Rev. Robert D. Shofner
Jesus said at lot of audacious things. This is the guy who said you've got to lose your life to save it. He's the guy who said we've got to love our enemies. He said it's better to give than to receive. He said the meek shall inherit the earth. But, by far, the most controversial thing Jesus ever said is found in John 14:6, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me."
In these days of deep ecumenism, many Christians are ashamed that Jesus ever said this. Many even doubt that He ever said it. They think it's bigoted, narrow-minded. How could Jesus make such a claim? And is it true? Yes, Jesus was telling the truth when He made this claim. And He said it, not out of arrogance, but out of great compassion. Why is it so controversial? It's controversial because it strikes at the heart of three great myths about Christianity. Let's look at these.
Myth #1 - All religions are basically the same. When you get down to the essentials, all religions teach, basically, the same thing, so it doesn't matter which one you believe. In other words, all spiritual paths lead to God. And yet with this one outlandish assertion, Jesus Christ boldly puts Christianity into a separate class by itself; because if the only real path to God is through Jesus Christ, then Christianity cannot be reconciled with any other religion. Acts 4:12 says, "Salvation is found in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." The uniqueness of Christianity is rooted in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Jesus is unlike any other religious leader who has ever walked this planet.
Other religious leaders say, "Follow me, and I will show you how to find the truth." Jesus said, "I am the truth." Other religious leaders say, "Follow me, and I will show you the way to eternal life." Jesus said, "I am the way to eternal life." Other religious leaders say, "Follow me, and I will show you how to become enlightened." Jesus said, "I am the Light of the world." Other religious leaders say, "Follow me, and I will show you many doors that lead to God." Jesus said, "I am the Door." Other religious leaders say, "Follow me, and I will show you how you can find spiritual nourishment." Jesus said, "I am the Bread of life." Jesus says, "I am, so follow me." See the difference?
All religions, other than Christianity, are based on the idea of people doing something through their struggling, through their striving, to somehow earn the good favor of God. All other religions are spelled "D O;” because they all teach that people have to do something to make themselves morally "okay" so they can please God. Christianity, on the other hand, is clear. You can never do enough to earn your way into heaven. So Christianity is spelled "D O N E." It's done. Jesus Christ has done what we could never do. He lived the perfect, sinless life; and He went to the cross to pay for the sins of the world. He last words on the cross … "It's done. It's paid for." And all that's left for us is to apply that to our lives; to receive God's free gifts of forgiveness, grace and mercy.
Titus 3:5 says, "He saved us. It was not because of any good works that we ourselves had done, but because of his own mercy that he saved us …"
There are other major differences as well. Christianity says there is one God, eternally existing in three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Hinduism says everything is God; you're God, I'm God, this pulpit is God, the flowers are God. Islam denies that Jesus Christ is God. Buddha wasn't sure if God existed or not.
It would be illogical for God to come over to one side of the world and say, "Here's who I am. I am one God; I am a good God; I exist eternally in three Persons; here's how you come to me, through my grace and forgiveness." But then God goes to another part of the world says, "Oh, just forget about all that! I'm not one God, I'm millions of Gods. I'm not a personal God, I'm an impersonal God. And I'm not just a good God, I'm also a bad God. And you don't become reconciled through grace, you have to earn it." And then God goes to another part of the world and says, "Forget those two things. I'll tell you something different." It doesn't make any sense! God would be schizophrenic. And we'd all be in trouble if God were schizophrenic. What would make sense is that God would provide a path for us to follow in finding Him, and would tell us about that path in an absolutely extraordinary way, which God did … it's called Christmas. The incarnation; God becoming human that God might pay the penalty for our sin that we might spend eternity with Him.
So it does matter which path you follow in your spiritual journey. Jesus' words dispel the myth that all paths lead to God.
Myth #2 - it's related to the first myth - is this; all religions have equal claims on the truth. In other words, let's say, okay, Christianity is different from other religions. But, it's still one philosophy among many. It's only as valid as any other religious system. This myth has great appeal in the United States, because we live in a tolerant and pluralistic society. But some people erroneously assume that because the laws of our country protect every belief, therefore every belief must be equally true. The Supreme Court describes what we have in this country as a "market place" of ideas. In other words, truth and falsehood can grapple it out, so that in the end, truth will emerge. Freedom of speech; a free flow of different ideas. But it does not follow that since all religions are equally protected, all religions are equally true.
In this country where we can all believe whatever we want to believe, anybody is free to make the claim that they are the way and they are the truth and they are the life and no one comes to the Father but through them. And, through the centuries, people have made that claim. Jemima Wilkenson, born in 1752 in Rhode Island, was able to convince about 200 people that she was the daughter of God, that she was their ticket to heaven, the one and only way to the Father. What destroyed her little movement was that, in 1820, she told them not to bury her when she died, because on the third day she would come back from the dead. She died, so they propped her body up in a chair … and waited. After about a week, they all just slipped away. That was the end of that. She was proved to be a liar.
