Right before Jesus gets into the whole business of talking about Himself as the Truth, he uses an interesting metaphor to describe what God is up to in his ministry.
He says that He is the way. But what does that even mean? It’s one of the most used terms in Christian circles, but I think the real meat of what Jesus is saying here is totally missed. Think about the day and time that Jesus was in.
The Essenes were a group of people who were claiming to be the people of God, they were known for how they withdrew from society in order to form a “holy huddle” (not their actual mission statement) and preserve the remnant of God’s true people. They wrote off the rest of the world and they kept their religious rules down to the letter.
The Sadducees and Herodians were at the other end of the spectrum. They had tossed their hat in the ring with Rome. If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em. They compromised their values, got ahead in the system, and then started to use it to their advantage. They could talk like an Israelite and live like a Roman, and they developed a theology to back it all up.
The Zealots were another interesting group. They knew the stories of the revolutions of their ancestors. They loved David and Goliath stories because they knew that their God could save them against the evil empire, all they needed were some stones. And by stones they meant stabbing the Herodians and Sadducees anonymously in crowds.
The Pharisees are commonly known as the people that Jesus was the hardest on, but they were at least trying to live in both worlds without compromise. Though from even a brief reading of the gospels you might conclude that a lot of people wouldn’t have minded if they would have joined forces with the Essenes and just disappeared. They were hard on people who didn’t have their act together as much as they did.
So the world that Jesus entered into was filled with labels and categories, the lines were clearly drawn, and the options for how to be the people of God was limited. Does this sound familiar to anyone else?
Now when Jesus first stood up and started teaching, people probably (much like they do today) were trying to peg which group Jesus belonged to. But Jesus consistently pioneered another way.
When Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness there are all kinds of echoes of of another story. Jesus passes through the Jordan just like the Israelite people, he goes into the desert for 40 days, and he is tempted. Just like the people of God after the Exodus. Here, the gospels are saying, is what it looks like to really be the people God wants you to be.
And what’s interesting is that Satan never tried to get Jesus to give up on the end game. He offers him dominion over all things. He just tried Jesus to change the means of getting there. Each of Satan’s temptations had to do with the way in which Jesus would be the Way.
I say this to point out that the other groups of people probably didn’t start off thinking they would be this way. They thought that they were furthering the Kingdom of God, but you can’t honor God with Satan’s tactics.
One of the most controversial claims that we can make in a post-modern world is that Jesus is the way. But I think the reason that’s so upsetting to non-Christian listeners is because this is the one claim that by it’s very nature refuses to be reduced to a conversation piece. It must be lived out.
I believe that Jesus is the way. But the deeper reality of that statement is that the way of Jesus is how He is the way. The way that Jesus ministered, the way he served, the way he was in the world is the Way.
The means are the ends.
The earliest Christians got this, and the old labels of describing them just didn’t work anymore. In the book of Acts you had former Zealots and Pharisees all gathering to be the people of God in a new way with a new name.
And that name was of course, the Way.