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Monday, April 28 2014
John 20:19–31; 1 Peter 1:3–9
Today we come to the end of our series, Examining the Evidence. And today’s question is – I think – a most important question. Is there life after death? All of the other questions we have asked in this series – Does God exist? – Who is Jesus? – Did Jesus really rise from the dead? – all of these have logical, sometimes scientific, historical and statistical evidence to support the answers. Again – all of the sermons in this series can be reviewed at our church’s website, zionontheweb.com.
So – is there life after death? There are some who would want to tell you that all this talk of heaven and hell is nonsense – skeptics, atheists, agnostics, and the like – who would want us to believe that this world is all there is. That death is the end of life. And one of the reasons I have been preaching this sermon series is to answer the critics who say that God – and the resurrection – and the hope of heaven are nothing but nonsense and wishful thinking.
When it comes to the question of life after death, let me say up front that I cannot offer you the same kinds of evidence I have given you in the other sermons. I can give you evidence that is anecdotal – in other words – evidence based on personal experiences, and case studies. You have probably heard these referred to as near-death experiences. If these near-death experiences are true – then science has to play a role. Science has to step in to declare that those individuals who experienced these near-death experiences were not just merely nearly dead, but really, most sincerely dead. In other words, the person’s heart completely stopped and the brainwaves completely ceased. That’s the clinical definition of death.
Many books have been written about near-death experiences. Most recently was the book Proof of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander. Another popular book is Heaven Is For Real. The movie version of that book was just recently released – and is showing at a theater near you. We are intrigued by this stuff, because we want to know. We want to know, is there really life after death, or is this life all that there is?
Pastor Chip Ingram tells the story of a woman who was clinically dead for three hours, which obviously, if she ever comes back her brain should never work. In fact, nothing should work.
They were pushing her into the morgue and she spontaneously, comes back to life. And so, obviously, the person pushing that cart had a rough day. Then, she begins to explain to the doctors what they were wearing, the jokes they told, what happened. She described – what many describe – of coming out of her body, being able to see what was going on.
Studies have been done with people that were physically blind who had a near death experience and they describe what was happening in the operating room.
Now, let me tell you, it’s all over the map how people have interpreted these phenomena – and what these experiences mean. But I don’t want to suggest – as compelling as these stories are – that we can base our belief – our faith – and especially our theology – on these incidents.
So I’ll leave it up to you to read the books – to watch the movies – and let you draw your own conclusions. But you know what? I don’t need books like these – or stories like these – to tell me that there is life after death. Quite frankly – I really don’t know what to make of all of these near-death experiences. They are intriguing. But let me tell you that God’s word is enough for me to confirm that God is – that God loves you – God loves me – and that someday by God’s grace – we will be with God forever.
I do believe that there is life after death. After all – throughout this series we’ve asked these questions and we’ve looked at the evidence and the evidence tells us that God is real. That we did not get here by chance or dumb luck. That the Christian Scriptures can be trusted. That Jesus is exactly who he says he is, both Lord and Savior. And as we discovered last week, that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not a fairy tale, it is not a myth – it is not a lie – it is not a story that the disciples made up. The resurrection is a matter of fact as well as of faith.
So there’s got to be a reason for all of these things we’ve looked at – there’s got to be more to the story. What’s the purpose? Glad you asked. As the Nicene Creed tells us – it is “For us and for our salvation.”
So what can we learn from the Bible about life after death?
Listen again to today’s reading from I Peter. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,...for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” What does I Peter tell us?
• It tells us that we are given a new birth into a living hope in the here and now through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
• The second thing it says is that we are given an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.
• The third thing is that the gift of salvation is not just a future thing. It is also a now thing. He doesn’t say “You will receive.” No. He says, “you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Our salvation is a now—not just a someday thing.
But what else do the Scriptures say about life after death?