How do we know that Jesus was telling the truth? The reality is this; only Jesus backs up His claims with unique credentials that give Him unique credibility. Let's take a quick look at four.
First, Jesus can validate His claim to be the Son of God because Jesus is the only one, in the history of the world, to fulfill dozens of ancient prophecies, written hundreds of years prior to His birth. Now, some people might think that He just sort of maneuvered His life to intentionally fool people into thinking He was the Messiah. For instance, one of these prophecies said that the Messiah would enter Jerusalem humbly, riding a donkey. So, Jesus, trying to fool the people, told His disciples to make sure He got a donkey to ride on. But there's no way He could intentionally arrange to fulfill most of those prophecies. He couldn't arrange for His place of birth, His ancestry, the exact moment He would be born, how He would be put to death. It was impossible for any human being in history to fulfill all those prophecies. But Jesus Christ did. That's one way His claim to be the Son of God is validated.
Second, He validates His claim by His unprecedented character. As His followers spent more time with Him, got to know Him more and more, they increasingly marveled at His purity and His holiness and His integrity. No one was closer to Him than Peter and John, and this is what they said after spending three years with Him. John said, "In Him is no sin." Can you imagine somebody saying that about you? About me? Peter said, "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth."
Third, He validated His claim by performing miracles. He even challenged His followers in John 10:37, "Don't you even believe me unless I do miracles of God." In other words, "Anybody can claim to be a Son of God, but unless I do miracles, supernaturally, to show you, don't believe even me." And He did do miraculous things, and not in just some dark room where only one or two people could witness. He did them in broad daylight, in front of skeptics and cynics. Even His enemies admitted Jesus did the miraculous. It says in Acts 2:22, "Jesus of Nazareth was a man whose divine mission was clearly shown to you by the miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through him; you yourselves know this, for it took place here among you."
And fourth, in the most spectacular demonstration of His deity, Jesus Christ fulfilled His own prediction, and three days after He was put to death, He was resurrected from the dead; and He was encountered by more than 500 eye witnesses. Who else but the Son of God could do that?
Christianity is not just a philosophy; it is a reality. Jesus didn't just claim that He is the one and only way to God. He validated His credentials and firmly established His credibility.
Myth #3 says this: Christians are arrogant when they say that Jesus is the only way to heaven. I would agree with that if the truth is that there are many ways to get to heaven, and they were just saying, "Ours is the best." But that's not what they're saying. What Christianity says is this: The truth of the matter is someone has got to pay the penalty for the obvious wrong-doing that we've committed. Who is it going to be? Us, paying for all eternity? Or, is it going to be Jesus Christ, paying it for us as our substitute? He's the only one qualified by His sinlessness and by His divinity to be our substitute.
So the reality is this: it's not arrogance to act upon the evidence. Christians aren't being narrow-minded when they say there is only way to the Father.
An analogy. Several years ago our friends had a baby boy. This infant had jaundice, which is a disease of the liver that causes the skin and the whites of the eyes to turn yellow. It is potentially very serious. But it is also easy to cure. Since it was the early summer, the doctor told them to place their baby in the sunlight. The sunlight would stimulate the liver to function properly. Now, my friends could have responded by saying, "Wait a minute. That's just sounds too easy. Put him out in the sun? Come on! How about, instead, we just scrub him with soap and rinse his body with bleach? That will get the yellow out." And the doctor would respond, "No, you don't understand. There's only one way to cure jaundice." And the parents could have replied, "Wait a minute. We don't like this 'one way' thing. How about if we just ignore it and pretend everything's okay? If we sincerely believe we don't have to do anything, then, in the end, everything will work out." And the doctor would say, "Wait a minute! You're going to jeopardize the life of your son if you do that. There's only one way to cure jaundice. I imagine you're hesitant because it sounds too easy. But, look at my credentials. Look at my medical degree. I have cured countless babies of jaundice. Trust me based on my credentials."
Now, would anybody accuse those parents of being narrow minded if they trusted that doctor, a doctor with credibility and credentials, when he said there is only one way, one course of treatment, that would cure their little boy? No! It's not arrogance to act upon the evidence.
The truth of the matter is, we all have a terminal illness called "sin." And the reason those of us who are Christians cling to Jesus Christ is because He is the Great Physician. He is the only one who has the medication that can cure us. We can try to scrub away our sin by doing good works, but it's not going to work. We can try to ignore it and hope it all goes away, but it won't disappear. We can sincerely think there's another way of dealing with it … but we would be sincerely wrong. The truth of the matter is only the Great Physician offers the treatment that will erase the stain of our sin. And when we turn to Jesus Christ for that one way, that's not being narrow minded; we're acting in accordance with the evidence. We're not being arrogant.
