Who Jesus Is

John 14:1-6; Colossians 1:15-17

September 22, 2023 | Brian Bill

Many years ago, an article appeared in the Washington Post about a new church in the state of Maryland.  Using market research and focus groups, this church designed weekly services which deliberately de-emphasized Jesus Christ.  One of the founders of the church said, “The sad fact is the name of Jesus Christ has become for many people exclusionary.”  

Using Hindu and Zen, intermingled with a few verses from the Bible and recorded music by Willie Nelson in their services, one leader summarized their mission, “We’re enabling people to discover God themselves, maybe through Jesus, maybe through Buddha, maybe through any number of ways.”

We live in a pluralistic culture where it is commonplace to believe there are many different ways to God.  The idea is that God, however you define Him, is on the top of a mountain and we can reach Him by many different roads.  Everyone will eventually get to the top and it doesn’t really matter what path you choose to get there.

Last week we learned that the story of God is all about the glory of God and the unfolding of the gospel.  We focused on the grand story of the Bible:

  • Creation
  • Fall 
  • Redemption
  • Restoration

The main subject of the entire Bible is Jesus Christ.  Listen to what Jesus said about Himself in John 5:39: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.”  In Luke 24:27 we read, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.”

How many of you have seen or used a red-letter Bible, where all the words of Jesus in the New Testament are printed in red?  Now imagine an Old Testament where every reference, every prophecy, every shadow, every image, and every allusion to Christ appeared in red.  One author put it like this, “If such a red letter First Testament existed, it would glow in the dark.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer remarked, “It could light up a living room.”

Our focus today is on who Jesus is.  As part of my preparation, I listened to an Alissa Childers podcast in which she interviewed Jason Jimenez about his new book, “Hijacking Jesus: How Progressive Christians are Remaking Him and Taking Over His Church.” 

By exposing the phony christs peddled by progressives, Jimenez shows why we can trust the Jesus of the Bible.  Progressive churches have fabricated a new Jesus so different from the real Savior that their faith can hardly be called Christianity.  Many teachers and churches now offer a version of Jesus which emphasizes friendliness, acceptance, inclusion, and tolerance.  In essence, some have made Jesus into a bobblehead who simply nods at everything we do.  Since we see Christian leaders deconstructing and even sliding into rank apostasy, we shouldn’t be surprised that many are making Jesus into their own image.

it’s time to contend for the faith so that we’re unshaken and unashamed of the gospel

Fellow follower of Christ, it’s time to contend for the faith so that we’re unshaken and unashamed of the gospel!  I hope by the end of the message we’ll all be on the same page that Jesus is the only way to Heaven.  There is no other way, no other religion, no other system of spirituality by which we are saved.  

While scores of churches have become progressive, we’re also being proselytized by pluralism in our culture.  This has led some to the heresy of universalism or the false belief that any religion can save you as long as you’re sincere.  It’s common to hear something like this, “All religions basically teach the same things on the big issues, they just differ on small things.”

Steve Turner, in his work called “The Creed,” answers the question of whether all religions really do teach the same things: “We believe that all religions are basically the sameThey all believe in love and goodness.  They only differ on matters of creation, sin, Heaven, Hell, God, and salvation.”

One author captured it well: “If it is possible to be saved by any way other than Jesus, then Jesus and His death are unnecessary…if the core problem we present is anything less than sin, death, and Hell, we are giving our congregations permission to become pluralists.”

Please turn to Colossians 1.  Much of the false teaching taking place in Colossae had to do with the minimizing of Jesus.  Many people thought Jesus was important, but not essential.  They had given Him a place in their lives, without recognizing He demands first place.  Jesus may have been prominent to them, but He certainly was not preeminent.  The last part of verse 18 frames the passage: “…so that in everything He might be preeminent.”

We must move away from “What can Jesus do for me” to “Am I living in light of His lordship?”  We don’t simply “add” Jesus to our lives like He’s some sort of app on our phones; we must adore Him with our lives through our allegiance and obedience.

