I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life
Christian scholar and apologist Ravi Zacharias tells the story of being on the campus of Ohio State University for a lecture. He says, “I remember lecturing at Ohio State University, one of the largest universities in this country. I was minutes away from beginning my lecture, and my host was driving me past a new building called the Wexner Center for the Performing Arts.
He said, “This is America’s first postmodern building.”
I was startled for a moment and I said, “What is a postmodern building?”
He said, “Well, the architect said that he designed this building with no design in mind. When the architect was asked, ‘Why?’ he said, ‘If life itself is capricious, why should our buildings have any design and any meaning?’ So he has pillars that have no purpose. He has stairways that go nowhere. He has a senseless building built and somebody has paid for it.”
I said, “So his argument was that if life has no purpose and design, why should the building have any design?”
He said, “That is correct.”
I said, “Did he do the same with the foundation?”
All of a sudden there was silence.
You see, you and I can fool with the infrastructure as much as we would like, but we dare not fool with the foundation because it will call our bluff in a hurry.”[i]
I have seen and walked through the Wexner Center for the Performing Arts on campus, and I can vouch for the description his host gave of the building. All of this stuff in the building, columns supporting nothing and stairwells that don’t go anywhere, that serve no practical purpose. It is though, in many ways, an impressive building. But I can promise you that the foundation of that building was designed and engineered precisely and built to exacting specifications. Every inch of the foundation has purpose and meaning. Those postmodern, meaningless, non-absolute parts of the building are supported by a foundation that is strong.
We live in a culture that says “there are no absolutes.” Every faith, every ideology, every political system is equally valid, and on person or group of people doesn’t have a right to question the validity of any other person or group of people’s beliefs and values. Everything is relative. The problem is that in this world, there ARE absolutes. There is an objective reality. I can choose to not believe in gravity if I wish, but my feet are still on the ground, and if I jump off the roof of the Grand Traverse Resort, my body will plummet to the earth at 9.8 meters per second squared. That isn’t going to change unless the world stops spinning.
Even those who say there are no absolutes admit there’s at least one absolute, because the statement “there are no absolutes” is an absolute statement. Oh, so there’s one, huh? The only absolute is that there are no absolutes? The statement nullifies itself. But we do live in a world that loves to talk about speaking YOUR truth, the truth as YOU see it, as YOU have accepted it, but not THE truth. Newscaster Ted Koppel once said, “What is largely missing in American life today is a sense of context, of saying or doing anything that is intended or even expected to live beyond the moment. There is no culture in the world that is so obsessed as ours with immediacy. In our journalism, the trivial displaces the momentous because we tend to measure the importance of events by how recently they happened. We have become so obsessed with facts that we have lost all touch with truth.”[ii]
So when Jesus says I am THE way, THE truth, and THE life, we get uncomfortable. We get uncomfortable because that’s an exclusive claim, not an inclusive one. Because when Jesus makes that statement, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. NO ONE comes to the Father except through me …” he’s saying “I am the ONLY way. An absolute. Turn with me to John 14:1-7.
So the first words of this passage are “Let not your hearts be troubled.” And we tend to treat this like Jesus just started speaking here, because it’s the first verse of a new chapter, but Jesus has been speaking for a bit now. This is just the next sentence in a longer message he’s been giving to his disciples. They’re actually in the upper room observing the Passover on the night Jesus would be betrayed by Judas. So he’s just told them that one of them, one of his disciples, would betray him; that Peter himself, the most confident of all of them, would deny even knowing him three times that night; and that he would only be with them a little while longer and that they could not go where he was going. They had left everything, their jobs, their families, in some cases their spouses – although I’m sure they got home from time to time. The Holy Land isn’t that big – and now they wouldn’t be able to follow him or be with him any longer? So yeah, their hearts were troubled. They were devastated. Jesus was obviously upset, was going away, would be betrayed by one of them and denied three times by Peter, all in one night? This was about to be one rough night.
Have you ever felt like your world was crashing down around you? Like the plan you though was panning out was changing forever? Like your world was changing too fast and the things you were absolutely sure about are now feeling wobbly and uncertain? One person said, “Trying to break free from my worries was like wrestling an octopus.” I know the feeling. Get one arm of the octopus under control and there are 7 more flailing around trying to grab ahold of me. It can feel like a losing battle. If I asked you to write down the things you are worried about or afraid of, you could probably fill a page in a few minutes, and am entire journal in a day, easily. But there are times when the speed of change seems too fast and things are crashing down all around us and we’re in danger of being overcome by fear. That’s what Jesus say in the eyes of his disciples. Their hearts were troubled.
And Jesus sees that and he reassures them. Look at Vv. 1-4. His answer to our worries is to trust him. To trust that he is going to the Father to prepare a place for those who follow him, and that he will come back to gather his own to himself. In a world filled with uncertainty, in a world that today denies that certainty can even exist, Jesus says, “You can trust me. I am here. I am faithful. And I will follow through. What I have promised, you can consider done.” Yes, in this world you will have trouble (Jn. 16:33), and you will be persecuted for standing for what is right (Matt. 5:10), and you will be persecuted for following me (Matt. 5:11). But know this, when you follow me, when you trust me, your life here on this earth will have meaning and purpose, and when it is over, I have a place ready for you in my Father’s house. So when uncertainty and insecurity raise their ugly heads and remind you that this world is fallen and broken, remember this … I’ve got you. Even in death, I’ve got you.
