One of the most common objections today to Christianity — if not the most common — is that it is “exclusivistic.” Christians believe that God made the world, and has revealed himself to us in certain ways, and so we exclude claims to truth that oppose or contradict what God has said. We believe in right and wrong. We do not include, as part of our faith, any old view on life and the world that any human expresses. We have a particular set of beliefs; therefore we “exclude” alternate claims about those central realities. Part of being genuinely Christian is believing that the biblical faith is true and that opposing and alternate faiths are not.
In our society today, one of the constant and greatest pressures on any group is to be “inclusive.” Sometimes that means include not just as many kinds of people as possible, but every kind of belief. Why would anyone push such agenda? History has taught us that there can be a “slippery slope” between exclusive beliefs and violence toward those who don’t share them (Tim Keller, Reason for God, chapter 1). Think not just Crusades, but Nazis and Communists and Islamic terrorism. As Christians, we should share this concern. Our exclusive beliefs should not produce violence toward those who disagree; that gravely contradicts the teaching of Jesus. However, renouncing violence doesn’t not mean we can avoid being exclusive in our truth claims, based on what the God himself says in the Bible. Conscious faith in Jesus is essential for eternal salvation:
Acts 4:12: “there is salvation in no one else [than Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
1 Timothy 2:5: “there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
John 3:16–18: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God”
John 14:6: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
This morning, as we continue our series through Jesus’s seven “I am” statements in the Gospel of John, we turn to John 14:6, in its context (verses 1–11 and more). This verse is quoted often, as one of the most controversial things today that Jesus said, but it is almost always quoted without its context in view. You might be surprised to see how it originally appeared.
A key question for us this morning is going to be what Jesus means by “the way,” but before we get there, the first key term to define in this context is a “where.” So, first “the where,” then “the way,” and finally “the why.” And with each of these three steps, we find a particular disciple, by name, with whom Jesus interacts: first Peter, then Thomas, then Philip.
#1. The Where (John 14:1–4)
Verse 33 of the previous chapter (13) introduces the “where.” Jesus says, “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me, and just as I said to the Jews, so now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’”
Verses 21–30 have just told of Judas’s betrayal. (Verse 31 then begins, “When Judas had gone out . . .”). Jesus gives the “new commandment” in verses 31–35 (“love one another as I have loved you”). Peter picks up on Jesus’s mention of “where I am going” (verse 33) and asks in verse 36,
“Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered him, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” 37 Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” 38 Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.” (John 13:36–38)
Here (the artificial division of) chapter 13 ends: Jesus says he’s leaving, and that Peter will deny him three times, and the disciples are disoriented and beginning to panic. Into this confusion and fear, Jesus speaks a consoling word in 14:1–4. Let’s take them one verse at a time, and then answer what this “where” is.
Verse 1: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”
Verse 1 announces that the point of this whole section is that Jesus moving his disciples from troubled to trusting. “Let not your hearts be troubled.” That’s the negative. Then the positive: “Believe in God; believe also in me.” The setting is not a public debate or argument on the street or rhetorical flourish in writing. Jesus being “the way” is not first polemical. This is a word of comfort from a rabbi to his beloved disciples. And the antidote he gives them to being troubled, or being anxious or fearful, is faith. “Believe in God; believe also in me.” We’ll talk in minute about Jesus’s amazingly close association of God and himself. For now, marvel at the relevance for us today. Trusting Jesus is still the antidote for fear. But not just general trust. We need specifics. Which he provides as he continues.
Verse 2: “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?”
The first reason Jesus gives his disciples for why not to be troubled is this: “In my Father’s house are many rooms.” Many, not few. He is a generous Father with a big, big house, with lots and lots of rooms. And not just rooms in general, but for you. “I go to prepare a place for you.” Do not be troubled; you will be in God’s house! I may be leaving, Jesus says, but I am going to secure for you the most important good imaginable — so good that it dwarfs every one of your fears if you only had the eyes to see it and heart to feel it.
Verses 3–4: “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.”
So, not only does Jesus go to prepare a place for his disciples, but (he gives us more specifics here to trust) he himself will come back and take them to himself — that where he is, they may be also. He won’t wait for them to get there on their own, but will come and get them and bring them himself, and bring them to himself. And now we have our answer to “the where” introduced in verse 33.
Where Jesus is going is to be with his Father in heaven. To his Father’s house, where God dwells, what we call “heaven.” But there’s also a shift here, as we saw, from place to person. Jesus will come to take his disciples to himself, that where he is they also will be. Not only does he go to heaven, but he brings his disciples there, and heaven becomes about being there with him. Which, for now, is the spiritual place we call “heaven,” but one day soon enough, it will be a new creation, a new heavens and new earth. And what do they have in common? Most centrally, Jesus is there.
But as you may know, Jesus doesn’t go directly from this upper-room conversation to heaven. There is a pathway to this “where” called heaven. Which leads to our second point.
#2. The Way (John 14:5–6)
Now the key term moves from “where” to “way” as the conversation transitions from Peter to Thomas.
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Remember, this dialogue happens privately, in an intimate context with close friends, not in the public square, not at a debate or showdown with religious rivals. The banner over this chapter is verse 1: “Let not your hearts be troubled” (also verse 27). Jesus as “the way” is first about the comfort and peace and assurance of his followers. These are not first fighting words but soul-quieting, heart-feeding truth. John 14:6 is first comfort, not controversy. (Theologian John Owen wrote about having “communion with God in the doctrine we contend for” (Works, XII, 52), and that applies so well to John 14:6.)
