August 10, 2014

Jesus Is the Exclusive Way to the Father

Speaker: Bret Rogers Series: The Gospel According to John Passage: John 14:4– 4:11

Sermon from John 14:4-11 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on August 10, 2014

Consider with me for a moment a conversation between Jim and Bill, a couple of college students sharing a dorm room. Jim is a Christian. Bill is not. This conversation is recounted in an article by Harold Netland and Keith Johnson (“Why Is Religious Pluralism Fun—and Dangerous,” in Telling the Truth, ed. D. A. Carson, 47).

Jim and Bill were engaged in a late night conversation about religion in their dorm room. Although he was initially quite interested in Jim’s impressive testimony about how his relationship with Christ had changed his life, Bill became increasingly disturbed as the conversation began to focus on verses such as John 14:6 [“I am the way and the truth and the life”]…Jim continued to explain in a gentle but insistent tone that Scripture makes it clear that Jesus Christ is the only Savior for all peoples. Suddenly Bill cut him off: “Come on, Jim, be reasonable. I’m glad that Christianity works for you, and I do think Jesus said some good things. But how can anyone today believe that there is only one true religion? Just look at all the good people in other religions. Why do you Christians have to be so narrow-minded and intolerant?

Perhaps you’ve had a conversation like this before, or at least heard of a conversation like this before. Maybe you’ve even had the conversation with yourself as you’ve encountered the beliefs of other religions, some of which may even seem at first glance to share significant overlap with Christianity. You begin wondering, “What is, in fact, so unique about Jesus and the salvation that he offers me that it must necessarily exclude all other proposals of salvation and access to life with God?”

And besides the conversations you’ve had with others or yourself, you live in a culture where religious pluralism has become quite rampant. The prevailing worldview of our culture rejects that there is anything “significantly unique, normative, or superior about Jesus Christ and the Christian faith” (Netland/Johnson, “Religious Pluralism,” 50).

In fact, rather than having any one particular, objective Truth—answering the basic questions about life, the world, human destiny, and so forth—our pluralistic culture tells us that no one religious perspective or figure can be normative for all people in all cultures at all times. There’s just no possible way, our culture says, that large numbers of morally good, sincere, and intelligent people can be mistaken about their religious beliefs (Netland/Johnson, “Religious Pluralism,” 54). And in this environment, religion then becomes highly pragmatic and consumeristic. The pluralist doesn’t care to evaluate any one religion based on the truthfulness of its claims, but based merely on its usefulness. Our society primarily wants to know, “How well does this or that religion meet my desires and felt needs?” If someone finds Jesus to meet their psychological and social needs, then Christianity is the right choice for them. But to say that Jesus is any more than that is downright imperialistic, says the pluralist.

And, sad to say, even some who would still call themselves Christians have decided to adjust their view of Christ to make the message of Christianity more palatable to our pluralistic culture. Entire denominations, which once preached the particularity of Jesus for salvation, have now become more inclusive. There’s a sense in which Jesus is unique when compared to other religious figures, they say—he’s even provided a way of salvation. But when pressed, these same people will no longer say that Jesus is the only way of salvation, and that surely enough truth exists in the other religions to point people in the right direction. By making this clever tweak, some denominations have totally drained ‘faith in Christ’ of all its meaning, because at the very core of faith in Christ is the reality that through Christ and Christ alone is found eternal life.

So is the air we breathe in addition to the various objections we face from others and, sometimes, even from within ourselves when challenged. More and more we are faced with the question, “What is it that makes Jesus so unique? What is it that makes Jesus so superior to all others that he’s not just one way of salvation, that he’s not just the best way of salvation, but that he’s the only way of salvation? If the world is saying something different from its assessment of all the other religions, why should you and I keep holding onto Jesus in particular, not just for these tough conversations but for our eternal life? Why him above all others and to the exclusion of all others?”

