On July 16th, 1999, John F Kennedy Junior and his wife and sister in Law took off from the NYC area airport en route to Martha’s Vineyard for a wedding. He left a little later than expected, taking off just as the sun was setting. Although he had logged more than 50 hours of night time flying, flying at night over the ocean required being able to fly with instruments only – something JFK Jr. was not yet certified to do.
And just before reaching Martha’s Vineyard, the NTSB reported that JFK succumbed to spatial disorientation. Without a horizon and with no lights over the waters of the Atlantic, he became disoriented. Experts write that it is a terrifying thing to read instruments that are telling you something different than your body is feeling. Your body feels like it is going one direction and your mind yells at you to yank the yoke of the plane to compensate – but the key is to look at your gauges – and they might be telling you that your plane is straight and level even if it feels like it is careening one direction or another.
Or they might be telling you that your plane is nose-diving, even though it feels like it’s straight and level.
The NTSB declared that at some point JFK Junior took his eyes off the gauges. He began flying in a direction that felt true to him – but unknowingly, he was nosediving – and he flew straight into the ocean. Chances are they never knew that they were in trouble. It felt right – right up to the point of impact.
The reason I bring this up is because today we are going to look at a passage that might be difficult for some people to receive as truth. It might challenge some of you at a very basic level of what you consider to be truth. And some of you are going to be left with a decision.
What you hear today might be a challenge to your feelings that what you believe is right and true. Many people live their spiritual lives – flying by the seat of their pants – they have a folk theology – something in their mind that feels right. And we are going to run head long into a claim by Jesus today where Jesus is in essence going to say – some of you are flying in a direction that is going to end badly for you unless you change your mind.
It is not an easy thing to change what we believe to be the truth. No one likes to be told they are wrong – especially about beliefs that we hold very dear to our heart.
Changing what we believe to be true is one of the hardest, most painful, most difficult things to do in life. Very few are able to do it without divine intervention. Once we have come to accept some things to be true and they become embedded into our belief system – it is very difficult to change.
Today is Palm Sunday – the day we remember Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The week starts with a parade and end with a crucifixion. Want to know what got Jesus killed? He challenged the religious authorities and told them they were wrong.
Jesus told them they got it wrong about God and it cost him his life. Now we understand it was all part of God’s eternal plan to provide a way for us back into the Kingdom of God. But the reason he was killed was because the people could not accept what Jesus claimed was the truth.
Today we are in our third of a four week series based on the I AM statements of Jesus in the book of John. And today’s passage is found in John chapter 14, and the setting is the last supper – it’s the night before Jesus is to be betrayed… and it reads, simply…
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.
Now this is not a difficult passage to understand. It’s simply a difficult passage to swallow. Because it sounds at first blush like Jesus is saying that there is only one way to God. But when we take a deeper look and compare it in the original greek language we discover that- that is exactly what he is saying.
There is no hidden meaning here. Jesus is making the most audacious claim any human being can make. He isn’t saying I am A way, A Truth, A life. No he is The way, The truth, the life.
See some people want to paint a picture of Jesus as just a really nice teacher. Did a lot of good. Preached a message of love and grace. But I don’t know how we can say that he is a good teacher if he claims to be the only way to God.
Is he an egomaniac? Well, his life doesn’t appear to be the life of an egomaniac. He spent much of his time not only talking about serving others but actually serving others. He appeared to be selfless loving compassionate. Doesn’t appear to be egomaniacal.
Is he deranged? Again, nothing else in his life appears that way – although to be fair when Jesus claimed to be the gate – and the good shepherd – some people went there right away – they said – this man is out of his mind. John 10:20 – but the next verse says that others said, well, he heals the sick with his touch – the rest of his life doesn’t appear to be a life of a madman.
