The preamble of the original Australian Constitution states that “the people of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, humbly relying on the blessing of Almighty God, have agreed to unite in one indissoluble Federal Commonwealth”. This commitment has had many implications for our society based on an overt commitment to a Judaeo-Christian understanding of right and wrong.
As a nation we have no “established” religion as such, though federal, state and local governments have always been opened with Christian prayer. We are multicultural, welcoming immigrants from many different backgrounds. We have prided ourselves in our freedom of religion and have nurtured the virtue of tolerance. From a Christian point of view, tolerance is important. After all, people can’t become Christian by force or even by the fact of having been born into a so-called “Christian” nation or family. As someone has put it, God doesn’t have any grandchildren.
This doesn’t, however, mean that there isn’t any absolute truth or absolute standard of right and wrong. Back in the 1920s the British parliament was debating the introduction of a new Prayer Book – that’s where some decisions have to be made for an “established” church. During one of the breaks in proceedings, one MP was overheard to comment to another, “I don’t know what all this fuss is about. Surely we all believe in some sort of something!”
Debates seem to get caught between fussiness and fuzziness! Dare we say that there are absolutes whose denial cannot be tolerated? At the moment, should the definition of marriage be changed to refer to two persons without respect to gender? Then why not polygamy too? That is also a current issue, though rather less vocally pressed at the moment than the former.
Only One Way
God loves all people. God doesn’t want anybody to perish. God wants all people in his family. Right? You can find all the texts to support that. Yet we hear Jesus himself insisting, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14.6).
Jesus had been preparing his disciples for the reality that the time would soon come when he would no longer be physically present with them. Earlier he had told them clearly that he would die a violent death, instigated by the Jewish rulers, and that he would rise to life on the third day. They were so appalled at the thought of his crucifixion that they hardly heard the promise of his resurrection (Matthew 16.21-22). We know from Acts 1 that, as the risen Christ, he appeared to them over a period of forty days (Acts 1.3). In his final commissioning words we hear his promise to be with them, no longer as a physical presence, but through the Holy Spirit who would come (Matthew 28.18-20; Luke 24.46-49).
At the end of John 13, the betrayer having left, Jesus began talking to them again about his “going”. They couldn’t come with him just yet, but they were to love one another. Simon Peter wanted to know, “Lord, where are you going?” (v. 36) He was super-confident he could lay down his life for Jesus (v. 37).
Peter meant well, but he would deny Jesus three times. By his “going” Jesus would prepare a place for them – and for us! Then he would return to take them to be with him.
Now the question is on Thomas’ lips, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (14.5)
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (v. 6).
That’s an incredible and exclusive claim! The loving, all-embracing Jesus is saying in quite unambiguous and inescapable terms that there is no other way to the Father except through him – no “ifs” or “buts” about it!
Jesus is the Way. Only through Jesus, only through his sacrificial death on the cross soon to be accomplished, only through Jesus, risen victorious over sin and death... “Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later” (13.36). The way to forgiveness and life hasn’t been opened yet. That’s coming soon, but don’t forget, “I am the Way”.
Jesus is the Truth. He is described in John 1 as the Word through whom God made all things. It’s not just that he speaks the truth, but he is the Truth. Undoubtedly there are nuggets of truth to be found in other religions. I think it was Confucius who said, “Don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do for you.” This has sometimes been called the Golden Rule in reverse. It expresses the practical truth, even though in a negative sense. But Jesus is the Truth about God! He is, in his own person, the Revelation of God. Listen to Hebrew 1.3, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”
Jesus is the Life. It is not that Jesus gives us a lifestyle to follow. He is the Life. The apostle Paul again and again speaks of the Christian as a person “in Christ”. John 1.4 says, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.” In 1 John 4.11-12, we read, “And this is the testimony: God has given 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.”
No Other Name
Peter and John were going into the Temple at the time of prayer – about three in the afternoon. A lame beggar was sitting at the gate called Beautiful asking for money. Peter said to him, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (Acts 3.6). He helped him up and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong.
Naturally a crowd gathered and Peter told them, Don’t look at us. We haven’t done this – “By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see” (v. 16).
As you can imagine, the Jewish authorities were greatly disturbed when they found out what was happening. They had Peter and John brought before them – “By what power or what name did you do this?” (4.7). Peter’s response was very direct – “If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed... Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (vv. vv. 9-10,12).
W.C. Fields, the American actor and comedian, died in 1946. It is said that when he was on his deathbed, a visitor found him reading the Bible. Asked what he was doing, he replied, “Looking for loopholes, my friend. Looking for loopholes.”
There are no loopholes. There is no other name by which we can be saved – only the name of Jesus.
What does that mean for us in our multicultural, tolerant, easy-going, somewhat irreligious... Australia?
The first call is on us. Are we trusting in Jesus alone as the Way, the Truth and the Life, knowing that only through him – only through his full, perfect and complete sacrifice for our sin, only through his risen ascended intercessory life – only through him can we come to the Father?
Then there is the call on us as a congregation of the Lord’s people. The risen Jesus said to his disciples, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24.46-49).
SriLankan Christian leader, D.T. Niles said that “Evangelism is just one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread”. Jesus is the Bread of life. Have you found bread? People are searching all over the place for meaning, fulfilment, life... They have a deep yearning to get in touch with “some sort of something”. They are trying many many “ways”. But there’s only one way. There’s only one name by which we can know salvation – the name of Jesus. It’s time to share the bread.
© Peter J Blackburn, 9 October 2011, Edmonton Uniting Church
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.