Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ Faith Presbyterian Church
When my son Noel was just a little guy I would come home from work some days and be able to tell immediately that things had not gone well for him that day. With tears in his eyes and his lower lip quivering he’d look up at me and say, “Dad, I’m having a bad day.” All of us can relate.
When we meet Jesus’ friends here at the beginning of John 14 they are having as bad a day as they have ever had. They have just learned that one of them is about to betray Jesus. Peter has been told flat out that he is going to deny Jesus three times before the sun comes up. On top of it all, Jesus has broken the news to them that he is about to leave them and that they will not be able to follow him when he does. This is a discouraged and downcast a group, sorely in need of encouragement. Thankfully, Jesus is about to do exactly that. In fact, the words you’re about to hear him speak are as full of hope and reassurance as any words Jesus has ever spoken.
1“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4And you know the way to the place where I am going.”
5Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”
6Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
8Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”
9Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.” (John 14:1-11, NRSV)
“Do not let your hearts be troubled,” Jesus says. Jesus sees the trouble in their hearts, just like he sees it in our hearts. It does not have to be there, however. And Jesus gives us two reasons.
For one, Jesus can be trusted. “Believe in God, believe also in me,” he tells us. In spite of whatever circumstances you face in life, do you believe that God, that Christ, is not only bigger than your circumstances but also loves you and ultimately desires the best for you in life? God’s love for you is unconditional. God’s forgiveness for you is far-reaching. God’s power over your circumstances is absolute. The first antidote to a troubled heart is a renewed faith in Christ.
The second is hope.
“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.”
The only other time Jesus uses the phrase ‘my Father’s house’ is in John 2:16 in referring to the Temple. Jews in those days understood that the Temple was the place where heaven and earth met. By using the term again here Jesus is pointing his friends forward to the coming age when heaven and earth will completely collide and earth will be finally and fully renewed to look like heaven. “Thy kingdom come” is the way Jesus taught us to pray for this.
The disciples must not forget that their trouble in this world is short-lived. Jesus is promising them that a time is coming when they, and all who seek Christ, will live with God in a kingdom where peace perpetually reigns, and beauty never fades, and love dominates every relationship, and all creation eternally flourishes in health and blessing. This future reality gives us a hope which is able to sustain us through whatever trouble we face in the meantime.
I recently read Laura Hillenbrand’s stunning biography of Louis Zamperini entitled Unbroken. As some of you know, Louis Zamperini was stranded in the middle of Pacific Ocean where his B-24 crashed during World War II. Against all odds and in the face of desperate thirst and hunger, terrifying storms, vicious shark attacks, lethal machine gun fire from enemy planes overhead, and blistering sunshine, Zamperini survived for 47 days in a lift raft before finally drifting ashore in the Marshall Islands. Unfortunately, things only got worse from there. He was immediately captured by the Japanese and, for the better part of two years, was severely beaten and tortured by sadistic guards in an infamously brutal Japanese POW camp out of which few Allied prisoners survived.
If I had read this book without the foreknowledge that Louis Zamperini ultimately did survive these trials I never would have believed it along the way. Time and time again I could not imagine how he could possibly make it. But since I knew the end of the story, since I knew that things ultimately ended well for him, I did not read with a sense of desperation but with a sense of anticipation. I did not wonder if he would make it; I wondered how he would make it.
This world is full of trouble. At times, that trouble weighs heavy on our hearts. At times, we do not know how we can possibly go on, how things will possibly get better. But Jesus gives us hope. The One who is always faithful promises us that if we trust him and come after him it all will end well in ways beyond what we could ever ask or imagine. Those without this hope will be consumed by the trouble of this world. Those with this hope, however, can endure anything and everything they face, not living in desperation but in anticipation.
Jesus tells his friends here that he is going to make all this possible. He is going to do what it will take to ensure that it all ends well. In retrospect we know he’s speaking of the cross. Through the death of Christ and then his subsequent resurrection, the great enemies of sin and death which have for all time blocked our way to God and the blessings of God’s life have been forever defeated. Jesus accomplishes all this on our behalf, making a way for us to go and live in his Father’s house. He even promises to come back one day and take us there himself. I don’t know that there are any words in the New Testament which are more jam-packed with hope than the words Jesus speaks here.
Of course, none of this should be new to the disciples. Jesus has been talking about these things for three years now. That’s why he tells them, “Listen, you know the way to the place where I am going.” They should. Nonetheless, Thomas, the disciple famous for his doubts, isn’t buying it. “Lord,” he objects, “we actually don’t know where you are going. So how then can we know the way?”
