Jesus said, “I am the Way”. Too Exclusive?

As we reflect on the seven “I AM” statements of Jesus, we come to John 14:6, where he offers us three of them, each one building upon the other. The first part of his statement, “I am the Way” is perhaps the most volatile thing Jesus ever claimed.
Jesus said, “I am the WAY, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)
Read the first four words of this sentence four times, and put the emphasis on each word, one at a time. Each different emphasis brings a slightly different twist to the statement, but overall the message is still consistent, and the meaning is uncompromised.

Lots of Ways?

Think about this one for a minute, and the sheer exclusivity of it: I am the way. I AM the way. I am THE way. There is no ambiguity here. No one else is the way but me. No one else is the truth but me. What an intolerant, arrogant, audacious thing to say! How could such a wise and loving rabbi burn all those bridges? Surely he didn’t mean the ONLY way… Certainly he didn’t mean THE truth… Surely there must be lots of other ways!

This one statement by Jesus is an implicit indictment of all other religions, and probably one of the biggest reasons people in our culture reject him. They can’t imagine taking a stand that excludes other “good” options. They can’t imagine going “all in” and believing in one way over others. (Perhaps you know the old saying, “The good is the worst enemy of the best”? Don’t settle for “good” and miss the best.) If Jesus is the only way, is it unloving to share that with others? To be so exclusive? Well-known atheist Penn Jillette (of the magic team of Penn & Teller) actually says that he doesn’t respect Christians who know the key to eternal life but don’t attempt to share it.

There’s also the possibility that there IS a devil who promotes death but loves good marketing. If I were the devil, I would offer numerous choices for religion and spirituality to call people away from the true one. I would include things to give my religions authenticity–some truths, some prophets, holy books, even legalistic morality– in order to dissuade people from seeing the true way. “Many ways” is the perfect platform to obscure THE way.

Examples of Exclusivity

So Jesus makes the watershed claim, the one that calls for a decision. Does that seem preposterous in our enlightened age? Doesn’t it run contrary to our culture to exclude some religions? Isn’t it ok for people to pursue many paths to God? But let’s put it into the right context. Do you want your doctor, to say “Well, you have many choices, so do what YOU want. Here’s 10 or 15 things that might help.” Or, “Here’s your diagnosis, and this is the antibiotic that will help you.”

Or, consider this: Would it be a good thing to drive your car the wrong way down a busy one way street? (“You’re going the wrong WAY!”) It may limit your travel options, but finding the right way might help you arrive safely at your destination.

Jesus says, “I am the way”. There is no gray area here, but only a very narrow claim that excludes other options. Crazy, you say? Too exclusive? If you really look at this statement, isn’t it very much like a proposal of marriage? I love you, and ask you to join me, forsaking all others, excluding everyone else. I am committed to you, and I’m asking you to be committed to me.

We hear that in weddings all of the time, and no one jumps up and says, “That’s preposterous! How can they do such an intolerant thing?! This choice limits their whole future! They should keep their options open, because there are still lots of other possibilities out there!” No one objects because we see their exclusivity and commitment as good things representing the truth of their love for one another.

An Audacious Claim

Jesus said, “I am the way. No man comes to the Father but by me.” People might be offended because they see this as exclusive, but we have to remember that He is speaking as a groom to His bride. He is asking for commitment, undoubtedly the same measure of commitment He demonstrated to us on the cross. It may seem intolerant on the surface—but if it’s true, then it’s the most loving thing Jesus ever said.

“I Am the Way, the Truth, the Life, and someday you will see
The only access to the Father has to come through me.”
This claim was quite audacious, and it sounds intolerant, too;
But it holds everlasting, passionate love if it is true.
If Jesus lied on this one, and is not the only way,
Then we should not acknowledge anything he had to say.
But if He is the Way, the Truth, the Life–both then and now–
Then every seeker will confess, and every knee shall bow…
We’d love to find the Father’s love, and Jesus tells us how.

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