Today we are looking at probably one of the most challenging questions that we got, but a question that if you are engaging with anyone in our world and culture, you’ll eventually have to answer in one way or another. The iDoubt: Questions about Faith question that we’ll be exploring today is “Is Jesus the only way?”
This question is a question that each of us as follower’s of Jesus need to wrestle with, think through, and seek God on. I think too often this question however become a litmus test when asked. From the more “conservative” side of things, it is a question on whether or not you are an orthodox Christian or not. From the more “liberal” side of things it is a question about tolerance, supposed bigotry, pride, and arrogance.
So let me reiterate something that I’ve said a few times during this series and then I have a few more things to say before we jump into the Scripture for the morning. First, let’s agree right now that it is okay to come at this question from different vantage points. That is okay. Can we also agree that we are allowed to express different points today but can we also agree to do it with an attitude of love and grace. Can we seek God’s truth in this question and submit ourselves as a community to Jesus? And can we have love and grace for everyone even those who you might strongly disagree with.
Secondly, when we approach this subject of the exclusivity of Jesus, we go to the text that we’ll be looking at today especially verse 6 in John 14. This text has been used to clobber people over the head with Jesus. Can I say that that posture is wrong. Anytime we have used this text to demean, put down, cause harm, hurt, or inflict violence on someone else, this is not in the spirit of Jesus. When the church uses violence it ceases to be the church and becomes the world. We have seen too many times Churches and Christians who have been arrogant and violent in how they have presented the gospel. So let’s agree never to use this text as a means of clobbering someone.
Thirdly, I want to say straight out that I believe that all truth is God’s truth. I believe that there is a level of truth and beauty in all religions. There is something to be affirmed in almost every religion (I wondered about whether Satanism was a religion and is there something to be affirmed in that or not). I never want to pretend that I am a better person, more worthy, etc.. because I follow Jesus. Our relationship with Jesus should never lead us into arrogance, self-righteousness, or condemning of others. Jesus never condemned anyone.
Fourthly, let’s move this discussion away from which religion is right and which religion is wrong. I am not referring to religion in this message. The text that we’ll be looking at isn’t about religion. It is first and foremost about Jesus, and to be completely honest, Jesus didn’t come to start a religion. He came so that we could be reconciled and redeemed to God, each other, and the world/creation around us. And live in this reality that he called the Kingdom of God.
And lastly, something that we’ll seek to address in this message is the secondary question, “If Jesus is the only way, what is he the only way to?” Is this Jesus’ way of saying “I am the only way to heaven” or is there more to it than that?
Okay. With those things out of the way let’s turn to our text for today John 14:1-9 and let’s talk about the question, “Is Jesus the only way?”
John 14:1-9 says, ““Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 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. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”
Let’s do a little bit of historical research that will help us understand this passage a little better before we really get down to verse 6.
First thing that we need to know about this chapter and the next 3 chapters (running from chapter 14-17) is that this section is called the Farewell discourse and Jesus spends a great deal amount of these chapters informing and commenting on his impending death on the cross. So much of the conversations in these chapters relate to prepping his disciples for what was to take place and how this one event in history would shake the foundations of the world as they knew it, and how that event would then ripple throughout history into our own time and beyond our time.
Let’s look deeper at verses 1-3 and see what Jesus is actually saying Verses 1-3 says, ““Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 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. You know the way to the place where I am going.” Jesus here is using a metaphor of marriage to talk about relationship with him. There is definitely a Bride and Groom metaphor that is taking place. To understand that we need to understand the 1st Century Jewish betrothal and marriage process. The first step in 1st Century Jewish marriage process is the marriage covenant. The Father of the groom would give a dowery to the Bride’s family and therefore establishing a marriage covenant. When the Bride agreed to the arrangement that is when the betrothal would begin. The second step is that the son would return to his Father’s house to prepare the bridal chamber and the annex (connected to the Father’s house) that the bride and groom would live in. This process of building their living quarters would take roughly a year. The third step would be that once the annex was completed, the Father of the Groom would give the okay to the groom that the annex was ready and it was time to go get his bride. Then the groom and the groomsmen would set off for the bride’s house. Although the Bride was expecting her groom to come for her, she didn’t know the time of His coming, and as a result the groom’s arrival was preceded by a shout, which forewarned the Bride to be prepared for his coming. Once the groom got his bride, he would take her back to the Bridal chamber and consummation the marriage.
So we see this marriage process being talked about in relation to Jesus’ church, his bride. Here we see the process of Jesus giving us a marriage contract, by dying on the cross, then going to his Father, and eventually resurrecting. Now the interesting thing about this is that most of the time when we hear the word place in this text we think of heaven. That this text is about going to heaven. Now that is certainly true. But I believe Jesus is talking not only about a physical place but probably more so about an abiding relationship. So the reference’s to the Father’s House are not to be taken totally as a synonym for heaven. Instead this reference to the Father’s house needs to be read first in the context of mutual indwelling of God and Jesus. This idea of Jesus taking up residence within us has been stressed from the opening verses of the Gospel. So yes, as I said before, there is the idea of heaven in this passage, but even more so it is about a relationship here and now with Jesus, and allowing Jesus to live in and through you. And him creating a way for us to enter into God’s Family and to live out the reality of the Kingdom of God.
