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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.  

Posted by: AT 11:02 am   |  Permalink   |  Email

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Zion Lutheran Church
9535 Clarence Center Road

PO Box 235
Clarence Center, NY 14032
Phone: 716-741-2656

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