• St. Paul in two different places in the Bible – 2 Corinthians and Philippians – talks about being away from the body and at home with the Lord. So for Paul, death meant separation from this earthly body. Paul was of the belief that upon his death – and thus every Christian’s death – that he – and we – would experience an immediate entry into the presence of the Lord.
• Now here’s the problem. The Bible says that someday – all who are in the graves will be resurrected – raised to new life. Those who believe in and trust in Jesus Christ for their salvation go to heaven. Those who don’t – well – they go to that other place.
So which is it? Do we have to wait for the Resurrection? Or do we go to heaven immediately when we die? Some say that when you die, you don’t go to heaven right away. Your body – your remains – are waiting for the resurrection. BUT that it will seem like an immediate thing for the person who has died.
Some say the soul – or the spirit – the part of you that is fundamentally you – goes to heaven. Then, at the resurrection the soul is reunited with the body that is raised – a new, resurrection body.
I don’t know. Maybe when we die – we are taken out of the current space-time dimension – I know I’m borrowing language from Star Trek here – we are taken out of this current space-time dimension and immediately brought to the resurrection.
Folks – let me tell you. I believe in the resurrection of the body. And that this resurrection of the dead has not yet happened. I also believe that somehow – some way – at death – we are ushered immediately into the presence of the Lord. How all this happens I do not know. The truth I think is somewhere in what I just told you. (That star treky, space-time dimension stuff. That actually is what makes the most sense to me. But I’ve got to tell you – that’s my own logic at work here.) But hey! At the end of the day – it is enough for me to know that – regardless of the mechanics behind it – when we die we will be in the presence of the Lord. And that’s enough for me.
Because in John 14 Jesus tells us, “I go to prepare a place for you, so that where I am there you may be also.” And again in John 14, “Because I live, you will live also.” And most of you know John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life.”
These are promises. And they all point to life after death – a home prepared just for us – in heaven with the Lord and all our fellow saints – forever.
How? By virtue of the finished work of Jesus Christ – through his life, death and resurrection. Everything God in Jesus Christ has done – was done with you and me in mind.
So is there life after death? If the Scriptures can be trusted – and as we have seen – they can be, then the answer is yes. And just what is heaven like? I’ll tell you. I don’t know. But listen. I Corinthians 2:9 says, “…no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.” How can you describe something that you have never seen or heard or even imagined?
It is – I think – enough to know that your place in heaven is secure. Jesus said because I live you will live also. Do you believe this? Do you?
Let me wrap things up here – I mean – the whole sermon series.
Our Gospel reading today is the story of the man we have come to call Doubting Thomas. But hey – all of those original disciples doubted. They all struggled with belief. They had the benefit of the evidence appearing right before their eyes. We – on the other hand – trust their witness. And the fact that almost all of them died martyrs’ deaths for proclaiming what they had heard and seen and touched and experienced in the risen Christ is – I think – the clincher – the strongest piece of evidence we have that the resurrection is true.
Folks – if you’re here today, and you’re still a skeptic – a doubter – about all the things that I have been talking about in this series in the last eight weeks – that’s okay. Let that be your starting point – to ask questions – to examine the evidence – and look for answers. If after examining the evidence – you still refuse to believe that God is real – that Jesus is who he says he is – that the resurrection is true – even after hearing all the evidence – which to me is just overwhelming – well, that’s fine. But maybe – just maybe – you’re here today because you needed to hear this.
So where will the evidence lead you? I simply ask you to examine the evidence – and follow the evidence to its logical conclusion. Everything we have examined in this series is more than just wishful thinking. It is a trust – it is a belief – it is a faith that asks the tough questions of why we believe. That what we say about God and how we got here – that what we say about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – that it’s true! It’s all true.
For what purpose? To what end? It was – and it is – for us and for our salvation.
Look! When you go back home today, I want you to reread the last verse in our Gospel reading – John 20:31. It pretty much sums up this sermon series – as well as the Gospel of John. “But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you might have life in his name.”
