The Way We Travel
Jesus came to die for the sins of humankind, but that’s not all. He came to show us how to live.
By Winn Collier
While hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains last spring, my family climbed a trail to a secluded waterfall. Due to spring warmth, the runoff from higher streams was swift and frigid. I didn’t care to get wet. However, without consulting me, both boys jumped in and immediately began to yell, “Dad, come on—jump in! It’s a ‘Collier Man’ thing.”
One of my deep hopes is to raise my sons to be men of honor, integrity, tenderness, and love for God and others. Pursuing this means that I teach our boys truths and principles, but even more, I aim to give them an identity, a way of being in the world. We do this in part by talking often about what it means to be “Collier Men.” To be a Collier Man is to dare to tell the truth, to take risks and to care for others more than for ourselves. We say, in a myriad of ways, that a Collier Man steps bravely into his life.
We’d said Collier Men are brave and courageous, and yet there I was—standing on the bank while my boys swam. Actions often speak louder than words. So I can speak of courage to my sons, but to help them actually become brave men, I must model for them what it means to live in courageous ways.
Of course, I had to strip down and dive in.
In John’s gospel, Jesus declared Himself to be the way, the truth and the life (14:6). He is the Truth: the embodiment of all that is real and trustworthy and reliable. He is Life itself: the One in whom death meets its end and the Source in whom anyone may find purpose and abundance. And He is the Way, the incarnation of how we are to live our days.
On one hand, a “way” is a road or a path that sets our direction (e.g., the west road, not the east road). But it also defines the manner by which we take our journey (e.g., a leisurely path, not a hurried path). The most memorable backpacking trip of my life was a rim-to-rim trek across the Grand Canyon. I carried a map that plotted the trails, but this guide did not provide “the way” to hike the Grand Canyon. Any backpacker who’s made this journey will tell you that the way to cross such a magnificent place is slow and attentive, enjoying the views and the terrain, watching for rattlers and listening to the voice of the Colorado River. Following proper directions is vital, but learning how to traverse the Canyon’s backcountry is every bit as essential.
When we say that Jesus is the Way, we’re acknowledging how He gives us directions for our life—and that He shows us how we’re to walk. He doesn’t merely point to the destination we’re heading toward; He models for us the way to journey from here to there.
“The way of Jesus,” says author Eugene Peterson, “is not only the roads that Jesus walked in Galilee and to Jerusalem but also the way Jesus walked on those roads, the way he acted, felt, talked, gestured, prayed, healed, taught, and died. And the way of his resurrection. The Way that is Jesus cannot be reduced to information or instruction. The Way is a person who we believe and follow as God-with-us.” This is why Scripture so often instructs us to consider the ways of the Lord then walk in them.
When He left heaven for earth, Jesus came offering Himself. His was a way so different from that offered by a world embroiled in its own power struggles, customs, philosophies, and ideals. While telling the Christmas story of Jesus’ arrival, Matthew wanted to make certain his readers understood what that world was like. He notes that the story took place “during the time of King Herod” (2:1 niv), a historical reference that provided a chronological and political setting. The description matches precisely how Herod (as well as those suffering under his maniacal hand) would have viewed things: as Herod’s time.
Herod “the Great,” the Roman puppet king of Judea, was a scheming man of violence with a psychotic inclination to clutch power. He killed three sons to ensure that none of them would try to usurp his throne ahead of schedule (prompting Caesar Augustus to quip that it was better to be Herod’s pig than his child). The king’s violence was even forward-thinking: although he was supposedly a Jewish convert, he ordered his soldiers to kill Jews on the day of his death to make certain there would be tears rather than delight at his funeral.
For Jesus’ entire life, His humility and sacrificial love stood in stark contrast to the way of this earthly king and those who succeeded him. Of course, He also lived in the time of the Roman Empire, the power that had handed Herod and his successors rule of the land. The way of Rome was iron-fisted control and decadent excess. When the Imperial army arrived at one’s borders, they did not come as friends—for whatever Rome wanted, itÂ snatched by brutal force. This arrogance ultimately led to one of the most stunning collapses of a civilization in human history. But while the empire flourished, it flexed its muscle in virtually every corner of the western world.
Yet Jesus, the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords, “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life [as] a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Pontius Pilate, the Roman prefect at the time of Jesus' trial, found himself utterly baffled because before him stood a man unlike any he’d never encountered—a man who knew a fundamentally different way. (John 18:28-19:16) The entire account of Christ’s arrest, trial, torture, and crucifixion is full of His mystifying actions. What kind of man doesn’t resist when falsely accused, mocked, and beaten? What kind of man offers healing to his enemies (Luke 22:47-53)? What kind of man prays for the forgiveness of those who celebrated his murder (Luke 23:33-35)?
For Jesus’ entire ministry, His way was an affront to these political powers. However, His way also unnerved the religious establishment. Jewish authorities had narrowly defined who could and could not receive God’s generous love. This is why Jesus’ befriending of the people they rejected—the tax collectors (political traitors), prostitutes (unclean sinners), lepers (outcasts cursed with disease), and Gentiles (heathen non-Jews)—prompted such scandal.
While most of the religious powers kept an eye out for individuals they should exclude, Jesus watched eagerly for those He could gather near. In John 8:3-11, when a number of scribes and Pharisees were ready to stone a woman caught in adultery, Jesus stood with her in what must have seemed a helpless, hopeless situation. He confronted her accusers’ hypocrisy and offered another way—one of truth and mercy—but He also called her out of her marred existence into a new life.
King Jesus still offers Himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life to all of us. He supplants every other system and ideology of this world, every other power or kingdom, every other way of striving for life that humans know. His Way does not hesitate to upset religious elites or systems that oppress in the name of God. He confronts injustice, whether perpetrated by warlords in Sudan or pimps who traffic young girls in Seattle and Atlanta. Jesus challenges any kingdom—including each of our personal kingdoms, external and internal—that is a counterfeit of His Way. He is always beckoning us to leave our own way, which never leads to life, and to choose His instead.
The gospels’ stories of Jesus’ birth, ministry, death, and resurrection are not simply collections of biographical details. Rather, they show us who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Jesus not only proclaimed love; He lived love. He didn’t merely teach His followers to walk with those who are poor and suffering; He Himself actually walked with the poor and the suffering. Jesus didn’t just insist on humility, mercy, and justice as virtues of the kingdom. He humbled Himself beyond comprehension, coming into our broken world as one of us. And then He surrendered to the cross to achieve justice for the sins of the world and extend mercy to all who would accept His gift (Phil. 2:5-11).
When Jesus healed the bleeding woman, gathered children to His lap, and laid down His life on Golgotha between two criminals, He enacted the way for us to follow Him. He didn’t teach us abstract principles; He revealed Himself as Truth and then modeled how to live out that Truth.
In the first century, Jesus’ disciples had to choose whether they would follow His way or another way. We have the same choice. To truly follow Christ is not only to declare His words of truth; the Way and the Truth and the Life is not made complete in us unless it lives in us and through us.
But when we travel the way of Jesus, our humble God and mighty Savior, we not only find joy in moving toward the ultimate destination of our true home; we find abundant life in every moment with Him on our journey.