Let's think about it this way. Two Country Clubs. One Country Club represents every other religious system in the world. The membership committee of the club says, "You want to come in? You want to join up? You have to pay for the membership if you want in. You have to achieve a certain level of spirituality. You have to accomplish a certain number of good deeds. And then, maybe, we'll let you in. But the truth of the matter is many of you are not going to make it. You're going to fall short. And the door is going to get slammed in your face."
Christianity is different. Christianity is like a Country Club with the doors wide open. The membership committee says, "You want in? Come on in! You don't have to buy your membership. Jesus Christ has already paid for it with His death on the cross. Joining our Country Club is not based on your qualifications; all you have to do is just accept the invitation of Jesus. The doors are open. It doesn't matter if you're rich or poor, black or white, what part of the country you're from, what your age is. It's all up to you. You decide if you want to join our Country Club. We're going to leave the doors open, because we really hope that you'll come in and experience what we've experienced in this place."
That is what Christianity says. Now, you tell me, which approach is snobbish? The Bible tells us, clearly, that as Christians we are to be anything but arrogant in what we believe. It says in 1st Peter 3:15-16, "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do this with gentleness and respect …" All Christians should be able to tell people about the credibility and credentials of Jesus Christ, and why it is that He is their hope for eternal life. But then it says we are to respect people of all cultures and of all beliefs; we are to love them in true humility and service.
Definition of a Christian. A Christian is just a beggar telling other beggars where to find food. That's all we are; people who have found spiritual food through Jesus Christ. We just want to tell other people the Good News. And tell them with a sense of humility and respect.
Okay … Christianity is unique, and it can't be reconciled with any other religion. It backs up its claim to be the truth with credibility and credentials that no other religion has. And Christians are not being arrogant when they say Jesus is the only way to heaven, because it's not arrogance to act upon the evidence.
Now, all of that brings us to a commonly asked question. "Okay, if Jesus is the only way, what about the poor man or woman who never gets a chance to hear about Jesus. Are they going to go to hell? That doesn't seem fair."
God hasn't given us an explicit answer to that question, but God has left us enough clues that we can figure it out. We do know this:
First, God puts each person in the place where they might reach out to Him. This is an amazing thing. Look at the verses there, Acts 17:26-27, "From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. [Why?] God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us." So, if you are somewhere remote, or in some land that's never heard of Christ, God wanted you there because that is the place where you will, perhaps, reach out for him. And then it says, "Know what? God is not far from each one of us. God isn't making it hard for us to find Him."
The second thing we want to remember is that everyone has a moral standard written on their hearts, and all are guilty of violating it. [Romans 2:15; 3:10] We know that's true! Hasn't your conscience bothered you when you've done something wrong? Of course it has.
The third thing we know from the Bible is that everyone has enough information from observing creation to know that God exists, but people reject God anyway [Romans 1:20-21].
But, we also know from the Bible that every person who sincerely seeks God will find God [Jeremiah 29:13]. In fact, the Bible says it is the Holy Spirit that first seeks us, making it possible for us, in the first place, to seek God.
Now, all of this suggests that people, anywhere in the world, who respond to the understanding that they have, and who earnestly seek after the one, true God, are going to find the opportunity, in some way, to receive the eternal life that God has graciously provided through Jesus Christ, and Him alone.
There's something else. And that is God is scrupulously fair. Genesis 18:25 says, "Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" And God will. It is comforting to know that every human being who has ever lived is going to be uniquely and fairly judged by God. Take a look at Revelation 20:11-15. There will not be one individual ever born who has been fairly judged by God who will be able to shake his or her fist at God and say, "That was unfair." They may not like the verdict, but they will ultimately see that God is scrupulously fair.
No one will be excluded from heaven just because they haven't heard the name of Jesus Christ. The reason to be denied admittance is because they have told God their entire life that they can live just fine without Him, that they don't need Him. When they die, God will say to them, "Based on your own decision to live your life separate from Me, I'm going to honor the decision that you have made. I'm going to seal it right now. And you will live with that decision … for eternity. You will be separated from Me forever." Isn't that fair? God isn't going to violate our free will. God will honor the choice that you and I make.
So that helps us understand about the isolated person who's never heard the message of Jesus Christ. But we're not isolated. You've heard it now. You're accountable for it now. And the question is, what are you going to do with it?
My prayer for you, my hope for you, is that you make the right choice.
Father, for those of us who have already taken that step of faith, and have received Your Son, Jesus Christ, as our forgiver and our leader, we are just so grateful that You've provided the way for us. And, Father, for those who for years have believed that Jesus is Your Son, but their lives haven't changed, because they've never acted on that belief, they've never received Him as their forgiver and leader, I pray, in this moment, that in their spirit, they would pray, "Lord Jesus, I receive what you did on the cross right now, and apply it to my life. I receive you as my Lord and Savior. I receive you as my new friend, that I might grow to know You in this world, and in the world to come."
We thank You for Your love, that You would not desire to see one of Your children perish, but rather have eternal life, through Your Son, in whose name we pray.