The question reveals that Thomas hasn’t been paying attention in class. Still, we should be glad he asked it. For it leads to one of the most marvelous statements ever made by Jesus. “Thomas, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and you have seen me.”
Jesus plainly states that all this will be realized through him. Christ himself is the way, truth and life. Jesus does not give us these things, he is these things. Jesus is not the one you meet when you are lost in the wilderness who gives you directions that help you find your way home. Jesus doesn’t give you directions home; Jesus picks you up on his shoulders and carries you home. Jesus does not simply dole out moral truth like some wise guru perched on a mountaintop. No, Jesus embodies moral truth; moral perfection is completely realized in him. And Jesus does not simply dispense life, like some medicine man passing through town. Jesus doesn’t give us something that makes us live. No, he is, in essence, life itself so when we receive him and he comes, by his Spirit, to live among and within us then we have life.
Jesus did not come to give us these things so that we could thank him and then be on our way. No, Jesus is the way. Christ came to give us himself. The way is a person and that person is Jesus Christ and has been said before, “Without the Way there is no going; without the Truth there is no knowing; without the life there is no living.” Apart from Jesus, there is no way to God.
This is the radical claim Jesus is making here and, yet, from the very moment these words were spoken, right on down to today, people have been unable to ignore the challenge they present. To put these words in the mouth of anybody, even Jesus, seems to many people the very height of arrogance. In a world where there is such a vast diversity of faith perspectives, spiritual paths, views of the divine, how can anybody claim that there is only one way? To say that this one way is right and all other ways are wrong simply does not sit well with many, many people.
You see, there is a very popular idea in our culture, so popular that it’s even crept into the church. It’s the idea that there are, in fact, many true paths to heaven, many right ways of understanding God, and many valid ways of living out one’s spirituality in this world. Those who subscribe to this idea say that even though we all describe things differently, in the end the Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian are all ultimately taking about the same God and the same truth but just getting at it from different angles.
This idea has been repeated so often that it has achieved the status of common sense, even in many corners of the Christian church. People who deviate from this idea, who suggest that there is just one way, are quickly branded as foolish, or intolerant, or even dangerous.
You need to know that there are, however, serious problems with this way of thinking. I want to show you two. Please pay close attention.
First off, the person who suggests that all religions, even just the major religions, essentially teach the same truth packaged in different ways is the person who has never really looked into what these religions actually teach in the first place. On the surface, Christianity, for instance, may look a lot like Judaism or Islam. All three worship one God. All three use some of the same sacred texts. All three promote similar ethics, encouraging people to love one another, care for the poor, follow the 10 Commandments.
But dig a little deeper and the similarities quickly evaporate. For while many faiths honor Jesus as a teacher or prophet, only Christianity views Jesus as the eternal Son of God, God himself. Only Christianity sees within the nature of God the three distinct persons of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Above all, Christianity alone proclaims that salvation is a free gift of God, that we are not saved by our works but by the grace won for us by Christ on the cross. In every other religion of the world, one way or another people are required to climb the mountain to get to God. It is the Christian Gospel alone that proclaims that God himself has come down the mountain to get to us.
Put simply, the major faiths of the world don’t just present different variations of truth. Instead, they present radically contradictory versions of the truth which, when rightly understood, will not allow us to imagine that they are all really just getting at the same things in different ways. This could not be further from the truth.
The second central problem with this relativistic view is that the claim that there is no exclusive truth is a self-defeating claim because it is, in itself, a claim of exclusive truth. Now if that was confusing, maybe this will help.
The idea of many paths leading to the same place has long been illustrated by the parable of the blind men and the elephant. I’m sure you know it. Three blind men are walking along one day and stumble upon an elephant which allows them to touch and feel it. After grabbing hold of the elephant’s trunk, the first man declares that the thing they’ve found must be a snake. The second man, having touched the elephant’s leg, disagrees at once and proclaims that what they are touching is not a snake but a tree trunk. The third man, however, is convinced his friends are both wrong. Having gotten hold of the elephant’s tail he has no doubt that it is a broom which they have found.
The point of the parable is simple. Each man, because of his blindness, could only experience a small part of the entire elephant. In the same way, it is argued, religions of the world each have only a limited grasp of the complete spiritual reality, which means that nobody can claim to have or know an exclusive way or truth.
