Our grandson Eric is in the 7th grade this year, and he was very excited to be able to take algebra for the first time. But what that means is that, once or twice a week, I’ll get a phone call from Eric asking me to help him with his algebra homework.
He has tried getting his mother and father to help him, but as soon as he starts talking about line slope equation format and how to find the vertex of an absolute value equation, they hand him the phone and tell him to call his Papa. Because they have absolutely no idea what he’s talking about.
A lot of times I’ll put Eric on speaker phone so Sueanne can listen in on our conversation and maybe learn a little bit about algebra, but she insists that we’re speaking a foreign language because she has absolutely no idea what we’re talking about. She finds it all very difficult to understand.
Jesus also said some things that are difficult to understand. Sometimes, his words are difficult because it’s hard for us to understand exactly what Jesus meant. For example, in Luke 16:9, Jesus said to “make friends by means of unrighteous wealth.” And that’s difficult to understand because it just doesn’t seem to make any sense.
But there are other times when Jesus’s words are difficult not because they’re hard to understand, but because they’re hard to put into practice. It was Mark Twain who once said, “It’s not the parts of the Bible that I don’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts of the Bible that I do understand.”
Which is to say that there are some parts of scripture that speak very plainly and, yet, for us to try to live that way seems so counter-intuitive to the way we think we ought to live. Like when Jesus said in Matthew 5:40, “If anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.” It’s very easy to understand what Jesus is saying there. But I’ve never known any Christian who had an easy time putting that into practice. It’s a hard saying.
And we’re not the only ones who think that the words of Jesus are sometimes difficult. In John 6, right after Jesus talked about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” (John 6:60).
But, this morning, I want to look at what may be the most difficult statement of all, because of the culture that we live in today. Let’s begin reading in John 14, verse 1. The night before Jesus was crucified, he said to his disciples,
“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. 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, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:1-3)
The fact that Jesus told his disciples not to be troubled tells us that Jesus had just told them something that they’re probably going to be troubled by. So, if we go back to the end of chapter 13, we see that Jesus told his disciples, “I’m getting ready to leave and where I’m going, you can’t come right now.”
So, after the disciples have followed Jesus everywhere he went for three years, all of a sudden, Jesus drops this bombshell on them that he’s going to leave them. And then he goes on to say, not only can they not come with him, but, “By the way, one of you is going to deny me. And Peter, it’s you. And, in fact, before this night is over, you’re not even going to acknowledge to others that you even know me.”
And so, it’s not surprising that the disciples would be a bit upset by that. So, their hearts were troubled. And Jesus says, “I want you to trust God. I want you to trust me. And I want to let you know that you may not be able to go with me right now. But where I’m going, I’m going to prepare a place for you. And when I’m done, I’ll come back andget you so that you can all be where I am.”
Now I don’t think the disciples had the foggiest idea what Jesus was talking about. They didn’t understand that Jesus was getting ready to die. I’m not even sure that they understood that Jesus was talking about heaven. They didn’t have a clue. But Jesus said, “Trust God, and trust me.”
And then he said, “And you know the way to where I am going.” (John 14:4)
Thomas is the only honest one in the bunch. He says, “Lord, what in the world are you talking about? He said, “Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5)
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7)
And this is where we arrive at the difficult words of Jesus. Now, some of you may be thinking to yourselves, “What’s so difficult about that? This is a beautiful passage.” And it is a beautiful passage, but it’s disturbing to a lot of people today because Jesus makes an exclusive claim. He doesn’t say, “I am a way.” He doesn’t say, “I am a truth.” He doesn’t say, “I am a life.” He says, “I am the way. I am the truth. I am the life.”
And then to top it all off, then he says, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is saying that no one can get to God, no one can get to heaven without Jesus Christ.
And that is a statement that is greatly disturbing to many people in our American culture today because people have a real problem with Jesus identifying himself exclusively as the way to God. You and I are living in a day and age where people are increasingly uncomfortable with saying that one way is better than another. Saying that one thing is truer than another thing. And many are uncomfortable with someone making a claim that their way is better, or more valid, than some other way.
So, I want to talk about this statement of Jesus for a couple of reasons. First of all, I want us to prepare ourselves so that when we have these kinds of conversations with other people, we know how to respond. But I also want to speak to our own hearts. Because I know that there are a lot of Christians who deep down inside struggle with this. We struggle because of the culture in which we live.
The most important thing for a lot of people today is “tolerance”. And so, we’re told that we need to be “tolerant”. It doesn’t really matter what you believe. There really is no right or wrong anymore, there’s nothing that’s better or worse. Everything’s just a matter of personal preference and we all just need to be tolerant of each other.
This concept is what is known as “syncretism”. Syncretism is when two or more different religions are blended together. It’s the idea that “if one god is good, two gods are better”. And it’s a very popular idea in our present culture of tolerance. In fact, you’ve probably seen a bumper sticker that promotes the idea of syncretism – it says “COEXIST”.