That leads to our main idea: Make sure Jesus is preeminent in your life, not just prominent.

This passage is one of the strongest in Scripture as it relates to the superiority of our Savior.  Let’s stand and read Colossians 1:15-17 together: “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through Him and for Him.  And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”  We see 4 truths about Jesus in these verses:

1. He is God (15a). 

Jesus “is the image of the invisible God.”  The word “image” in Greek means, “likeness, manifestation, or replica” and referred to a die or stamp which was able to make exact reproductions.  Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God.  He is the precise copy because He is God Himself.  He both represents and manifests God to the world.  

In John 14:9, Jesus revealed this about Himself: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”  In a parallel passage, Hebrews 1:3 says, “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature…”  

2. He is the unique Son of God (15b). 

Jesus is not only God; He is the “firstborn over all creation.”  Jehovah’s Witnesses believe this verse teaches Jesus was a created being and therefore not God.  Actually, the phrase “firstborn” is most frequently translated as “heir or owner.”  In ancient time, it meant the “ranking one, or supreme one.”

3. He is the creator of all things (16). 

Jesus is the image of God and the exalted one over all creation because He is the Creator: “For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through Him and for Him.”  Jesus is not a mere man.  He is the Creator of all things, those things we can see and those things we cannot see.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus is the Creator and was not created.  Jesus existed before everything else as He declared in John 8:58: “Before Abraham was, I am.”  And, as the Nicene Creed affirms, Jesus was “begotten, not made.”  We’ll dive deeper into the doctrine of Christ, including his pre-existence, during our December sermon series.

Jesus is not only the Creator, but He also provides the purpose for His creation: “all things were created through Him and for Him.”  The goal of all creation is to glorify Christ.  Revelation 4:11, in the New Living Translation, puts it this way: “…For you created everything, and it is for your pleasure that they exist and were created.”

4. He Holds All Things Together (17). 

As our country continues to fracture, it’s important to keep in mind that Jesus holds everything together.  Look at verse 17: “And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”  

To “hold together” means to prevent something from falling into complete chaos. Christ is before all things, both in time and rank.  He is not only the Creator of the world; He is the cohesion that keeps it all together.  By Him everything came to be, and by Him everything continues to be.  If Jesus were to remove His sustaining power, everything would dissolve into disorder.

Friends, we don’t have to be shaken or ashamed because Jesus upholds everything by the word of His power.  Remember, there is no crisis in Heaven.  He will be exalted among the nations.

Let’s turn now to the words of Jesus in John 14:6: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Jesus is the only way, the only truth, and the only life.  There is no other plan but the person of Jesus.  There is no way to get to Heaven unless we go through Him. 

Jesus alone has accomplished everything necessary for the salvation of all who believe in Him

This is the most controversial yet fundamental claim of Christianity.  Jesus alone has accomplished everything necessary for the salvation of all who believe in Him.  This doctrine separates Christianity from every other worldview, and it unites every other doctrine within our faith.

Jesus is very inclusive in the sense that everyone is invited to a relationship with Him as John 6:37 states: “…and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.”  But His claims are extremely exclusive in that there is no other way to Heaven except through Him.  

How does this mesh in a pluralistic society like ours which values variety and excludes exclusive truth claims?  Though Christianity still dominates by sheer numbers, the U.S. now has a greater diversity of religious groups than any country in recorded history.  

To insist that Jesus is the only way of salvation is viewed as intolerant today.  It’s helpful to remember that the world of the biblical authors was filled with paganism and pluralism as well.  In the midst of all this doctrinal diversity, the Bible makes some rather startling claims that run counter-cultural to the pluralistic mantra of religious tolerance.  

Consider these four passages which unequivocally teach the exclusivity of Christ:

  • Matthew 7:13-14: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
  • Peter boldly states in Acts 4:12: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
  • 1 Timothy 2:5: “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
  • 1 John 5:12: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”

These passages are extremely exclusive and overwhelmingly clear: Jesus is the only way to heaven.  His statements of divine authority are incompatible with the homogenizing views of religious pluralists.  

