I hope you have been encouraged as we’ve been taking a look at Jesus’ words shared with His disciples in the Upper Room on the night before He went to the Cross. Their hearts were troubled and Jesus sought to comfort and counsel them, to encourage them. We’re going to take one more look at John 14:1-7 this morning because it includes an important conversation Jesus had with Thomas that has great relevance for our day. Let’s read our Scripture and then we will see what we can learn.
1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:1-7 NIVO)
The conversation Jesus had with Thomas in the Upper Room reveals truth to us that stands in stark contrast to the cultural theology of our day. By “cultural theology” I mean the God-talk that is taking place in the streets, workplaces, homes, and in all forms of media in our society. Cultural theology is radically different from the theology of culture. Those who study the theology of culture recognize that God is interested in all of life. In the opening chapters of Genesis God created a “culture” in which Adam and Eve could thrive in their relationship with God. When we come to the last book of the Bible we read about the New Jerusalem and once again we are reminded that God will create a culture, a place full of meaning and relationships for all of His people with God as the center. Between Genesis and the New Jerusalem all of the Bible is worked out in the midst of different cultures and yet God places His people in those cultural settings to call people to Himself and to teach them how to live in relationship with one another.
The theology of culture is powerful and shows God’s involvement and love for His people in the cultural setting of wherever they find themselves in the world. You who call BCC “home” know full well what I’m talking about because you are part of a church where people from different cultures have come together to form one family. It’s not our socio-economic, educational, or racial backgrounds that have brought us together and fitted us for one another, but it is the grace of God made visible in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that holds us together. We are a microcosm of a far greater picture that will become a reality one day, one great and glorious day that the Apostle John already saw as reality when he wrote Revelation 7:9-10. Listen to this.
9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9-10 NIVO)
Cultural theology on the other hand reduces God down to the least common denominators that are determined by people. Cultural theology robs God of His divine attributes, it replaces the Truth of God’s Word with our own truth as the final authority, and it remakes God into our own image. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about.
I’ve been watching “The Story of God” the past two Sunday nights on the National Geographic Channel. The series is hosted by Morgan Freeman and it is very insightful. The first episode was called, “Beyond Death,” and in the first five minutes of the program Mr. Freeman said,
Some people have a certainty that helps them with grief. They are certain they will see their loved ones again in heaven. For some of us it’s not quite that simple. In fact, it’s the greatest question we ask ourselves, ‘What happens when we die?’ (Morgan Freeman, The Story of God. National Geographic Channel.)
The rest of the hour was spent traveling the world and finding out what people believe. He visited Mexico City where on November 1 the people celebrate Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead by cooking food and singing songs to their loved ones who have gone on, but are given one night to fellowship with their loved ones who are still alive. Five hundred years ago Mayans gathered at Templo Mayor to sacrifice their own to ensure life would continue to earth. Mr. Freeman visited The Church of The Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem where archaeologist Jodi Magness spoke about Jesus’ death and resurrection as the hope of eternal life for those who will trust in Him. Hindus cremate their loved ones on the banks of the River Ganges at Varanasi so they might escape the endless cycle of death and reincarnation and achieve Moksha, oneness with pure energy. A research diver who had a near death experience now believes in the afterlife and that it can be found in any system of belief. Morgan then interviewed Bina and Martine Rothblatt, the creators of Bina 48, an artificially intelligent robot that stores all of the memories, thoughts, and loves of Bina. Morgan asked Martine, “This experiment is ultimately so we humans can cheat death?” Martine said, “I think Morgan what we doing with this experiment is part of a long, long line of people trying to stop death from cheating life. It’s the job of the medical industry and the biotechnology industry to push the boundaries of death further and further into the future.” At the close of the program Morgan Freeman said,
Whether you are a Christian following the example of Jesus. A Hindu hoping for liberation from the endless cycles of reincaration. Or, you are simply trying to leave the world a better place than you found it. Our desire to go beyond death has changed the world. Whatever we may find on the other side. No matter what our faith. We can all become eternal…like the stars. (Morgan Freeman. The Story of God.)
The conclusion of the hour long program was that there are many beliefs, many paths to God and yet Jesus told Thomas, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 NIVO) You and I live in a day in which Jesus’ words are simply unacceptable. It’s not simply the unbeliever who refuses to accept Jesus’ words. A growing number of Christians are finding Jesus’ words more and more unacceptable. The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published their findings a few years ago and they were startling. One of the most startling statistics they shared was that 70% of all Americans believe that many religions can lead to eternal life. Even more unsettling was that they discovered that 65% of all people who identified themselves as Christians believed the same thing. What was beyond mind-boggling was that 56% of those who call themselves Evangelical Christians believe that there are many paths, other than faith in Jesus, to God and eternal life.
