Five Minute Devotions: John 14
Up until this point in the Last Supper, Jesus has said that he will go away, that one of his closest disciples will betray him, and that the rest will abandon him. It’s been a fairly distressing meal. And so, in John 14, Jesus offers some comfort.
Thomas, in particular, is in need of this comfort. He’s followed Jesus through thick and thin. He’s been there in the days when Jesus preached to thousands and in the days they all abandoned him. In John 11, he’s the one that says they’ll follow Jesus to Bethany to see Lazarus, even though he’s convinced it’ll lead to their deaths. He will follow Jesus wherever, at whatever cost. But what is he to do when Jesus leaves?
“Lord,” Thomas said, “we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way?” Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. – John 14:5-6
To quell the fears of Thomas and the others, Jesus tells them the secret to continuing to follow him even without his physical presence. The pathway, Jesus says, is him. And as he goes on to elaborate, he will send a Counselor, a Helper—God as Spirit—to indwell them and enable them in their journey.
First, he claims to be the way. Not a way. The way. The only way. He makes a claim to be the exclusive connection to the Father. This exclusive claim would have been difficult to accept for two reasons.
Gentiles would have struggled with the idea of exclusivity because they lived in a pagan culture with many gods, many ways of worship, many ways of salvation, and many understandings of what salvation even meant. They would have been okay with adding Jesus to their pantheon, but his emphatic claim to be the only God would have seemed extreme.
Jews, on the other hand, understood the idea of exclusivity better than their surrounding culture. The Jewish people, returning from the Babylonian Exile, determined to never again fall into the trap of pluralism and polytheism. They crafted a strict monotheism—the worship of the one God, Yahweh—expressed by rituals, law-keeping, and sacrifices. Their issue with the exclusivity of Jesus was actually his inclusiveness. His grace. His desire to see sinners—not the righteous—saved. If his was the only way, they did not want to follow.
How much we are just like them two millennia later. Either we have crafted our own way to salvation and demand that Jesus fit the system we have set for ourselves. Or, we put him on the periphery, wanting a little bit of what he has to offer but not accepting him in fulness. In both cases, our problem is our desire for control. And Jesus says that, as the way, he sets our path. He takes control.
This one-way path requires some amount of justification. Why should there be only one way to salvation? (Perhaps a better question would be: Why is there a way to salvation at all? If you are in a burning building, you don’t lament your lack of options—you take the one option available to you.) But in pluralistic world that believes in many ways to salvation, how do we make Jesus stand out?
What we must make clear is that Jesus is not teaching us a better method of salvation. He is not offering an easier journey, or a better salvation, or a different path. He is offering salvation. Period. And that’s because Christianity corresponds to objective reality.
There’s an old Buddhist parable about six blind men and an elephant. Each man comes away with a different perspective of the elephant—rope, snake, fan, wall, tree, spear—based on their experience. So the parable goes, is truth, particularly religious truth. They are all valid.
Only one problem: we see the elephant. We see the objective reality that the blind men cannot. Our eyes have been opened, just like the blind man in John 9. We have had our darkness brought into the light, like Jesus proclaims in John 8. We see the whole elephant, and it’s Jesus.
Because we have the light, because we know the truth, we then have a responsibility to live it out. Knowing the way and the truth leads to life, it leads to a relationship with the Father. But you have to pull the trigger. You can know the way and the truth and not experience the life. Ask the angels that rebelled in heaven.
The question is not whether or not you intellectually know what to do, it’s whether or not you’ll do it. John 14 is the beginning of Jesus’s message to his disciples about how he will empower them to live out the truth they know. May we follow it as well.
Jesus, we acknowledge you as the one way to salvation, the only way to the Father. We place ourselves in your hands, under your control, for our salvation. Fill us with your Holy Spirit and empower us for the life you have called us to lead.
What is your impression of Thomas in the Gospels? What leads him to be the one to ask Jesus this question?
The last half of John 14 is one the longest discourses we have from Jesus on the Holy Spirit. How does that conversation naturally lead from Thomas’s question?
How might you feel if you were in the disciples’ sandals? Scared? Nervous? Uncertain?
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