Let’s dive more deeply into John 14:6: “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”

  • When Jesus uses the phrase, “I AM,” He is once again claiming the name of Yahweh for Himself from Exodus 3:14.  He is God in human flesh.  He also said, “I am…” the Bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Gate, the Good Shepherd, the Vine, the Alpha and Omega, and the Resurrection and the Life.  Jesus claimed to be God, a claim that no other religious leader has made – not Mohammed, Buddha, or Confucius.  No one else did the miracles He did, lived a sinless life like He did, died like He died as our substitute and rose from the dead as promised on the third day.
  • Notice this verse begins with the word “I.”  In fact, eleven times in the first six verses of John 14, Jesus uses the personal pronoun – I, me, or my.  We are not saved by a principle or a force but by a person.  Jesus did not say He knew the way, the truth, and the life, or even that He taught these great principles.  He declared Himself to be the embodiment of the way, the truth, and the life.  While answering all of life’s questions, Jesus doesn’t offer a recipe, or a bunch of rules or rituals to follow; instead, He offers us a relationship with Himself.  His plan is wrapped up in a Person.
  • Jesus doesn’t say, “I am a way, and a truth and a life,” but rather, “I am the way (that is, the only way), I am the truth (that is, the only truth), and the life (that is, the only life).”
  • All three concepts are active and dynamic.  The way brings to God; the truth makes us free; and the life produces relationship.  Without the way there is no going, without the truth there is no knowing, without the life there is no growing.
  • The context indicates the idea of “the way” predominates.  The word “way” is used three times in verses 4, 5 and 6.  We could put it like this: “I am the way that reveals the truth about God and gives life to those who believe.”  Literally, “I am the way because I am the truth and the life.”
  • There is only one exclusive avenue to salvation.  With Christ removed there is no redemptive truth, no everlasting life, and no way to the Father.  While other religions offer systems to attempt to bridge the gap between man and God, Jesus is the only one who has succeeded in bridging the divide.

Since every word of this astonishing statement challenges the fundamental beliefs of our culture, let’s consider each phrase.

1. Jesus is the way. 

Only one way is right, and every other way is wrong.  Jesus does not merely show the way; He is Himself the way.  This has a twofold meaning.  He is the way from God to us and also the way from us to God.  Incidentally, six different times in the Book of Acts believers were known as being members of “the way.”  

The way to Heaven is not through performance or penance.  Proverbs 14:12: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.”  If I believe the Bible, I must say that Jesus is the only way.  

2. Jesus is the truth. 

The word “truth” in Scripture is used in two ways: true as contrasted with false, and genuine as opposed to fake.  Jesus is authentic and trustworthy.  When we look at Jesus we come face-to-face with certainty and reality.  

Truth is the scarcest commodity in the world.  We hear people say, “that might be true for you, but it’s not for me.”  Researcher George Barna has discovered that nearly 75% of Americans do NOT believe in absolute truth.  Here’s the sad part about that.  Without the clarity and consistency of absolute moral truth, we are reduced to doing what seems right, what feels good, what produces the least resistance, and what provides the greatest personal fulfillment.  

Write this down.  It’s not mean or bigoted or arrogant to say that Jesus is the only way since it’s the truth!  It would actually be mean and bigoted and narrow minded not to tell people that Jesus is the only way, and the only truth, and the only life!

3. Jesus is the life. 

All through the gospel of John, life describes the principle of spiritual vitality.  Just as spiritual death leads to separation from God, so life implies communion with Him.  We are dead without Him.  We become alive when we surrender ourselves to Him.  John 5:24: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life.  He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

I’ve been pondering a quote from Michael Wittmer:

If our preaching boasts in Jesus, glories in Jesus, and urges all to rest in Jesus then, and only then, will pluralism seem laughably absurd.  If Jesus is merely a means to an end—a friend who helps us exhale, cope with misfortune, or discover our true selves—then other friends and religious techniques might work just as well.  But if Jesus is life itself, there is nowhere else to turn.  Defeating pluralism is as simple as celebrating Jesus…If we faithfully and passionately present the good news of Jesus, religious pluralism will strike our people as obviously implausible.