Monday, April 21 2014
What if? What if it is all true? That’s essentially the question I have been asking in this sermon series called “Examining the Evidence.” What if – after examining the evidence – what if everything we say about God and about Jesus and the resurrection – what if it really is all true?
For those here today who may have missed the first five sermons in this series, let me invite you to go online to our church’s website – zionontheweb.com – and click on the sermons tab at the top. There’s where you’ll find messages that answer questions like, “Does God Exist?” “Creation – How Did We Get Here?” “Can the Christian Scriptures Be Trusted?” “Who Is Jesus?” and “Is Jesus the Only Savior?” And what I did –using data from science – employing statistical probabilities and analysis – input from history, and from the Bible itself – is simply lay out the evidence – and invite you to arrive at your own conclusion. But let me tell you – the evidence is overwhelming. And it is clear to me – that when you follow the evidence – the ONLY rational conclusion a person can arrive at is that yes, God does exist. We did not get here by chance or dumb luck. That the Christian Scriptures can be trusted; that Jesus really did exist – and that he is exactly who he says he is – both Savior – in fact the only Savior – and Lord.
And that leads to today’s question. Did Jesus really rise from the dead? And I think of all the questions being asked in this series – this question is the most pivotal. Because there is one thing that atheists, agnostics, skeptics and Christians can agree on, and it is this. If the resurrection of Jesus from the dead never happened – then Christianity falls flat on its face. If the resurrection is a lie, then we – as the Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 15—are of all people most to be pitied.
So – if you are in any way skeptical about the resurrection – if you have your doubts – let me ask again. What if it’s true? Now before you brush that question aside – before you make up your mind against it – let’s examine the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Now I’ve got to tell you, what I am about to present to you is not the first time I have ever presented this evidence. So some of you will be hearing this for the second – maybe the third time. I mean – this is so important – that it needs to be repeated – so that it sinks in. So let it sink in. I simply ask that you keep an open mind today to what I am going to say.
Because you can examine all the evidence and still choose to ignore it. But let me state for the record that the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is overwhelming.
One of the books I read in preparation for this series is written by a homicide detective – J. Warner Wallace – called Cold-Case Christianity. It’s listed in your Mission Minutes in the bibliography for this series. Wallace had been an atheist who – just for the heck of it – applied his investigative skills as a cold-case homicide detective into investigating the truth claims of Christianity and the resurrection. And guess what! He is now a believer. He is a believer – and quite frankly – he’s not the only one who has investigated the truth claims of Christianity – intending to prove them wrong – and converted from atheism to Christianity. C.S. Lewis, and Lee Stroebel are two authors that come to mind. I have included them in the list of readings as well.
So let’s start by examining the arguments that have been made to disprove the resurrection – to say that it never happened.
• Some make the claim that Jesus wasn’t really dead. He simply passed out, and was later revived. This is referred to as the swoon theory. Anyone who has ever seen the gruesome Mel Gibson movie “The Passion of the Christ” gets a fairly accurate picture of the flogging Jesus went through prior to his crucifixion. I mean, he was so beat and exhausted that the Romans had to get someone else to carry the cross beam for him. Death came to Jesus through asphyxiation. He suffocated. That’s what crucifixion does. Breaking the legs of the person crucified hastened the asphyxiation process because they needed to push themselves up with their legs in order to breathe. But they didn’t need to break Jesus’ legs because they saw that he was already dead. These professional Roman executioners verified that he was already dead – and ran a spear through his body. The swoon theory is about as ridiculous as they come.
• Some claim that the women who went to the tomb on that first Easter morning went to the wrong tomb – an empty tomb – and declared Jesus risen from the dead. But we are told that the women saw where the body of Jesus was laid. We also know that the tomb belonged to Joseph of Arimathea – one of those who buried the body of Jesus. Add to that the guards that were at the tomb, and there’s no way they went to the wrong tomb.
