could earn their salvation with good works and said, What makes you think that God is more pleased with your good deeds than He is with His blessed Son?!

Christianity affirms this fact then, that our salvation is a result not of what we do, but of our faith in what Christ has done for us. Do you remember Jesus’ last words as He hung on that cross? He said, IT IS FINISHED! Through Jesus’ death and resurrection love’s redeeming work was DONE! So, do you see? The message of DO religions is fundamentally incompatible with the message of DONE religion. DO and DONE are opposite concepts. Both could not come from the same GOD. After all, God isn’t schizophrenic. As Lee Strobel says, It would be unlikely that a God who embodies love and TRUTH would go to one side of the planet and say, ‘PSST! Let me tell you how you can become reconciled with Me.’ and then go to another spot on the globe and describe a completely contradictory way for humans to understand and worship Him, and tell yet a third population something totally new. It makes much more sense that God would act according to His nature as the author of all truth and provide ONE Path…ONE Way…for us to follow. And in fact this is what HE did when He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to enter human history. This then, is the first way Jesus described Himself to His disciples that night and the other word picture He used was when He said,

2. …I am the TRUTH.

Now, what was He saying with this phrase? Well, He simply meant that everything He said was true….His every thought and action was absolutely genuine and trustworthy. You know, one of the problems that comes with living in a fallen world, polluted by sin, is that there is so much falsehood and deceit. It is very difficult to know what is real…what is true…what to build your life on. And Jesus came and said, Build your life on Me and My teachings. Trust what I say for I, and I alone, am the truth!

That day we were on vacation in Boston one of my problems was the map I was using. It was flawed and incomplete. I followed it’s directions a couple of times and was led the wrong way.

That’s the way it is in the world today. Other religions claim to be telling you the truth but anyone who follows their ways will end up at a dead end. Jesus is saying here that we must not trust any other way than His, for His way is the only TRUE way. To experience life both now and in eternity we must follow His teachings.

Now, people have a problem with this statement as well. You see, we live in an age in which TOLERANCE is a much-esteemed word. We are told to be tolerant of everyone’s perspectives on truth, no matter how different they may be. And, it IS important for us to be tolerant of people who believe differently than we do. The Bible tells us that, as followers of Jesus we need to be loving and respectful as we share our faith with all people. I Peter 3:15 says, Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with GENTLENESS and RESPECT. So tolerance is a good thing, a biblical concept.

And, I think we would have to confess, that some Christians have not obeyed the command imbedded in this verse. They have shared the truth of the Gospel but they have not done so in gentleness or respect. Ravi Zacharias says that in India there is a proverb that says, Once you cut off a person’s nose, there is no point in giving him a rose to smell. And if we are arrogant or unloving then there is no point in attempting to share our faith with others because they will be too angry or defensive to be receptive to our message. In our Bible Study this past Wednesday someone pointed out that due to his own experience with unloving believers Mahatma Gandhi once said, I like their Christ, but I don’t like their Christians. Friedrich Nietzshe had a similar experience for he once commented, I will believe in the Redeemer when the Christian [acts] a little more redeemed. We Christians must stop treating people who don’t believe as we do like the enemy. For, they are not our enemies. They are victims of the enemy.

We need to be respectful-tolerant-of other faiths. People DO have a right to believe what they wish. This is one of the principles that has made our country strong. But you know, just because beliefs are equally tolerated or protected by our nation’s laws does not mean they are equally true. That would be impossible because truth by definition IS exclusive. If a true statement does not exclude, then no assertion of truth is being made. You see, truth, by its very nature, is intolerant of error. If two plus two is four, the total cannot at the same time be 23. I think most math teachers would agree that one should not be regarded as intolerant if they maintained that the only correct answer is 4. If you were to jump of the Cabin John bridge believing you would not fall, don’t expect the truth of gravity to be tolerant of your views.

Well the same principle applies to religious matters. One must be tolerant of other points of view and respect their right to be held and heard. But he cannot however be forced, in the name of tolerance, to agree that all points of view, including those that are mutually contradictory, are equally valid. Such a position is nonsense. For example, it is not true that it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you believe it. Hitler’s slaughter of five million Jews was based on a sincere view of racial supremacy, but he was desperately wrong. And when it comes to religion, everyone IS entitled to their opinion but opinions do not make truth. Jesus is the truth whether we accept it or not.

Now, I’d agree that Christians are being narrow-minded or holier-than-thou if there really were many roads to God and we were saying that our road was the best. But this is not what Christianity says. We know that the Bible teaches that there IS only one truth — not many. And the truth is that all of us have sinned and if we are going to get to Heaven, Someone has to pay the penalty for our wrongdoing. Jesus, by virtue of His sinlessness and divinity, is the only One qualified to do this….to be our substitute. That is what He was as He hung on the cross as our substitute. As I John 4:10 says, He came to be… the propitiation for our sins. This is true. This is factual and it is not narrow-minded to act in accordance with the truth.

