03/18/2018 = John 3:14-17 = Questions of Faith: “Is Jesus Really the ONLY Way to Salvation?”

Click HERE for an audio of this message.

Mark Wheeler

John 3:14-17

“Is Jesus Really the ONLY Way to Salvation?”

5th Sunday in Lent, 03/18/2018

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

Through the Written Word,

          And the spoken word,

          May we know Your Living Word,

          Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.

 

Today is the Fifth Sunday of the Season we call Lent – a season of recognizing our own sin-nature, reflecting on what God has already done for us through Jesus Christ, rendering our faith and our lives more deeply into God’s power and presence.

 

We are journeying through this season with a sermon series wherein we have asked some of the important questions of faith – to see where Scripture might lead us in our search for reasonable answers.

We have explored the questions of God’s existence, whether the Bible truly is God’s Word, if our belief that God cares has any merit , and how/why the Christian faith teaches that Jesus is both fully Human AND Fully God – and while we probably cannot prove beyond a shadow of a doubt any of these questions, we are coming to realize that the Christian faith system is the most logical philosophy for life.

So, on this last sermon in this series (next week our Cantata Choir will bring us God’s Word in a beautiful musical presentation) we ask the risky question about the exclusive claim of Christianity as the ONLY way of salvation.

 

Play 1974 “Vintage Burger King – Have it your way” commercial.   [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJXzkUH72cY&feature=share ]

 

That commercial was not the beginning of America’s individualistic consumerism and demand for self-indulgence – but boy did it capitalize on that public scream for personal attention! That ad first aired in 1974! And those of us who watched TV 44 years ago can still sing that ditty like as if we heard it yesterday.

And, you know what? We have brought that same agenda into every arena of life – and almost every arena has adapted to this agenda’s demands – TV (how stations are available now? Literally thousands!), brands of soda (how many are there? dozens, if not hundreds), flavors of Coca Cola (how many varieties are available? The Coca Cola website offers over 3,500 different beverage tastes from their company, their new slogan is: “There’s a Coke for me; for us, there’s a Coke you!”).

That’s not all bad, right? That means we can all get what we want!

 

So, it’s not surprising that we have also brought that request into our spiritual understandings as well. The idea that we have no choice about the way of salvation seems abhorrent to the spiritual consumer of today. No, our world says that it really doesn’t matter what you believe, so long as you’re more good than bad you’re going to heaven. Or even easier yet, all dogs go to heaven! In other words, if God is love, then obviously His love forgives every wrong and all people are saved!

 

What do we do with the old-fashioned Christian claim that Christ is the answer to life’s ultimate question?

 

Well, let’s take a look at today’s Bible reading, from John’s Gospel account of the story of a conversation between Jesus and a teacher of the Old Testament Law: John 3:14-17 …. —-

Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.  He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.

14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.  19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

 

I need to restart this message by reminding us all of what we have learned over the past few weeks – and I know some of you here today may not have been here every Sunday for the last month. In those messages we saw that God really does exist – and that the Bible is trustworthy as God’s Word for our faith and life – and that this God who speaks to us through the Bible does actually care for His creation – and that this God has revealed Himself to us as a Triune God, wherein the second Person of that Trinity is both fully God and fully human. If we don’t start with those realizations, then referring to the Bible for an answer gets us no where.

We just read what may be the most memorized verse in the whole Bible – one that is quoted every where – as passwords, at sporting events, in every sort of evangelistic effortJohn 3:16 is everywhere.

Last Wednesday, March 14, is known as Pi Day, because 314 are the first three digits of that irrational number used to figure things like the area of a circle (PIr2). There’s a new movement to call last Friday’s date Good News Day (because 3/16 is the chapter-verse of John 3:16).

 

But did you catch the context of that verse? A Pharisee sneaks in to see Jesus in the middle of the night to ask Him about how to be saved, and Jesus talks about being “born again” (this is where that phrase comes from), Jesus refers to an Old Testament story (Numbers 21) about how Moses built a bronze snake on a pole for people to look at and be saved from snake bites and then saying He will be lifted up for people to look to Him for salvation, too.

And then, Jesus stops talking and John makes a theological application of Jesus’ statement when he says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”  But John doesn’t stop with that Good News, he continues with more Good News: For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

And then, just to make it more than perfectly clear, at the Last Supper, in John 14:6, we hear Jesus tell us in His own words: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

 

Does that sound intolerant? Or too exclusive? It seems that our default setting is that we would rather lower God’s expectations or not even talk about God at all. We would rather lower the expectations and be justified by our own works than hear God say that the news is far from what we have contemplated.

This famous John 3:16 continues with, “Whoever believes in the son is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” So it’s not just that there’s going to be a Last Judgment and we’re not quite sure whether our good is going to outweigh our bad. It is, in fact, much clearer than that.

But as exclusive as Christianity is – it is totally open to everyone! No other religion in the world is as able to adapt to cultures all over the globe like Christianity is. It is true that we seem to always bring our own culture to whatever new place we bring our Christian faith – but that does not have to be. From the beginning of time, the Christian faith invites everyone in!

 

This is not an argument about what happens to babies who die before they are old enough to understand the words said at their baptism. Nor is this a statement regarding those who have never heard the Gospel, or worse, those who have heard it and then been witness to Christians who have destroyed the Gospel message by their hateful living!

Let’s just talk about you and me for now.

 

What this tells us is that if we don’t trust in Christ, we’re already condemned. I can tell you right now, on the basis of God’s Word, that if that is us the verdict toward us is a sentence of everlasting condemnation.

If the God who says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, he sent his son not to condemn the world, but to save the world,” we have no one to blame but ourselves if we turn away from trusting in this good and gracious Father and in His son, Jesus Christ.

 

I heard a sermon last May by a Pastor who said, quote, “Jesus is not saying ‘it’s my way or the highway’. He wouldn’t do that.” Jennifer and I were in a “reader’s theater” play last week, called “The Christians”, in which a senior pastor experiences a change of heart about whether or not there even is a hell. He starts preaching that all people go to heaven regardless of their faith in Jesus. And his associate pastor argues with him that, as much as he hates the thought of hell, he is convinced that that is what the Bible teaches.

 

What do you think? If the Bible is right about our sinful condition, then Jesus really must be the only way of salvation – His full humanity is small enough to know our human condition and His full divinity is big enough to pay our debt.

And if the Bible is right about that, then our responsibility must be to proclaim Him as the only way of salvation! Love of God, love of Christ, love of neighbor, and love of truth leave us no alternative!

 

Ultimately, this is a question of faith – but it is a faith that nothing has yet been able to defeat. And when we believe this reality as truth, even in the midst of doubts and wonderings, we hear Him call to everyone, we hear Him call to us personally, to repent, believe, and bow our knee before Him. He is truly worthy of all our praise. And we give glory to God!  Shall we skip whatever our favorite flavor of Coca Cola is and drink from Psalm 116:13’s cup of Salvation? Let’s drink it together, in faith through Jesus.

 

As we move toward the cross of Good Friday, never forget that we also move toward that empty tomb of Resurrection Sunday. Amen.

 

Resources:

Anderson, James N.; “Is There Only One Way to Salvation?”; TableTalk; August 2017; Pp. 16-17.

 

Hnath, Lucas; “The Christians” (play); 2015.

 

Horton, Michael; “How I Can Believe in a God Who Sends People to Hell”; CoreChristianity.com; 12/04/2017.

 

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church Elder Council; Spokane, WA; 03/13/2018.

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