• Others claim the body of Jesus was stolen by either the Romans, the Jews, or the disciples. But the Romans would have no reason to steal Christ's body. The Jewish religious leaders had no reason to steal the body either. And if they had, when the disciples started to talk about Jesus being raised from the dead – after thousands left Judaism to become Christians – all those Jewish religious leaders had to do was to put the body of Jesus on display to prove to the world that Jesus had not risen from the dead.
• There are some who suggest that grave robbers stole the body. Well! The only thing of value to steal would have been the grave clothes Jesus was buried in. And guess what! These were left behind.
• Did the disciples themselves steal the body? And then make the claim that the tomb was empty – and Jesus risen from the dead just like he said? Listen. If the disciples stole his body, then they knew that the resurrection was a lie. And yet, they are the ones who spread the news of his resurrection. They had nothing to gain from telling a lie if the resurrection were indeed not true. In fact, they lost their lives because of it.
So the body of Jesus was not stolen – by anybody.
• Some try to explain away the resurrection appearances of Jesus as a hallucination. One giant hallucination experienced by over 500 people at various places on 11 different occasions. I can just imagine the disciples sitting around and saying, “Let’s all just think happy thoughts, and maybe we can all visualize Jesus here with us.”
By the way – and this is so obvious – all of these efforts to disprove the resurrection fall flat on their face. So what evidence do we have for the resurrection?.
• Neither the Roman authorities nor the Jewish religious leaders ever disproved it. They didn’t even attempt to. And if they could have they would have.
• Then you have to consider the transformation that came about in the disciples. After Jesus was raised from the dead, these were different men and women. From scared and frightened to boldly proclaiming Jesus Christ crucified and risen from the dead.
• And then there is Paul. Paul was a witness to the resurrected Christ – and it changed his life from a persecutor of Christians to the greatest missionary the church ever had.
• Speaking of Paul – he lets us know that there were more than 500 witnesses to the resurrection. Some had died, but the rest, he said, are still with us. The clear implication is that he is saying, “If you don’t believe me, ask them.” 500 plus people could not have imagined this – nor could that many people be part of a mass conspiracy – and never once did any deny what they had seen.
• And then, in a male-dominated world where women were second class citizens – the testimony of women was regarded as worthless. In all four gospels, women are the first eye witnesses. Why would they dare make up a story about women being the first to find Jesus? They would be inviting scandal and scorn; unless, of course, it actually happened – and since that’s the way it happened – that’s the way they wrote it.
• But here I think is the clincher. The most compelling piece of evidence that I can give you is the witness of the disciples. Think about it. If the resurrection is a lie – then those first disciples are the ones who made it up. And what happened to them? All of the original disciples – with the exception of John – died martyr’s deaths. And not one of them at the last minute recanted and said, “Hey! Wait a minute! That resurrection thing – we just kind of made that up.” No. They had nothing to gain either politically or financially – and it cost them their lives. You can raise arguments against the idea of resurrection. But one thing cannot be argued – the dramatic change that took place in the life of the disciples after that first Easter. Though nearly all of them were eventually martyred – they simply did not fear death. It changed their lives. And more to the point – the resurrection still has the power to change lives today.
One final piece of evidence would be the immediate effect of the resurrection on the birth of the Christian church. Its growth didn’t happen without proof and without Spirit driven power. It swept across the whole known world over the next 300 years.
So the evidence is overwhelming – evidence for the literal, physical, bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
I am here to tell you today that the resurrection of Christ is not a fairy tale. It is not myth. It is not a rumor. It is a matter of fact – as well as a matter of faith. I simply invite you to examine the evidence – and come to your own conclusion.
And if you still don’t believe me – if you’re still wrestling with this whole Jesus thing and his resurrection, well, let me ask you again. What if it’s true? And I will tell you –based on the evidence – that it is true. How YOU answer that question – and I cannot answer this question for you – but how you answer the question is critical for you because eternity hangs in the balance. What if Jesus – through his life, death and resurrection does make eternal life possible for every one of us? Now I’ll say more about that next week.
