Saturday 16 November 2013

John 13, v 31 to 14. v 6

We are now approaching Christmas a time when we celebrate the birth of our Lord. Whilst this is the true and original meaning and purpose of Christmas, the wider world has little if any thought or concern for Christ, yet will indulge itself on the basis of His birthday. Christmas does have Christ in the title.

Many pompous politicians want to ban or at least restrict public religious ceremonies, even to the extent of re-naming Christmas in secular terms. Well did Pope Benedict say we have an aggressive secularism.

The Lectionary readings for Advent are on the theme of Christ’s second coming, but I think it more important we concentrate and recognise the wonder of His first coming.

This morning I want to speak on the uniqueness of Christ. This I fear is something the wider Church is not preaching on as firmly as it might. There seems reluctance to state positively what our message is; that Christ was uniquely born; that His birth is still, (and the only one) universally known 2000 years later; and time is calculated from His birth. No other faith can make the claims we can make and we should be proud to say so.

Let us turn now to our gospel passage.

The reading begins after Judas has left Jesus and the other Apostles where they have been celebrating the Last Supper and Jesus tells the Apostles, ‘now He has been glorified’. Because of what Judas was going to do, Jesus would face the Cross, and so would bring glory by His sacrifice, and by His obedience to God, He too would be glorified.

Jesus went on to tell them they must love one another, and by that He simply meant they should show loyalty to each other and not get engaged in disputes.

When Jesus tells the Apostles He is going to leave them they are devastated and fear for their future. For three years they have lived every moment with Jesus and now He suddenly tells them He is going. This brings us to the end of Chapter 13.

I often see a likeness to a present day situation when a Minister leaves a Church to go elsewhere (or retire) and there has been a good relationship with the congregation, there is then very often sadness.

When the Bible was first compiled, each book of the Bible was one long script. In 1227 the then Archbishop of Canterbury divided it into chapters, and in 1448 Robert Estienne separated into verses. This has been a great help in enabling us to find a verse readily, but has in another sense caused passages to be taken out of contest and adopted to suit the purpose.

This happens with the first six verses of Chapter 14 which are regularly asked for by relatives for a funeral service without any understanding of what has gone before, and indeed which is most relevant to what is coming, and why Jesus is saying what He did. To ignore Chapter 13 is to miss the meaning.

Everyone wants to claim a heavenly room without any conditions. They have no doubt a place is automatically reserved for them irrespective of the way they have lived here and the fact they have not accepted Him as Saviour. Let it be remembered Jesus is speaking to His Apostles, and indeed all believers can accept His words.

He tells them to believe in God, in other words, trust God, but not only God, Jesus too. In heaven there is room for all believers. Jesus is going to prepare a place for believers.

Thomas asks where He is going and the way, and Jesus makes that immortal reply, ’I am the Way the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father except through me’.

Unless we re-write our Bibles we cannot get away from these exclusive claims of Jesus. No one will be in the Father’s heavenly mansions unless they are a committed follower of Jesus. If you decide Jesus in not for you there is no eternal future in heaven.

We have the declaration of Peter, ‘salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved’

Then you have the words of Paul, for no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.”

Jesus says he is the way, the truth and the life. Not just a way to know God and get to heaven, but the one and only way to be with God. Many people, especially non believers, say this is arrogance and discriminatory. We have got to a state of affairs now in this country whereby one is not permitted to make comment about a person’s age, race, sexuality or ethnic faith, but it is open season on Christianity. This should not surprise us since we live in a day of increasing religious pluralism when people in influential places, especially politicians, who have no religious affiliations say, all religions are equal.

Saying this insults thoughtful followers of every religion. Talk to a Muslim for a while, and you’ll discover that what they believe and what we believe are radically different. They do not accept the divinity of Christ, saying God has no Son. Talk to a Buddhist, and you’ll discover that their beliefs are different from ours and from the Muslims. The same is true for followers of Judaism, Hinduism, and so on. It’s easy to say all roads lead to heaven when you don’t know anything about what you are speaking of.

Jesus make such claims because he says is the truth. From the beginning of the Gospel Jesus has been making outrageous statements about what God wants. If Jesus was simply a human being then his exclusive claims would be most arrogant. However, since he was fully divine then we must accept those claims.

We know that some who agree with our answer don’t like to talk about it openly. They fear stirring up trouble, so even if they answer yes, they prefer not to discuss the question publicly. Others of course fear being dismissed from employment or even prosecuted if they dare to mention their faith.

I read that the Home Secretary is to introduce new legislation making it a criminal offence for any person to make a statement which might cause offence (imaginary or really) to another person. This will seriously endanger street preachers as one American evangelist found out when he was arrested for preaching on 1 Thessalonians 4.

If we are to be in a right relationship with God, Jesus is the only One who can restore that relationship. By his death, he paid for our sins and bridged the gap that separates us from God. By his resurrection, he proved he is the Son of God.

We must accept members of other faiths have sincerity in their beliefs.We do not need to doubt the sincerity of those of other faiths. I admire them for their dedication to what they believe and wish all Christians would show similar dedication to Christianity.

Christians have always believed that Jesus is the only way to heaven. We haven’t always expressed it with equal forcefulness, but the teaching itself is not new. We now have to think about the challenge of sharing Christ in a pluralistic world. This means all Christians have to know what they believe and why, and then not be afraid to contend for what we believe (as the bible urges us to do) For example, it is life or death; heaven or hell; Jesus or nothing.

We should be inspired by Christians in the non Christians lands who daily face hatred, violence, even death; and see their Churches and homes destroyed, yet never waver in their faith.

There are many religions, and many good things to be learned from the religions of the world, but there is only one way to God. Jesus is the way.

We only face one impediment. Not all who are in ministry, clergy and lay, even accept Jesus is the only way. I heard sermons when His name has not even been mentioned. We should all honour the name of Jesus. Christian preachers and teachers should stop challenging the Bible and be true and faithful to the gospel as given in the Apostolic teaching

You will never hear a Muslim cleric disputing any word of the Koran, nor would members of their faith allow the Koran to be abused. When we Christians respond with similar dedication and commitment, this nation will be transformed.

Jesus really is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

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