Sunday, May 22, 2011
Sermon - John 14:1-6 - Easter 5
May 22nd 2011
You intolerant Christians! You really believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven? You mean to tell me that if a good Muslim or a good Jew or a good Buddhist or even a good atheist dies, that God won't have mercy on him? Come on! What a narrow-minded, exclusivist thing to believe? No wonder so many wars are fought in the name of religion – with people like you running around. This just proves that you are bigoted self-righteous bible thumpers. Jesus is the only way to heaven. Puh-leez.
Sound familiar? Maybe you've heard even just a part of a rant like this. And it's no fun being on the receiving end of such an attack. Words like these are, frankly, of the devil. It's the oldest trick in his book, to question, “Did God really say...?”
But yes, in fact, Jesus really says it. “No one comes to the Father but by me”. There's no way around it. There's no “yeah, but”. His words are simple and plain, and they demand our acknowledgment. Jesus is the only way to heaven. Christianity is an exclusive religion. Sure there are squishy Christians who want to water down our Lord's plain words, or add asterisks and addendums. Sure there are those whose cultural moorings are stronger than their biblical ones. They want everything in Christianity to be tolerant and inclusive and, well, nice. No bad news. It's too much of a downer. So they explain away or twist or just ignore these simple straightforward words. “No one comes to the Father but by me”.
And you do it too. We all do. There are times when even rock-ribbed, harded-headed Missouri Synod Lutherans, yes even pastors, try to find another way to the Father, but by Jesus Christ. We may not do it intentionally or consciously, but rest assured, we are no better than the critics. Our sin leaves us without excuses.
For example, what about the way we sometimes try to bargain with God. If you do this for me, I'll do this for you? That's coming to the Father apart from Christ, isn't it? It's offering our own good works as some form of spiritual barter. But God's not interested in our filthy rags. Only the precious blood of Christ is valuable enough to purchase what we need. And that we can only receive as a gift.
Or what about when we ourselves fall for the cultural lies of tolerance and relativism? What about when we, too, explain away the hard words of Scripture? We feel bad about that unbeliever who rejects the Gospel, and so we imagine another way to salvation for him. We may tell our friends, our children, that God is all-loving and all-accepting, and what we really mean is that these words of Jesus are wrong, “No one comes to the Father but by me”. Yes, we buckle to the pressure of our culture far too often.
Or what about when we come to the Father by Jesus, but a Jesus of our own imagination? One who doesn't bother with calling for repentance (even though the real Jesus does). A Jesus who isn't all that concerned about sin (even though that's the main reason the real Jesus came)? A Jesus who is mainly an example to follow, not the real Jesus who is a substitute for us – doing what we can't do even if we try? Or a Jesus who wants to make you feel good – not the real Jesus who wants to declare you righteous (whether you feel it or not!) A Jesus without the cross?? That's no Jesus at all. That's someone else who can't save you.
There are so many false Jesus-es. And there always have been. From the thieves and robbers who came before him, claiming to be the savior... to the false teachers and charlatan preachers of today who try to get your eye off of the cross, and the Crucified one. The devil constantly asks, “did God really say?” And sometimes we believe it. And sometimes we even say it.
So repent, and believe. Believe in the Jesus who is the only way to the Father – but he IS THE WAY! This is good news! You have a way! You are not lost! Your sins are not the death of you. Jesus died for you, and Jesus lives for you, and Jesus, and only Jesus, but yes, Jesus gives you all that you need.
No one has life but by him. He died that the world would not perish. No one is righteous, not one. But he lived righteousness and gives his righteousness to you. No one can rise from the dead, but he did, and through him we do too. No one can save himself, but Christ saves us all!Jesus is the only way, but what a way he is!
If you want to see God, look to Jesus. If you want to be one with God, be one with Jesus. If you want God's blessings, seek Jesus – even as he has already sought you. If you want to hear the wonderful and precious promises of God, just listen to Jesus. He'll fill you in.
He is the way, the truth, the life. Not one among many, but our one and only. And he is yours, even today.
What an amazing miracle that this one, narrow way to salvation comes to so many, and has come to you! What a blessing that his 2000 year old words still speak and have the power to create faith and save and forgive you! That his sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion still endure, and still give us access to his grace and mercy, personally, in time and space.
And this exclusive way of salvation is really quite open to all. There is no sinner Jesus didn't die to save, whose sins aren't paid for in divine blood. There is no race or color or socioeconomic exclusivity. No age limit young or old. No lineage or pedigree with greater claim. Even the Buddhists and Muslims are invited to Christ. That means that it's for you, too. Jesus, the only way of salvation, is your way, your truth, and your life. Believe in him, and only him, always. In his name, Amen.