But for me – the evidence is iron-clad. And therefore it my great joy and privilege to declare to you this morning the ancient proclamation of the church.
Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed!]
Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed!]
Christ is risen! [He is risen indeed!]
Monday, April 21 2014
I Corinthians 11:23-26
How many of you remember the 2006 October surprise storm? How many of you were here for that? My family and I went without electricity for six days. Amazing, isn’t it! Electricity is just something we take for granted, and when it isn’t there – well – our lives become disrupted. What I learned – what we all came to realize – is just how dependent we are on electricity for so much. By the way – the only change I made after that storm was to get a new sump pump that works even when the power is off.
All these gadgets – all these appliances that we rely on to make our lives easier – these all rely on electricity for their source of power. For instance, we have this pipe organ over here. Like all modern day pipe organs it absolutely relies on electricity to run. Even the best of today’s organists can’t play a note without the wonder of electricity.
But you know, it wasn’t always that way. Think back. Organs – pipe organs have been around for hundreds of years – a lot longer than electricity, anyway. So you might be thinking, how in the world did they get these things to work without electricity – to work the bellows to force the air through the pipes?
Well, guess what? It came from man power. That’s right. Man power. Someone was needed to pump the bellows to create the airflow needed to play the majestic organs of the great cathedrals in Europe.
Such was the case – or so the story goes – when a guest organist¬ ¬was scheduled to play at a cathedral famous for its pipe organ. This brilliant guest organist bowed before the crowd and said, “For my first selection, I will play a piece by Mozart.” He sat at the organ, and began to press the keys, but no sound came out. He attempted a second time, but again, nothing happened.
He tried a third, time, but before he did, he shouted rather irritated, “For my first selection, I will play a piece by Mozart.” He went to the keyboard, and still there was no sound. Suddenly, he heard a voice from behind the organ, “If you don’t say we, I ain’t gonna pump.”
The organist smiled and said, “For OUR first selection, WE will play a piece by Mozart.” Whereupon magnificent music was heard by all.
I want you to remember that illustration tonight. And after tonight too. The church of Jesus Christ is the church of Jesus Christ at its best when we talk in terms of “we” and “us” and “our” instead of “I” and “me” and “my.” That’s why we gather together tonight as a congregation. Tonight we gather as a family at the church’s family meal around a table – at the Lord’s table. There is no better way that I know of for us to express “we, us and our” than at this table. Because it is here – in this place – at this table – that we are truly one.
In my back yard – oops, perhaps I should say “our” back yard since I’m not the only one who lives at my – I mean “our” house. Anyway, in the backyard where we live there is a grove – more accurately – there used to be a grove of Black Hills spruce trees. When we first moved in nearly 21 years ago, I counted 65 if them. Today, there are just 5 left. Disease took some, but most were lost to wind storms over the years. Blew them right over.
Those trees in my – I mean our – backyard were planted by someone years ago as saplings. They grew up together. They survived the years by growing up together and being together. The root systems of these trees are shallow, and they became interwoven – each one connected to the one next to it. And that is where the strength of the trees came from.
But when the land was cleared to build my – I mean our – house on the lot, the trees on the fringes – having lost the support of the neighboring tree that had been cut down to make room for the house, were easily susceptible to the winds that brought those trees down. These trees grew up interdependent on each other.
I want you to see this as a great model for the church of Jesus Christ. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are dependent – we are interdependent – on each other. What that means is that in the church, there isn’t room for a lone ranger – go it alone all by myself – approach to faith. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are a team. We are family. We are a community. A Christian in isolation is a contradiction in terms.
But here’s the problem. We live in a world that is teaching us to be – shall I say – fiercely independent. For instance, the mission statement of the Clarence School District is a great statement – except for one word.
“The mission of the Clarence Central School District is to produce independent, lifelong learners who are responsible, contributing members of a diverse society.”
