John 3:16

21 07 2015

I am the way, the truth, and the life – no one comes to the Father but through me!

John 3:16 is one of the most often quoted verses from Christian Scripture! Even people who do not embrace Christianity are familiar with it; and if they do not know it by heart, they have at the very least heard it on more than one occasion. It’s held up on placards at football games and spray painted on bridges over country roads and major highways. It is used by some segments of the Church to support a theology of exclusivism, wherein only Christians are able to enter into a saving relationship with God; and by other segments of the Church in arguments against any acceptance of or accommodations toward the growing Muslim community in America.

But what if none of this was the concern of Jesus? What if Jesus wasn’t concerned with people memorizing his words or sayings? What if Jesus was not arrogant enough to presume that he was the only one who knew his Father; and was instead inclusive of everyone, only interested in challenging those who thought they had exclusive rights to the holy? What if Jesus would have never been so lacking in humility as to presume that he alone was the only person in history to know the way to God? What if, dare I say, Jesus never even really uttered these words at all? What would such ideas and possibilities do to our faith?

I don’t know how you would answer that question; but I would answer by saying ‘Nothing’! None of these possibilities destroys my faith; nor do they lead me to cling any less passionately or enthusiastically, to the One who came that I might have life, and life more abundant than I have ever known. And this is because such interpretations of this verse are not the only ones worthy of our consideration!

When I read John 3:16, what I hear John saying is that in the person of Jesus, John discovered one whose way of living, whose teachings, and whose very being, brought John into the presence of God! Jesus’ WAY – his compassion and kindness, his mercy and grace, his forgiveness and love – they allowed people to experience the transforming power of God in ways that they had never experienced before. In fact, John realized that this way of living in the world was the ONLY way to truly know God.

In the same way, John was also proclaiming that the TRUTH of Jesus’ teachings was the vehicle whereby people encountered the transforming power of the Spirit. The point of the stories he told was to bring wholeness to our lives, healing to our relationships, and justice to our world; and John knew first hand that the source of these truths could ONLY be the One we have chosen to name . . . God.

And finally, John had discovered that the very LIFE of Jesus – a life lived for others – a life freely given away without in any way compromising his principles or contradicting his life’s message – this kind of life was as close as one could get to Godliness! In fact he knew that this kind of life was the ONLY way one might encounter divinity, and attempt to move toward holiness.

You see, John 3:16 need not be a verse that divides the world into two groups of people – people who know God the way we know God, and people who are lost and eternally separated from God. In fact such teachings deny and betray the one many believe to have uttered these powerful words in the first place! Which is why we all need to consider another way of understanding this passage – a way that is more in line way of the Christ.

Jesus is our way, our truth, and our life; and that means that His ways, the truths he taught, and the life he lived – they are the ONLY ways we can ever hope to discover, experience, and live into the kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim. The verse is about nothing more, and nothing less.

So let’s keep it before the world, for sure. But let’s not misuse it, because we do not understand it.