Sermon for April 8, 2018
This is a particularly special sermon, both as a cornerstone of understanding the saving Grace of Christ and, for me, on a personal level. I don’t want to ‘rank’ sermons, but I do consider this one a “must read”. The issues and questions here are not only important in the context of the way to God, but also for your counsel to others as they seek God. The ideas discussed go much deeper than it might first appear and I encourage you to take some time to read, and re-read, and not be afraid to delve into some hard questions that might arise. As you work your way through, I want you to come back to one thing, often, as you read-
Matthew 22:37-40 New International Version (NIV)
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
If you find yourself lost in some part of the sermon, becoming frustrated or judgemental, whatever the barrier might be, come back to this verse and read it again. Center yourself here, and then continue when you’re ready again. Remember that this is a sermon, not an essay or intellectual pursuit, and it is important that you take time to center yourself in the Spirit of God as you explore these truths.
Once you feel that you’re in a place where you are open, continue on.
When my wife and I met, we would play a game where we would just ask questions back and forth. Some were silly, some were serious, but we had this trust in each other, even very early on, that we could share ourselves openly and without fear of being judged. Soon, without even noticing, this developed into a natural way for us to communicate. We developed a trust in each other by getting used to being open and inquisitive about who we were. It was a way for us to deepen our understanding of a connection that we already felt as that first ‘spark’ when you meet the one you’re meant to be with.
One of the things my wife shared with me was a troubling experience she had when she was a child, at a Christian summer camp. Her father is Jewish and she was told that, because he didn’t believe in Jesus as his saviour, that he was going to go to hell when he died. Sadly, I wasn’t very shocked that this had happened. I think many of us have heard, or experienced, something like this at one time or another.
The subject came up because, although I knew my wife was very connected to God, whether you call it spirituality or just being a good person or whatever label one might choose, I could also tell that organized religion didn’t seem to be something that was a source of comfort for her. I could tell there was a disconnect between her personal feelings and ‘the church’.
Beyond even my wife’s personal experience, I know that the questions this kind of experience brings up are some of the most important, and most common, for people searching for God, or Truth etc. These questions bring people to religion, and just as often, drive them away.
At the core of the issue is this primary question- is Jesus the ONLY way to God?
The answer is both yes...and no. I will answer clearly, so this is not a way to get around a true answer. Stay with me to the end. The importance of this issue should not be underestimated.
Look at the question again- is Jesus the only way to God? It certainly seems irrefutable that Jesus himself says that he is the only way. When we take a closer look, however, you’ll see a very common error that leads to misunderstanding.
Many people focus first on ‘the only way’. They get stuck here and use this as a divisive dogma. It is why someone felt entitled to tell my wife, as a child, that her father was going to go to hell because he was Jewish. Instead of focusing on that part, the first place to start is to ask yourself, “Who is Jesus?” If Jesus is the only way to God, who is Jesus? If you don’t know the answer to this, you can’t even move on to the next part of the question.
This question is answered throughout the Bible but even in this particular part of scripture, Jesus clarifies that he is ‘the way, the truth, the life’-
John 14:6 New International Version (NIV)
6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."
There are numerous places where Jesus tells us he is not of the world, not his name and worldly form, not simply a man born of his mother. I won’t quote all the scriptures here because you can easily find them. Jesus is telling us that he is of the Father, he is love, he is Truth in its ultimate form, which transcends the world.
Jesus even tells us not to love the world. The things of the world, names, bodies, our identities, all pass away. Jesus tells the Samaritan woman, at the well, that unlike the water in the well, the water from Christ will quench the thirst and it will never return. The very prophecy Jesus fulfilled required him, the Son of God, to pass out of his worldly form and into spirit. Jesus is telling us, through so many examples, that we are not to worship his form, his worldly name, his personal identity as a man who lived during a certain time, born to a certain family, from a certain town. Jesus Christ transcends what we commonly see as his worldly identity.
How does this apply to my wife’s father? Is he, or others who perhaps haven’t ever heard of Jesus, going to hell because they don’t believe in Jesus? The short answer is ‘no’. The reason is because Jesus in not simply a man. If my wife’s father, or anyone for that matter, believes in what Jesus was, namely the Truth, Love, and all his teachings, they will find God. They are saved. They are saved because they believe in the essence of who Jesus is. Jesus, is the Truth, the Way, the Life and not to be limited to a flesh and blood man.
If this is difficult to see, or accept, there is a practical example acted out by the apostle Peter. When the Roman soldiers come to take Jesus away, the prophecy was being fulfilled. Jesus had already made it clear that he was going away. He prepared his followers for the time when he would be killed, and rise again in spirit. Not only would this happen, but it MUST happen for Jesus Christ to become more than his physical presence in an impermanent world. He must die to his existence here, as a man, to become the Truth, the saving Grace, for all existence.
Then we see Peter acting out our own common mistake. Rather than accepting Christ as what he truly is, having faith that the prophecy must come to fruition, Peter strikes a soldier with his sword, attempting to save what he thought Jesus really was- the man, the name and form who had been with the apostles all this time. Peter was, unknowingly, trying to prevent the prophecy, prevent Jesus from fulfilling his true identity. His intent was good but he couldn’t see, even with Christ’s direct counsel, that the death to his physical body, and this world, was ABSOLUTELY necessary for Christ to cross the final barrier to being the Saviour to all. Imagine if Peter had been successful, and Jesus allowed him to prevent the soldiers from taking him away!
In the same way, when we attempt to limit Christ to a worldly identity, to his form and name while on Earth, we are actually committing the same mistake Peter did. We are preventing Christ from being universal Truth, in the boundless reach of the Holy Spirit. It is not that a man who was crucified is the only way to God, it is what Christ truly is that makes him the only way to God.
This is why a person in a jungle who doesn’t even know of a modern ‘religion’, a person in church, a buddhist, muslim, Jew or whatever other label the world enjoys to divide us with, can find God, through Christ, and be saved. If you don’t understand this, you are seeking not to save others through the limitless, inclusive, love and truth of Christ, you are really limiting the power of Christ to a single identity, for your own understanding and purpose. You are Peter, wielding the sword, believing Jesus needs you to help him, when it is really Jesus who will save you.
So, again, the answer to the question, is Jesus the only way to God, is yes, in that Jesus is the Truth, in all it’s possible forms. The answer is no in the context of viewing Jesus as a man, as his worldly identity. A person living in the Truth of God is saved, whether they have ever heard the name Jesus or not. This is the power of Christ, and his resurrection, that his Truth cannot be stopped by names, by death, or any other seemingly limiting force.
If it feels like I’m hammering the point home, I am. It’s that important to understand that, although we might sometimes feel like we are empowering the truth of Christ through our passion and zeal to show he is the way, if we do this by identifying Christ ONLY by his name, we are freezing Jesus in the form before the resurrection. When we identify with Christ after the resurrection, He is our boundless saviour!
The saving Grace and love of Christ are truly boundless. Just as Christ did not need Peter to rush to his defense, relying on his own will and understanding, we do not need to burden ourselves with defending Christ’s Truth either. Our great command is throughout scripture, and right at the start of this sermon- LOVE. Love God, seek Him with all your heart. Love one another, as Christ loves you. Through Him, through this way, all other things are promised to you.