God Yes, But Why Jesus? - Part 1Erwin W. Lutzer | February 2, 2003
Selected highlights from this sermon
God has spoken and Jesus Christ alone is the answer. While many people think all religions are equal and scoff at evangelism, the fact is that there is only one true religion, one true God, and Jesus Christ is the only way to get to heaven.
Jesus is the only one qualified to be our Savior. He is God in the flesh. He took on our humanity, in order that our salvation could be secured. He alone is able!
Ingmar Bergman, it is said, was standing in a cathedral in Europe and saw a picture of Christ, and he went up to the picture and said, “Speak to me.” There was dead silence, and that apparently became the basis of a movie that the Swedish film director made entitled Silence.
I begin today with a question. Does God speak? Is He silent? Has He spoken? If so, who speaks on His behalf? That’s the question. Where can we go when we need a word from outside the universe? Where do we go when we want to hear a word from God?
Many years ago I attended the Parliament of World Religions here in the city of Chicago. Five thousand delegates met in the Palmer House for one full week discussing the possibility of unifying the religions of the world. There were several presuppositions that were in effect at this conference. The first was that no religion is superior to another. As a matter of fact, of the 700 workshops that were available during the week many of them were dedicated to the myth that superiority stood in the way of unity.
The second presupposition was that doctrines should be thought of as traditions and not truths because if you think of them as truths they are going to stand in the way of this grand unity. But if they are traditions, well then you have your tradition and I have my tradition and we take the best of all of our traditions.
The third presupposition was that proselytizing - we would call it evangelism - was a no-no because if I try to convince you to become a part of my religion that is inherently this idea of superiority that we have to do away with because it is that notion that stands in the way of the grand unity for which this conference was dedicated.
In fact, I remember that I met somebody on the elevator who said, “I am a Christian Buddhist.” There were those who took verses of Scripture and united them with transcendental meditation with Hindu notions and ideas, and they put them together, and like a smorgasbord, everybody can kind of pick and choose – a little bit of this, and a little bit that. To quote the words of Tom Paine, who was a skeptic, he said, “My church is within my mind. Whatever I accept, whatever is meaningful to me is mine. Whatever is meaningful to you is yours.”
One night at the conference the leader stood up and said, “I want you to think of all the religions of the world as a wheel. On the level of the rim we all have our disagreements and can’t understand why anyone would hold to what the other person believes, but at the level of the hub (which he defined as the clear blue of sky) it is there that all the religions of the world are united.”
You know that here in America we have gone from the idea that everyone has a right to his own opinion to the foolish notion that every opinion is equally right.
Now today I am going to begin a two-part series entitled God, Yes. Everybody is into God. Everybody is into spirituality but why specifically Jesus? And I am preaching this for two reasons. First of all, it is because there are some of you here that I am talking to who would belong in the realm of skepticism. You kind of keep Christ at arm’s length. You know about Him. You are even listening to this message maybe through the encouragement of someone else, but you are absolutely convinced on an intellectual level that Christianity is on the same kind of plane as other religions and you want to put Jesus Christ with Krishna and with all of the other teachers, and you are unwilling to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and as Savior. And I’m talking to you, and I’ll let you in on my agenda. I want to persuade you to believe in Jesus, and to trust Him as your personal Savior. That’s where this message is going.
There’s a second reason why I am preaching it and that is the fact that there are some of you as believers who, if someone were to ask you the question, “Don’t you think Jesus is just one way among many?” you might not be able to have an answer. And I hope that after my second message particularly that comes next week you’ll be excited if someone says, “Well, you know I think Jesus is just one way among many.” I want to show you that Jesus is unique, that there is no one else like Him. I want you to see that He alone has the qualifications of saviorhood.
With that introduction I want you to take your Bibles and turn with me to John 1:1. Now I can imagine that if you are a skeptic here you might say, “Well, I don’t even accept the Bible.” Well, for the moment let me say that that’s okay. I want you to understand what the Bible says about Christ before you reject Him. So no matter what level you are on in terms of unbelief or skepticism, please hear me out.
In John 1:1 Jesus, as we shall see, has three credentials that qualify Him to be a Savior. What are they?
The first is His divinity or His deity. Notice John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” Why does John use the word “word”? Well, a word indicates communication and rationality. The Greek word is logos from which we get logic. When I want to communicate what is in my mind and get it into your mind I use words. Jesus is the intelligibility, the message and the communication of God. So he says, “In the beginning was the Word,” and later on it becomes very clear that the Word is Christ because the Word is made flesh.