Well maybe Jesus never said it and the disciples perpetrated this lie in an effort to build something awesome for themselves – they lied about the words of Jesus to create this new religion. But if that’s the case then why would they all die for this lie? No one got rich -there was no materiel benefit for being a Christian – remember that in Acts they are sending out teams to hunt down and kill these followers of Jesus. It doesn’t add up.
So I think we are simply left – like those people in John 10 – with a decision. Jesus said I am the way. The truth. The Life. No person comes to the father except through him. Said audaciously states – I am the truth – and if you don’t believe me then you are the one who is wrong – it’s you who needs to redirect the course of your life.
Now there are some of you out there that aren’t a follower of Jesus because of these very words. Some of you are followers of Jesus but have friends who deride you for your own arrogance as a follower of Jesus.
I put an article up on my Facebook page yesterday that talks about the incredible, compassionate, healthcare work that followers of Jesus are doing around the world – it was written by a writer for the New York Times who is not a follower of Jesus but says its time we stop bashing Christians.
Don’t read the comments – because the comments are almost universally – “It’s nice to know that such small minded arrogant bigots can do something nice for a change.”
Why do they say that? Gang – it’s because of this verse.
But listen, this isn’t the first time that Jesus makes a very exclusive claim about what it truth and what isn’t. And for Jesus – the truth is always about him, it always comes back to Jesus being the truth.
Check it out – In John 8:58 Jesus is having a heated debate with a group of religious leaders when Jesus says this… “I tell you the truth, (there’s that truth word again) (As an aside this is one of Jesus favorite words – truth – He saya the phrase “I tell you the truth” more than 60 times in the gospels.)
“I tell you the truth, before Abraham was even born, I Am!”
Well what does that even mean? Well we need to go all the way back to the second book of the Bible. There we read about the story of Moses. By this time the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt and God shows up one day to Moses in the form of a burning bush and says Moses – I want you to go and lead my people out of Egypt. Go tell Pharaoh to let my people go!
And Moses asks – well the first thing they are going to ask me who exactly sent me – and what will I tell them? What is your name? What is your name God?
And God replied – tell them that I AM has sent you. I AM. I have always been, I will always be. I am that I AM. I am all-present – all powerful – All wise – all knowing. My presence is all consuming and always.
Jesus says, before Abraham was, I AM. Make no mistake, he is declaring himself to be God. And this is not lost on the Jews who were listening. Listen to the next verse in John 8 At that point they picked up stones to throw at him. But Jesus was hidden from them and left the Temple.
They knew what he said was blasphemous. They are ready to stone him to death for his declaration!
The rest of his I AM statements are no less provocative. I am the gate. I am the good shepherd you read about in Psalm 23.
Just listen to the audacity of Jesus’ statement in John 15. I am the vine and you are the branches. Apart from me you can do… let me think about it… you can do nothing. That’s right. Dang Jesus! Why you gotta be that way!?
Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, the life. No person may come to the Father except through me.” A very exclusive claim about himself. About God. About the Kingdom of God. And about how you and I can achieve peace with God. And these claims do not seem to fit well into our culture of acceptance, right?
As a matter of fact I’d say that perhaps the single biggest problem people have with Christianity is it’s exclusivity. Common objections we hear are…
All religions are equally true. They all lead to heaven. They are equally valid.
First- I’d say – you are making a claim that no other religion is making. Muslims do not believe that Christians and Jews are equally true. Buddists, hindu’s, mormon’s – no world religion claims that all religions are true and equal. They all say their way is the right way, the other ways fall short.
Secondly I’d say YOU don’t believe that. It’s just convenient to say you believe it. Do you really believe right now that the teachings of ISIS – is equal to the teachings that you are hearing say – in this gym right now?
Are we equal? One is teaching that everyone who is not Muslim – no strike that – their particular brand of muslim – should be beheaded, burned alive, thrown from buildings. Here we are teaching that it is worth writing checks in order to build health clinics in towns in Mali in order to save the lives of people being born into Muslim families right now. Are we equal?