You know often babies are born with a condition known as jaundice. It’s caused by a disorder of the liver and it causes the infant’s skin and the whites of the eyes to turn yellow. This is a potentially devastating disorder but it has a simple cure. These babies are put under a special light, which somehow stimulates the functioning of the liver and corrects the problem in a matter of hours. If you’ve ever visited the newborn area of a hospital then you have probably seen jaundiced newborns being treated. They wear little sunglasses to protect their eyes and they lay there under that light with just a diaper on, looking like they are on the beach catching a few rays. Now, suppose you had a child born with this disorder and the physician urged you to allow him to treat your child with this light. You could respond by saying, That sounds too easy…in fact it’s downright silly! Put the baby under a light? I think it would be better if we scrubbed him with soap and water and dipped him in some bleach instead. Certainly if we worked hard enough to scrub him in this way, we could get the normal coloring back.

If you did this the doctor would look at you and say, No, you don’t understand. There is only one way to cure your son. You could still refuse his guidance and say, How about if we just ignored all of this. You know the jaundice is your truth doctor. It’s not our truth. If we sincerely believe our truth, then things are going to turn out for the best. The doctor would counter by saying, You’re going to jeopardize the life of your child if you do that. There is only one truth in all of this….only one way to cure him. It may sound too easy but look at the credentials on my office wall. I’ve studied at medical school. I’ve used what I learned to treat and cure countless babies. Trust me on this. Would anybody accuse you of being intolerant or narrow-minded if you looked at those credentials and decided to trust the doctor and pursue the only course of treatment that would cure your son? Of course not! That is not being narrow-minded. That is acting rationally in accordance with the evidence.

Well, as I said last Sunday, the fact is every human being on this planet has a terminal illness called sin. And the reason that followers of Jesus cling to Him so tightly is because they have discovered that He is the great Physician Who has the only cure. We could try to scrub away our sins with good deeds….but that would not work. We could sincerely believe that there are other ways of dealing with our sin but we would be sincerely wrong. The truth is that only the Great Physician offers a treatment that will erase the stain of sin. Only He has the credentials and the credibility to back it up. So when we turn to Him, we’re not being narrow-minded. We are simply acting rationally in accordance with where the evidence points.

As Jesus truthfully said that night in the upper room He really is the ONLY Way for us to experience real LIFE now…and have ETERNAL LIFE with God when we die. One of my favorite old hymns says,

I must needs go home by the way of the Cross…there’s no other way but this. I shall never get sight of the gates of light if the way of the Cross I miss. I must needs go on in the blood-sprinkled way, the path that the Savior trod, if I ever climb to the heights sublime, where the soul is at home with God. So I bid farewell to the way of the world, to walk in it never more; for my Lord says ‘Come’ and I seek my home where He waits at the open door. The way of the cross leads home….the way of the cross leads home…it is sweet to know as I onward go, the way of the cross leads home.

Ron Mehl tells of an incomplete bridge span across the Willamette River in Portland, Oregon. It sums up the message of this I am… statement beautifully. When the bridge was built back in the mid-1960′s, it was designed to accommodate an east-running freeway, still on the drawing boards which was to be known as The Mount Hood Freeway. But the freeway was never built. Even though land on the east side had been purchased and cleared for it’s path, Oregon voters opted for a light rail line instead and plans for the highway were scrapped. If you look carefully when you cross the bridge, you can see how it was built to accommodate a freeway lane veering off to the southeast. There’s a lane that juts out just a bit from the bridge structure, but then is cut off as though sliced by a giant knife. The “exit,” permanently blocked, now goes nowhere, except to the waters of the Willamette River far below. You can still see Mount Hood in all its beauty, glistening like a jewel in the distance. In the evenings, the setting sun clothes it with a mantle of pink and gold. But you could never, never reach the high slopes of that mighty peak via the Mount Hood Freeway, because the freeway doesn’t exist.

Now, that’s a picture of man’s relationship with God. We might understand that there is a God and even yearn to reach Him across an impossible distance. We might recognize His power and glory, His majesty and goodness, and desire with all our hearts to know Him and be with Him. But the distance is too great. The gulf is too wide. None of us can reach Him. None of us can see Him or be near Him….not on our own! The relationship that existed back in Eden was broken. The road was shattered. The exit ramp to God’s presence was cut off and ended in empty space. There was no way until God in Jesus made one. The writer of Hebrews called it “a new and living way opened for us.” (Hebrews 10:20 ) Peter bluntly warned his audience not to search for any other road. In Acts 4:12 he proclaimed the truth that, “Salvation is found in no one else….”

Now, why is it that so many people today resist this fact? Why do they have such a hard time embracing Christ as the only way…the only truth? Well, I think one reason is that we live in a very selfish world and to accept the claims of Christ requires us to obey His command and die to self. Becoming a disciple of Jesus involves a commitment to let Him rule your life and live in and through you. And many people just aren’t willing to do that. It is too much of a threat to their power and autonomy. They want to live their lives as they see fit, not according to the will of God. This is a tragic mistake for as any Christian knows, when we give our lives to God to use, we always get back far more than we give. Well, what about you this morning? Are you willing to die to self and follow Jesus? Are you ready to put your trust ONLY in Him Who is the only way…the only truth? We invite you to make that all important decision so this morning.

Talk to God right where you are; Admit to Him your sin. Believe that Jesus is His only Son and that He died for you on Calvary’s cross. Commit to Him your life to use as He sees fit. And, if you are already a Christian looking for a church home, then I encourage you to ask God if this is the place He wants you to serve. Whatever decision you have to make we urge you to make it public by walking the aisle and sharing it with myself or Steve as we stand together now and sing.

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