There are certain verses we like to keep close at hand. We bust them out and use them whenever a certain set of circumstances arrives quite unthinkingly. There may be times that this is an appropriate thing to do. But there are a couple of dangers in this.
One danger is that we stop reflecting on the scripture. When we begin to use God’s words like a bug spray, we have this tendency to think that there are no other uses for them. A related danger is the possibility that the verses we’ve been using don’t actually fit the situation very well.
We often use John 14:6 in just this way: “Jesus said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’
The spirit in which we use these words is often at odds with the wider context. We often use them with this implication that they are primarily aimed at the people who don’t follow Christ.
On the surface, it appears that these words are aimed in this direction. If, in the first five verses of chapter 14 of the book of John, Jesus met someone with different religious beliefs who wanted their procedures to get them to heaven, then I would say most of us have been using verse 6 correctly.
But that’s not actually what happens in the first five verses.
Jesus is talking to his disciples in chapeter 14 of John. More specifically, he is talking to them when they are worried about the fact that he will soon be leaving them. Jesus tells them he will come back for them. And he also tells them that they know the way already (presumably because they have been following him already so they have learned things.)
Verse 5 goes like this:
5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Which brings us to the often-quoted verse 6:
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
When we use this verse inappropriately, we can’t even use the surrounding verses because they don’t make sense in the way we try to use it. If we continue onward into verses 8 and 9, it becomes increasingly clear that the target of these words is the follower of Christ, not the person who has yet to meet Him.
7 If you really know me, you will know[b] my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”
9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.
We have to get all the way down to verse 12 before there is even the smallest implication about somebody who doesn’t follow Christ. But before we get there, I think it’s worth going back, to verse 6, and wondering what Jesus seems to mean in the wider context.
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
When we keep in mind that this is an answer to the question “we don’t know where we are going, so how can we know the way?” it becomes clear what the disciples wanted was a trail guide. They wanted some one who was going to bodily walk along side them and tell them when to go left and when to go right.
So often, when Jesus is asked a question, his answer points to the fact that the question was the wrong question. His answer implies that the person asking the question presumed limitations on God where no limitations exist.
Jesus answer is that he is no mere trail guide. He is the path itself. But the thing worth noticing is why this whole issue was brought up. Jesus mention that he was having to (in some limited sense) leave the disciples.
We know now that he is leaving them to be crucified. This crucifixion blazed the path to the father for us. When Jesus said “I am the way.” He wasn’t saying that his words were the way. He was speaking about His future actions.
Of course, this has implications for someone who does not believe in Jesus. But sometimes our reason for focusing on them is because we want to avoid focusing on ourselves…
There is so much to be said, here. But that will have to be some other day.