You’ll notice that inside the letters of this word are symbols representing Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and Taoism, along with the philosophies of pacifism, gay rights and paganism. At first glance, it looks like this bumper sticker simply says that we all need to get along despite our differences, and I have no problem with that. I can get along just fine with a Muslim or with a pagan for that matter.
But this bumper sticker is really intended to say more than just “we need to all get along with each other”. It suggests that all of these different beliefs, all these different religions, all these different philosophies are all on an equal level, that none of them is any better or any more correct than any of the others.
In terms of religion, all roads lead to God. All religions are basically the same. And it doesn’t really matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.
Now, you may think this is something new that has just developed over the last couple of decades, but the truth is that this attitude been around for centuries. In fact, in the first century, when Christianity got started, the Greeks and the Romans worshipped all sorts of gods and goddesses. And their attitude was, “I’ve got my favorite god and you’ve got your favorite god, and we’re all fine with that.”
And, at first, people weren’t the least bit bothered by Christianity because “Hey, if you want worship another god different from us, that’s fine with us, no problem.” But then the apostles started saying things like, “There is salvation in no one else [other than Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12). “Wait a minute, Peter! You mean to say that you think Jesus is the only way to get to heaven? That none of our gods and goddesses will get us there? That your way is better than our way? We’re not going to tolerate that kind of intolerance!” And they didn’t.
And it’s exactly the same way in our culture today. There is hardly anybody who will get upset if you want to live a nice Christian life and treat people nice. “You do your thing and I’ll do mine, and we’ll all get along just fine!” And what is interesting to me in our culture today is that spirituality is not controversial. It’s not controversial to believe in God. You watch any major sporting event and you’ll see people score and give credit to God. Nobody has a problem with that. Watch the Grammy’s or some other award show, and someone will say, “I give all the credit to God.” And nobody has a problem with that.
If you watch one of the daytime talk shows, they can talk all day long about spirituality and a higher power and there’s no controversy at all. But whenever anyone brings up the name of Jesus, there is controversy. You can talk about God. You can talk about a higher power. You can talk about spirituality and nobody gets upset. But the moment you start talking about Jesus, that’s when things get interesting.
And what’s fascinating to me is this — almost no one debates the existence of Jesus. In fact, even his critics aren’t going to try to tell you that he didn’t live. They will acknowledge that Jesus was a real person.
And most people love Jesus’ teaching. I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like what Jesus taught — help the poor, love others, be generous, forgive those who hurt you. His teaching is amazing. Even if you hate Christianity, it is virtually impossible to hate the teaching of Jesus.
So, his critics don’t debate his existence. And it’s really hard to question the power and beauty of his teaching. So why is it that everybody gets so upset about Jesus? The answer comes down to what Jesus said in John 14:6.
If we dare to repeat what Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me”, now we’ve ruffled some feathers. When we say that Islam is not the way to God, Buddhism is not the way to God, Hinduism is not the way to God, Judaism is not the way to God. No one comes to the Father except through Jesus Christ. Our culture will not tolerate that kind of intolerance. This claim irritates people like no other. It has been called arrogant and narrow-minded and bigoted and snobbish.
And I would agree that Christians would be narrow-minded and arrogant if there really were lots of paths to God and we claim that of all the paths, ours is the best way. That would be snobbish. But that’s not what we’re saying. We’re saying there’s something unique about Christianity.
Every other religion I know of is based on people doing something to somehow earn the favor of God. But Christians are honest enough to admit the truth, that none of us can ever be good enough to deserve to be in the presence of God.
Jesus said that we’re all guilty of wrongdoing — and that’s consistent with our experience, isn’t it? Nobody here would claim to be perfect. And Jesus said that our wrongdoing separates us from our holy and perfect God — and, again, that’s consistent with our experience. Haven’t you ever felt distant or disconnected from God? Of course you have.
Because God is a righteous judge, our wrongdoing has to be paid for. So out of His love, Jesus voluntarily offered himself as our substitute to pay the penalty that we owed for our sin. And Jesus, by virtue of his sinlessness and divinity, is the only one qualified to be our substitute. So that when we receive his sacrifice on our behalf, we become reunited with God. That’s just the reality of the situation. And it’s not narrow-minded to speak the truth.
For example, suppose you have a baby girl who develops jaundice shortly after birth. Jaundice is a liver disorder that causes her skin and the whites of her eyes to turn yellow. The pediatrician tells you that this is a potentially devastating disease but it’s easily treated. All you have to do is put her under a special light for a while and this will stimulate her liver properly and she’ll be all right.
But suppose your response to the doctor is to say, “How about instead if we scrub her with soap and dip her in bleach? If we work hard enough at this, I’m sure we can get her normal coloring back.”
But the doctor says, No, there’s only one way to handle this.” You say, “I don’t know, doctor. That may be what you think. That’s your truth. But who’s to say that your truth is any better than my truth? I think we need to just ignore the problem and pretend everything’s OK. And as long as we sincerely believe that, everything will work out just fine.
