In the midst of a world teeming with religious diversity, what does it mean to say that Jesus is the Way? Simply put, it means we should look to Jesus to discover how God acts in the world. As the divine incarnation of God’s love and mission, Jesus exemplifies the Way of God in the world. He was with God “in the beginning” and was sent into the world not only to tell us about God but also to demonstrate how God wants us to live.
And how does God want us to live? The short answer is that God calls us to love: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:7–8; all biblical quotations are from the TNIV). But the question is, What is love?
Many assume they know what love is. Love makes you feel good. Love doesn’t judge. Love means never having to say you’re sorry. From the perspective of the Christian faith, such answers are both inadequate and false. These common ideas about love are shaped by our culture—the music we listen to, the movies we watch, and the books we read. Instead, we learn about love by looking at Jesus.
Jesus Christ is the living embodiment of God’s gracious character as the One who loves. This love is not an abstract notion or a set of feelings, but is rather characterized by the action of God in the person of Jesus Christ. Commitment to Jesus as the Way means we do not presume to know the nature of divine love ahead of time. We certainly do not let our culture tell us what love is. Rather, our understanding of true love, the love of God, is shaped by the particular way in which God loves in and through Jesus Christ.
As the One sent by the Father, Jesus exemplifies the Way of love in his mission to the world. Three biblical texts help us to understand his mission and how we participate in it.
In the first, Jesus goes to the Nazareth synagogue on the Sabbath and takes onto himself the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18–19). In calling disciples and creating a community of the Way, Jesus calls us to join him in his struggle for the liberation of human beings from all the forces of oppression.
In the second, the tax collector Zacchaeus, in response to Jesus, promises to give half of his possessions to the poor and pay back fourfold anyone he has cheated. Jesus says to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:9–10). The church, after the pattern of Jesus, is to seek the lost and to proclaim the good news of salvation in Christ. Hence, evangelism is central to the liberating and reconciling mission of God.
A third text stands at the heart of the gospel: “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a human being, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:6–8). Faithfulness to the mission of Jesus means emulating his humility by valuing others above ourselves. This is the Way of Jesus.
The affirmation of Jesus as the Way, then, means to acknowledge that he shows us who God is and how God acts in the world, and the unique nature and character of the divine mission. All roads do not lead to God. The Way of Jesus is not simply about an inwardly focused or otherworldly spirituality, or a social activism that is often viewed as its alternative. Rather, it is the Way of humility and self-denial for the sake of others. Denial of the unique nature of Jesus compromises the redemption accomplished through his life and death as well as the Way of life he models for us and calls us to follow.
Franke, J. R.