Truth or Tolerance
Scripture: John 14:5–6
Truth or ToleranceJohn 14:5-6
Sunday, November 2, 2003
Pastor Randy Smith
Late one evening this past week my wife and I were lost in Manhattan. While following directions to the Lincoln Tunnel, somehow we found ourselves going east though Central Park. Yet I knew that if we turned around and followed our compass southwest, eventually we would arrive at the Lincoln Tunnel. Fortunately, many different street combinations were sufficient to get us to our desired location.
Most people pursue their journey to God the way we pursued our journey home that evening. In other words, they believe there is one God, one destination, but many viable paths that lead to that higher Being.
Allow me to cite a few examples:
At a January 4, 2000 interfaith dialogue in the Chicago suburbs, Nobel Peace Prize nominee M. Cherif Bassiouni, a law professor at DePaul University, Chicago, Illinois, said all religions lead to God using different paths. "The judgment is not by the choice we make, but by how we pursue the path of the choice we make," he said. He continued. "Different religions and cultures are equal in the eyes of God and should be seen as equal in the eyes of man" (Daily Herald, Arlington Heights, Illinois, (1-5-00), p.1).
Like her television show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, actress Sarah Michelle Gellar's personal spirituality borrows from a hodgepodge of religions. "I consider myself a spiritual person," she told Scotland's Daily Record. "I believe in an idea of God, although it's my own personal ideal. I find most religions interesting, and I've been to every kind of denomination: Catholic, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist. I've taken bits from everything and customized it" (Buffy's Religion, Christianity Today (7-08-02), p. 10).
Hilary Swank, 1999's Oscar winner for Best Actress and wife of actor Chad Lowe, was asked, "Where does Jesus fit into all of (your and your husband's success)?" She responded: "It's not like we're Catholic or Christian or Episcopal or practice Judaism or Buddhism even. We just kind of believe in a higher power and that doesn't mean a man God, or someone on a cross. It just means that we all have god-like qualities. We have the power inside of us to do good things. But I don't want you to write it like I'm freaky" (I am Hilary Swank's Bestest New Girlfriend, Jane, (October 2001), p. 128).
Recently I read about the 7,000-member Agape International Spiritual Center in suburban Los Angeles. I read that this "church" intermixes Christian praise songs with "Oms" of Eastern meditation. In the bookstore, the Bible shares space with books by gurus, self-proclaimed goddesses, and mystical pop-psychologists. Their Pastor, Michael Beckwith, explains the church is "New thought combined with ancient wisdom…Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists…we cut across all lines to reach what is true."
Many in the church community are no different. George Barna asked the following question to professing believers. "Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and others all pray to the same God, even though they use different names for that God." Of population surveyed who identified themselves as "born again," 30 percent agreed strongly, 18 percent agreed somewhat and 12 percent did not know (Barna, What Americans Believe, p. 206-212).
Such responses are acceptable to most, but are diametrically opposed to the teaching of Scripture. Namely, it contradicts the authoritative words of Jesus Christ, who gave the most dogmatic, intolerant and politically incorrect statement ever recorded. In verse 6 of chapter 14 our Savior said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me."
Please be forewarned! This sermon will cut across the grain of pluralistic society. It will chafe with great friction the concept of modern thought. It may be outright offensive to some of you. However, I trust many of you will see that this teaching is not my own concoction but rather the presentation sacred Scripture. These are the words of our Good Shepherd who said, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (Jn. 10:27). Therefore as a mouthpiece called by and accountable to God, it is my responsibility to boldly and accurately proclaim His truth from this pulpit regardless of how humankind may perceive it.
1. BY WAY OF REVIEW
Last week we learned that the disciples were greatly agitated. The One whom they left everything to follow was about to pursue the way of death via the cross. In their minds separation was never part of the plan. But Jesus understood their anxiety and in the midst of tremendous strain Himself, sought to comfort His friends' troubled hearts.
Initially, Jesus exhorted His disciples to have faith in Him. Verse 1, "Let not your heart be troubled. (You) believe in God, believe also in Me." Amid the apparent tragic and hopeless situation, Jesus was in control and the events were unfolding according to the minutia of His sovereign plan for His glory and the disciples' good. Due to His upcoming atonement for sin, Jesus would prepare a place in heaven for those who love Him (verses 2 and 3). These truly were encouraging words for His disciples. However, He added a question that threw at least one disciple into confusion.