The doctor would say, “Look, there’s only one way to cure her. I know you’re hesitant to believe that, but look at the credentials hanging on my wall. I’ve studied at medical school and I’ve used what I’ve learned to cure countless babies like yours. Trust me!”
Would anybody accuse you of being narrow-minded if you trust that doctor and follow the only course of treatment that’s going to cure your little girl? That’s not being narrow-minded; that’s acting rationally in accordance with the evidence.
But all of us, we all have a terminal illness called sin, and the reason we turn to Jesus is because he’s the Great Physician who has the only cure, and he has the credentials to prove it. We can try to scrub away our sin with good deeds, but that won’t work. We can ignore it and hope it goes away, but that won’t work either. We can sincerely think there’s another way of dealing with it, but there isn’t. The truth is that only the Great Physician offers a treatment that will erase our sin. And when we turn to him, we’re not being narrow-minded; we’re acting rationally in accordance with the evidence.
It’s not that Christians are being arrogant. We aren’t saying that we’re better than anyone else. Just the opposite. As one Christian has put it, “We’re all just beggars telling other beggars where to find food.”
Think about this — if all roads lead to God, then why did Jesus have to die the death he died and face the suffering he faced? Here in America, one of our problems with war is that it costs human lives and we want to know, before we enter into a war, that every other possible option has been explored before we risk human life. We want to know that war is the only way to deal with the situation. It’s our only option. Can you imagine how parents and spouses of fallen soldiers would feel if they found out that their loved one died when it really wasn’t necessary, because there were some other options available?
But think about this. A lot of folks want to find another option when it comes to getting to God in heaven. But nobody was more interested in finding another option than Jesus was. Think about what he was doing in Gethsemane. Here was a man who was exploring his options. Nobody was more interested in there being some other way to God than Jesus was.
He begged God, “Father, if it is possible, take this cup from me.” If there is any other way for people to be saved, please, please don’t let me go through with this. If there was anybody who was interested in there being some other way to God, it was Jesus because of the price he was about to pay. Don’t you know there was a part of him that didn’t want to be THE way? But if he’s not the only way to God, why then did Jesus suffer the way that he did? If there is any other way for anyone to be saved, then Jesus was a fool to go to the cross!
But Jesus didn’t go to the cross to make just one more way among all the many different ways. God didn’t send Jesus to this world to make one more way among hundreds of other ways. God sent Jesus into this world because there was no other way. There was no other way to get to God than for Jesus to take our punishment, because he is the only sinless person who ever lived, the only one worthy to be our sacrifice. Jesus went to the cross because there was no other way.
And if you want to insist that that are other ways to get to God other than Jesus, then you need to answer this question — why did Jesus suffer the way that he did? Because if there is another way to the Father, the cross was an incredibly stupid thing for Jesus to do.
The truth is, there’s only one person who’s in a position to tell us how to get to the Father and that’s the Son of God. Jesus didn’t just claim that he was the one-and-only Son of God, but he validated his claim. As Peter said in Acts 2:22, he is “a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs, which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know.”
But the one thing that really gives me the assurance that Jesus is who he claimed to be is his resurrection. Paul said in Romans 1:4 (NLT) that Jesus Christ our Lord “was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus being raised from the dead is what makes me pay attention to everything he said before he died.
A lot of times, we think Jesus’ resurrection is just about proving that there’s life beyond the grave and you can go to heaven one day. And that’s certainly true, but that’s not all the resurrection is about. The resurrection was God’s exclamation point telling the world, “Pay attention to Jesus and everything he said on his way to the tomb. He is the way, the truth, the life, and by the way, I’m going to give you a resurrection to point to if you want to know why you should believe what he said.”
Jesus did what no one else has ever done. He called his shot in advance. He’s the only person who said how he was going to die and then in three days be raised back to life and, lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened. Now some might say “What makes me so sure it really happened?” That’s another sermon for another time. You say, “Well what if it didn’t happen?” Then what Paul says in I Corinthians 15 is true. He said there, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” All of this is a waste of time this morning, what we’re doing here, if Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead.
Which leads me to one more thing for you to consider if you’re really struggling to see Jesus as the way. Think about this: if Jesus is not the way to God, if he’s not the way to get to heaven, then he most certainly isn’t even a way. Because if Jesus lied about being the Son of God, if he lied about being the only way to God, then we can’t depend a liar to help us to get to God. Which is to say that either Jesus is the way to God or he’s no way at all.”
I want to close by reminding you of something – Jesus is the way. Which means that we follow a person, not a religion. Listen to me very carefully. Christianity is not the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus is. Cruciform is not the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus is. Alan Smith is not the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus is. What you and I believe about Jesus is not the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus is. And sometimes we make being a Christian more about believing certain things than we do about following a certain person. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.
The people of this world will tell you that there are lots of roads that lead to heaven. But if you’re on any road in your life where you cannot see Jesus at the center, it’s time to get off that road. It’s time to get off because there is no truth and no life on that road. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you’ve done or where you’ve been, you’re invited to be a follower of Jesus Christ and to find forgiveness, not because of anything you’ve done, but because of what Jesus has done for you.