The Way, the Truth, and the Life | John 14:1-11, 18-23
Brian Hedges | September 5, 2021
Let me invite you to turn in your Bibles this morning to John 14. This morning we are continuing a study that we began just a few weeks ago on the upper room discourse of Christ. We are looking at five chapters together, John 13-17, and all of this takes place the night before Jesus’s crucifixion. He is in a second-story room in Jerusalem (that’s what it’s called the upper room discourse), and Jesus is teaching his disciples, as we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks in John 13.
Jesus takes the place of a servant and he washes his disciples’ feet, and then he has the Last Supper with his disciples, predicting the betrayal of Judas, Peter’s denial, that his disciples will forsake him; and this leaves them very troubled. He tells them that he is going away to the Father and that they cannot follow, and they are deeply troubled by these words.
That leads into the words of Jesus in John 14. These are familiar words, many of them; many of you will have heard some of these words read in a Christian funeral service, perhaps. I’m going to read John 14:1-11, and then also verses 18-23. You can follow along in your own copy of God’s word or you can follow along on the screen. Listen to the word of the Lord.
“‘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. And you know the way to where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ 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.’
“Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.’”
Drop down to verse 18:
“‘I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.’ Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’”
This is God’s word.
This morning I want to structure the message by using the words of Jesus in verse 6, “I am the way and the truth and the life,” and those will be the three points, because I think what Jesus says here in response to Thomas’s question can really explain everything that’s going on in this passage. So we’re going to look at Jesus as the way, Jesus as the truth, and Jesus as the life.
1. Jesus is the Way
The first thing, of course, is that he is the way. This is really the focus of verses 1-7. As we’ve already seen in reading it and explaining it, the disciples here are very troubled. They are troubled in heart. They’re troubled because Jesus is going away; they’re troubled because of everything Jesus has said is about to take place.
But Jesus does not want them to be troubled, and so he addresses them and says, “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.” He is inviting their trust and their confidence in him and in his teaching as well as in God his Father.
Then he tells them what it is that he is about to do, in verses 2-3. He says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms.” The word rooms was probably wrongly translated in the old King James as “mansion.” It really just carries the idea of a dwelling place, and when Jesus says, “In my Father’s house are many rooms,” he’s thinking of the dwelling place of God, and he’s saying, “I am going to make a place for you in the presence of my Father.”
“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.” Verse 3, of course, is one of Jesus’s predictions of his own second coming, that he will come again.
These are familiar words, and they are words that speak to the reality of heaven, what Jesus calls his Father’s house. What Jesus here is teaching us is that he is the way to heaven. He is the one who prepares a place for us, a room for us in his Father’s house. These are deeply comforting words, although the claim that Jesus makes, as we see in a moment, is quite staggering. But the words are comforting because Jesus here is telling us that he is indeed making a place, making a way for us to be in the presence of his Father, a way to go to heaven.
I don’t know about you, but I have at times in my life actually felt somewhat afraid of heaven, especially when I was a little boy. I used to hear people say things like heaven would be like an eternal church service. These people would really be in the Spirit, I guess, in a meeting, and they just did not want church to end, and they would talk about, “When we get to heaven, we’re just going to do this forever and ever and ever!” As a little kid, I’m just like, “Oh my goodness; if that’s heaven, I don’t know if I want to go there! Singing for hours and hours on end does not sound fun to me.” On top of that, pearly gates, streets of gold, all of the language that’s used to describe heaven—it sounds ornate, but not really inviting. It doesn’t really sound like home.
I think we miss something in the metaphors that are used. Those metaphors were used, especially in the ancient world, to describe the joy of heaven, the lavish joy that would be ours in heaven, what old theologians used to call the beatific vision; that is, the vision of blessedness, when we see the face of God and our souls are filled with joy. But heaven, in its essence, is to be in the presence of God. Heaven is the dwelling place of God; it is to be in the Father’s house. That’s what Jesus is telling us here.
