How do we find our leaders?
Is Jesus really the only way to God?
Perhaps the most startling, awesome and uncompromising statement that Jesus made was when he was trying to comfort his closest friends. He was speaking of his Father's house with many rooms, which he was going to prepare for them. Thomas was flummoxed because Jesus told them that they knew the way to this house, but Thomas couldn't figure it out. Lord, we don't know where this place is, so how can we know the way to get there?
What Jesus said next I am going to analyse in chunks, as his words progressively reveal some wonderful truths.
I am ... (hey, isn't he using the words that God used to describe himself to Moses from the burning bush) ... the way ... (oh, I get it, he's not giving directions to this house, he is the way to the house) ... and the truth ... (if so, then we must listen to him intently) ... and the life ... (and we must do what he does).
He is not showing us a roadmap, a set of instructions, a guidebook to find Heaven, or his Father's house. He is not showing us the way, he is telling us that he is the vehicle, the transportation that's going to get us there. And, more than that, he is not a way to Heaven, he is the way to Heaven. His next statement makes this abundantly clear.
No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)
Hey, this is a bit exclusive isn't it? Is Jesus saying that he is the only way to get to Heaven? Apparently so and the reason why he made this claim is wrapped up in a mystery stretching back to the dawn of time, to the moment Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit. This is when they set in place the grand sweeping scenario of life in a fallen World, which is still being played out today. You've seen the story, strung together through selected Bible verses, in the tracts that are thrust into your hands at shopping malls (not that this is a bad thing).
Adam and Eve ate the fruit and sinned, creating a gulf between themselves (and all mankind) and God. Mankind was tainted with sin and, because of the very nature of God, there could be no close fellowship any more. From now on the only way to bridge this gap and get right with God was through the shedding of blood. Don't question this, analyse it or doubt it, it's just the way it is. To ensure a good relationship with God one had to cover one's sins with the blood of an animal sacrifice, shed on one's behalf. That's why Adam and Eve were clothed in animal skin (the first sacrifice having been made), Abel's sacrifice of a burnt offering was accepted and Cain's sacrifice of fruit and veg wasn't, and why the whole sacrificial system was developed, from the altars of the Patriarchs, to the tabernacle in the wilderness, to the Temple in Jerusalem. This whole system was developed into a veritable industry, from the rearing of the animals, their inspection for purity and acceptability, the whole mechanism for creating different sacrifices for different purposes and a hierarchical priesthood and associated staff, to musicians and moneychangers, all to keep the thing running.
Then around 30AD the whole thing was done away with, by the sacrifice of Jesus, the Lamb of God, the atonement. To push home the point 40 years later, God ensured that the Jews could never return to the old ways, by having the Romans destroy the Jerusalem Temple, thus ensuring that sacrifices could never be made again. According to the writer to the Hebrews, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant (Hebrews 7:22). The death of Jesus had done away with the need for any form of animal sacrifice. There is no room here for deep theology; theologians and Christian writers have spent lifetimes covering this subject. It all boils down to this:
... just as the result of one trespass (Adam's) was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness (Jesus's) was justification that brings life for all men. (Romans 5:18)
So Jesus is the way, the only way to God, through this act of righteousness, his undeserved death on a cross, a justification to bring life for all men.
If this is so, then what does this say about those people who follow other faiths, religions and variations on mainstream Christianity? Is salvation to be found in any other place?
Let us first remind ourselves what Jesus told his friends:
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)
And also the words of Simon Peter:
Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
Contrast this with the words of Oprah Winfrey:
"Jesus can't possibly be the only way to God ..." (on one of her shows)
So who can we believe? Next week we will get a historical perspective.
(This is an abridged extract from Steve's book How the Church Lost the Truth: And How it Can Find it Again)
A Lib Dem candidate who was due to stand in the upcoming election...