Of all the questions leveled against Christianity, few others cause such heated controversy: “Is Jesus the Only Way to God?” For many people, Jesus’ words equate exclusivity with arrogance:
I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me. —John 14:6
The exclusivity of those words is unmistakable. Millions question: “How can Jesus be the only way to God? That’s not fair. It leaves out too many people.”
But if you think about it, the real question isn’t, “Is Jesus the Only Way to God?” but rather we should ask, “Is God holy”?
Here’s why that’s the real issue.
The annual holiday Yom Kippur begins this evening. It always reminds me of a surprising conversation I had in Jerusalem at the Western Wall. A Jewish woman approached me and engaged me in a talk.
She somehow knew my affiliation with a radio ministry and told me we needed to broadcast to the nations God’s way to be saved. I told her that was, in fact, our passion.
She smiled and shook her head no.
Then she shared with me a list of things all Gentiles need to do in order for God to accept them. I recognized some of the standards as being from the Ten Commandments, and I told her so. Again, she smiled and shook her head.
“Those commandments are for the Jews,” she said.
“Do you keep them?” I asked.
Whenever I visit the Jerusalem Archaeological Park, I’m eager to walk to the southwest corner of the Temple Mount.
I’ve never been to this corner on Rosh Hashanah or during the Feast of Trumpets, but I’d love to go there then. Archaeologists have uncovered a large portion of the first-century street that stretched north along the original Western Wall.
One hundred meters north of the corner is the part of the Western Wall where locals and tourists pray. But beneath the ground, Jerusalem’s Central Valley has been filled in with the rubble of the Second Temple’s destruction in A.D. 70. As a result, the beautiful modern plaza stands about 30 feet above the first-century street uncovered at the southwestern corner.
There at the corner lies a reminder of something Jesus predicted 37 years before the temple’s destruction.
And of a promise He made that could be fulfilled at any moment.
Remember the day you left home? For some of us, that day was when we took off for college. For others, it was to take a job. We all had reasons, and we were gone.
When you left home, some things immediately changed. No longer did you have to be home at a certain time each night. If you wanted pizza ten times a week, you had it. Freedoms increased.
(Photo by John Eckert via oomf)
But there were also some things that didn’t change.
- The speed limit was still 55 mph.
- You still had to brush your teeth.
- Right and wrong was still right and wrong.
It’s interesting that in all the changes we experienced, neither our parents nor we had changed. Only the situation changed.
In a similar way, God has managed the world differently at different times. Some things never change with God.
But some do.
As worriers, we often place more value on possibilities than certainties.
We’ll invest plenty of money to insure ourselves against theft, flood, fire, sickness, or accident—all only possibilities. But we give little thought to the most certain event in our lives.
Death. Even life insurance doesn’t cover that.
I believe in insurance. I pay for it, consider it prudent, and enjoy its benefits. In a way, my blog distributes spiritual insurance in bulk.
- I explain people’s options and risks regarding the events following death.
- I do my best to warn them of buying into cheap insurance that looks good up front but raises its premiums exorbitantly and reneges on paying the final benefits of their claim.
Such shams offer heaven for the price of good deeds.
Only God offers the best insurance for the most certain event in your life.
Before I had a family, I had a different car—a black Firebird with T-tops.
Sitting behind those eight cylinders, I could go from zero to too-fast in about five seconds (but, of course, I never did).
After Cathy and I had our first daughter, I decided I needed a family vehicle. Car seats don’t fit in Firebirds.
So I sold the car.
A few months later, I found a spare set of keys to the Firebird, and I thought: I need to get these to the new owner. Even though I could have kept the keys (as insignificant as it seemed), they really weren’t mine to keep. I had sold them, in a sense, when I sold the car.
Living for God is like finding a spare set of keys to a car you no longer own.
In fact, you have a whole lot of keys that aren’t yours.
Other rivers have more beauty. Many are longer. Most are cleaner.
But none has garnered as much affection as the Jordan River.
It wasn’t the beauty of the Jordan River that inspired centuries of psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to include it in their verses.
Its significance began as a simple geographic barrier, which—practically speaking—represented a border (Joshua 22:18-25). In fact, the serpentine river still represents a border between Israel and the nation of Jordan.
In Scripture, however, the river’s presence on Israel’s eastern edge stood as an enduring metaphor of transitions.
Significant transitions, in fact.
Finger pointing is hard-wired into our hearts.
In fact, it started early in human history. Like, really early.
(Painting by Domenichino. Public domain)
In the Garden of Eden, God confronted Adam and Eve after they sinned, and their reaction set the course for an entire race of blame-shifters.
We’re still shifting the blame (and getting blamed).
The solution is the same today as it was then.
We can only approach God’s presence God’s way. But are there multiple ways?
The New Testament clearly reveals that only through Jesus can anyone come to God the Father (John 14:6; 1 Timothy 2:5; 1 John 2:23).
But what about in the Old Testament?
After King David conquered Jerusalem and secured it as his capital, he desired to bring the Ark of the Covenant up from Kiriath-Jearim into his new City of David. But in his passion to have God’s presence, David neglected to follow God’s principles. That negligence of improperly transporting the Ark cost a man his life (2 Samuel 6).
Three months later, David correctly transported the Ark into Jerusalem and placed it in a tent he pitched for its keeping.
In this experience, David gained a profound respect for God’s holiness.
This principle directly relates to the question: did the Old Testament offer only one way to God?
Good Friday wasn’t so good for Judas.
The guilt-ridden betrayer of Jesus hung himself and then fell headlong, spilling his innards. Hence, the residents later named the place where it happened, “Akeldema,” or “Field of Blood” (Acts 1:18-19).
Judas may have chosen this place to die for a specific reason.
Today, the peaceful Monastery of St. Onuphrius at Akeldema offers no clue to the fact that Judas killed himself at that site—nor does it reveal the Hinnom Valley’s sordid history.
- Horrific atrocities occurred in the Hinnom Valley during the days of Judah’s kings (2 Chronicles 33:6; Jeremiah 7:31).
- In Jesus’ day, the city dump lay in this gorge. Some suggest that fires continually burned the trash, and so Jesus used the smoldering landfill of Gehenna as an illustration of hell’s eternal flames (Mark 9:43).
Because Jesus compared the Hinnom Valley to hell, one has to wonder if this is the reason Judas’s desperate regret led him to end his life in this ravine.
Like Judas, you have failed. But Judas’ shame doesn’t have to be yours.
Good Friday gives your shame a choice.
Peter shows us why.