And notice what he says about this Word. The Word was in the beginning. He does not say that the Word was created in the beginning or that the Word came to be at some point in time. In the beginning WAS the Word. The Word was always there. And then lest we should miss it, he says, “And the Word was God.” And there is no other way, by the way, to logically reasonably translate that. It’s a clear statement of the complete deity of Christ.
But now we come across a question. Okay, so Jesus was God but what about all the other gods? Maybe He was one god among other gods. Maybe he is part of the gods of the New Age movement, or the many, many gods – the hundreds of thousands of gods – of Hinduism. What about Shirley MacLaine running out onto Malibu Beach years ago shouting, “I am God. I am God?” Remember Colson’s remark? “Aren’t you glad she’s wrong?”
But here we now face a question. We have Shirley MacLaine claiming to be God, and we have Jesus claiming to be God, and we’ve got a decision to make. Now for some of us, if I may humbly suggest, the decision is not that difficult to make, but let me explain to you why it’s not that difficult to make because you’ll notice it says in verse 3, “Through Him all things were made. Without Him nothing was made that has been made.” Wow! We’re talking about a special kind of god here. We’re talking about God as creator, and what we are saying is that Shirley MacLaine, along with all the rest of us, were created by Christ, and without Him nothing was made that was made.
So the very breath that we breathe, and the energy that we have to think, and the mouth by which we can speak, all of that is given us by the creator God. This is a special God. He is a God who is independent of the world. He is the creator. And could I say very quickly that one of the greatest sins mentioned in Romans 1 is to confuse the creator with the creature? This is God.
The first credential is his deity, and the second is his humanity. Now we come to the most explosive verse in the entire Bible. You say, “Well, I thought it was John 3:16.” No, John 3:16 is the most popular and the most blessed perhaps but it’s John 1:14 that shatters the philosophical and religious world of its day just as it continues to do in our day. Notice it there in the text. Verse 14 says, “And the Word became flesh.”
This was so revolutionary. Why was it so difficult to accept in those days? It’s because of Plato. Plato believed that all flesh was evil. He believed that flesh was evil because it was changing. Plato said that in order for something to be perfect it had to be timeless and unchangeable. Perhaps an example is mathematics. Two plus two is equal to four, and that’s true even if you have a fever. In other words, it’s unrelated to human experience and that impressed Plato.
So the Greeks under the influence of Plato would have read this and they would have said, “And the Word became imperfect,” or “The Word became evil.” Of course the early Church fought that heresy and tried to explain why it’s possible for the Word to become flesh, but it’s at this point also that we have the great divide even today. We need to explain it to our Muslim friends, and I am sure that some of them are listening. And I want to say that here at the church we welcome all kinds of ideas and people to come and to listen and to investigate, because we believe that Christianity will not suddenly evaporate if it is looked at carefully. But I want you to know that here we come to the crux of the Christian faith. The fact that God not only came alongside of flesh, or that he even assumed a human body would have been easier to accept. But the idea that the Word became flesh was an unthinkable idea in those days. And it still is today among those who believe and teach that to believe that God became a man is blasphemy. I want you to know that this is the uniqueness of the Christian faith because what we are saying is this. Follow it now. God became flesh without compromising His fundamental unity and without compromising His holiness. Jesus was a sinless human being, to be sure, but He became one with us. And He bridged the gap between God and man.
You see, if Jesus Christ were not fully God, He would be like a bridge broken at the farthest end. If He were not fully man He would be like a bridge broken at the nearest end. Either way He could not bring man and God together but for this wondrous ability for Him to become flesh. And that’s why we celebrate Christmas and we rejoice in the mystery of godliness. God was manifest in the flesh. What a beautiful mystery! What a saving mystery it is! And as a result of that Jesus Christ can therefore be a Savior.
Now I need to pause here and say that it is difficult for me to see how you can have any kind of salvation that meets God’s holy requirements without believing in the Trinity. You’ll notice it says right here in the text in verse 1, and how beautifully expressed it is, “The Word was God,” and in verse 2 it says, “He was with God in the beginning.” What kind of sense would that make except for the fact that Jesus Christ, being fully God and fully man, dies on the cross as a sacrifice for us and meets the requirements of God the Father. All the while God is unified in essence because there is only one God, but it’s the beauty of the Trinity that enables us to sing with Wesley, “And can it be that I should gain an interest in my Savior’s blood,” and then to say, “That Thou my God shouldst die for me.” Salvation is wholly of God.
