By Pastor David Merck
[The following sermon was preached by Pastor David Merck on Dec. 22, 1996, in the AM service of the Reformed Baptist Church of Grand Rapids, MI. It was edited and revised by Pastor Merck for print publication, and is published here on the WWW with his permission.]
All Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Some time ago while I was riding a jet plane from Minneapolis to Vancouver, British Columbia, I had a good conversation with a man named Tom regarding spiritual matters. From what he told me, he was a serious family man who felt it was very important for his children to attend church while they were growing up. He himself had been raised in a church which professes to be Christian, and said that he believed in God. He indicated a respect for the Bible as God's Word, although he also sheepishly confessed that he had not read it much or been exposed much to its contents other than the small portions quoted each Sunday during church services.
As we visited, and as I pulled out my Bible and began pointing out different portions of God's Word, Tom sought to avoid the clear implications of the verses being brought to his attention by declaring that different people interpret the Bible in different ways, and therefore we cannot be too dogmatic regarding the Scriptures. He especially had a problem with the fact that the Christian faith is an exclusive faith -- that it declares that there is no other way to get to God and heaven than by faith in the Jesus Christ of the Bible. Repeatedly he tried to make a case that some people who have never heard the Gospel surely have lived basically good lives and have gotten to God in some other way.
However, when I turned him to one particular portion of Scripture regarding the exclusive nature of the Christian faith, he was unable to give me an alternative interpretation of the clear meaning of its words. He was unwilling to acknowledge that what this verse obviously said was true -- but he also was unwilling to deny that the Bible is God's Word. Tom was in a difficult spot. He was being forced by a clear statement of the Bible to face the fact that the bottom line issue for Him was this: would what God said be the ultimate authority for him, or would it be what his own mind thought and was willing to accept? Sadly, as I left Tom, he was yet unwilling to give up the posture of making his own thoughts and notions the ultimate authority in his life.
What was the portion of God's Word over which Tom stumbled? It is a verse which has no significant questions regarding its original text as first given by God through its human author. It is the Gospel of John, chapter 14, verse 6 (14:6). There are other passages which we might consider, but this verse in a clear and unmistakable way confronts us with the inescapably exclusive nature of the Christian faith. It declares that the Christian faith is the only way a man will ever get to God and spend eternity in heaven. Let us observe this verse of God's Word in its larger context, John 13:33-14:6:
33(Jesus speaking) "Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, `Where I am going, you cannot come,' so now I say to you. 34A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." 36Simon Peter said to Him, "Lord, where are You going?" Jesus answered him, "Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward." 37Peter said to Him, "Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake." 38Jesus answered him, "Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times."
14:1"Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. 4And where I go you know, and the way you know." 5Thomas said to Him, "Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?" 6Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."
Focusing now upon John 14:6, consider with me several important questions regarding this key verse. The first question is:
1. Who was speaking in our key verse?
The first phrase of verse six clearly answers this question. It begins, "Jesus said to him". This verse unashamedly declares that here we have the words of none other than Jesus Christ Himself. Now if we would ask our fellow countrymen what they think about Jesus Christ, most of them would probably respond much like Tom did. They would indicate that they believe there was a real person in history called Jesus who came into the world as a baby. And they would also express a significant degree of respect and appreciation for Him as a good man who taught many good things and did many good deeds. I would imagine that probably all, or at least nearly all of you reading these words would agree with that description of Jesus as far as it goes.
In light of that reality, here in verse 6 we find a significant portion of those good things which Jesus taught. Therefore, we all should be interested in what He had to say. But before we consider further the actual contents of the verse itself, we need to first of all consider its context or setting. This brings us to our second question:
2. What was the situation which caused the Lord Jesus to speak the words of our key verse?
Again, verse 6 begins with the words, "Jesus said to him", which indicates that Jesus' words which follow were part of an interaction with someone else identified in verse 5 as His disciple, Thomas. There was a particular situation or setting which led to Christ's utterance of these significant truths. At this point please notice with me several aspects of this situation:
a. Jesus had said that He was going away soon. Notice again John 13:33:
"Little children, I shall be with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, `Where I am going, you cannot come,' so now I say to you."