And so after Jesus talks about his going away, he tells them that, “You know the way to the place where I am going.” Jesus, I believe is talking and reminding the disciples of the last 3 years of their lives in which they spent learning the way of Jesus. He is saying that you have been with me for 3 years and you have seen the way that I have lived, how I have loved people, even my enemies, how I have served others, how I have healed others, how I have lived out the Kingdom of God in front of you. And so he is reminding them of all these things and is saying to them, “You know the way to the Kingdom. Just follow my example.”
Then Thomas, I believe missing what Jesus was really saying, asks Him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Thomas is frightened about the prospect of Jesus going away, and how he would live without Him. He was also struggling with the realization that the earthly Kingdom where Jesus and the disciples reigned in power was not going to happen, and that Jesus was not going to kill to take over the reigns of the empire, but be killed by the empire to set up his rule and reign and the Kingdom of God. One thing that many people think he was asking that he really wasn’t was “Jesus are all non-Christians going to Hell?”
And so we come to the verse which all of you have been wanting some help in understanding. In verse 6 Jesus replying to Thomas’ question about knowing the way, says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This verse is multifaceted and multidimensional. First of all Jesus is seeking to answer the question that Thomas asked in the verse 5 but also comfort him. What Jesus is saying here to Thomas is something like, “When I’m gone, continue to do the works I do. Follow the pattern I have set before you in the way I lived my life, and you’ll be following the way. And when you follow the way, you’ll be in relationship with God through me.” This statement is connecting back to the beginning of the chapter where we talked about being in an abiding relationship with Him. What he is saying is if you want to know God, then know and live out how I lived my life. Because later on in this text we see him saying, “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well” and “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” The primary question that is being asked isn’t about access to heaven and Jesus is saying, “You have to get through me to get to God and be in heaven.” No the primary thing that Jesus is talking about here is about life in the Kingdom and being a disciple. John 14:6 doesn’t define who is in and who is out, it defines who God is for the disciples. That God is Father. It defines Christology for us that Jesus is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being,” (Hebrew 1:3) Gail O’Day has this to say, “The particularism of John 14:6-7 does de facto establish boundaries; it says, 'This is who we are. We are the people who believe in the God who has been revealed to us decisively in Jesus Christ.” Rather than using it as a means of condemning others, it should be seen as a doxological statement of who we are as children of the Father through Jesus And so this statement in John 14:6 is about the incarnation of Jesus, coming to earth so that we could see what God is truly like. And then we can pattern our life around this God that we see in Jesus. And then live the Jesus way, the Jesus truth, and the Jesus life best known as the Kingdom of God. I like how Eugene Peterson puts it, “Only when you do the Jesus truth in the Jesus way do we get to the Jesus life.”
So the original question was “Is Jesus the only way?” I assume the ending of that question is “to go to heaven when you die”. But I don’t believe that this is the primary question that Jesus is answering in this text. I do believe that our question is part of what he is getting at, but a small part of it. (Look at what Luke says in Acts 4:11-12, “Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”) Do I believe Jesus is the way to the Father. Yes, I believe that Jesus and the Father are one. So that when you know Jesus you know the Father. I like what Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch say in Re:Jesus, “It is true that Jesus is like God, but the greater truth, one closer to the revelation of God that Jesus ushers in, is that God is like Christ.”
I think then that this text is asking us a few questions which take us back to the first week where we explored the question of “What is a disciple?” I think this text is primarily asking us these 3 questions: 1. Am I living the Jesus truth? Yes we need to live the Jesus truth but not isolate from the others because if we only focus on the truth it yields a disembodied orthodoxy which means all the right words with no behavior to make the words believable. We need all 3. 2. Am I living the Jesus way? Do I know how Jesus lived his life, and I am committed to living my life in the same way (through the Holy Spirit’s power)? And lastly 3. Am I living the Jesus’ life. Am I living out Jesus life in and through my own life?
So let’s talk about your questions, thoughts, ideas on the question itself “Is Jesus the only way?”, the message, and the Scripture. Let’s also talk about how we as individuals and as a community seek to live out the Jesus truth, the Jesus way, and the Jesus life and which one we struggle with the most. And what God might be saying to us and what we should do about it?
1. What thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. do you have about the question “Is Jesus the only way?”, the Scripture and/or the message?
2. How as individuals and as a community live out the Jesus way, the Jesus truth, and the Jesus life? Which one of these do you have the hardest time living into?
3. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what should we do about it?