Jesus himself gives us the answer to these questions, and it comes to us in response to his own disciples’ questions. Jesus is in the midst of preparing his disciples for his own departure from earth. He will die on the cross, be raised from the dead, and then return to his Father in glory. This is where he’s going, back to the Father in glory (7:33; 13:1, 3; 14:2, 12). But his disciples are still a bit confused by the way Jesus is talking about his departure, his “going away,” and so they enter this dialogue that gives opportunity for Jesus to teach them even more about himself, his identity, and his mission. And at least two big things come up about the uniqueness and superiority and exclusivity of Jesus’ person and work. And here they are.

1. Jesus Alone Is the Saving Access Point to God the Father

First of all, Jesus alone is the saving access point to God the Father. This is one thing that makes Jesus totally unique and necessary for salvation. Thomas wants to know the way to where Jesus is going (14:5). Thomas himself isn’t yet clear about where Jesus is going, but Jesus has made it clear that he’s returning to the Father in glory (13:3; 14:2). If anybody wants to be with Jesus in the presence of his Father’s glory, then this is how they must get there—verse 6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father except through me.”

Now, what stands behind Jesus’ words is that people already stand separated from God. If he’s identifying himself as the only way to the Father, the assumption is that people would otherwise have no access to the Father. On our own we’d remain separated from the Father, denied any right of access into his presence (Isa 59:2; John 1:12). And immediately we’re thrust into the larger storyline of the Bible, reaching all the way back to Genesis 3. Such a separation, the Bible tells us, is because of our sin (Gen 3:1-24). We’ve broken God’s standard for humanity; we’ve ignored his glory in creation; we’ve taken orders from our flesh and raised our fist at God’s perfect rule (Rom 1:18-3:20). We’ve essentially committed cosmic treason against our Maker (John 1:10; Eph 2:1-3).

And because God is sovereign, because he is holy, because he loves what is right and just in his world, we have fallen under his righteous judgment for our sin (Rom 1:18; 3:19). He has cast us out from his presence; and just like our first parents, we cannot enter the glory of his presence covered in our sin and our guilt (John 8:24; Rom 5:12). We’re in desperate need of access and reconciliation to the Father. Without such access, we will perish under God’s wrath (John 3:16-17, 36). The Bible says this is the desperate plight of all people born in Adam (Rom 3:9-17; 5:12). Sin and separation from God affects all people in every culture of all time. Everyone stands separated from God, without access to God, under the wrath of God. There are no morally good people, regardless of how sincere they are about their religion. Everybody is guilty and separated from God without any chance to get to him by their own doing.

Now hear the words of Jesus: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Within the Bible’s storyline, Jesus is claiming to be the only answer to the universal problem of sin and separation from God. He is claiming to be the sole access point to God for all peoples in all cultures of all time.

Note how he says it. He doesn’t say, “I am showing you the way that you too should go—that is to say, I’m merely the exemplary way for you to follow into God’s presence. He says, “I am the way.” The way to the Father in glory is bound up with Jesus and his person—“Thomas, you’ll get to the Father by knowing and clinging to me.”

Also see how he doesn’t say, “I am a way” to the Father—that is to say, a way among other possible ways. He says very plainly, “I am the way” to the Father. Meaning, contrary to popular inclusive opinions, that Jesus can’t be merely the best way to the Father among other possibilities of access. He claims to be the only way. And lest that be unclear, he then states it negatively—“no one comes to the Father except through me.”

Now the teachings of Jesus elsewhere in John’s Gospel have given us clues to what Jesus means by being “the way.” For instance, in 8:12, Jesus calls himself the Light of the world, and essentially you have two options: you can attempt to blaze your own trail in this world, stumble, and perish; or you can follow the light of Jesus and gain life with God (1:5, 9; 3:19-21; 9:5; 11:9-10; 12:35, 36, 46). In that sense, too, Jesus as the Light of the world is the way to God. Then again in chapter 10, Jesus says that he is “the door of the sheep. If anyone enters by [Jesus], he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” Sheep feeding in lush pasture was borrowed from the covenant language of the Old Testament. It depicts God’s people dwelling in his presence and feasting on the abundant life he provides. The point is the same: as the door of the sheep, Jesus is the only access point—the way into that abundant life with God.