I like that part about being “responsible, contributing members of a diverse society,” but I trip over that word independent. Certainly we don’t want to produce dependency. But I would have preferred that those who produced that statement would have used the word “interdependent,” so that we would have, “…interdependent, life-long learners.”
Well – nobody asked me. And hey – don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that independence is a bad thing. However, taken to an extreme – if we were all to live our lives independently – going our own way – so busy with our own agendas – we might very well end up being isolated from each other. And that is not good for society – and it certainly is not what the church of Jesus Christ is all about.
That is one of the reasons why tonight is so special. At the table of the Lord we are reminded once again, that we are indeed a community – we are indeed a family – the family of the Lord. And I am delighted to welcome 28 fourth graders – young members of this family – to the table as full communicants. They’re not all here tonight – spring break and all that – but we welcome these young disciples to the Lord’s Table for their First Communion tonight.
So the Lord’s Supper – Holy Communion – Eucharrist – it has many names – is the family meal in which we participate tonight. It has its beginnings in Passover. That’s what Jesus was celebrating with his disciples on that last night they were together.
One of the things that I told the fourth graders about in preparation for this night is the story of the Exodus. We looked at the story of Moses, and how God used Moses to lead the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt.
And we learned how Passover got its name. You all remember the story, right? You remember that the clincher in the story – the event that finally convinced Pharaoh – the king of Egypt – to let the people go – took place one night when God sent death upon the first-born in all of the households in Egypt. But the angel of death “passed over” the homes of the Israelites – where the blood of a lamb had been painted on the doorposts.
For centuries now, the Jewish people have been celebrating this act of God’s deliverance – as an act of remembrance – in the festival of Passover. In fact, Passover was celebrated just a few days ago. Our Jewish friends begin the Passover meal with the youngest child asking, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The father then tells the Passover story.
When our Jewish friends tell the story – and eat the Passover meal – it is a celebration. It is a celebration of freedom from slavery in Egypt – a celebration of new life.
And quite frankly – it is the same thing for us. “Why is this night different from other nights?” It is different from all other nights because on this night we gather to tell the story – the Savior’s story. We celebrate our freedom – the freedom Christ gives us from our bondage to a different kind of slavery. A slavery to sin – to guilt – to death.
My friends – let me tell you that we are a family of faith, and we share a common desire to be fed by God – both by the Word of God – and through the real food of bread and wine which is the body and blood of Christ.
Let me go back to what I said in the beginning about electricity. It’s the power we need to make all of those gadgets we rely on work – and quite frankly – the gadgets that we are so dependent on that when we don’t have them – we find it difficult to live without them.
The power we need to live the life that Christ calls us to live comes from:
1. The person and the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit.
2. God’s Word to us – the Bible.
3. Through Christ’s presence to us in bread and wine and
4. Through spending time together in worship and service and fellowship together as brothers and sisters in Christ.
These are our sources of power. These are what we hold in common.
So as we gather tonight – here in this place – to eat and to drink – to participate in this – the church family meal – let’s let go of our independence. Can we focus instead on our inter-dependence? Like trees whose roots are intertwined to give strength and support to each other – I hope you will recognize how much we do need each other. This is not just a once and done event. This is a place where we need to come together – as often as we can – as the family of God that we are.
We are a community. We are a team. We are – family. So come. You come. Come as brothers and sisters in Christ – here in this place – together at the Table of the Lord.
Monday, April 07 2014
John 14:1-6; Acts 4:1-12; Galatians 2:15-21; Isaiah 53:1-12
Last week we asked the question, “Who is Jesus?” And we learned that we really have just four possible answers to the question. Either Jesus was a legend, in other words, he never really existed, or he was a liar, or he was a lunatic, or he is the Lord. These four are the only choices available to us. Legend, liar, lunatic or Lord. And when we examined the evidence we determined that there is only one conclusion that we can arrive at – and that is to say that Jesus is not a legend, he is not a liar, he is not a lunatic, but he is exactly who he says he is. He is the Lord.