Notice that when Jesus talks about “the way,” he doesn’t say, “Christianity is the way,” but, “I am the way.” Essentially all objections (at least that I’ve heard) about Christianity being “exclusivistic” misunderstand Jesus’s mention of “the way,” as if it’s a commitment first to a particular religious system rather than allegiance to a person. Other religions and systems of belief simply have no category for how personal this is. Christians do not prepare a place for themselves; Jesus prepares a place for us. We don’t work our way to where Jesus is; he comes again to take us to himself. Jesus didn’t merely lay down “the way” for us to live; he himself is the way. “The way” here isn’t a path to walk, but a person to trust.
What comfort, then, do we find in confessing Jesus as “the way”? He speaks to his disciples in their confusion. In their uncertainly. In their anxiety and fears. And he comforts them by saying, “I will be enough for you.” I will be sufficient for you. You don’t need to look elsewhere; you don’t need to supplement me with anything else. You’re disoriented, and I am the way. You’re confused, and I am the truth. You’re fearful, and I am the life. Knowing me is enough. Your search can end with me. And Jesus gets the glory of being “the way,” (not “a way”), “the truth” (not just true), and “the life” (not just life), and as he does, we get the joy and peace and stability of having a Lord and Savior like that. Jesus as “the only way” isn’t about us. It’s not about our religion, our philosophy, our system, our worldview. It’s about who he is, his honor, his praise, his lordship. You cannot have him truly as Lord and see him as anything less than “the way.”
So for the disciples of Jesus, both two thousand years ago and today, he is the way. Verse 1: “Believe in God; believe also in me.” For us, “the way” is not centrally belief in certain principles and execution of particular actions, but trusting and treasuring a living person. At the heart of Christianity is not pillars to follow, but a person to know and enjoy. The only way to God is trust in Jesus.
But there’s a second “way” in this passage: not for us, but for Jesus. And it’s utterly unique to him. Where he goes next, after this upper-room conversation, is not first to heaven, but to the cross. There was no way. And Jesus made a way. “I go to prepare a place for you.” “Preparing a place” for us doesn’t mean construction in heaven, but crucifixion on earth. And not only does Jesus make the way possible, but he also says, “I will come again and take you.” He is himself the way.
He not only speaks the truth, but is the truth. He not only provides eternal life, but he himself is the life. What’s building here is Jesus’s making an association in verses 7–11 with God the Father that is mind-blowing. He claims to be more than just a teacher. And if he is false here, he is a charlatan. But if he is true here, it changes everything. A person who says the sorts of things Jesus says in verses 7–11 is not just a good teacher. He is either much less or much more.
#3. The Why (John 14:7–11)
Finally it falls to Philip. But before we go to verses 7–11, and solidify why it is that both “the where” and “the way” center on Jesus, we need a little backdrop to the question Philip is going to ask, “Show us the Father,” which echoes a request the prophet Moses made some 1400 years before Jesus.
Before leading God’s people up to the Promised Land, Moses wanted to know whether God would handle his stiff-necked, unworthy people with grace, or would it be just a matter of time before he broke forth in righteous anger against his people’s sin. Who is this God most deeply — justice or mercy? So, Moses asks, “Please show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). God responds,
“I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” (Exodus 33:19)
The next morning God hides Moses in a cleft of the rock on the top of the mountain and draws near.
The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.” (Exodus 34:5–7)
Moses now has his glimpse into the heart of God, and he see mercy and grace, not wrath. His justice is uncompromising, but his mercy is more. So Moses bows in worship. He asks God to draw near to his people, forgive their sin, and make them his own (Exodus 34:8–9).
The Search Is Over
So God met Moses’s audacious request with favor. But then we come back to John 14, and Philip receives a different answer to his similar plea. Now look at verses 7–11. Jesus says,
“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 [sounds like Moses!], 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? Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me . . . ” (John 14:7–11)
So the question is, Why did God honor Moses’s plea, while Jesus meets Philip’s with mild rebuke? The reason is this: Now the glory of God is standing fully embodied in Philip’s presence, looking him in the eyes as he makes his misguided request. Does Philip not yet realize he already has seen more than Moses ever dreamed as he looks on the face of God himself in human flesh and asks to see the Father?
It was good that he wanted to see the Father. It was admirable that, like Moses, he asked to see the glory. But the kind correction he needed, standing in the very presence of God himself in the person of his Son, was that his search to see the very glory of God had come to an end when he came to Jesus. Jesus is enough. He will be sufficient. He is the way. He is the truth. He is the life. The great search ends in him. He is God himself in human flesh.
God’s Glory in One Lamp
Jesus is “the [visible] image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Do you want to see God? Do you long to look upon his face? Where will we see “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God”? Answer: “in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Which means, the lowliest Christian already has seen more of God’s glory than Moses saw on the mountaintop.
Soon we will see Jesus with our physical eyes. “When he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). But for now, we look on his beauty with the eyes of our hearts. One day God will remake this world, and in that new heavens and new earth, there will be “no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Revelation 21:22). And get this: “the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb” (Revelation 21:23). Lamp, singular. Jesus, the Lamb, is the singular lamp from which streams the glory of God that gives light to the world to come.
Jesus is not one lamp among many. He is the singular source of the light of the glory that illumines the world to come. He is the way, the truth, and the life. To believe in the true God is to believe also in Jesus (verse 1). He is in the Father and the Father is in him (verse 11). Jesus is the only way because he and God the Father are one.
The Table: All Welcome, One Condition
This is both an inclusive and an exclusive meal. It is inclusive in the sense that all are invited to eat and drink in faith. All kinds of people: men and women, old and young, black and white, native and immigrant, strong and weak, long-time Christians and newly baptized. All are welcome here — on only one condition. That’s where it’s exclusive — in the sense that this Table is only for those who eat and drink with faith in Jesus Christ.
In his Father’s house are many rooms. This Table is open to all — all who would believe in Christ as their exclusive Savior, Lord, and greatest Treasure.