Of course, as the Gospel continues, each of these images will find their culmination in the death of Jesus on the cross. Jesus identifies himself as “the way” to bind up all these truths in himself before dying on the cross, which is now just hours away. And when he dies on the cross, he will not be dying as a mere example of what it means to stand up for a good cause—which is what so many religions believe Jesus did. Rather, when Jesus dies on the cross, he removes people’s sins (John 1:29; 8:24, 36; 1 John 3:5); he satisfies God’s anger against sinners (John 3:36; Rom 3:21-26); he suffers for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God (John 13:36; 14:3; 1 Pet 3:18).

Every obstacle hindering our access to God—sin, guilt, slavery, wrath, enmity, separation, a lack of righteousness—every obstacle Jesus removes through the cross for those who trust in him. He opens the way for us to come to God. This is part of what it means for him also to be the truth and the life.

Jesus says he is “the truth.” That doesn’t mean he’s just any old truth—like 1 plus 1 equals 2, or the Spurs are 2014 NBA champions, or the sun is bright. Those are all true; but none of them would save us. Jesus has something more in mind. “Truth” in the Gospel of John is always associated with the person of Jesus. Chapter 1, verse 14, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Jesus, in his person, is full of truth. Or again in 1:17, “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” The point isn’t that God’s truth didn’t exist before Jesus’ coming, but that we see God’s truth now bound up in the person of Jesus, the-Word-made-flesh.

And then what he claims to be doing throughout the rest of the Gospel is revealing the truth about God: “Whoever receives [Jesus’] testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true” (3:33); “The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood” (7:18). No falsehood in Jesus.

And, O does this world need the truth! Because right now, this world is ruled by a father of lies (John 8:44; 12:31; 14:30; 2 Cor 4:3-4; 1 John 5:19). Do you want to know why there are so many religions that either miss Jesus altogether or skew Jesus? The God of this world, Satan, blinds the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Jesus entered that world of deception as “the truth.” There’s no falsehood in him. And all the truth he speaks, he speaks for our deliverance and everlasting good. In 8:32, it is the truth found in Jesus that liberates people from their sins. When we look at him, we see the truth about God and how he has chosen to save us in Christ alone. Jesus personifies the truth of God’s saving plan for humanity; he is God’s saving plan for humanity.

Jesus is also the life. Again, he’s not talking about vague notions of life—such and such is “the life.” He’s talking about the saving life bound up with him and with knowing God through him. Life itself is in Jesus—he has authority to give it to whomever he pleases, just like he did when he created the world and will do when he calls people out of their graves at the end of the world (1:4; 5:25-26). He also has authority to lay his own life down for sinners, and then to raise his life up again, bringing with him a countless multitude of people who sat dead in their trespasses and sins (5:24; 10:18). Among all other people, Jesus alone is the source of eternal life in a relationship with God. Nobody else can make such a claim to life—because nobody else created the world, and nobody can raise themselves from the dead in order to give life to the world. Jesus must be the only way to God, because only Jesus can give life with God. So, he comes into a lost, deceived, and dead world as “the way, the truth, and the life.” No one comes to the Father except through him.

All Attempts to Approach God apart from Christ are Vain

What all this means is that all other attempts to access God’s presence apart from Jesus, or to experience the divine reality apart from Jesus, are totally vain. Personal enlightenment (Hinduism/New Age), good works to earn God’s favor (Islam/Mormon-ism/Jehovah’s Witnesses), following the Torah and waiting for a messiah other than Jesus (Judaism), appeasing the so-called gods (Tribal religions), living in harmony with the ways of nature (Taoism), simply applying rational thinking to our problems (atheism), the noble eightfold path of right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration (Buddhism), the activity of self-realization (Oprah), just believing that you have what it takes (Osteen)—all of these are totally futile ways of accessing God, because none of them provide what Jesus claims he is, the way, the truth, the life.