It’s a charming little story which perhaps you have used before yourself. The problem is, it’s fatally flawed. Here’s why. The story is told from the perspective of somebody who claims to see the whole elephant and who therefore says he knows what it is the men are really touching. In other words, he is claiming that each of the three blind men are wrong. This is, in fact, not a snake, or a tree trunk, or a broom. It’s an elephant, exclusively an elephant. This means that while the person telling the story is trying to make the point that we cannot, in fact, see ultimate and exclusive truth quickly contradicts himself by his claim that he is able to see ultimate and exclusive truth.
Do you follow me? Ironically, this popular view that there is no exclusive spiritual truth is, in itself, an exclusive view of spiritual truth. That means that in the end it is no more narrow-minded for the Christian to claim that Jesus is the only way to God than it is for the relativist to claim that there are many ways to God. Each is making a spiritual truth claim which excludes all other contradictory spiritual truth claims. How much better off we would be if we all would quit playing games and have the guts and the integrity to recognize that everybody is exclusive about their spiritual beliefs. Perhaps then we could start figuring out how to graciously relate to each other in spite of our different views of ultimate reality.
Jesus Christ clearly proclaimed that he was and is the way, the truth and the life and that no person could ever come to God apart from him. There is no way into the Father’s house but by the grace of God which comes to us through the life, death and resurrection of his only Son. You need to know that the whole New Testament and the whole of early Christianity are uncompromising in their insistence on this very point. This means, as one writer puts it, “We have been seized, commandeered, and called to a Truth we cannot relativize.” There is no hope in this world, no salvation available to any person anywhere apart from Jesus Christ. On this we must never compromise. As Martin Luther once wrote, “Forget all speculation about God; hold on to the man Jesus – he is the only God we’ve got.”
Now stay with me. Having said that, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that the church has a long checkered history of how we have handled this truth. These words, initially spoken by Jesus as words of encouragement to troubled friends, have been taken and used by some of those friends as a club to beat up those who don’t see it our way. Jesus came to the world, arms open wide, and proclaimed that he was the way to God but in horrible arrogance many Christians have too often twisted his message by suggesting to the world that we are the way, and that we have the truth, and that we can lead them to life. In fact, most times I have heard this verse cited by Christians over the years it has been cited to make clear that other people are wrong and that we are right. And in the end that is tragic because I do not think that is the spirit in which Christ first spoke these words.
A commentator named Dale Bruner gives a beautiful picture which I think is helpful here. It’s the picture of the cross. The foundation of the cross is the vertical beam which stretches from the earth to heaven. Without this vertical beam the cross would not stand. This single beam, Bruner says, reminds us that there is only one single way to God, and that way is through Christ, God himself, who came as one of us, died for all of us, and rose from the dead to make a way back home for any of us who would follow.
I know some of us buy into the very popular idea that there are many paths to God. We must stop doing so. It is simply not true or, for that matter, helpful. There is only one way, only one truth, only one life and it is not found in the Koran, or in Buddha, or in the Book of Mormon, or in the keeping of the Torah. It is not even found in the Bible, or in the church, or in Christianity, in and of themselves. The only way to God is through Jesus Christ, and the moment the church caves in and compromises on this point is the same moment the church becomes impotent, no longer having any real and lasting hope and healing to offer a disheartened and dying world.
The vertical beam of the cross reminds us of this very foundation of the Christian Gospel. The cross, however, has another beam, a beam which ought to force us to always hold firmly to this exclusive truth with the greatest amount of humility. Supported by the vertical beam, this horizontal beam points out in both directions, as far east and as far west as we might be able to imagine. And this beam reminds us that even though Jesus came to earth to offer an exclusive way to the Father, his ministry on this earth was marked by radical inclusivity as he invited those who nobody else would dream of inviting to come and share in life with God.
I firmly believe that nobody in the world has ever been as inclusive as Jesus. Not even close. Jesus goes to prepare a room for us in his Father’s house, but he goes to prepare a room for many, many others as well. He says so himself, telling his disciples that there are whole lot of rooms in his Father’s house. Over time, God has taught me to believe that he is far more gracious than I will ever be and that I must never presume to know who has a reservation in his house and who does not. That means that while I am always called to proclaim that salvation comes only through Christ, I must always do so with tremendous grace, and humility, and mystery, doing my best never to insult others along the way or presume to know that I know a single thing about their eternal destiny. The horizontal beam of the cross stretches as wide as the world and is as far-reaching as the most desperate of sinners, myself included.
In the end, you see, the cross demonstrates for us, all at once, the narrow exclusivity and the radical inclusivity we see in Jesus Christ.