And we HAVE to include that – even in death. Here in America we don’t like to think about that. We want a Jesus who makes our lives easier and our relationships better and our businesses more successful. We don’t want a Jesus who asks us to pick up our cross, die to ourselves, and follow him. We don’t want to think about a Jesus who sometimes, in fact in some places of our world often asks his followers to trust him in death, as they head to the executioners station, as the sword or axe swings down toward their neck as they’re beheaded. We don’t want to think about a Jesus who allows that kind of suffering. But it happens. In this world. Every day. And we here in America, we have our heads blissfully in the sand. And we wonder why churches are dying and our communities are struggling. When Jesus, through St. Paul, said, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39), he said it for a reason. He knew that’s what many of his followers would face. Why would Jesus’ disciples scatter and flee as he was led away later that night? Why did Peter deny even knowing Jesus three times? Because they feared for their lives!
And yet, those same men and women who fled that night, would carry good news of Jesus by foot and by boat to the ends of the known world in the face of Jewish persecution and in the face of a resistant Roman empire. They would endure unbelievable hardship. They would all, every one of them, die a martyrs death. Some of their converts would be burned to death, or beheaded, or forced to face fierce and wild animals in the Roman arenas. What changed? Two things.
The certainty of Jesus – the way, the truth, and the life, became more than a poster or a bumper sticker for them. It became their bedrock. Their foundation. In an uncertain world the reality of Jesus, the Christ, the messiah became their sure and perfect foundation. Look at Vv. 5-7.
Jesus said, “I am the WAY.” Jesus both shows us the way to be forgiven and reconciled to God, and he is, in himself, in his being, the way itself. Jesus is the connection between God and sinful human beings like you and me. Hebrews 10:19-22 says “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places (the holy places are the presence of God) by the blood of Jesus, by the NEW AND LIVING WAY that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near (in other words, draw near to God, with whom we were estranged before we trusted and followed Jesus) with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”
Before his followers were called Christians, which was initially a derogatory term, they were called “people of the way.” A different way. A people who walked a different path, lived differently, as they walked through this life. You and I, as followers of Jesus, are people of the way. We are living in the kingdom of God in the here and now as we move one day at a time toward eternity.
Why is Jesus THE way into the presence of God, THE way to be reconciled to God, THE way to live well in this life? Because he is THE truth. Our view of truth is that which aligns with reality. The person who is telling the truth is the person who is stating what really happened, even if it means they’ll get in trouble. For us, in many ways, truth has become something you speak. But in the ancient world, they had a fuller, more complete understanding of truth. To be a truthful person meant to be utterly dependable, to speak the truth, to follow through on your promises and hold to your word. In a sense, it was to BE truth. To exude it. So when Jesus says, “I am the truth,” he is claiming to be ultimate reality, in alignment with the way things really are, he is saying that the things he says, the things he teaches, are truth, and he is saying that he is utterly and completely and perfectly dependable. His promises hold not just because his word is truth but because HE is truth.
And not only is he the truth. He is also the life. Nothing exists apart from him. You and I, our friends and neighbors, this world, the cosmos itself has life only because he is life. Back in John 1:3-4, the introduction to this same Gospel we are studying today, John says “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” St. Paul in Colossians says, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him.” He is the source of life, and he is life itself. He restores things that have died. He restores the broken and the destroyed. He cleans up messes and makes lives new. Jesus is a breath of fresh air that never ends, real life in a world that is far too often dank, and dark, and stuffy. He is the way BECAUSE he is the truth and the life.
And no one. Absolutely no one, comes to the Father apart from Jesus. He isn’t A way. One of many. He is THE way. Exclusive. Only. Statisticians tell us that one person, Jesus, would have had a one in 100 million billion, that’s a 1 with SEVENTEEN zeros after it, a one in 100 million billion chance of fulfilling just 8 of the messianic prophecies. He fulfilled ALL of them. Over 300. Several just by the circumstances surrounding his birth. More than could possibly have happened by chance.
As human beings with inherently sinful hearts who are lost. Jesus is the WAY. As human beings we can be very intelligent and yet are still so ignorant. Jesus is the truth. And we are dead in our sin and separated from God. Jesus is the life.
Now, I said two things changed for the disciples. First, the anchored their lives to Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life. And the second? They were filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. God’s empowering presence. God not just as an idea or a word on a page but living in you and living in me. Bringing us strength to walk the way who is Jesus, to know, speak, and live the truth that is Jesus, and to experience the life of Jesus.
There were two teenagers in Chicago who wanted to prove their love for each other. They went to the top of a six story building, kissed each other, and jumped off. They left a note saying, “We’re looking for a better place.” They looked at this world, with all of its pain and struggle and chaos and decided they’d be better of somewhere else. And the only hope they had was to die and maybe find themselves together in a better place. The girl was killed. The boy was seriously injured. I wish someone had told them there is a better place. Earth is a better place when Christ comes and lives within. Heaven is a better place. You don’t have to jump off the roof of a building. Dostoyevsky, the great Russian novelist said, “Surely I haven’t suffered simply that I may manure the soil of the future for someone else.’”[iii]
Jesus alone is the way, the truth, and the life. Exclusive. No other way. No other truth. No other life. He is our anchor in the storms of life and the secure foundation upon which our lives are built. You will face uncertainty. You will face struggle. You will face pain. You will be challenged in this life. That is a certainty. But even more certain is Jesus. Is your life built on him? Let us pray.
[i] From a lecture by Ravi Zacharias
[ii] Ted Koppel in a speech to the International Radio and Television Society, quoted in Harper’s (Jan. 1986). Christianity Today,
[iii] Source: Leighton Ford, “Hope for a Great Forever,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 96.