The Way and the Truth and the Life
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Jesus said to him, “I Am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Our text for today, is one of the best-known passages of what Martin Luther calls “the best and most comforting sermon preached by Christ while on this earth.”1 In chapters 14-16 of his Gospel, St. John records and transmits the words spoken by Jesus after the Last Supper on the night in which He is betrayed. With this sermon, Jesus wants to comfort and strengthen His disciples both against the present sadness occasioned by His departure, and also against the suffering they will endure because of the devil, the world, and their own conscience as they go out into the world as heirs of His kingdom and His ambassadors.
Jesus’ predictions of His own suffering and death have greatly troubled the disciples, so He speaks to calm their fears. He encourages them to continue to believe in God and in His Son despite what their eyes and hearts tell them. Though the way be dark with the shadow of death, Jesus is on the road to glory—for Himself and for them. Jesus is leaving His disciples in order to prepare a place for them—His Father’s house. Furthermore, He will come back one day and take them to be with Him. Then Jesus adds, “And you know the way to where I am going.”
We can understand Jesus’ meaning by remembering what He is about to do, namely, to die on the cross and rise from the dead. Human beings by nature have no place in God’s house because sin has barred the way. But Jesus’ death will atone for all sins and prepare the room. His resurrection will signal that all is ready.
Jesus’ disciples already know the way. He has been showing them for three years. But they are slow to catch on, as we often are. Thomas gives voice to their bewilderment. How can they know the way when they don’t even know the place? He’s missed the spiritual impact of Jesus’ words.
But Jesus patiently teaches His disciples everything they need to know for salvation: “I AM the Way and the Truth and the Life.” Everything of God has its source in Christ and is reached through Christ and only Christ. Jesus is the Way. We can only approach the Father through Jesus. Jesus is the Truth. We can trust Jesus because all that is real and true is found in Him. He is God the Word, and through His Word He reveals His salvation. Jesus is the Life—the source of physical and spiritual life. Whoever believes in Him has eternal life.
This teaching is exclusive. What a contrast to the popular teaching that says all religions reach God, but just follow different paths. Christ teaches that there are no other paths: “No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
Jesus goes on to say, “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.” To know the Son is to know the Father. The disciples should have already known this, but they can’t see past their earthly limitations. Only after Jesus’ work of redemption and the sending of His Holy Spirit will the Way and the Truth and the Life be clear.
Thomas isn’t alone in his confusion. All the disciples are struggling to understand. Philip offers what seems a simple, logical solution: “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Apparently he feels Jesus can have God the Father make some sort of appearance and everything will become clear to them.
Jesus chides Philip: “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know Me, Philip?” Then He states the simple truth: “Whoever has seen Me has seen the Father.” Philip needs only to open his eyes and see Who is standing right in front of him. The one true God is standing before him veiled in human flesh.
Jesus emphasizes His unique oneness with the Father. Jesus is never separated from the Father. He is in the Father, and the Father is in Him. The Father speaks through the Son. The Father works through the Son. Jesus does and says nothing that doesn’t further God’s plan of salvation. “Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me, or else believe on account of the works themselves,” Jesus tells His disciples. Jesus reaches our hearts with His words, and He points to His works as evidence that His words are true.
Then Jesus adds, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in Me will also do the works that I do, and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” Jesus first mentions the works He does in the physical realm, such as healing the sick. The disciples, by Jesus’ power, will do similar miracles to substantiate the Word they preach. But the greater works are the miracles in the spiritual realm that He will work through them. In sharing the Gospel, every Christian can have a part in His miracles: opening eyes that are spiritually blind, giving eternal life to the spiritually dead, opening heaven to lost sinners.
But that’s not all! Jesus makes another astounding promise: “Whatever you ask in My name, this will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” And just to make sure His disciples understand, He repeats: “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” The promise is absolute. It covers whatever the believer asks, and it carries Jesus’ assurance: “I will do it.”
Do you see what Jesus has done here? He has begun by pointing His disciples and us to our ultimate destination—the place He has prepared for us and then He has shown us the way there—the only way there—through Himself, who is the Way and the Truth and the Life. Next, He tells us how the Way and the Truth and the Life is ours even here and now. He gives us faith through the words He says to us spoken by the authority of the Father; and we, in turn, ask blessings of the heavenly Father in Jesus’ name, according to His will and Word.
We follow in His Way. We listen to His Truth. We have Life in His name. And we have all of these even now. You see, this passage doesn’t just refer to the heavenly dwelling places Jesus has prepared for us. The Way and the Truth and the Life is the Christian life—here and now. But like many spiritual truths it is not necessarily visible to our eyes; in fact, it often appears contrary to what we might expect. We must rely on something outside of ourselves. We need someone to lead us and guide us. That is where Christ’s means of grace and prayer enter the picture.
John Kleinig explains: “Imagine, for a moment, that you are completely blind. You cannot use your eyes to see where you are or what is going on around you. Like all blind people, you have to learn to ‘see’ with your ears. If you wish to travel, you can use a cane to supplement your ears and to find your way as you walk along by yourself. But it is best to have a guide dog to lead you or, better still, someone to travel with to tell you where you are and where to go.
“Spiritually speaking, we are blind. We walk through life on an unseen journey, since we live by faith here on earth. There is an unseen world all around us that we can sense but never see, a world of radiant splendor and of abysmal darkness, a world that surrounds us like a fifth dimension and more. That world is not an imaginary world. In fact, it is much more real than the world we know from our senses. Our access to that world comes to us via our ears rather than our eyes, ears that are attentive to the Word and Spirit of God. By faith we go on our invisible way through life. We learn to travel along that way by walking with our invisible traveling companion, Jesus. Traveling step-by-step, we listen to Him as He speaks to us. He is, as it were, our eyes. We use our ears to see our way.