You see if Jesus had not been God His death on the cross would not have purchased our redemption because God would not be therefore the author of salvation. He’d have delegated the dirty work to someone else to die, but God would only accept Himself as a payment and that happened in Jesus. God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself.
Let’s go on to a third credential of Jesus. The first is His deity. The second is His humanity. And the third we could say is His ability. He can do what nobody else can do. I’m still in verse 14. “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” In Greek it’s very interesting that the word there is schema. It really means tabernacle or tent. And what John wants us to understand is this, that Jesus Christ now replaces the tabernacle of the Old Testament. Now what was the tabernacle of the Old Testament? It was a construction of 45’ long and 15’ wide. One third of it was known as the Holy of Holies that could only be entered once a year. The other two-thirds was known as the holy place, and that’s where worship took place. And it was to be the only place where the people were to really worship God, to bring their sacrifices, to bring their gifts and to worship.
Well, we don’t do that anymore, do we? Why don’t we? It’s because of Jesus. Think with me very quickly what that tabernacle represented and we’ll see how Jesus Christ replaces it. First of all, as I mentioned, it was a place of worship. Today we don’t have to go to that tabernacle and worship. We can worship Christ all over the world. As Jesus said to the woman at the well, “The day is coming when you shall worship not in Jerusalem or in Garism, but in spirit and in truth everywhere.” And we can worship Christ. The veil of the Temple was torn in two. Why? It was torn because we now have the same access through Jesus into the holy place at any time when we pray in His name as the entry of the high priest, which happened on one day a year. And it was indeed a place of worship. And today we worship Christ.
At O’Hare Field I was in line for a ticket agent and I noticed someone who seemed to have a religious book in his hand. I didn’t know exactly what the book was so I struck up a conversation with him and he said that he was a Jehovah’s Witness. Now you need to know that the Jehovah’s Witnesses deny that Jesus Christ is fully God. They kind of believe that he was a kind of God or a lesser God. So I said, “You know, I have a question. Do you worship Jesus?” And he said, “Yes,” and I said to him with a smile on my face (because one always should be smiling when you say these things to lessen the impact and to help the relationship), “Don’t you realize that on the basis of your premises you are an idolater. The Bible is very clear that Jehovah says, ‘You shall worship Me alone, and worship no other gods.’ You are worshipping something other than Jehovah, because in your theology Jesus is not Jehovah.” And at that point we had to go our separate ways. I was just trying to defend Jesus wherever Jesus plants me.
So we worship Christ unashamedly, and you read the book of Revelation and it is full of worship of Jesus and songs to the Lamb.
The tabernacle was also a place of sacrifice and Jesus replaces that as well. This, however, is the difference. In the tabernacle you have many priests, and you have them continually offering lambs and goats on the altar. And when Jesus comes as our high priest what does He do? He becomes the sacrifice. In the Old Testament the priests of course sacrificed, as I mentioned, sheep and goats. But Jesus becomes the sacrifice for us and dies in our stead so that God’s holiness can be appeased so that we can enter into God’s presence and have the merit of Jesus credited to our account. There’s nobody else out there like that.
And it was also a place of glory. When we talk about the glory of the Old Testament, you remember it would come like a cloud and it would be right there in the holy place. Right there where you have the Ark of the Covenant the cloud would descend.
What does John say here? I’m still in verse 14. “We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” We sing at Christmas, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see.” And Jesus Christ’s glory was veiled. It had to be or they couldn’t have even communicated with Him because it would have been so powerful and so glorious. But there was one day when it just broke out when the veil was taken away, and that was on the Mount of Transfiguration where Jesus appeared in dazzling light, full of grace and truth. That was the glory of God, and John said, “We saw that glory full of grace and truth,” and what a beautiful balance. There are some people who are full of grace and they have no truth. All that they are is loving and forgiving people and they are not interested in truth. There are those who are into truth. They say, “You know we are really into truth,” but they are harsh and uncaring and they don’t have a lot of grace. I want you to know today that you need truth to be saved but it also is truth full of grace.
Let’s go back to Ingmar Bergman, standing in the cathedral saying, “Lord, speak to me.” What should he have done? He should have gone home, taken out his Bible and he should have begun to read the New Testament because what we find in the New Testament is that God has spoken and He has not stuttered. Jesus said, “When I speak to you I speak the words of God.”