None of them ultimately submit to Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life. They’ve each dodged Jesus to get what they want; and what they’ve gotten is not the Father, but their own idols and an eternity of separation from the Father if nothing changes in their hearts toward Jesus. Only Jesus can be the way, because only Jesus is the answer to the universal problem of sin and falsehood and death. God sent no one else from heaven to die for our sins; no one else is qualified except Jesus. God approves of no one else’s words unless they agree with Jesus’ words. And God has seen it fitting that we access him solely through Jesus Christ.

Despite what the world says, this is actually loving for God to limit the way we access him to Christ and Christ alone. If we were to approach him on any other terms, or through any other concoction of our own, we would die before his holy presence and find ourselves sentenced to an eternity of fire to pay for our sinfulness. God tells us how to come to him so that doesn’t happen. It’s also loving that there’s even a way for sinners to approach the holy God at all. The world asks, “Why only one way?” when the world ought to be asking, “Why is there a way at all?” There’s a way through Jesus because God chose to love the world (John 3:16).

The Church Must Take Christ to the World

Church, that we have the only message that will save people from hell and bring them into the Father’s presence, because our message gives them Jesus—“the way, the truth, the life.” We cannot leave today merely saying, “Yeah, that’s right! Jesus is the only way!” We must go to our neighbors and the nations and offer them Jesus. They will not come into the Father’s presence without embracing him; and they will not embrace him if they are not hearing about him (Rom 10:14-15).

We’re not universalists by conviction. We do not believe that everybody will eventually be saved. The lake of fire will be populated for eternity by all who do not bow their knee to Jesus. But let’s not be universalists by practice, keeping quiet about the gospel. People must have a relationship with Jesus if they are to have saving access to God. So, let’s tell them about him.

Who cares if you look foolish, if it will give them God? We shouldn’t feel embarrassed by Jesus’ uniqueness when the culture says, “Phooey!” Heaven isn’t embarrassed; it’s enthralled with Jesus’ glory and utterly appalled by the world who rejects him. So do tell them with great compassion and patience that God has made a way through his Son. Call them, email them, draw a picture on a napkin if it helps, enter their lives, invest in them, and tell them the way. And when the world says you’re being narrow-minded and intolerant, “Tell them, Jesus didn’t leave it up for his disciples to decide. He just told us the message to deliver.”

Nobody on an airplane says, “It’s just so intolerant that the Tower won’t let pilots land anywhere they want to.” Pilots don’t have an option, and it’s for the good of your life. Same here. We don’t have the option to change who Jesus is or what he says; and it’s for the good of people’s eternal destiny. “If you come to him, he will be glad to bring you into the presence of God’s glory”—that’s what we tell the world.

The Christian Must Keep Coming to God through Christ

And doesn’t this also mean that we, church, cannot enter the Christian life through Jesus and then pretend to live the Christian life without Jesus? John 14:6 is for us Christians as much as it is for the rest of the world. Our hope to see the Father’s unshielded glory cannot rest in works we perform, the rituals we do, the prayers that we make, the people that we please, the results of our ministry, the fruit of our hands, the ability to regurgitate truth. A personal encounter with Jesus alone, the absolute surrender to his saving work day in and day out, remains our only hope of coming into the Father’s presence with every obstacle we’ve built with our sin torn down by the blood of Christ.

So keep making Jesus your trust. Jesus alone is the saving access point to God the Father for believers and nonbelievers. There are no other points of access, and that makes Jesus unique and necessary for salvation.

2. Jesus Alone Has Made the Invisible God Visible

Second, Jesus alone has made the invisible God visible. This also make him totally unique and necessary for salvation. Jesus says in verse 7, “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip doesn’t get it: “Lord, show us the Father, and it’s enough for us.” Then Jesus replies, “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’?” This is another remarkable claim by Jesus: “If you had known me, you would have known my Father…Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

We’ve probably all heard or used the expression “like father like son”? What Jesus says here is similar, but without the limitations of human finitude. Here’s what I mean. Jesus isn’t saying that he’s merely like his Father, that he’s merely imitating his Father—which is normally what we mean with the saying, “like father like son.” What he is saying is that he is so united with his Father—there is such constant, intimate inter-communion between them in all he is and does—that to see Jesus’ person is to see the Father in Jesus perfectly, fully, and constantly.