Verse 4, "And you know the way where I am going." Verse 5, "Thomas said to Him, 'Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?'" In other words, "Jesus, You said You are leaving us (13:33, 36). We have no idea how to get to Your Father's house with the many rooms that await us (14:2). How are we supposed to know the way?" I can imagine Jesus gently shaking His head, placing His arm around His friend and saying, "Thomas, you have been with Me this long and you still do not know the way? (Verse 6), 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.'"
2. WAY, TRUTH AND LIFE
Since this is such a crucial verse, maybe we should break down its meaning in more detail. I want you to notice the exclusivity of Christ's own words.
When Jesus said He was the way, He was pointing to Himself as the pathway that leads from one place to another. In the context this means Jesus is the pathway to Heaven (Jn. 14:2-3). He does not claim to be one who points us in the right direction like Buddha who called himself "the way shower." He does not claim to be a trailblazer who commands us to follow the route He has taken. He is these things and much more. In verse 6 Jesus said He is the way.
This reminds me of the missionary who lost his way in an African jungle. He could find no landmarks and the trail vanished. Eventually, stumbling on a small hut, he asked the native living there if he could lead him out. The native nodded. Rising to his feet, he walked directly into the bush. The missionary followed on his heels. For more than an hour they hacked their way through a dense wall of vines and grasses. The missionary became worried: "Are you sure this is the way? I don't see any path." The African chuckled and said over his shoulder, "Bwana, in this place there is no path. I am the path" (Today in the Word, May, 1996, p. 24).
Not only is He the way, Jesus is also the truth. Because Jesus Christ is God in the flesh, He embodies the supreme and final revelation of God to man (Jn. 1:18). When so many claim that truth is relative (Jn. 18:38), when so many believe truth can be shaped like a wax nose, Jesus boldly declares that He is the litmus test for truth. Many who follow His Word can be teachers of the truth, but only Jesus can assert to be the truth Himself.
He is the way, the truth and finally, He is the life. Jesus Christ is the giver of life in the physical sense. "For by Him all things were created… all things have been created through Him and for Him" (Col. 1:16). Jesus Christ is the giver of life in the spiritual sense as well. "For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive" (1 Cor. 15:22). Only Jesus reserves this exclusive prerogative to give life because He is the One who has "life in Himself" (Jn. 5:26; c.f. 1:4; 1 Jn. 5:11). And since Jesus is "the life," He dispenses His life to those whom He sovereignly chooses.
What a tremendous claim! Jesus did not profess to be a way, a truth and a life; rather He said I am the way, the truth and the life. Many Christian authors have captured the weight of this threefold declaration.
In light of its irony, Leon Morris said, "'I am the Way,' said the One who would shortly hang impotent on a cross. 'I am the Truth,' when the lies of evil men were about to enjoy a spectacular triumph. 'I am the Life,' when within a few hours His corpse would be placed in a tomb" (Morris, John, p. 641). In light of its clarity, D.A. Carson said, "Jesus is the way to God, precisely because He is the truth of God and the life of God…Only because He is the truth and life can Jesus be the way for others to come to God" (Carson, John, p. 491). In light of its profundity, Ray Stedman said, "Notice He did not say, 'I show the way, I teach the truth, I give life…Other religious leaders fit into those categories…When you come to (Jesus) you are meeting God; you have found ultimate reality and truth. When you come to (Jesus) you then and there possess life" (Stedman, The Cure for Heart Trouble, John 14:1-14). In light of its beauty, Thomas a Kempis said, "Thou art the way, the truth and the life. Without the way, there is no going. Without the truth, there is no knowing. Without the life, there is no living" (Leadership, v. 5, n. 1).
3. NO OTHER WAY
It is because of His declaration to be the way, the truth and the life, Jesus can now claim in the second half of verse 6 that "no one comes to the Father but through Me." Could He have said it any plainer? One may not accept these words and henceforth reject the Jesus of Scripture, but one cannot fail to comprehend exactly what Jesus meant. One does not need a PhD in theology to interpret, "No one comes to the Father but through Me!"