And that brings us to today’s question in this sermon series, “Examining the Evidence: Asking the Tough Questions About Why We Believe.” Since we now know that Jesus is the Lord, the question then needs to be asked, is Jesus the only Savior?
So let’s start with our reading today from the book of Acts – Acts chapter 4. The episode we just heard read to us comes after the resurrection of Jesus from the dead – after the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples at Pentecost – and two of the disciples of Jesus – Peter and John – are at the temple in Jerusalem – are they are sharing the good news of Jesus Christ – and him risen from the dead.
Peter and John are arrested by the temple guards. They are arrested for proclaiming that in Jesus there is the resurrection of the dead!
So they are put on trial before the chief priests, scribes and elders – and a man by the name of Caiaphas. Sound familiar? Sure. The same guy who put Jesus on trial. And they ask Peter and John – referring to a lame man who had just been healed by Peter – “By what power or by what name did you do this?”
The Bible says that “Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders... let it be known to all of you ... that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’”
And of course, by now, Peter is really getting into it. He’s just getting warmed up. Everything that has happened so far – everything that Peter has proclaimed – is leading up to this one moment when Peter says,
“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Folks did you hear that? When it comes to us and our salvation, there is no other name – no other name but the name of Jesus.
Now that sentence does not sit well with some people, and I know that. But these apostles – these first disciples of Jesus Christ – certainly believed that what they were saying about Jesus is true. “There is no other name by which we must be saved.”
In our day and age – in this society that we live in – it is not politically correct to make that kind of exclusionary statement. It is also intolerant to say it. Saying that Jesus is the only Savior is particularly offensive in a culture where tolerance is lifted up as the new ethic for everyone to follow. And yet, I am here to tell you today that I believe what Peter and John are telling us. There is no other name. If that makes me intolerant, or politically incorrect, well then, I accept that.
Today’s society defines tolerance as accepting every view point as equally true and valid. But here’s the thing. I would prefer that we use the original definition of tolerance which says that tolerance treats with integrity and humility someone whose opinion I believe to be untrue and invalid. Tolerance means I treat with respect the person with whom I disagree. Tolerance does not mean that I have to accept as valid something that is not true.
But, we live in this culture that rejects the idea that truth is objective, universal and absolute. But I would ask – are we free to make our own truth? Somehow in today’s world, truth has become a matter of one’s own opinion. But truth is not just a matter of one’s own opinion. Truth is a matter of fact. Something cannot be both true and not true at the same time.
Since sometime around the 1960’s, it has been popular to say that all religions are equally true. That all religions are just taking different paths up the same mountain, and whose final destination is God. Well, that’s an interesting argument. By the way, the name given to the belief that all religions are equally true – and that all lead to the same destination in the end – is called pluralism. There’s another belief that says all people who ever lived will go to heaven regardless of what they believe or what they have done or haven’t done. This belief is called Universalism.
But according to the God’s Word, the Bible, neither one of these beliefs is true.
You see, there is a difference between Christianity and other religions. In fact, I like to say that there is a difference between Christianity and religion. Now by most definitions, Christianity would be included among the world’s great religions. And you would be right. It is. But I like to define religion differently. I see religion as human effort to reach up to God. Christianity, on the other hand – is God’s efforts to reach down to us – specifically and exclusively in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Which pretty much sums up the difference between Christianity and all other religions.
Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and so forth each make exclusive claims about what they believe – claims that exclude the others on certain points – and therefore they cannot all possibly be true.
• Buddhists do not talk about God – in fact it’s not clear to me that they even believe that there is a God. Can the belief that there is no god and belief in the God of Christianity both be true at the same time? I don’t think so.
• Islam and Christianity both believe that there is one God. But Islam says that God is not a Trinity. Christians believe that God is a Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Can both be true? By the way, when you compare how Islam and Christianity understand who God is, it is clear that the God of Mohammad cannot possibly be the Father of Jesus. Either that, or God is contradicting Himself, or He is a liar, or He is schizophrenic. Can both the Islamic view and the Christian view of God be true at the same time? I don’t think so.