Dennis Hollinger is the President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Several years ago he wrote an article called, “Is Jesus Really The Only Way to God?” The article was written in 2009 and yet, as you read it, you realize that nothing has changed at all. Dr. Hollinger writes,
The growing number of Christians who are troubled by Jesus’ claims to be the single course to salvation indicates how much the world has come to live in us as we attempt to live in the world. We easily allow the push and pull of our culture to define our beliefs, commitments and way of life, even while giving lip service to the name of Jesus. (Hollinger, Dennis. Is Jesus Really The Only Way to God? 2009)
Cultural theology is the predominant theology of our time and it’s reach knows no limits. The basic tenets of cultural theology are these: All paths leads to God and all religions are basically the same. Doing good is good enough. Believe what you will, but be sincere in your beliefs. I don’t want to spend much time on these because there are some Scriptures I have to share with you, but let me just touch on the fallacy of these tenets of cultural theology.
All Paths Lead to God: All Religions are Basically the Same.
The idea that all paths lead to God and all religions are basically the same is a belief held only by those who have never studied the world’s religions. Let me explain. Buddhism isn’t a theistic religion; there is no God in Buddhism. Gautama Buddha developed a philosophy of life, the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, which was intended to lead people to enlightenment. Hinduism has literally millions of gods and Islam, though they are monotheistic, having only one God, believes that you can know the will of God, but never the Person of God. Judaism believes in one God. Every Jewish person knows the Shema Prayer of Deuteronomy 6:4 where Moses writes, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4 NIVO) We who are followers of Jesus believe in one God who manifests Himself as three Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Now, how can anyone who understands this say all religions are basically the same?
Doing Good is Good Enough
One of the foundational tenets of cultural theology is that doing good is good enough. I think part of the blame for this cultural shift can be laid at the feet of the church. For far too long the church has cherished the goodness of our people and urged them to be even better. Churches have established their own set of “do’s and don’ts” that all of their good members subscribed to. Dr. Darnell has told me stories about the church he grew up in while he was a child. There was to be no dancing, no smoking, no going to the movies, no playing any games of chance like cards or dominos. They even had cute little sayings to remind them not to participate in any of these things. They’d say things like, “I’ve never seen a praying knee and a dancing foot on the same leg.” Or, I really like this one, “A praying knee won’t fit under any card table.” Cute, catchy phrases, but is this really what makes us acceptable to God? I don’t think so. I’ve got news for you. If you avoided all of the things the leaders of Dr. Darnell’s church outlined you still would not be good enough. God’s Word says,
20 There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7:20 NIVO)
There is nobody who does not sin. It doesn’t matter how good you are, you are never going to be good enough. You can be good enough on a sliding scale, you can be good enough based on your friend’s definition or your own definition of goodness, but you won’t stand before your friend or do a self-examination once this life is over. We will all stand before a perfectly holy and righteous God.
Whatever You Believe, Be Sincere in Your Beliefs
The final tenet of cultural theology I want to share with you is the belief that what you believe is not nearly as important as you sincerely believing what you believe. I hear this one all of the time coming from friends who are Christians, but who have friends or family members who believe something different. They say something like, “I know what the Bible says, but Ravi is nicer than most Christians I know and he is more devoted to his faith than I am to mine.” Or, they say something like, “I know what the Bible says, but I just can’t believe that God would send someone to hell that doesn’t believe in Jesus.”
First of all, let’s talk about sincerity. Sincerity is no guarantee of truth right? There is no doubt in my mind that the members of Isis are sincerely committed to their cause, but their cause is evil in the same way that Adolf Hitler’s cause was evil. You can look up at that big, full moon on a cloudless night and come to the sincere conclusion that the moon is made out of cheese. Just look at it and surely you will come to the same conclusion. You can believe that all you want, but you will be sincerely wrong my friend. I sit in choir each Wednesday night and sing my heart out. I sincerely believe that I’m a good singer, but the fact is that after I was given a solo many years ago I’ve never been given another one…and my wife is the Choir Director. What does that tell you? I may be sincere in my belief, but my belief is just plain wrong.
Second, I have a question for those who struggle with friends or family members who do not believe Jesus’ claim that no one can come to the Father except through Him. Does your friend or family member’s refusal to believe the truth negate the truth? Does their refusal mean the truth is no longer the truth? If you have a newborn baby that has been diagnosed with jaundice, but you refuse to believe that simply putting her under the lights will cure her condition then your little girl is going to suffer what could be lifelong consequences for your decision. Your refusal of the light doesn’t negate the effectiveness of the light, it simply means you refuse the help of the light. God’s provision of His Son doesn’t negate the saving effects of His Son’s death and resurrection–it simply means that you reject the saving grace that has been offered and will be left to deal with what comes as a result of your decision.