C.S. Lewis once constructed something of a fable to describe how it is that we misunderstand heaven, and I found this helpful. He said to imagine a woman who has been in captivity for many, many years, and she’s had a child while she was in captivity. She’s locked away in this dungeon, and the little child has never been outside the dungeon. So the woman is trying to describe for her child what the outside world is like, and the only way she can do is by talking to him and by drawing pictures. She has a pencil and she has a pad of paper, so she draws these pictures; she draws trees and she draws mountains and she draws the sky. She draws the outside world with pictures, but they are two-dimensional pictures.
The day may come when it suddenly dawns on this little boy that when he gets into the world, it’s not going to look like the pictures at all. In fact, he says something like, “You mean, there are no pencil marks?” You see, he is confusing the portrayal in a two-dimensional drawing, the portrayal of the outside world with the reality.
In the same way, we can’t fully imagine what heaven is. We have images, we have metaphors, we have pictures of it, but we can’t imagine the depth of joy and of wonder and of glory that will be ours when we’re finally in the presence of God. But Jesus here is telling his disciples that he is going to prepare this place for them in his Father’s house, and he is telling them that he himself is the way to heaven, and therefore is the way to the Father.
So in verse 4 he says, “You know the way to where I am going,” and this provokes a question from one of the disciples. This disciple is Thomas, better known as doubting Thomas. I think Thomas was the Eeyore in the apostolic band, you know? He was the one for whom the glass was always empty, he was pessimistic, he was always seeing the worst side of everything. He’s doubting Thomas because of his doubts of Jesus’s resurrection. Do you remember that? After Jesus has risen from the dead, the other disciples have seen him and Thomas hasn’t, and he says, “Unless I can see him, unless I can put my fingers in the prints in his hands, I will not believe.” Of course, you remember that Thomas eventually does see Jesus, and then confesses, “My Lord and my God.”
But here he is; he’s asking this question, somewhat pessimistic. He says, “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going; how can we know the way?”
Notice what Jesus says in response. These are some of the most important words of Jesus recorded anywhere in Scripture. 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.”
Jesus is telling us that he is the way to heaven, he is the way to the Father; he is the way to God. While his promise that he’s making a place for us in his Father’s house is comforting, the claim he makes is absolutely staggering, because he is saying nothing less—don’t miss this!—he’s saying nothing less than this, that he himself is the exclusive way to God. The only way to go to heaven and the only way to come to the Father is through him. “No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Now, those may be the most offensive words that Jesus has said, at least to modern ears, because nobody today outside of Christians, especially in the West, nobody in the West wants to say that there is one exclusive religion that is right. Instead, what you usually hear is some version of this story, the story of the six blind men and an elephant.
You remember this story? Six men who are bind all come up on an elephant, and they all feel different parts of the elephant. One blind man feels the trunk and he says, “Oh, the elephant’s like a snake.” One of them feels his ear and says, “No, the elephant’s like a fan.” The other one puts his arms around the big elephant’s leg and says, “No, it’s like a tree.” Another one touches his tail and says, “No, I think it’s more like a rope.”
The moral of the story is that the blind men all have a part of the truth, they have a part of reality, but they don’t have a comprehensive, full vision of reality because they’re blind. So, it goes, all religions have a part of the truth. Christianity is showing us something true about God and all the other religions are showing us something true about God as well; but nobody has a complete understanding.
How does a Christian respond to that? Well, I think of course we should acknowledge that nobody has complete understanding of ultimate reality. I mean, we wouldn’t claim that. We’re not saying we have a complete understanding; we’re not omniscient. You would have to be God to have a complete understanding of ultimate reality.
But what I think that story misses and the assumption in the story that nobody wants to question is that somebody actually sees the elephant! Somebody actually sees that there is an elephant, and that the elephant is this real thing, and that the blind men are only getting the parts.
Here’s the deal: in Christianity, Jesus is the one who says, “I have the exclusive understanding of what reality is; and not only that, I am the way to this reality. I am the one who can take you to God.”
Now, anyone who rejects that and wants to say, “Well, there cannot be only one religion,” that person is also making an exclusive truth claim, so it ends up being a self-defeating claim. Everybody, if they have a believe that excludes other beliefs such as, “Christianity is the only way to God,” their beliefs are also exclusive. So there’s no moral high ground here of somebody who doesn’t have exclusive beliefs. The question is, what does Jesus claim, and are these claims to be believed?