See, the problem with this claim is that no one really believes it. And furthermore, the one who makes it and really believes this to be true is, in effect, creating their own religion. At the very least they are creating their own doctrine.
And I have bad news for you if this is your doctrine. If your doctrine is that all religions are equally true – but you are the only one who understands it – then you are making an exclusive claim to the truth. You are claiming that your doctrine about God is right – and everyone elses doctrine about God is wrong.
Congratulations – you just broke the only commandment your religion has… You are claiming to be better, smarter, more truthful than everyone else. Which is why in some ways I think a slightly better argument – and one we hear more and more of in this day and age, is that:
All religions are equally false. And should be thrown on the trash heap of history.
Unfortunately, you are going to face the same problem. If you stand up and say that “All claims about religion are false.” Is this not a claim about religion? And therefore isn’t it also false?
What you must say is “All claims about religion are false, except this claim about religion, which is true.” Then we are back to step one. If your doctrine about God is that all doctrines about God are false – then you just killed your argument. Your doctrine is also wrong.
It is arrogant to insist you are right and all others are wrong.
Once again, aren’t you doing the exact same thing? There is an inherent contradiction. If it’s arrogant to insist on being right, then isn’t this statement itself the heights of all arrogance? It’s not a welcome thought. But the person who says I can’t believe that Jesus is the only way to God because that would make me arrogant, has just stated the most arrogant thing possible – according to their own definition of arrogance.
But since when is truthfulness arrogance? Isn’t truth always exclusive? You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth. Truth is actually a very exclusive entity. It leaves out everything else.
Truth cannot be watered down. We don’t water down anything the bible says to be true here at Journey. We don’t water anything down. Ever drink our coffee? Maybe we ought water that down- our coffee will grow hair on your hair. But I digress.
Keller in his book The Reason for God, who approaches this subject more deftly than I, writes,
“The reality is that we all make truth-claims of some sort and it is very hard to weigh them responsibly, but we have no alternative but to try to do so.” p11
We must put all doctrines about God – including the doctrine that there is no God – on the table and examine them – compare and contrast them, and make an informed decision.
Which is most likely to lead me to the truth?
When we pick up and examine these competing claims for the truth, and as we consider the life that Jesus lived – we see in Jesus one who not only teaches that He is the way, the truth and the life – but he also teaches his followers to treat people with love and respect.
He shows mercy and kindness to all people regardless of their faith status. It is this Jesus who taught his followers to love their enemy. Remember when Jesus is being arrested in the garden of Gethsemane? Remember Peter grabs a sword and cuts off the ear of one of the men who were there to arrest him? What does Jesus do? Jesus interrupts his own arrest – hold on – let me heal you before you kill me.
Why does Jesus do this? Because he loves the guy. He really is full of love for him. Enough to bless the one who is cursing him.
When we pick up and examine these competing claims for truth – then when it comes to Christianity – there is only one person we need examine. Jesus. Jesus says He is the way, the truth, and the life. There is no other way to the Father except through Him.
He is the Way
The way? He is the gateway – it is through faith in Jesus that we enter a new kingdom. It’s the Kingdom of Heaven.
And the Bible presents a very clear picture of two kingdoms that are offered to us in this world. The Kingdom of this world – is referred to as the kingdom of darkness. It is the eat or be eaten world in which we live. Only the strong survive. Survival of the fittest.
When I was a kid we often played a game called King of the Hill. It was a fight to be the lone guy at the top of the dirtheap. And as challengers would come up the hill to knock me off the hill I’d try my best to fight them off. That’s about as good a picture as I can come up with to stand for the kingdom of darkness – the default kingdom which we are all born into. This big pile of dirt – I’m the King of this big nasty pile of dirt. I’m awesome. All filthy and what not.
In response to that kind of kingdom – Jesus comes and offers an invitation to a different kingdom. The Kingdom of God – ruled by our loving King – Jesus. Who leads us to green pastures – beside still waters – who leads us through the valleys of life – who restores our soul. Who is with us – whose presence comforts us.