In a world that tolerates thousands of pathways to God, Christ's words are the epitome of spiritual bigotry. Even as John, under inspiration penned these words from our Savior, the Mediterranean world too was engulfed in a sea of religious diversity. Claiming exclusivity in Christ and confessing Jesus (not Caesar) as Lord brought much fierce persecution to the early church, and they paid with their lives. As a matter of fact, the Romans even offered to erect a bust of Jesus and place Him on par with their pantheon of gods, but the Christians adamantly refused. They knew that Jesus was God above all gods and King above all kings and Lord above all lords (Gal. 4:8; 1 Ti. 6:15; Rev. 17:14; 19:16). Even at the consequence of their lives, to say otherwise they knew would compromise the integrity of their faith.
Even the Apostles never capitulated from the religious tolerance of their day. After being flogged and ordered not to speak in the name of Jesus (Ac. 5:40), immediately we read in Acts 5:42, "Every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ."
We may deduct from verse 6 that all humans apart from Jesus Christ are lost without a way. As Al Martin once said, "Give up the Christ of the Bible and you give up salvation." Regardless of ones affiliation with philosophy, education, morality or even religion, they stand separated from their Creator without a bridge to span the great divide. For Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me" (Jn. 14:6).
Some of you may be thinking at this point, "Wow! That's pretty intolerant, Pastor. That is a bold and even offensive claim to say that your way is right and all the other ways are wrong. How can you prove to me that Jesus is the only way to God?"
Glad you asked! Allow me to provide four answers to your question.
4. WHY JESUS IS THE ONLY WAY
First of all, the Bible says it! Time permits me from defending the inerrancy of the Scriptures, but you need to realize that if you reject salvation only in Jesus, you are clearly rejecting the teaching of the Holy Bible. And if youreject the teaching of the Bible, you are rejecting the voice of God!
We have already seen John 14:6; allow me to show you a few more verses that support this thesis. This theme is all over the Bible; it's not an isolated topic. John 3:36, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." John 8:24, "Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." John 10:7, 9, "So Jesus said to them again, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep'…I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture." Acts 4:12, "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." 1 Corinthians 16:22, "If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha." 1 Timothy 2:5, "For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, theman Christ Jesus." 1 John 5:12-13, "He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life." 2 John 1:9, "Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son."
Folks, if we can't accept the truth of Scripture, what are we doing? And if we reject the Bible, what are we basing our faith upon? And if we believe the Bible to be true, who are we, as finite creatures, to pick and choose what we desire to accept?
Why do we think it strange that Almighty God would select a specific route to His presence? What kind of God do we think He is that He should cater to each man's religious fancy? Is it wrong that the gumball machine only accepts quarters or the phone pad only accepts the right combination of numbers or keyhole only accepts a certain cut of metal or the IRS only accepts the recording specific numbers? Should the living God be any different? Is He wrong to accept only His prescribed means to salvation? Why is it so outrageous to believe that God has clearly revealed the way He has chosen to save humanity?
Second, Jesus is the only way to God, because He Himself is God. No other viable religious figure claimed to be God, but Jesus did. He said, "I and the Father are one" (Jn. 10:31). "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am" (Jn. 8:58). "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (Jn. 14:9). Jesus shared an intimate unity with the Father in essence (context-Jn. 14:10, 20, 21, 23). Jesus came as God incarnate in the flesh to show us the way to the Father. Therefore, since He is God, shouldn't we take His claims seriously?
Gary Burge rightly said, "The exclusive claim of Christianity about Christ is not centered on our belief that Jesus was right about God. It is centered on our claim that God was fully present in Christ to reconcile the world to Himself (2 Cor. 5:18). It is the theological claim about Jesus (that He is God) that makes the spiritual claims of Jesus potent. Jesus' words are right because those words are God's words (Jn. 14:10b). Jesus' 'way' is not superior because it promotes a higher ethic or because it champions values that resonate with our spiritual sensitivities. Jesus' way is true because in Him we find God drawing us to Himself" (Burge, John, 408).