I know this is not easy. It wasn’t easy for the disciples either when they first heard it. Likely speaking for the rest of them, Philip makes a plea with Jesus that reveals just how difficult they found this to grasp. “Lord,” Philip says, “just show us the Father would you, and then we will be satisfied.” Philip wants Jesus to give him a way to the Father. He just simply cannot conceive of the fact that the Way is standing right there in front of him.
You have to admire the patience of Jesus. “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?”
And here is the great stumbling block, the great barrier to faith for so many. Talk long enough with the Mormons or the Jehovah’s Witnesses at your front door, or your Muslim friend at work, or the Buddhist classmate in school, and you will eventually find that you part ways as you come to the nature of the person of Jesus Christ. Every other major religion has a founder who came to tell people how to find God. Only Christianity has a founder who came to say, instead, “I am God, come to find you.” And Jesus didn’t just say this, he lived it. While other founders of other religions could only come and make claims, usually about special visions they received from God while off alone in a cave or in the woods, Christ came as God speaking for himself. And then he backed up his words with action. Publicly, he healed the sick and raised the dead, performed miraculous signs of all kinds, and then ultimately was raised from the dead himself, all to demonstrate that he did indeed have the authority to speak for himself.
As he says at the end of this passage, “If you don’t believe what it is I’m telling you, at least believe me because of my works, because of the things you have seen me do.” Jesus does not show us the way to God. Jesus is the Way to God because Jesus is God. And the question is, do you believe that this is true?
This is, of course, the question with which we must all wrestle. Everything hinges on this question. It’s the question we hear behind Jesus’ words which opened this passage: “Believe in me, believe also in God. Your hearts do not have to be troubled. For in my Father’s house are many rooms and I am the one who goes to prepare them all for those who believe and then comes back one day to take you home.”
Do you believe him? He is the way. He is the truth. He is the life.
The Silver Chair is the fourth book in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Jill Pole is one of the main characters in the book and at one point she enters a strange and magical country at the top of a very high mountain. After wandering for some time in search of water to drink, Jill encounters there a great lion. The lion is Aslan, the Christ figure in all the Narnia books. Aslan is lying on the grass between her and a deliciously babbling stream. Jill is dreadfully thirsty, Lewis’ reminder to us that we are all, deep in our souls, desperately thirsty. But Jill, also like us, is afraid. She’s terrified of the lion who sits in her path.
Let me end this morning with the unfolding of this scene.
“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I am dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I — could I — would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl. And as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Will you promise not to — do anything to me, if I do come?” said Jill.
“I make no promise,” said the Lion.
Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer.
“Do you eat girls?” she said.
“I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.
The Next Step
A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
Read John 14:1-11. What stands out to you from this passage?
The disciples were troubled. How would Jesus’ words in this passage be a comfort to them? How are they a comfort to you?
Do you believe that Jesus has gone to prepare a place for you in his Father’s house?
Jesus makes this stunning claim: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” What does he mean? Do you believe him?
Jesus does not say that he came to show the way. He says that he is the way. What’s the difference?
What do you think of the popular idea which says that Jesus is just one of many paths which ultimately lead to God?
Do you agree that the view that there is no exclusive spiritual truth is a self-defeating statement because it, itself, is presenting an exclusive spiritual truth?
On one hand, Jesus was radically exclusive; he claimed to be the only Way to the Father. On the other hand, Jesus was radically inclusive; he opened his arms wide even to the people everybody else excluded. How do we hold these two – the exclusivity and inclusivity of Christ – in tension?
Suggested Scriptures for the Week: Taken from the Seeking God’s Face resource our church is using daily.
Monday: Psalm 39:1-5, 7 ~ Exodus 2:1-10
Tuesday: Psalm 40:1-4 ~ Exodus 3:1-7, 10
Wednesday: Psalm 41:1-3, 13 ~ Exodus 5:1-9
Thursday: Psalm 42:1-6a ~ Exodus 5:22—6:5
Friday: Psalm 43 ~ Exodus 7:8-13
Saturday: Psalm 44:1-8 ~ Exodus 12:1, 3, 6-7, 11-13
Sunday: Psalm 45:1-7 ~ Exodus 12:21-30
 Thomas à Kempis.
 I’ve been helped here by Tim Keller, The Reason for God, (New York: Dutton, 2008), p. 7.
 Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2012), p. 812.
 See Bruner, p. 826-7.
 I heard Tim Keller say something like this once. It stuck.
 Dale Bruner uses this example and I liked it so much I stole it. The Gospel of John: A Commentary, p. 813.