Jesus: the controversy he caused!

John 14:6

2 October 2011

Woodley Baptist Church

Morning Reflective Service


The title assigned for this sermon is "Jesus, the controversy he caused", which presents a bit of a problem. Namely, where to start!

Jesus simply provoked so much controversy. Practically everything he did or said was controversial in some way or other.

Everywhere he went, everything he did, Jesus left controversy behind him: He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.ref; some of the people said, Surely this man is the Prophet. Others said, He is the Christref; the people were divided because of Jesusref; He has spoken blasphemy!ref; Surely he was the Son of Godref. It seems that everybody had an opinion about Jesus. Truly he did not come to bring peace, but a sword.ref

So that has been my dilemma: where to start?

Well, what I've done is to sidestep the problem by changing one letter in the title. Instead of addressing the controversy he caused, we're going to look at the controversy he causes. It could simply be a typo: "d" and "s" are next to each other on the keyboard.

In what sense, then does Jesus continue to cause controversy? Well, I thought we should go straight for the big one: verse 6 of our passage in John 14, Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me."ref

Let me quote an article from the papers last week to illustrate the point. You may have heard that a Christian doctor has been up before the General Medical Council for telling a patient that he might benefit from Christianity. Now, I'm no expert on medical ethics and whether this was within the rules on appropriate behaviour or not. But the comments from the GMC's lawyer are interesting. The lawyer said that the doctor crossed a line, "[Dr Scott] suggested Jesus or Christianity—his own religion—offered something exclusive and superior to that offered by the patient's own religion."

Two thousand years on, and still causing controversy. Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me."ref

It's a bit cheeky, but I'm actually going to take my headings from that lawyer's statement. He criticised the doctor for suggesting that Jesus offers "something exclusive and superior". So first we're going to look at Jesus' superior claim and then at Jesus' exclusive claim.

Jesus' Superior Claim

First, Jesus' superior claim: I am the way and the truth and the liferef. Or, in other words, if you have me, you have everything.

In context, Jesus is comforting his disciples. They are anxious that he seems to be abandoning them: he has to go to his death; what are they going to do? But Jesus tells them, don't worry, you will always have me, so you have everything. You do not need to look anywhere else: I am the way and the truth and the life.

This is controversial today, because Jesus deals in absolutes. He boldly claims that there is a way to God, there is absolute truth about God, there is a life with God.

Jesus doesn't express doubt or uncertainty or reservations: he is simply certain about this stuff.

We live in a culture suspicious of people who claim absolutely to know the truth, who claim to know the way, who know for sure that there is a life beyond this life. This kind of fundamentalism is the enemy of western liberal thought, of everything that makes Britain a great and tolerant nation. It is the kind of certainty that belongs to people who blow other people up.

Even in the churches, the trendy thing now is not to express your views too strongly. Dogmatism is out; mystery, uncertainty and questioning is in. Statements of belief are out; respecting each others' viewpoints is in.

Even the atheists can't bring themselves to talk in absolutes. You might remember that a couple of years ago the British Humanist Association put adverts on London buses saying "There's probably no God". "Probably...": you just can't claim to be certain about anything these days. And Richard Dawkins, the arch-atheist himself, in his book, The God Delusion, can only say that there is "almost certainly" no God.

Contrast the certainty of Jesus, I am the way and the truth and the liferef. There is a God, and I reveal him to you!

It's controversial today; it would have been controversial then, but for quite different reasons.

Unlike us, Jesus' disciples would have had no problem at all with the idea that there is a way to God: it was the temple. They would have had no problem at all with the idea of absolute truth: it was the Torah. They would have had no problem with life to come for the righteous. These were all understood. The astonishing thing about Jesus' statement for them would have been that he himself claimed to embody these things.

So Jesus himself reveals the Father to us: he is the way to God. Look at verse 9, Anyone who has seen me has seen the Fatherref. Jesus himself mediates the truth of the Father, verse 10, The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work.ref Jesus himself is life, verse 19, Because I live, you also will liveref.

Jesus says these things to the disciples to reassure them that they don't need to look anywhere else. In Jesus himself they have everything. Jesus is superior to anything else they could try.

Brothers and sisters, we need to regain our confidence in Jesus as the answer to the needs of the world. Our world relentlessly proclaims that one person's truth is as valid as anybody else's truth. That there are no absolutes. Against this we must be prepared to say: no, I have something better to offer you. Jesus is the way and the truth and the life.

