Editor’s note: Here we find the marvelous parallel between God saving His chosen people in the Red Sea ([reftagger title=””]Exodus 13:17-14:29[/reftagger].) and saving us through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus. Take comfort, for in both situations, it is God Himself doing the action of saving us…we only passively receive His grace.
6“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jn 14:6–7). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
The story of the Children of Israel in the Red Sea helps us understand this verse all the better. It was not enough that, in compliance with God’s command, they ventured into the sea and now proceeded on their way, confident that they would reach the opposite shore. When they were over halfway across and saw the shore or the land before them, then king Pharaoh with all his host appeared behind them. Now their peril was just as great as it was before they had stepped into the sea. It was no help to them that they had found a way where there had been no way, and that they were now nearly across. No, God had to come to their aid miraculously and rescue them from the death that was breathing down their necks. The angel who led them with a wall of fire and clouds had to come between them and the enemy with thunder and lightning, to frighten the latter and turn them back. But before the enemy could look back, the ocean fell upon them and swallowed them up. In this way the Children of Israel were saved from imminent danger of death; and for them this Christ was the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
We must experience the same thing when we approach the shore of yonder life and are to disembark. We find death blocking our path. We cannot escape it. We must first take a most perilous leap. My reason would judge that it is indeed a wretched life, to be carried out through the city gate, to be buried under the earth, and to be reduced to dust. And yet Christ declares that this is the very way to gain life and to come to the Father. Therefore in that hour you must ignore physical death, the grave, pestilence, the sword, and the fire which you feel, also all the darts and spears the devil hurls into your heart. Instead, Christ says, “you must look upon Me. I have been for you the Way and the Truth, and I have led you hitherto, to keep you from straying. I have protected you in all kinds of danger, lies, and deception; and I will also be the Life in and through death, that you may have life as surely as you now feel death.” Otherwise faith would have nothing to do, and it would not be necessary for Christ to give this comfort. For if God spans the way to heaven with a bridge that I could see and feel from beginning to end, with its entrance and exit, why would I need faith or this sermon?
Therefore we can summarize the content of this verse most simply and say: “Hold to Christ in faith; thus you make the right beginning. Remain with Him; then you proceed aright. Persevere thus until the end; then you are saved.” With these words Christ wants to tear and turn our hearts from all trust in anything else and pin them to Himself alone, so that we know and consider nothing else when it comes to making the great leap into yonder life. While we still sojourn here on earth, we have other teachings and ways to follow, such as the Ten Commandments, which inform us how to keep our bodies under discipline and in obedience, how to deal and live honorably and honestly with our neighbor while we are together. These things are pleasing to God. But this is not how to walk on the way being discussed here. When one asks about these important matters—how to come from this life, through sin and death, to eternal righteousness and life, from the devil to God, from hell to heaven—then this text is pertinent. It teaches us that there is no other way, no other safe, right, and sure highway, no other firm bridge or path, no other haven or crossing than this Christ alone.
Therefore it is necessary, as I have said, to learn diligently here to distinguish exactly and properly the ways which other passages in Scripture also call walking the way of obedience, patience, and kindness, or filling one’s entrusted office or position with honesty, integrity, and a good conscience before God and the world. But of this way, which one.walks from death to life, from this worldly and sinful existence into yonder heavenly and spiritual living, one must speak in a much different manner. For here there is no other teacher or adviser than faith alone, which says: “I believe in Jesus Christ. I live, remain, and die in Him alone.”
But no one should understand such a sermon to mean that this gives him a time of grace, that he may postpone walking this way until he lies on his deathbed and consider this soon enough, that meanwhile he can carouse, do as he pleases, sow his wild oats, and later, when his hour approaches, heed this verse. Do not do this, dear brother; for then it may be too late. A Christian is a person who begins to tread the way from this life to heaven the moment he is baptized, in the faith that Christ is henceforth, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And he holds to this way until his end. He is always found on this way and is led in the truth to obtain life, as one who already sees the shore where he is to land. He is prepared at all times, whether death comes today, tomorrow, or in one, two, or ten years; for in Christ he has already been transported to the other side. We cannot be safe from death for a minute; in Baptism all Christians begin to die, and they continue to die until they reach the grave.
As long, therefore, as I am surrounded by danger and the uncertainty of death, so long must I believe in Christ, my Life; and this means my whole time on earth. Hence time, hours, and years have no bearing on this sermon. It does not refer to an annual resolution, so that you may say: “Christ will be my life when I am about to give up the ghost. Meanwhile I will live as I please.” No, you must know that you are already engaged in crossing over; you have already set foot into the sea with the Children of Israel, and you must now continue until you have come ashore, lest the enemy attack you en route.
This I want to say about this text to those of simple faith, that although Christ is named, preached, and pictured in various ways, He is always one and the same Christ. First, when the disciples question Him regarding His going to the Father, He replies: “If you know Me, you know the Way. And if then you should feel prompted to ask how you may be sure of this and not doubt or fall away, inasmuch as it may appear otherwise and I may not seem to be the Way, and you cannot foresee the final outcome, do not be troubled. I am also the Truth and the Life, if only you remain with Me. For these things cannot and must not be seen; they must be believed and thus experienced.” Although all three of these terms apply to Christ, they must be distinguished. They indicate that we must know Him thus and have all three things to reach heaven, namely, to begin aright, to continue in that way, and through such faith ever to make progress in experience until we conclude our course in that faith. Christ affirms this now as He says:
No one comes to the Father but by Me.
Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 24: Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 14-16. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 24, pp. 49–52). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
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