We are offered a life inside a kingdom where we lack nothing. We can live there this very day – and you can to. This Kingdom of heaven is available today – Jesus tells us in Matthew 4:17 – the Kingdom of God is at hand. It’s immediately available.
He is the way. And He is the truth.
When Jesus was arrested he was brought before Pilate – the Roman governor – and was told by the arresting Jewish leaders that Jesus claimed to be a king and should be executed for treason.
And Pilate asks Jesus – are you a King. And Jesus says in essence – You bet I am. John 18:37 – and I’ve come to preach the truth. And Pilate asks a very postmodern question. “What is truth, anyway?” Shoulder shrug – what’s truth?
Jesus put it very simply – He is the thruth. Truth is a person. And if He is truth embodied – it means everything he said is truth. Every word. That’s why we can say with such conviction that Jesus is the most brilliant teacher – the great human being that ever lived – and we teach every word that he said. even when it makes us uncomfortable. Even when it makes us confront things we don’t want to confront in our lives.
Sometimes people like to pick and choose what they like about Jesus teaching. I like this part. I like when he talks about giving to the needy – but I don’t like that part – like when he says for instance that we need to forgive people – that’s too hard. So I like to pick and choose.
But here’s the deal – if Jesus rose from the dead – then we have to take all of his teachings. I am foreshadowing next week – Easter. Why do we make such a big deal out of Easter? Because if Jesus rose from the dead then everything he taught is true. And if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead then why would e listen to even one word of his teaching?
I mean he claimed to be the only way to gain entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven where he was teaching that he would rule and reign – he stood up and said I am the way the truth and the life. If he didn’t rise from the dead – as he claimed he would, then all of it is untrue and we are to be pitied above all men.
He is the way and He is the truth. And he is the life…
I was recently watching the cartoon the World of Gumball on the cartoon network – which I think is hilariously funny – in a monty python for kids kind of way – and this episode Gumball is on a search for the meaning of life.
At one point Gumball looks up into the universe and screams “What is the meaning of life”
And in the cartoon the solar system comes together and says – there’s a kid in need of the answer to the meaning of life – let’s sing it to them. And I’m going to read some of the lyrics to the song. And I’m not reading this to shock anyone. I’m telling you that if there is no God than this really is the most honest meaning of life I’ve ever read:
When you think you’ve got a problem
and your life is full of doubt
Remember in the scheme of things
your life just doesn’t count
You’re tiny and you’re minuscule
Irrelevant, a speck
Upon the dark side of that rock
you’re just a measly little fleck
So when you
Think you’ve got a problem
when your life is full of doubt
Remember in the scheme of things
Your puny, little, tiny, weeny, meager, futile, worthless, teeny, boring, foolish, pointless, minimal, wretched, gloomy, bleak, and pitiful
Life just does not count!
There you have it. That is an awesome description of life in the kingdom of this world. Life without the existence of God. Own it.
But when we place our faith in Him we will find on the other side – a life we could have only dreamed could be true. On the other side of faith we find the life we always dreamed about.
That is if you dream about a life without condemnation. A life freed from our sins – a life unchained from our regrets. If you dream of a life where you are free to love without reservation. A life where your soul can be refreshed. Changed. Blessed. A life of adventure and joy.
If you dream of a life of selfish desire – you are not going to like the kingdom of heaven. If you are living for yourself – you are not yet ready for the Kingdom of God. When youa re ready to abandon all that this kingdom – the kingdom of this world values – prestige, honor, material wealth, if your dream life involves the preservation and elevation of yourself – you aren’t ready- you will not like the Kingdom that Jesus offers.
But if today is the day you are ready for that, then today is the day you can make a decision between you and the Lord, to give up your citizenship in the kingdom of this world, and exchange it for the way – the truth – and the life.