I think we cannot miss the implications of what Jesus says here. “I am the truth, I am the truth, I am the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.” This is staggering, and here’s the fact: nobody talks like this except Jesus. Nobody else is saying this, but Jesus says it.
C.S. Lewis has put this as clearly as anyone I know, and in one of his essays he says, “There is no halfway house and there is no parallel in other religions. If you had gone to Buddha and asked him, ‘Are you the son of Brahma?’ he would have said, ‘My son, you are still in the veil of illusion.’ If you had gone to Socrates and asked, ‘Are you Zeus?’ he would have laughed at you. If you had gone to Mohammed and asked, ‘Are you Allah?’ he would first have rent his clothes and then cut your head off. If you had asked Confucius, ‘Are you heaven?’ I think he would have probably replied, ‘Remarks which are not in accordance with nature are in bad taste.’ The idea of a great moral teacher saying what Christ said is out of the question. In my opinion, the only person who can say that sort of thing is either God or a complete lunatic suffering from that form of delusion which undermines the whole mind of man. We may note in passing that he was never regarded as a mere moral teacher; he did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met him. He produced mainly three effects: hatred, terror, adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval.”
Here’s the deal: Jesus makes a claim that nobody else makes, and if that claim is to be believed then we bow at his feet and worship, and we accept that he is the only way. If his claim is not true, then we have to do away with Jesus altogether. He doesn’t leave us the option of thinking that he is one of many paths, one of many ways, one teacher among many; he claims to be the only way.
Here’s one more thing to note on Jesus as the way, and that’s the context here, because I think when we read this in light of the context, it’s telling us something about how Jesus is the way. The context is that Jesus is about to go away, right? He’s going away to his Father. But how is he going away, and what’s the context?
This is the night before his crucifixion. It says in John 13 that “the hour had now come,” right? In John 12 he says, “Now the hour is here.” The hour, of course, in the Gospel of John is always pointing forward to the cross on the horizon, but now it’s right around the corner. He’s right on the eve of his crucifixion, and when he says, “I am going to my Father,” and then, “I go to prepare a place for you,” the route by which he goes and the way in which he prepares this way to the Father is through his crucifixion, his resurrection. That’s how he prepares the way; that’s how he prepares a place; that’s what he does in order to secure heaven for us.
The great Scottish preacher Robert Murray M’Cheyne preached a whole sermon on just this one verse, John 14:6, and he talked about how, ever since Adam and Eve were banished from the garden, expelled from Paradise, there was this flaming sword turning every which way in order to prevent human beings from finding a way back into the garden and back to the tree of life. He talks about how Christ, in his compassion for us, wanted to open a way back up to the Father, and how did he do it? Not by escaping the sword, but by coming under the sword itself, by taking the judgment we deserved, by taking that flaming sword into his own side so that a way is opened up for us.
It’s similar to the idea of the writer to the Hebrews in Hebrews 10, where he says that “we have confidence to enter into the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh.” He is the way, and he has made the way through his death on the cross.
2. Jesus is the Truth
But Jesus is not only the way, he is also the truth. We see that in verses 8 and following.
“Philip said to him—” here’s another disciple with yet another question “‘—Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’” Notice how Jesus replies in verses 9-11. “Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”?’”
What’s going on here? Jesus here is claiming not only to be the way to the Father, he is claiming to be the one who shows us the truth about who God is as the Father. “To see me is to see the Father.” This corresponds to the whole emphasis, really, in the Gospel of John, of Jesus’s unique relationship with God his Father. He claims God as his Father.
You have this in the Gospel of John as you have it nowhere else in Scripture; for example, in John 5 and in John 8, where he claims this unique personal relationship with God, even going so far as to say, “I and the Father are one.” He is the Son of the Father; he is the one who comes representing the authority of God, the teaching of God, speaking the very words of God. He is showing us the truth about who God is.
The proof of this, Jesus says, is in his words as well as in his works. He says, “If you don’t believe my words, then believe my works. See the works.” Those works refer back to the signs, the miracles that Jesus has done.
