So far, in our Lenten sermon series on the “I AM statements” of Jesus, we have seen that Jesus says, “I am the light of the world,” and “I am the bread of life.” And as we continue in the weeks to come, we will see that Jesus also claims to be the true vine, the good shepherd, the door or the gate. Jesus is speaking metaphorically, of course. But he’s doing more than that: by making these “I AM statements,” he is applying the divine name to himself. The Greek phrase ego eimi, here translated as “I Am” is the Greek Old Testament’s way of representing the very name of God. Back in the Book of Exodus (3:1-15), when God first spoke to Moses from the Burning Bush, Moses wanted to know what God’s name was. God said his name is “I Am Who I Am.” God’s name derives from the verb of being or existence. Now, by appropriating this name to himself, Jesus is claiming to be God. Elsewhere he says (John 10:30), “I and the Father are one.” We will see some of the language in our text for today. Our “I AM statement” for this morning is probably one of the best known of them all (John 14:6), “I am the way and the truth and the life.”
One time, I was riding in a vehicle with a group of people, and we were looking for a monument commemorating a devastating hurricane that had just been put up in a historic neighborhood. The monument was our destination. And we all had some vague idea about where it was, although most of us weren’t positive on which street it was located. Our driver, on the other hand, was quite sure he knew exactly where the monument was located. It was in the newspaper; he remembered reading it. It was an old part of town, so the streets were all one-way streets. We drove down the one-way street where it was supposed to be, but we didn’t find it. Well, said the driver, maybe we just overlooked it. So, we looped around and went down the same street again…and again…and again… until, finally, his wife said aloud what we had all be thinking, “It’s not here.” Now when I was on my own, in my own car, I rode around and found it… a few blocks over. Wasn’t Einstein the one who said that the definition of insanity is to repeat the same actions and expect different results? You can go down the wrong road repetitively, consistently, diligently, with great labored determination. But if you are on the wrong road, you are still not going to get to the right place… no matter how hard you try, no matter how hard you work at it.
But it is an experience we have all had…heading down the wrong road… going down a one-way street in the wrong direction. Maybe we were sure we knew where we were going with our life. We had dreams and plans. We had it all figured out. Maybe we had convinced ourselves that what we were doing was God’s will for our life. But somehow, we kept looping back around, left with this feeling of emptiness. As I mentioned last week, it has been said that there is a God-shaped void in each of us. There is a yearning in each of our souls for heaven and earth to be reconciled for us. Nothing can fill that longing except a personal relationship with God. And as someone has said, “Behind every agenda in life is the drive to get your life to the right place. That’s what you want for your heath, career, relationships and family. You want them to be right. And that is why you work so hard to get to the right place – because in your soul you know that you’re not there yet.”
Now the Christian answers to the age-old existential question, “How do I get my life right?” – the Christian answer is, “Jesus Christ.” Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Now sometimes Christians take this verse out of context and use it in a self-congratulatory way. We believe in Jesus; he is the only way to the Father. We go to heaven; everyone else goes to hell. The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it. And while Jesus does clearly make this exclusive claim about himself, that doesn’t really seem to be the point he’s making in this conversation. Context is always key to good and faithful interpretation. Jesus is not speaking at an interfaith gathering about the eternal destiny of everyone else. No, in our text, he is speaking to a small circle of his friends on the night before he died. The context, the setting, is the Last Supper. Jesus is telling his disciples that he is about to leave them, and so they are understandably very concerned. Jesus says, “And you know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas is the only one bold enough to speak up: “Uh, well, Lord, we really don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus responds, “I am the way and the truth and the life,” letting Thomas and all the others know that there is no map he can give them to where he is going. Jesus himself is the way, the road, the path.
The language that gets used is confessional language; it’s the language of love. Just as a lover speaks to the beloved in exclusive language, “I love you alone,” so John records this exchange between Jesus and his disciples. It’s the record of an exchange between God’s Beloved and those he loved – loved so much that he went to the cross and died for them – loved so much that he didn’t want to leave them without telling the way home.
In our text, it is Philip who voices our collective doubts and skepticism: (v. 8) “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” In other words, we want some proof. We have to see it in order to believe it. And Jesus says, “Don’t you know me even after I have been among you such a long time? … at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves.” Jesus asks his followers to believe in him. And to believe, at least in this sense, is not merely to give intellectual assent, like… I believe the sky is blue. That doesn’t make any difference to your life. In the book of James (2:19), it says, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder.” When Jesus asks us to believe him, he is asking us to have faith in him, to trust in him. And to trust is more than holding an idea in your head. Here is where the language of love is relevant. I can say to you, “I love you.” But how do you know the claim is really true? I can go a step further and give you evidence that I love you – perform some work that would indicate that my love is genuine. But what if that evidence is disingenuous? I don’t love you, but I want you to think that I do. What if I’m giving you false evidence to convince you of something that is not true?
The answer is found in the words belief or faith when we think of those words in terms of trust. When you say to someone else, “I love you,” all you can do is hope that the person will trust you enough to receive your love. And all you can hope is that the person will return the opportunity of trust and love you in return.
Jesus tells us that he is the way to the Father. In the end, there are no convincing proofs – there is never enough evidence. We see that in the biblical text as the story unfolds in the days leading up to Good Friday. Think of it: Jesus’ disciples had been with him for three years. They had witnessed firsthand his example, they sat under his teaching, had seen him work miracles. But one of them, Judas, would betray him for thirty pieces of silver. The others would abandon him in his time of need. They had as much evidence as any human could possibly have, but it wasn’t enough. What we need is not more evidence. What we need is trust, faith, belief. We must take the leap of faith and believe that in Jesus, heaven and earth are reconciled... That he is the way to the Father ... That he has gone to prepare a place for us in his Father’s house and will come again and get us when the time is just right. He does all of this because he loves us. So, when he asks us to believe in him, what he is really asking is this question: “Do you believe that I love you?” That’s the question: Do you really believe that Jesus loves you?
Karl Barth was one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth century, and his work has been very influential in Presbyterian and Reformed thought. He was Swiss and served a few churches in Switzerland before moving to Germany, where he was professor of Reformed theology at a university. His magnum opus is called the Church Dogmatics. It is comprised of 14 volumes, nearly 10,000 pages of theological reflection. (I don’t think he had a thought that he didn’t publish!) When asked in 1962 (on one of his last visits to the United States) how he would summarize the essence of the millions of words he had published over the years, to distill a lifetime of study and reflection, this learned theologian simply said this: “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
 Diana L. Eck, Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras (Boston: Beacon Press, 1993), p. 95.