Now, John has already given us a very clear statement on what’s meant here by Jesus. We get it in 1:18, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side [that’s God’s Son, Jesus], he has made him known.” Meaning, if you want to know God, Jesus tells the whole story. If you look at Jesus rightly as he is, there’s nothing about him that would mar your understanding of what God is like. He has made the invisible God known to us. And here’s how he does it.

The Father and Son’s Deity and Mutual Indwelling

Track with me just a minute as we look back to John 1:1. John tells us in 1:1 that Jesus is distinct in person from the Father while sharing the divine essence with the Father. “In the beginning was the Word [he’s eternal], and the Word was with God [he’s distinct] and the Word was God [he’s divine].” So while being distinct from the Father, Jesus shares deity with the Father. This is why we confess as a church that Jesus is “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father.” He is one in divinity with God the Father; and he shared this oneness in divinity for all eternity. The Son sharing divinity with the Father never had a beginning. If he had a beginning, then he wouldn’t be God. There was constant communion of the divine essence between the Father and the Son with no limitations, both being infinite in glory and wisdom and power and love, for eternity.

Now take that eternal reality of the Father and Son sharing the divine essence infinitely and combine it with Jesus’ words here in verses 10 and 11. Verse 10, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” And verse 11, “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” Here’s what I take away from that.

Because Jesus as eternal Son is one in divinity with his Father (John 1:1; Col 1:17; Phil 2:6), there is an intercommunion and sharing of the divine essence, so that each person—the Father and the Son—indwells the other (John 10:38; 17:5, 21). And this mutual indwelling occurs willingly—meaning without external constraint; they love indwelling each other (Matt 3:17; 17:5; John 3:34-35; Col 1:19; 2 Pet 1:17)—eternally—meaning the mutual indwelling never had a beginning (John 1:1-4, 18; 5:26; 17:5)—unceasingly—meaning it never ends (Rev 1:4, 8; 4:8; 21:6; 22:13)—and simultaneously—meaning that the Father’s indwelling of the Son never precedes the other or vice versa (John 5:19, 21, 26, 30; 14:10-11).

The Eternal Son Took to Himself a Human Nature

Now with all that in your mind, consider that the divine Son—who has shared the divine essence with the Father for all eternity; who enjoys this mutual indwelling with his Father for all eternity—took to himself a human nature without any of that divine intercommunion with his Father ceasing (John 1:14, 18; Rom 9:5; Col 1:19; Tit 2:13; Heb 1:8; 2 Pet 1:1; 1 John 5:20). Now, that doesn’t mean the Father became the Son or the Son ever becomes the Father—that would be heresy. Neither the Father nor the Son ever share the other’s unique person or role within the Godhead. But it does mean that every single thing about Jesus reveals God to us (John 1:18). Jesus is God’s self-revelation in human flesh, meaning all he is and says and does reveals God to us.

Everything Jesus Is, Says, and Does Reveals God

That’s what he’s trying to get across to his disciples. Verse 9, “Whoever has seen me, has seen the Father”—that’s who he is; he is the only revelation of the Father, because only he shares such a unity with him (1:1, 14-18; 17:4). Nobody else can make this claim truthfully. Verse 10, “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”—that’s what he says. He doesn’t speak on his own authority; he speaks in his role as divine Son all the time. When he opens his mouth, God speaks (3:11-13, 34; 5:24; 6:46; 8:26, 28; 12:49-50).

So, who he is; what he says; and now verse 11, what he does. “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” Jesus’ works reveal the Father is in Jesus; Jesus’ works testify that God the Father is pleased to share the essence of his divinity with Jesus and nobody else (5:17, 19-20, 36; 8:29; 9:3-4; 10:25, 38; 11:4).