• Hinduism teaches that there are millions of gods. So right there we have a disagreement where these beliefs cannot both possibly be true. They also believe in reincarnation – that we humans cycle through myriads of lives over time. Christians believe in resurrection. That we are the person that we are, and that someday we will be raised from death to eternal life. Reincarnation and resurrection are totally incompatible. Can both of these beliefs be true? I don’t think so.
When I hear people say that all religions are valid paths to God, that we are all just taking different paths up the same mountain, I want to ask, “By what authority do you make that claim?” Because if we trust the Scriptures to be the authority on the subject, then we have to reject the different paths up the same mountain theory. I mean, it sounds nice and all – but is it true? I like what Augustine said about this – Augustine lived from 354-430 – or 1600 years ago. He said, “If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don't like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.” In other words – when truth is a matter of one’s own opinion – when truth is relative and not absolute – you in effect become your own authority in the matter.
Do you see why Peter and John and all the other apostles proclaimed that “there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”? Jesus is God’s answer to the problem of human sin. The big theological word for this is “Atonement,” and there is nothing like this in any other religion. Jesus shows us who God is, and what God is like. Jesus shows us God’s love, God’s forgiveness, God’s grace.
Now the skeptic will ask, “How do you know that? How do you know that Jesus gives us a picture of God? That Jesus can rightly be called the Son of God?”
Folks, I cannot prove it to you. I can present the evidence only. And as we discovered last week – the evidence for Jesus being who he says he is is overwhelming.
In just two weeks we will celebrate Easter – Jesus alive and risen from the dead. I hope you’ll stay tuned to this series, because on Easter Sunday we will be examining the evidence for the resurrection. And let me tell you, it too is overwhelming. A little spoiler alert here. The resurrection is not something that was or even could have been faked. Something must have happened that first Easter morning to make a change in those disciples. To the point where we read today where Peter stands before Caiaphas and the religious leaders in Jerusalem and declares “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
And that’s not the only place in Scripture. Paul writes in I Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and humankind, the man Christ Jesus…”
In the letter of 1John 5:11 we read, “…God gave us eternal life,” – in other words eternal life is not something that you can earn – “God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
This is what those first disciples believed. This is what they wrote. This is what they gave their lives for. This is what they proclaimed to be truth.
Folks, I am here to tell you today that there is no other name given to us by which we must be saved. No other name – no other way – no other savior.
I mean, think about it. And this I think is the clincher. IF there were another way – then Jesus died for no reason. No purpose. If there were another way – then – poor Jesus. He went through the agony – the suffering – the pain of crucifixion and even death itself – for nothing. IF there were another way. Do you understand what I am saying? If there were another way for us to get to God, then Jesus died for no reason.
SO – is Jesus the only Savior? Well, Jesus himself believed this about himself. In today’s reading from John’s Gospel, we hear Jesus saying this – about himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Did you hear that? Jesus is not a way – just one way among many others. No. He says that he is THE Way – THE truth – THE life. SO either Jesus is who he says he is, or he isn’t.
This is the message that I proclaim to you today. This is the message that we are passionate about. For not only has Jesus conquered death through his resurrection, but he has the power to change lives.
Maybe you were once on a different path in life, and you’ve discovered what this life-changing message of Jesus Christ is all about. Maybe you’ve been away for awhile. Or maybe you’re here to discover God through Jesus Christ for the very first time. Maybe you’ve tried other ways – other lifestyles – other beliefs – and you’ve come up empty. I want you to know that God loves you. That Jesus died for you. That you are forgiven. And that because he lives – you too shall live. That in Jesus Christ all of us can have a fresh start today.
Folks, I am not trying to sell you on a program, but to introduce you to a person whose name is Jesus Christ. I have a passion for him and his message. This church has a passion for him and his message. He is the Way, and the Truth and the Life. There is no other Savior – there is no other name – by which we must be saved.