“Our spiritual journey is unlike any other journey. It is a heavenly pilgrimage, a journey from our earthly location to God’s holy place, and a holy journey from earth to heaven… On their annual pilgrimages the Israelites went to meet with God so they could receive His blessing and share in His holiness; as holy people they then took that blessing with them to their homes and their communities. We, however, do not just go on pilgrimage occasionally; our whole life is an invisible pilgrimage with Christ.
“There are, in all, four dimensions to our unseen pilgrimage. First, we travel with the whole Church throughout the ages, beginning with Abraham, on its historic journey from this world to the world to come, from our earthly homes to the heavenly city. Second, we travel with the people in our congregation on its weekly journey from earth to heaven and back again in the Divine Service. Third, we travel by ourselves and our families on a daily journey into the Father’s presence in our daily devotions. Fourth, we travel by ourselves in our personal lifelong journey through death to eternal life with Christ in the Father’s presence…
“The way of discipleship has two sides to it. On the one hand, it is a journey in which we live by the grace of God. As we travel with Christ, God the Father reaches out to each of us in the same way through His Word. Through His Word He generates and maintains our faith; through His Word, which is enacted in proclamation, absolution, Baptism, and Holy Communion, where He gives us the Holy Spirit and all His gifts…
“On the other hand, in our journey we live by faith in the multicolored grace of God, just as plants live by the light of the sun. By faith we have access to God the Father through the Son by the Holy Spirit. By faith we again and again receive all the benefits that Jesus has won for us by His death on the cross… By faith we receive the Holy Spirit and rely on the Spirit to transform us in our personality and mentality, our behavior and our lifestyle, so that we, each in our own way and in our unique cultural context, mirror some of the fullness of Christ. Our whole experience of life is shaped and illuminated by faith, the faith that comes from hearing God’s Word and receiving His Holy Spirit.
“Although in our spiritual journey we live by the grace of God, in practicing it we concentrate on the life of faith. It is true that we, both as creatures in the world and as children of God in the Church, receive everything from God as a gift. That’s the foundation of our faith, its bedrock. Yet while faith is always trustfully receptive, it is never inactive and unproductive…
“We who have access to God’s grace use our faith to approach Him for help and to bring help to others. We exercise our faith by practicing our piety, whether it is by going to church or by saying grace before meals, by meditating on God’s Word or by praying, by examining ourselves in the light of God’s Law or by confessing our sins, by fasting or by presenting our offerings to God. Faith is meant to be used, and grows as it is used. We are not called to live as practical atheists, people who, theoretically, believe in God, and yet act as if God has nothing to do with their daily lives; we are called to rely on God’s provision for us at all times and in all places…
“Exercising our faith involves the constant interplay between the Word of God and our experience of life, what God has to say to us each day and what happens to us each day. These two belong together; they interpret each other. God’s Word interprets our experience. Our experience of life helps us to understand what He says and so confirms our faith in His Word. His Word teaches us to see ourselves and our experience from His point of view; the school of experience shapes our minds and souls, so that they are attuned to His Word and His good and gracious will for us…
“In practice this means that our spiritual growth, our spiritual health and maturity, is the product of the interaction between work and prayer, for the same God is equally at work in both. In prayer we receive what we need for our daily work. In our daily work we discover what we need to pray for. By prayer we receive the Holy Spirit, so that we can live and work by the power of the Spirit.”2
Do you see how freeing this all is? It frees us from our sin and sinfulness. It frees us from an angry, capricious God. It frees us from the lies of Satan, the world, and our own sinful flesh. It frees us from bondage to the Law and guilty consciences. It frees us from depravity and death!
To the ancient peoples, the gods acted much like modern organized crime. You did your religious duty to keep them off your back and out of your lives (like a protection racket) or to entice them to do you a favor (bribery or kickbacks). The Gospel runs counter to religious thought across the world: the God who reveals Himself in the Holy Scriptures is the only real God in all the world.
And the claims of Christianity go even further: This one God provides one and only one way of salvation throughout the ages. Not all religions lead to the true God. In fact, Jesus makes the claim that He and only He can lead us to God. “I Am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).
Church teachers sometimes call this the “scandal of particularity.” Christians go out into the world with the scandalous message of Christ crucified for sinners. They do not preach that Jesus is a way of salvation or that He is one option among many. Only Jesus, true God and true man, can lead people to the love of God the Father. Outside of faith in Jesus, no one can have God’s love, grace, and forgiveness. Apart from a personal faith in Jesus, no one in all the world throughout all history could be saved.
What does this mean for you and me? It means that we have a great privilege and important mission here on earth. Only through faith in Jesus Christ can any human being in any place on earth receive God’s love, forgiveness of sins, and eternal life. And as member of His holy priesthood, Christ has called us to share that message with others and to offer up prayers on their behalf. And we have Christ’s promise that as we do, He will be with us every step of the way.
That is truly a great adventure! And that is why this has become one of my favorite prayers: Lord God, You have called Your servants to ventures which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go but only that Your hand is leading us and Your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Like Jesus’ disciples, you and I face uncertainty, perhaps even doubt and fear. We don’t know what the future—even this very day—may hold for us. But we do know Who holds us and the future. Jesus Christ is the Way and the Truth and the Life. Through Him you may confidently come to your Father with all of your cares, concerns and requests, confident that He will do these things in Jesus’ name. After all, in Baptism, He has already given you His name. In Jesus’ name, you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1Luther, M. (1999, c1961). Vol. 24: Luther's works, vol. 24 : Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther's Works (24:7). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House
2Kleinig, John (2008) Grace upon Grace: Spirituality for Today. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House