Jesus’ person, Jesus’ words, Jesus’ works all give a public revelation of God to the world. The unity between the Father and the Son is not something Jesus keeps in the abstract, but something he says is revealed in his person and words and works so that we can know God. Of course, we cannot see him today, prior to his Second Coming. He is in glory with his resurrection body. But he has left us a trustworthy testimony through his authorized apostles in Holy Scripture. Scripture tells us that Jesus is God incarnate, and continues to bear witness to his person and works.

That makes him really, really, really, really, really different from everybody in the universe, and every angel or demon or power or authority and any other created being or things. Nobody, no religious leader, no spiritual guru, no foreign god, no saint, no prophet, no celestial power can claim what Jesus claims here, and nobody can reveal God as Jesus does here, because nobody else shares with the Father what Jesus shares here. You won’t gain a true knowledge of God, unless you know and embrace Jesus as God’s self-revelation.

That’s true for everybody in the world according to Jesus—even for the Jews who share the first two-thirds of our Bibles. If a Jew rejects Jesus, that Jew has no true knowledge of God (5:37-47). The test of whether a Jew truly understands God’s revelation in the Law and the Prophets is in whether that Jew embraces Jesus to whom they point. To reject Jesus is to reject the Father who not only told them his Son was coming, but who revealed himself perfectly when his Son came.

We Cannot Ignore Jesus, We Must Worship Him

If Jesus really is who he says he is, church—the perfect revelation of the Father in his person, words, and works—then it’s at the height of arrogance to ignore him. You really do, as Lewis put it, have to write Jesus off as a liar or a lunatic or you must bow at his feet and call him Lord. Our culture will accuse us of arrogance for saying that Jesus is the only way to salvation. And it may very well be the case that some Christians are rather arrogant in their demeanor when they speak about Jesus—and for that we are wrong and should repent. But it is not arrogant to agree with what the God of the universe says about himself. That’s not arrogance; that’s worship. That’s not imperialistic; that’s love. So fully does Christ sum up God’s revelation that it’s offensive to God to do anything less than worship Jesus and spread the news about him.

It’s also not arrogant, because we’re not claiming to have discovered the way to God. We didn’t come up with the way to God. God opened our eyes to the way; he showed us the way when we heard the gospel of his grace. What we preach to others is not a religious fabrication of what we think God is like, but an incarnational revelation of who God is in the person of Jesus. He came from heaven to earth (3:11-13). He came from outside us. He knows what this world is about and why it exists—he created it with his Father. He isn’t affected by the changing philosophies of the age and all the contradictory man-made attempts to know God—he knows God truly because he has beheld his Father’s glory for eternity and reflects it perfectly as divine Son.

And he came to tell us what he has seen and heard with the Father (3:32). He sought us out while we sat in darkness (1:5, 9). He told us who God is—the Father who so loved the world that he gave his only Son for its eternal life (3:16). He demonstrated what God is like—he rescues rebels, shines light into our darkness, heals the sick, raises the dead, forgives sins, brings true rest, prepares a place in an eternity of gladness for those who trust him, and he tells us the way of salvation while warning that his judgment is coming. He even embodied the Father’s truth and love when he took on flesh and then laid down his life for the very people who hated him. This is why the cross can be referred to as Jesus’ glorification. He reveals God to us when he suffers for sinners—that God is holy; that God is love.

I don’t know about you, or where you’re at this morning. But I’m compelled to listen to Jesus and follow him above all others and to the exclusion of all others wherever they fail to represent him accurately. If we get Jesus, then we get God. He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through him. He is our only saving access to the Father. He is the only one who has made the invisible God visible. And he made the invisible God visible, so that all peoples from all cultures from all time might enter God’s presence through the way he opened with his life, death, and resurrection, should they believe in him.

Al Mohler has put it well when he says, “the open door is the only door, and the only door is the open door.” Today is the day of salvation. God has made a way through his Son. Let us trust him every day and tell the story often.

other sermons in this series