It is important to remember that this passage and the verses which follow including our key verse, 14:6, were spoken in the upper room where the Lord Jesus initiated the Lord's Supper on the night before His crucifixion. On this eventful evening, the Lord openly told His beloved disciples that He would soon be leaving them, even as he had indicated in the past. But not only was Jesus going away. There was a further painful reality which was closely-associated with this departure.
b. Jesus had declared that His faithful disciples could not follow Him at the present time. Notice again John 13:33b and 36-38:
33b". . . You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, `Where I am going, you cannot come,' so now I say to you." 36Simon Peter said to Him, "Lord, where are You going?" Jesus answered him, "Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you shall follow Me afterward." 37Peter said to Him, "Lord, why can I not follow You now? I will lay down my life for Your sake." 38Jesus answered him, "Will you lay down your life for My sake? Most assuredly, I say to you, the rooster shall not crow till you have denied Me three times."
Peter was alarmed at the news that he would be separated from his beloved Master and be unable to follow Him where He was going. He blurted out, "Lord, where are You going?", not out of idle curiosity, but because he wanted to stay with Jesus. The Lord realized this and again underscored that Peter could not presently follow Him. Here it is clear that Jesus was speaking of His own coming death on the cross and of that which would follow it. Peter could not go with Him because it was not Peter's time to die -- and beside, Peter was not yet ready spiritually to die for Christ. When Peter protested that He was ready to lay down his life and die for the Master if He was attacked by His enemies, the Lord gently informed Peter that, for all his good intentions, he would soon end up denying Him. But Peter's emotional response here does make plain how strongly Jesus' news of His coming departure affected His disciples, and how fuzzy was His disciples' understanding of what that departure involved.
Listen to William Hendricksen at this point:
At the feast of Tabernacles, a half year earlier, Jesus had told the Jews that he would be with them only a little while longer. The months have become weeks; the weeks days; the days hours. Only a few more hours now and the day-by-day (physical) fellowship between the Master and his disciples will cease forever (as far as this life is concerned). By his death Jesus will go to the Father. The hopes of the disciples will be blasted. (New Testament Commentary, The Gospel of John, p. 252)
c. However, Jesus added that His faithful disciples would follow Him later. The Lord Jesus implied in verse 36 that Peter would follow his Lord through his own death -- in Peter's case, a martyr's death for the Lord.
And then, because the hearts of His disciples were obviously troubled at the news of Jesus' coming departure and of related events, the Lord spoke to them gracious words of comfort and exhortation:
d. Jesus was going to prepare a dwelling place in His Father's house for His faithful disciples to which He would one day take them so that they could again be with Him. Observe again the words of John 14:1-3:
1"Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. 3And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also."
Here we see that, when Jesus spoke of going away, He not only was referring to His death on the cross, but also to His Resurrection and Ascension to heaven which were inseparably connected with the cross, and which were the fruit of it. Jesus was going away to dwell in His heavenly Father's house. In the process of going there by way of the cross, and while being there with the Father, He was going to be preparing a place in that spacious house to which He would one day take all His faithful followers. The coming separation would not be permanent. Reunion day lay ahead.
But then the Lord added a further word:
e. He stated that His faithful disciples already knew the way to get to the place where He was going. Verse four records this:
4"And where I go you know, and the way you know."
Jesus' words about His followers were true, as will become evident in a minute. However, these disciples had a continuing dream of Jesus soon being an earthly, victorious Messianic king triumphing over the Roman masters of the Jewish nation. This dream clouded their understandings, so that they did not make the proper switch to heavenly realities, as indicated by what happened next:
f. Thomas objected that they did not know the place where Jesus was going, nor did they know the way to get there, and he asked for further information. Let me refer you again to verse 5:
5Thomas said to Him, "Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?"
This questioning disciple's protest prompted the Lord to speak the words of our key verse -- words which not only answered Thomas' question, but which also confront us with the central truths of the Christian faith with unusual clarity and focus.
So having identified the speaker in our key verse, and the situation which led to His words, consider a third question regarding verse six:
3. Who was the Lord Jesus speaking about in our key verse?
This is clearly indicated when we observe, "Jesus said to him, `I am the way, and the truth, and the life . . .'" This word "I" in the original Greek language is given great emphasis. We could translate it, "I myself". The Lord wanted to make it unmistakably clear that He was speaking about none other than Himself in the words that followed, which brings us to a fourth question about our key passage:
4. What did Jesus say about His own identity?