Allow me to give you a third reason. Jesus is the only way to God because only Jesus died for sin. We must understand and accept the chief tenant of Scripture that God is holy and man is sinful. Romans 3:23 says, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." The Holy Creator cannot stand to look at sin (Hab. 1:13), much less accept it into His kingdom (Mt. 5:8; Heb. 12:14). But Jesus and only Jesus came for the purpose of dying as our substitute for sin. The Baptist introduced Him as, "The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" (Jn. 1:29). Hebrews 9:28, "So Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of man." 1 Peter 3:18, "For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God." Revelation 5:9, "And they sang a new song, saying, 'Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.'"
Nobody will be in heaven because: they helped old ladies across the street, or they were weaned in a spiritual family, or they slipped St. Peter $20 at the Pearly Gates, or they were involved in religious activities. Heaven is reserved exclusively for those who have their sins washed in the blood of Jesus. Think about it this way. For if there be any other way to heaven, God sent His only Son to die of the cross needlessly (Gal. 2:21).
A Christian from China was giving his testimony and he said, "I had slipped into a great ditch and the ditch was sin. Buddha came along and said, 'Come up half way and I will lift you up.' Muhammad came along and said, 'Here are five pillars that will get you out.' But I couldn't get up those five pillars. Confucius came along and said, 'You're not really in that ditch, you just think you're in that hole.' But I was still there in the ditch of sin. Then Jesus came by and saw my predicament. He didn't say a word but laid aside his regal robes and got down in the ditch along with the sin and the mire and he lifted me out of it by His grace. The difference was His love and who He was! Jesus who is God was willing to come down to my level in order to lift me out of sin." Of all the religious figures, only Jesus died for sin so that we may stand blameless in the presence of a holy God!
Jesus is the only way to God because the Bible teaches it, because Jesus is God, because only Jesus died for sin and finally, because only Jesus conquered death through the Resurrection. As you know the Resurrection is the cornerstone of our faith. Without it, Christianity crumbles.
Concerning the Resurrection and salvation in Christ alone, Hank Hanegraaff remarked, "It is the singular doctrine that elevates Christianity above all other world religions. Through the resurrection, Christ demonstrated that He does not stand in a line of peers with Abraham, Buddha, or Confucius. He is utterly unique. He has the power not only to lay down His life, but to take it up again" (Hanegraaff, Resurrection, p. 15).
If you were lost in the California wildfires and about to be engulfed in the flames, who would you chose to lead you to safety - a dead corpse or a strong fireman who knows the way out? Every other religious figure died and is still dead in the grave. Only Jesus conquered death through the Resurrection. He is the first fruits of our resurrection and presently alive to come to the aid of His followers.
Jesus said in John 14:6, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me."
According to Gene Veith of World magazine, "Possibly unrivaled in modern history, has the church ever been under such attack to conform to the principles of modernity, pluralism and secularism. To claim the exclusiveness of Jesus Christ is held to be the epitome of ignorance and intolerance. Personally, I feel the evangelical church has only begun to sense the pressure to conform to worldly standards and embrace all faiths as a viable road to the universal god" (Veith, "The New Multi-Faith Religion,' World, (12/15/01), p. 16).
He's right! Nevertheless, we must understand the teaching of Jesus and take a bold stance to defend it and proclaim it, regardless of the cost.
Is the way of Christ exclusive? Yes it is. Elsewhere Jesus said, "Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able" (Lk. 13:24). But salvation in Christ is inclusive as well. In the Gospel of John, the Apostle clearly stated his purpose for writing. "These have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name" (Jn. 20:31). Jesus Christ has made the way of salvation open to all. And the only response required to receive this wonderful gift is faith in Him.
How have you responded? Let's go to prayer and mediate on this wonderful truth of salvation in Christ alone as we prepare our hearts for Communion.
- Have you come to the conviction that the Bible is the Word of God and henceforth must be accepted and obeyed in whole?
- Have you come to the conviction that only Jesus of the Scriptures died for sin and conquered death in the Resurrection?
- Have you come to the conviction that your own condition is such that you can have no safe dwellings with God apart from Jesus Christ?
- Have you come to the conviction that failing to tell another about salvation in Christ is permitting them to perish in the sea of religious tolerance and therefore the most unloving act you can commit?
- Have you come to the conviction that Jesus Christ right now is your way, your truth and your life?