February 1, 2015: Is Jesus the Only Way?

Posted on : Jan 29th, 2015 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

It wasn’t until I was in college that I discovered that some people find offensive our Christian claim that unless you believe in Jesus Christ you have no pathway to God. I had never even thought about that until one day I was having a conversation with a friend of mine, who was Jewish. We were part of an interfaith discussion group. I wasn’t raised in an aggressively evangelistic tradition that called people to believe in Jesus or spend eternity in hell. But on the other hand, I was raised in a tradition that just assumed Christianity was normative for everyone. My Jewish friend held quite strongly, that he did not need to believe in Jesus to be in relationship with God. In fact, he pointed out rather firmly that the Jews had God long before we Christians came along!

It was also not until I was in college that I began to understand that Jesus was fully Jewish, not Christian. It wasn’t until I heard one of the pastors of a church I attended in college speak about the life of the person of Jesus (human being) that I was able to connect the dots that Jesus was born Jewish, lived his entire life as a Jewish Rabbi, and was totally Jewish from birth to his death. In fact, everyone at the tomb – Jesus’ family and followers – were Jewish through and through.

It wasn’t until I was in Seminary that I realized that the Book of Acts, and Romans, and Corinthians and a bunch of the other “early” New Testament books were about a huge inter-tribal fight between Jewish followers of Jesus and Gentile (non-Jewish) followers of Jesus.

None of these conflicting concepts were an issue for me when I was younger, because of the way I had been taught. As a child we learned “memory verses” in Sunday School. Each week we were expected to memorize a verse from the bible. One of the verses I learned early on was John 14: 6 – Jesus said (to Thomas,) “I am the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to God but by me.”

It wasn’t until many years later that I realized that those words were in conflict with who Jesus was, what Jesus taught, and what I believed.

Those words were written to Gentiles, not Jews. In his earthly ministry, Jesus had virtually no contact with non-Jewish folk. So something didn’t make sense here. Some years later, while in Seminary, I would learn that the Gospel of John was written about 90-100 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus. This particular Gospel is radically different from the other three. One of those differences is that John’s Gospel has a distinctive bias towards converting Gentiles (particularly citizens of the Roman Empire) who were not Jewish to Christianity.

After years of serous biblical scholarship, I have come to the same conclusion over and over again: all of the bible is to be taken seriously, but little of it should be taken literally. As our dear friend and Minister of Faith Formation, Kobie Vermaak, use to say when people would ask her if something in the bible were true, “The question is not whether the story is true; the question is, what’s the truth in the story?”

Is Jesus “the only way” to God? What is the truth in that story? Is that statement to be taken literally or did the early Christians write those words believing that’s what Jesus would have said? Then again, would Jesus ever have said anything that restrictive about God, or that aggrandizing about himself?

This Sunday, we’ll wrestle with these questions and a few different ways to understand this passage of scripture from the Gospel of John this Sunday.

Blessings,

Dan

 

~ This Sunday’s Scripture ~

John 14: 1-6

 

Jesus said, “Set your troubled hearts at rest.

Trust in God always; trust also in me.

There are many dwelling-places in our God’s house;

if this were not so, I would not have said it to you;

for I am going there on purpose to prepare a place for you.

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I shall come again and receive you to myself, so that where I am you may be also.

And my way there is known to you.”

 

But Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples said,

“We do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus replied, “I am the Way; the Truth, and the Life;

no one comes to our God except by me.”

 

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