Below is an excerpt from the sermon I preached last Sunday on the “I am” sayings in the Gospel of John. You can read the full text here.
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One of the most popular and–at least for some of us–uncomfortable “I am” sayings is from John 14:6: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Many Christians use this verse to argue that only Christians—only people who believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah—have access to God. Now, while I personally do believe in Jesus Christ as the Messiah, I do not believe that those who disagree with me on this particular theological point are necessarily cut off from God for all eternity. And I’m happy to sit down and discuss my personal beliefs on this issue any time. Particularly if there are baked goods involved.
But for now I’m more interested in what John thinks. Or at least, I’m interested in thinking about what John’s intent might have been in including this “I am” saying in his Gospel.
It is important to note that Jesus does not speak these words out of the blue; it is a response to a direct question. Thomas says to Jesus, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” To which Jesus responds, “I am the way.”
Just as Christianity has many versions and varieties today, first century Judaism also included many different groups with differing practices and teachings. The followers of Jesus—or “the way”–were simply one of many groups within first century Judaism.
As we know from Jesus’ ministry and teaching, some of the religious groups proposed complicated sets of rules and rituals they claimed were necessary for true faith. For example, when Jesus talked about straining out gnats, he was referring to an extreme practice by some Jews who took following Jewish dietary restrictions very very seriously. The Gospels also reveal strict rules for keeping the Sabbath. And more fringe Jewish sects demanded lifestyles of poverty and/or celibacy for those who sought true faith.
Jesus was not the only religious teacher of the day to teach about the way one could access God. The difference was that, while most teachings revolved around what one had to do and not do to get to God, Jesus’ teaching was simply about relationship: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Jesus is speaking here to his closest friends and followers. He is not telling the heathen masses that they have to accept him as their personal Lord and Savior. He is telling his dear friends that their relationship with him is enough—all of the rules and regulations and deprivations they think they have to endure to get to God, it’s not true. Their relationship with Jesus is enough.
That, my friends, is a message of Good News.