If you know the Gospel of John, the first half of this book really is the book of signs, where you have these different signs that are pointers—that’s why we call them signs—they are pointers to the reality of who Jesus is and what he came to do.
Here Jesus makes a similar claim as he says, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” That’s pretty amazing Trinitarian theology right there. He is claiming to be at one and the same time in a unique relationship with the Father, so with a distinct personality, but also to be identical in character to the Father; so much so that to see him is to see the Father.
This means, brothers and sisters, that if you want to know what God is like, you look at Jesus. If you want to know the heart of the Father, you look at the heart of Jesus. Jesus is the one who shows us, who reveals to us the character of God. God is not different than Jesus! It’s not like there’s this angry God and it took his loving Son to appease anger; that’s not the idea at all. Rather, Jesus, who demonstrates his love for us by dying on the cross, is representing for us the love of the Father. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
If you want to know what God is like, then you look at Jesus, you watch Jesus, you get to know Jesus.
I love these words, eloquently put by the Scottish theologian Thomas Torrance. He says, “There is, in fact, no God behind the back of Jesus, no act of God other than the act of Jesus, no God but the God we see and meet in him. Jesus Christ is the open heart of God, the very love and life of God poured out to redeem humankind, the mighty hand and power of God stretched out to heal and save sinners. All things are in God’s hands, but the hands of God and the hands of Jesus in life and death are the same.” If you want to know God, you will know him through Jesus, and through Jesus’ revelation of him.
Jesus is the truth, he shows us the truth about who God is, and he’s also the truth in this sense, that Jesus is the one who gives us the key to understanding all other truth. If you know Jesus, then you have the key to understanding the world, you have the key to understanding reality.
M’Cheyne in his sermon likened it to this; he said Jesus is like the keystone in the arch of truth. You know an arch that’s built of many stones, the most important stone is the keystone, which is right up in the apex of the arch. If you pull out the keystone, all of the other stones will tumble to the ground and you just have this pile of rubble.
What M’Cheyne was saying is that if you take Jesus out, you may have other true things, but they lose their cohesion. Jesus is the one who pulls everything together. He is the sun in the solar system of truth, so that the sun with its magnificent gravitational pull is the one that holds all the other planets in orbit. In the same way, Jesus is the sun around which everything else orbits. Everything in the world makes sense in light of Jesus.
There are a lot of things in the world that would make no sense at all if we didn’t have Jesus as the ultimate explanation. But Jesus in his teaching, in his life, in his death, in his resurrection gives us the answers to all the questions. Where did we come from? What’s wrong with the world? How can the world be fixed, how can it be redeemed? Where are we going? Is there life after death? Can we know God? Jesus is the one who answers these questions; he is the key to understanding truth.
You might say, “I don’t believe in such a thing as absolute truth. It’s all relative. I have my truth, you have your truth; everyone has their own truth. There’s no truth that’s true for everyone.” Again, that’s a very Western, postmodern way of thinking.
Maybe it’s not that postmodern, because there is someone who said essentially the same thing in John 18. Jesus is standing before PIlate, and Pilate asks a question, “So you’re a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
That’s dangerous company, friend. Be careful of indifference and skepticism regarding truth. Now, if you have genuine questions about Christianity and its claims, of course be honest with those questions, ask those questions, research. But don’t be flippant and don’t treat it with less seriousness than it deserves. If Jesus is the truth, then what he says matters.
3. Jesus is the Life
He is the way, he is the truth, and then thirdly, Jesus is the life. Again, this is a theme running through the entire Gospel of John. In John 1, in John’s prologue that describes the Word— “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God . . .” Verse 4 goes on to say, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”
He’s telling us that Jesus is the source of life. In Jesus’s own words in John 5:26, “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” In John 10:10, “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Life to the full.
Of course, John tells us the reason why he wrote this Gospel in John 20. He talks about the things written in his book and many other signs, he says, which are not written in the book, but he says, “these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” Life! Jesus came to give us life.
That means especially eternal life. That means life after death, but it also means a quality of life, and kind of life. It means that Jesus shares with us the life that he has with the Father.