Cultural theology makes sense only to those who refuse to really consider it. Cultural theology is a surface understanding of life and a pacifier for those who want to be spiritual, but want nothing to do with the truths contained in God’s Word. It’s a straw man, a house of cards, and when life’s most challenging times come it will be shown to be a ruse and not the comfort and reassurance God desires for His people.
We are not born with the most important information that we need for life, we must learn that information and we can learn it from God’s Word. In the time we have remaining I want to try and help us understand how Jesus could say that He alone is the way to God. First of all, turn with me to Psalm 49:7-15 and let’s read together.
7 No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him– 8 the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough– 9 that he should live on forever and not see decay. 10 For all can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike perish and leave their wealth to others. 11 Their tombs will remain their houses forever, their dwellings for endless generations, though they had named lands after themselves. 12 But man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish. 13 This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings. Selah 14 Like sheep they are destined for the grave, and death will feed on them. The upright will rule over them in the morning; their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions. 15 But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself. Selah (Psalm 49:7-15 NIVO)
“No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him–the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough–that he should live on forever and not see decay.” There is a reason why we can’t redeem our own life before God. There is a reason no person can redeem my life or your life before God. The reason is that we are all sinners, we’ve rebelled against God. We need someone who has never sinned, never rebelled against God, if we want someone to make us right before God. Any idea where we might look to find someone like that? Mohammed? I don’t think so. Gautama Buddha? No, keep looking. You can search the world over and never find anyone who is not a bonafide sinner. What are we to do? We’re lost! We’re hopeless! And you would be right to believe that if you fail to look to Jesus. Paul said to the people of his day,
21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIVO)
What we could not do for ourselves and what none of us could do for another, God has done for us. He has intervened for us in our hopeless state and offered His sinless Son in our place. Paul wrote to the brothers and sisters in Rome and said,
25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished– 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:25-26 NIVO)
We are justified, made right with God, by God’s actions on our behalf, not because of anything we have done. I was found guilty as charged, sentenced to death because of my rebellion, but before my sentence could be carried out God’s Son, Jesus, took my place. God is just. “The wages of sin is death” and God carried out the sentence, but the penalty I deserved and you deserved was paid by His Son. My sin is paid for hallelujah! I’ve been made right by God through Jesus.
Before God rescued me, redeemed me, and reconciled me to Himself I was dead in my sins. Oh, I was alive. I had a pulse. I carried on with life as I saw fit, but I was dead to God and dead in my sins. That’s the Divine Doctor’s diagnosis of my condition before I trusted in Jesus as my Savior and Lord. Paul says as much in Ephesians 2:1-5.
1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions– it is by grace you have been saved. (Ephesians 2:1-5 NIVO)
Did you hear that? We have been “made alive with Christ” and it is “by grace you have been saved.” That’s God’s grace, not your good works. That’s God’s grace, not your sincere belief in whatever you think makes sense to you. That’s God’s grace manifest through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, His one and only Son, Jesus, our Savior, not an adherence to the Vedas, Koran, or following the Buddha’s noble path that leads to nowhere. There is one way, one truth, and one life and it isn’t found on a map or an app on your phone–it is found only in Jesus. You see religion and so-called spirituality are nothing more than the attempt of humanity to somehow earn their way to God, to approve of themselves, but in Jesus we find God coming to us to save us from ourselves, to redeem us and reconcile us to Himself. Solomon wrote,
12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. (Proverbs 14:12 NIVO)
Thomas a Kempis was born in 1370 in Germany. He found new life in Jesus and entered a Dutch Augustinian monastery associated with The Brethren of the Common Life. He was given the assignment of instructing novices in the spiritual life. It was with that charge that he wrote four booklets between 1420 and 1427 to help the young converts. They have been translated into more than 50 languages and are still available today. Included in Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ are these words:
Follow thou me. I am the way and 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. I am the way which thou must follow; the truth which thou must believe; the life for which thou must hope. I am the inviolable way; the infallible truth; the never-ending life. I am the straightest way; the sovereign truth; life true, life blessed, life uncreated. If thou remain in my way thou shalt know the truth, and the truth shall make thee free, and thou shalt lay hold on eternal life. (Thomas a Kempis)
My friend it is my prayer this day that you will recognize that Jesus and Jesus alone is the way, the truth, and the life and that you will surrender your heart to Him this very morning.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
April 17, 2016