“I am the way and the truth and the life! Nobody comes to the father except through me.” – John 14:6
It may be hard to believe, but we’re actually doing a series on all the names given to Jesus in Scripture. Today, we look at a verse that has achieved a level of infamy: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.”
I considered taking this verse apart and looking at “Way,” “Truth” and “Life” separately, but like the Trinity, “the Way, the Truth and the Life” is a three-in-one deal. A “buy-one-get-two-free” sort of thing. Because Jesus seems to be saying that if we’re on the Way we’re on to Truth and Life, too.
Do you remember “The Office” episode (season six) when Phyllis gets to be Santa to the outrage of Michael, who shows up as Santa only to have his Santa hopes crushed by the realization that a female has stolen the part? Ah, the scandal of it. (I guess we do this sort of thing in churches all the time, too, when women show up to preach.) The ensuing plot is wickedly (and irreverently) funny. In an outlandish display of one-upmanship, Michael trades in his Santa outfit for the white garb of a bearded Jesus Christ, to the mortification of the human resources rep, Toby, and the great amusement of the rest of the office. You can watch the blurb below, but the dialogue goes something like this:
Michael: Behold Jesus Christ, and I bring to you glad Christmas tidings. I want to remind everyone of the true meaning of Christmas. Those of you who wish to join me, that’s great. I’m excited by that, and those of you who don’t, I forgive you…but I never forget.
Toby: Wow, Michael…you can’t push religion.
Michael: Ah, the Anti-Christ.
Toby: You can’t…you cannot push religion.
Michael: But I can push drugs in here…is that what you’re saying?
Michael: Well, you have to pick one or the other. Your choice. Pick your poison. Get back to me.
Sometimes I think we Christians present Jesus a bit like an insecure boss using scare tactics. It is either Jesus’ way or no way, so “pick your poison” and “get back to me.” “The way” becomes a suffocatingly small back door that we have to squeeze through in order to “arrive,” thanks to all sorts of ugly, religiously coercive tactics- the whole “war on Christmas” antic being one of them, as far as I see it.
But it is also true that Jesus is making a very uncomfortable claim here, one that quickly offends our postmodern sensibilities. Jesus really is saying that He is “the way.” Not a way among many, but the way. Not one choice among many on the menu but the only entree that will actually feed us- the meat and potatoes, so to speak. So the question is, what is Jesus the way to that no one else can replicate?
Jesus in this passage is the way to “my father” (verse 6) and to “my father’s house” (verse 2). N.T. Wright notes that the only other time that Jesus uses this expression, “my Father’s house,” is with reference to the Temple (John 2:16), and the Temple, within the life of the Jewish people, signified “that place where heaven and earth meet” (Wright, John for Everyone).
In this context, then, “my father’s house”- the Temple- is a spacious dwelling place between heaven and earth with plenty of room for everyone (verse 2). Jesus is hinting here that in Him a whole new world is opening up before our eyes. A world in which heaven and earth find restoration because of God’s renewing work in Jesus. This new world is opening up whether or not we’re aware of it. Or care. Or choose another way. And it is a world in which Truth and Life reign.
“Truth” and “life” here are God-breathed Reality. They are the trustworthiness of God Himself as the very definition of this Reality. They are the reliability of life’s abundance beyond even the grave- and, beyond all of our small deaths leading up to the grave.
Jesus’ claim, then, is both as breathtakingly inclusive as it is discomfittingly exclusivist. If it is true that Jesus alone holds the key to His Father’s house, it is also true that His Father’s house is intended for all creation. It is a spacious, roomy, and inviting place where heaven and earth touch one another and we, all of us, can live, move and have our being.
In my thirty six years of life in spite of myself, I have tried my own way on plenty of occasions. It usually doesn’t tend to come with much life or truth. In fact, I can’t remember a time when it really ever did.
Jesus says, “Try me instead.”