Action Steps 

1. Place your faith in Jesus. 

He is the only way!  Look again at the last part of verse 6: “…No one comes to the Father except through me.” That little word “except” means that apart from Jesus there is no way to be saved.  You cannot get there by trusting yourself.  And you cannot come to the Father by jumping through any religious hoops either.  

Go back to verse 1 where Jesus says, “Believe in me.”  The word “believe” is an imperative.  To believe means to rely on, to cling to, and to trust in Him.  Jesus is the way that must be followed; He is the truth that must be believed; and He is the life that must be lived.  Be like Thomas and ask your questions and then when you find what you’re looking for, cry out like he did in John 20:28: “My Lord and my God!” 

2. Tell others about Jesus. 

Brothers and sisters, we don’t have to make Jesus more palatable to people.  He is truth and can stand up to thorough investigation.  Our job is to tell others about Him, without going quiet, or caving into the culture, or watering down the way to Heaven.  As someone has said, “The problem with watering the gospel down so that others will drink it is that what they end up drinking is not the gospel at all.”

The exclusivity of Christ is a compassionate and humble doctrine because it keeps people from seeking salvation in a place where it cannot be found.  Imagine we are living in the midst of a post-nuclear war fallout, and there is one and only one source of clean, drinkable water in the entire world.  All other water sources appear to look OK but are actually poisoned with radiation.  We wouldn’t be arrogant to claim there is only one source of clean water because this information would keep people from making a fatal choice of drinking deadly water.

Friends, to hold up Jesus as the only way to salvation is not unkind; it’s the most loving thing you can do.

David Platt tells about being in a speech class in college.  When it was his turn, he decided to speak on the Christian faith.  At the end of his speech, one classmate became angry and lashed out, “Are you telling me that if I don’t believe in Jesus, I will spend eternity in Hell when I die?”  

Platt became nervous, broke into a sweat, and said, “Jane, we’re all sinners.  We have disobeyed God and have been separated from Him, and the only way we can be forgiven is if someone paid the price for our sins, and that’s what Jesus did because He loves you and He loves every single one of us in the classroom.  So, in answer to your question, yes, apart from faith in Jesus Christ, you will spend eternity in Hell when you die.”

Jane bolted over to him after class and exclaimed, “I just want you to know that is the most conceited thing I’ve ever heard anybody say.  For you to tell us that if we don’t believe like you believe that we’re going to spend eternity in damnation, who do you think you are?”  They had many conversations after that and lost track of each during the summer.  When the new school year started, Jane tracked him down and said, “I just want you to know, this summer I found out that Jesus is the only way to God, and I have trusted Him to save me and now I know that when I die, I am going to heaven.”

The truth that Jesus is the only way should make us bold…and it should also break us.  We must hold to this truth…but it should tenderize us and put tears in our eyes about the fate of the lost.  Keep sharing the narrow, glorious gospel.  Don’t water it down.  

  • Since Jesus is truly the only way, the meanest thing we could do is to keep it to ourselves.
  • Since Jesus is truly the only way, the most loving thing is to share it with others.

The truth of John 14:6 answers three key questions which everyone has.

  • How can I be saved?  He is the way!
  • How can I be sure?  He is the truth!
  • How can I be satisfied?  He is the life!

Contrary to what the leaders of that organization in Maryland declared (I can’t even call it a church): Jesus Christ is exclusionary and must remain so!  Because of His supremacy over all things, each of us must face a question: Is Jesus prominent in my life or is He preeminent?

While many today believe there are many roads up the mountain to get to God, what if the God at the top of the mountain decided He was going to make His way down the mountain to us, to bring us up to the top of the mountain to be with Him?

Make sure Jesus is preeminent in your life, not just prominent.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?