Jesus says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” It’s a common enough phrase. Probably so common that we think of it without its original context. Probably so common that we don’t really think about what it means at all. It’s one of those phrases that has lost its meaning over time because of how common it has come to be for Christians to hear these words.
But what does it mean to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life? I think of it like going on a trip. When you go on a trip, you need to have a road, a mode of transportation, and a destination. You need all three, or the trip doesn’t work. To see that, I think we need to look at each of these three things – the Way, the Truth, and the Life – individually.
First is the Way. Maybe you know this, but before Christianity was called “Christianity,” the followers simply called our faith, “The Way.” There’s something really neat in that simple name – this is our way – the way – to live, to seek after God. And Jesus says, “I am the Way.”
When I hear “the way,” I think of back in the olden days of , I don’t know, ten years ago, when you went on a trip, and you got out an actual map. When you had to have an atlas in your car, not as a backup, but because it was the only thing you could have to help find your way if you got lost. The very last time my parents and I went on a long road trip, we went to Canada, and that’s how we planned the trip. That was nine years ago (that’s right, Mom and Dad – it doesn’t seem so long, does it?), but even then it was kind of an “old fashioned” way of doing things. Today, with GPS built into cars and on phones, we have maps walking around with us almost all the time. But once upon a time, you really had to decide on the path you were going to take, even before you set out on the journey.
When I hear Jesus say, “I am the Way,” he is telling us that he is the path, he is the road we follow. We’re supposed to live our lives in him and like him. We’re supposed to bring healing to those in need of it, we’re supposed to help those in need, we’re supposed to sacrifice out of what we have to provide for others. That’s what it means to follow along the Way that Christ gives. And just like making a map and following it, we are meant to follow this path. Getting to our destination is really, really hard. Without a map, we aren’t going to get there. Luckily for us, Jesus provides us with the Way. And when we stray from it, he’s there to guide us right back onto that highway again.
The second thing Jesus says is, “I am the truth.” Somehow, in an era when you can’t turn on the television without hearing about “fake news,” hearing someone talk about “the Truth” has a special resonance to us. We certainly live in a time in which people make their own truth. And you know, that’s not all bad. If Thomas Edison hadn’t believed in his own truth, we probably wouldn’t have electric lights, so I’m not one to complain. On the other hand, we often delude ourselves into thinking that we alone are the ones responsible for everything. I have a friend who was considering leaving a position in the church, but he was afraid. He was afraid of leaving because he thought that everything he had worked on would come crumbling down. I told him, “The church is not yours; it’s God’s. It’s not all up to you!”
Our own truths can be helpful, and can be necessary. They can sustain us when the world around us is living a lie. But sometimes our own truths can fool us into forgetting bigger, more important things than ourselves. So when Jesus tells us, “I am the truth,” he’s telling us that, whatever we may believe to be true about ourselves, our neighbors, our nation, our world, the most important truth is Jesus himself. He is the one we can trust, even when we’re not sure what else to trust in the world around us.
To return to the analogy of the road trip: on the road, you can have all the maps you want, but if you don’t have a good, reliable vehicle to take you where you’re going, you’re in trouble. Just last week, I talked about walking to Parker. That is a far walk. It would take you most of a day to do it. Imagine if you had no vehicle at all, ever again. Your world would basically be confined to the five miles surrounding your house, and that’s a big estimate. And yet, unconfined as we are, we drive to Sioux Falls like it’s nothing. My family is here, and they came driving 400-some-odd miles in a day. Jesus never traveled 400 miles in his life. But you don’t make that journey without a reliable vehicle – something you can trust to deliver you safely, something to fall back on when nothing else around you makes sense. That’s why Jesus is the Truth – he’s our vehicle to help us get from where we are, to where we’re going.
Finally, we arrive at “the Life.” How do we describe what life is? I don’t mean in a medical sense – although even that is increasingly hard to pin down. Rather, I’m curious what the word “life” means in the context of what it means to have a life. I think we can all agree that to really make it worth living, it has to have purpose, direction. We have to be aiming for something. Jesus is the thing we’re aiming for. When Jesus says, “I am the Life,” he’s telling us that he’s the goal of this little “road trip” we’ve been talking about. And the Life we receive in Christ is twofold.
First of all, there’s obviously our lives now. The goal of our lives is to be a reflection of Jesus’ life; to live as he did. I don’t mean wearing sandals all the time – that would be a pretty huge mistake in South Dakota. Rather, I mean that we’re supposed to live a Christ-like life. But of course, it’s not just our lives today that Jesus is talking about. It’s also the eternal nature of the life we have from God. After we are gone, we continue to live, as Christ showed us by resurrecting from the dead. Even our deaths are not the end of our story, nor of God’s.
So we see in this passage that, if we think of life as a road trip, Jesus is the road we travel, the vehicle we ride in, and the goal of the journey. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. That’s a pretty good way of putting things. But even after Jesus tells the disciples that, Philip says to him, “Show us the Father.” Maybe it’s because Philip doesn’t get it; maybe it’s because he’s unsatisfied with Jesus’ description of himself. We’re not told. But either way, Philip is still discontented. So Jesus spells it out even more: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me. The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” Jesus tells us that he is God, and that we can trust in him, because he is the very one on whom we rely for everything.
And if the passage cut off there, it would be a nice and easy sermon. But I realize that we run into the problem of unanswered prayer at the end of this passage, and even though it doesn’t really jive with the rest of what I’m saying, I don’t want to belittle that or omit it.
“If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it,” says Jesus. Obviously, we’ve all had situations in our lives when we haven’t had prayers answered. So what do we do with that? I don’t think there’s an easy answer here. I don’t think it’s as simple as saying, “Have more faith;” I don’t think it’s as simple as saying, “You don’t deserve it.” Instead, I think the best answer I can give is this: life is still complicated. And when all else fails, when prayers remain unanswered, we continue to follow the Way, seek the Truth, and live the Life. While we may not get exactly what we wanted, we move closer to Christ. And when we move closer to Christ, we receive the greatest reward of all. The best way I think I can explain how we should understand this portion of the passage is to continue the analogy of the road trip that I’ve been using throughout this sermon, as I think it gives us a little insight into what Jesus is perhaps saying at the end of today’s reading.
Like any road trip, our journey of faith is going to be fraught with problems. There will be weather delays, road construction, bad traffic; there will be changes to the itinerary along the way. There are always things that ensure that our trip doesn’t go exactly as we envisioned it, and there’s nothing we can do about it. But when we choose a Christian life, when we decide to follow Jesus, we have made a decision to follow the Way, trust in the Truth, and live the Life. Even when things let us down, we lean on Christ, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Even when our prayers go unanswered, even when what we want is not what we get, we can still trust in the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Because without the road to follow, the vehicle to carry us, and the destination we’re shooting for, we’re simply lost, alone, and wandering.
So even when things are hard, even when we don’t get what we wanted or prayed for, let us keep faith. Let us continue to follow the Way, the Truth, and the Life, because although he may not deliver exactly what we want, he won’t ever let us down. Amen.