We have a message for the world: you don't need to be content with confusion and chaos and endlessly seeking but never finding. There is a way to God; there is truth to be believed; there is life to live to the full. And we know him! We know him! And you can know him too.

Let's be bold and not afraid of controversy. Let's be prepared to say to people, what you need is Jesus, and you don't need anything else at all.

Jesus' Exclusive Claim

If the first half of verse 6 gives us Jesus' superior claim, then the second gives us Jesus' exclusive claim, No one comes to the Father except through me.ref Not only is Jesus the better way, he is the only way.

Now, this is where it gets really controversial! If Jesus had stopped with the first half, then people might just about be able to stomach it. "You believe Jesus is the way; that's nice. I believe in another way: let's agree to differ."

But when we get to the second half, it gets really offensive.

It is one thing to say that you believe you have the truth; it is quite another to say that other people do not have the truth. Arrogant Christians!

You see, the defining principle of this age is tolerance. You are allowed to believe privately anything you like, as long as it does not devalue or deny what someone else believes.

I once saw a sign in a university bar that said, apparently without any sense of irony, "we will not put up with intolerant behaviour". The only thing that is not tolerated today is intolerance.

Into this, Jesus says, No-one comes to the Father except through me. There is no way to God without Jesus. If you reject Jesus you will never know God. Any attempt to reach God without Jesus is futile. All the immense religious activity in the world will not bring you a step closer to God if you don't have Jesus. You can fast as much as you like; you can do as many good works as you like; you can try to live as pure a life as you like; you can pray or meditate as much as you like; it will not bring you one step closer to God. No-one comes to the Father except through me.

This is an astonishing statement.

If you ask me the way to London I'll tell you that it is along the M4, and you'll understand what I mean. It's the main way, probably the best way, but there are other routes, windier, probably slower. You'd be best-off taking the M4, but it doesn't exclude other approaches. If we had only the first half of the verse, we could say that Jesus is the way to the Father in that sense. He is not strictly exclusive; there may be other ways.

But the second half leaves us no doubt. Jesus is not a way, not even the best way: he is the only way.

Some would want to soften this verse by saying that people can come to the Father without knowing Jesus, but nevertheless through Jesus. So, for example, good Muslims might be saved, and they will be saved by Jesus: but they won't necessarily know, this side of glory, that it is Jesus who saved them.

Unfortunately, Jesus rules this out elsewhere. In the Bible's most famous verse, he is clear, For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.ref

You can't unknowingly be following the way; you can't reject Jesus and hope to get to the Father.


So, the lawyer got it right. Jesus makes a superior claim—he is the way the truth and the life,—and he makes an exclusive claim—there is no other way to the Father but through him.

In our pluralistic, postmodern, multifaith, liberal minded, ultra-tolerant society this is utterly controversial. If we hold fast to this truth, that Jesus is the only way, we are going to face controversy. We will be branded bigots, arrogant, narrow-minded, intolerant and who knows what else. This is just the kind of view that our tolerant society simply will not tolerate.

But, in the end, we are simply like doctors who know the only possible cure for the world's sickness. The world won't even acknowledge that it is sick, never mind that there is only one cure.

But no matter how controversial it is, we must keep on offering the world this cure, keep on drawing people to the cross and resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

To fail to do so is gross negligence; to offer anything else is quackery and malpractice. Only Jesus offers the world what it needs: I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.


I want to consider three questions as we move into a time of reflection.

The first is simply this: do you know the way? Perhaps you don't fell that you have connected with God; you don't know the truth; you don't feel you have a life worth living. Well, there is no other way but Jesus. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life—there is notthing else. Will you come to him?

Second, will you be controversial? We often say that we want to be more like Jesus, don't we? Well, will you be like him to the extent of being a controversialist? Will you speak out when you'd rather be silent? Will you present Jesus' claims to people? It might get you into hot water, but probably not as hot as for him: they killed him for it.

Third question: where is the urgency? Can it be that we haven't truly grasped Jesus' claim here? I sometimes feel that what we really believe is that everything will basically work out OK for people in the end. The truth is that, unless we get on with proclaiming Jesus to them, they are going to hell. Yes—a controversial statement! But that is Jesus' teaching. Perhaps we are apathetic to the people of Woodley because we don't really believe these things. God have mercy on us.