In fact, I think you can see this in verse 19. Let’s look at verses 18-19. Jesus says, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” We’ll see what he means by that next week. Verse 19, “Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” Jesus gives us life.
Then look at verse 20. This is significant. He says, “In that day you will know that I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you.” He’s already said, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me,” but now he expands on this thought and he says, “You will know that I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you.” It’s as if, from all eternity, there was this dance of the Persons of the Trinity in this eternal community of love—the Father and the Son, the Son and the Father, the Spirit (as we’re going to see next week)—this mutual indwelling of the persons of the Godhead; this union and communion that they share. But now Jesus has come and he invites us into the dance, he invites us into this union, into this life. He invites us to share with him in this life. “Because I live, you also will live. You will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” That’s the very secret of life; it is to have Christ in the soul, what the old Puritan Henry Scougal called “the life of God in the soul of man.”
Then in verse 23 he says something else significant. This is to me one of the most amazing promises in all of the New Testament. Jesus says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”
That word “home” is only used one other time in all of the New Testament, the noun form of this word. You know when that is? It is in verse 2 of this passage: “In my Father’s house are many rooms.” It’s that word rooms, dwelling place.
In verse 2, Jesus is saying, “I am going to prepare a place for you so that your soul can be in heaven,” but in verse 23 he is saying, “If you love me, my Father and I will come and we will make our dwelling place in you; heaven in your soul.”
The life begins now! Eternal life is not just something you wait for; it is a quality of life, it is a kind of life; it is the life of God in the soul of man that we begin to experience in the here and now, because Jesus is the life.
Listen, eternal life is not a substance, it’s not a fluid or a substance that God just pours into you. It’s not like a magical elixir that you drink. Eternal life is a person! And that person is Christ.
1 John 5:20 says, “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know him who is true and we are in him who is true, in his Son, Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” He is eternal life. To know him is to have life; to have him is to have life.
How do we get that life? How do we get that? We get it through faith in him and what he has done. Verse 1: “Believe in God; believe also in me.” Verse 11, “Believe me, that I am in my Father and the Father is in me.” Believe and respond with faith; that is, trusting. It’s not just believing facts about God, it is deeply trusting what Jesus has said, trusting what Jesus has done, and embracing him as the way, the truth, and the life.
Do you know him? Are you in the way? Do you believe the truth? Have you received the life?
I want to close with these words from Thomas à Kempis. This is from chapter 93 in his famous devotional book The Imitation of Christ. He’s speaking as if Christ, and I think it’s a beautiful expansion on these words.
“Follow me, the way, the truth, and the life. Without the way there is no progress, without the truth there is no knowledge, without the life there is no living. I am the way you must follow, the truth you must believe, the life for which you must hope. I am the imperishable way, the infallible truth, the eternal life. I am the most noble way, the ultimate truth, the true life, blessed and uncreated. If you remain in my way, you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free, and you shall lay hold on eternal life.”
I hope you know him this morning, and if not, maybe today will be the day of salvation for you as you look to Christ, as you embrace him as the way to God, the one who shows you the truth of who God is, and life incarnate who can give you life as you share in the life of God. Let’s pray.
Gracious Father, we thank you for your great love for sinners such as we are, that you loved the world so much that you sent your Son. We thank you that in Jesus we see your heart unveiled; in Jesus we have the answer to our deepest questions; in Jesus we have the way to God.
Lord, we willingly and from our hearts embrace him this morning. We trust him as our Savior, as our Lord. We trust him as our teacher, as our Redeemer, our example, our guide. May we learn to walk with him in humility, and may we know the experience of you, our Father, and Christ, your Son, dwelling in our hearts through the ministry of your Holy Spirit.
Lord, I pray that as we come to the Lord’s table this morning that this would be reality for us, that we would enjoy real, genuine fellowship with you. May the emblems of the table, the bread and the juice, remind us of and point us to the reality of who Christ is, the bread from heaven who gave his life for the life of the world, the one who has shed his blood that we might have eternal life. So I ask you, Lord, to draw near to us through your Spirit as we come to your table. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.