Who speaks in behalf of God? It is Jesus and He is the only qualified one to do so. Why? First of all, it is because he is full deity. Secondly, it is because of His full sinless humanity. And because of that He is the only one qualified to say, “I represent the transcendent God, the one and the only, the Jehovah, the creator. And yet I became flesh so that I could be the mediator, and I could be the priest who dies on the cross to bring the holiness of God, with all of its inflexibility, and to take that holiness and to make a payment by which man, with all of his sin and failure and inadequacy, is able to meet that high standard because of Me, and because of what I did on the cross and in the resurrection.” I want to tell you today that there is nobody else out there like Him.
I have two more stories about the Parliament of World Religion. I decided one day that I would go on a search to find the sinless Savior. Now we are in the Palmer House and in the bottom floor of the Palmer House there were maybe 100 booths representing all the different religions of the world, and they had their various material. And I was there because I was dialoging with as many people as I could about Jesus and His uniqueness.
By the way, I ate dinner with some New Agers, and explained the Gospel to them, and I’ll never forget what they said. They said, “We’ve never heard anything like this before.” Do you realize that most people have no clue as to what the Gospel is and what the real message of the New Testament is? They think it’s Jesus teaching on the Sermon on the Mount. They did not understand redemption at all.
But I decided that I was going to go on a search to find a savior. And in order for me to have a savior he has to be sinless obviously. Why? Do you remember that story years ago in Florida about a grandmother who was taking care of her little granddaughter? The granddaughter fell into the swimming pool and the grandmother, God bless her, was unable to swim but hopped in to try to save her little one, and a few hours later both bodies were pulled from the water.
Listen, if you are in a predicament, somebody who is in the same predicament as you is not able to help you. And so I said, “What I need is a sinless savior who can take my place and I can be saved on the basis of what he did and in his stead.” That’s what I looked for. So I started to go from booth to booth. I began with the Hindus and I said, “Now, what I am looking for is a sinless savior. Because I am a sinner I need to be reconciled to God. Do you have a sinless savior?” He said, “No, we have teachers, but we have no one who is sinless, no one who has the qualification of saviorhood.”
I went over to the Bahá'í faith and I said, “Did Bahá'u'lláh claim sinlessness because I am a sinner and I need to be saved, and I’m looking for a savior.” No, no, no, enlightenment but no sinlessness!
I went over to the Buddhists. I said, “I’m looking actually for a Savior because I am a sinner and I need to be saved.” I said, “Did Buddha claim sinlessness? I’m looking for somebody who is qualified to bring me into the presence of a holy God.” No, enlightenment but no sinlessness!
I went to the Muslim booth. I said, “What about Muhammad? Is he sinless?” Well, in the Quran, you know, he does say that he needed God’s forgiveness. I said, “But I’m looking for someone who is sinless who can present me in the presence of a holy God.” Not in the Muslim faith!
I was going from booth to booth. And you’ve heard me say this before here at the Moody Church, but I need to say it again and again and again. All the other religions of the world have gurus and prophets and teachers and representatives who may at times say some very good and helpful things. What they do not have is somebody qualified to reconcile sinners to a holy God. There is nobody else out there like Jesus. I just want you to know that there is nobody else out there.
We have university students here. Some of you may be studying comparative religions. Study them. Look at all of the religions of the world. Compare them and see if you have anyone else out there like Jesus, and you’ll find that nobody has the qualifications of saviorhood. Nobody is both God and man and has the ability to be a sacrifice to present us holy in the presence of God. Jesus is the only one.
Sometimes I see Christians on television being interviewed. And someone says, “Well why Jesus? Why not just other options?” and sometimes you hear good answers, and sometimes you hear answers that are rather weak. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Nobody has the righteousness, which a holy God requires, by which we can stand in God’s presence. Now can I say that any more clearly than that except that Jesus who was fully God, and also fully man, bridged the gap, died so He could present us to the Father? There’s nobody else out there like that.
One more story and then I bring the plane down. In fact, I can already see the runway. I was talking to a woman who said, “You know The Urantia Book (that she was reading) gave me my Jesus back to me.” I said, “Tell me your story.” She said, “I was raised in a home where my parents read stories about Jesus, and I’ve loved Jesus ever since I was a little girl. And my parents didn’t go to church,” she said, “but I did and I would sit in the back because I wanted to hear the pastor. All of the children were in the basement and a woman tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Now what are you doing here? You are supposed to be downstairs with all of the other children.’” And she said, “I left that church as a little girl and cried all the way home and never went back.”
So she said, “I forgot about Jesus,” and then she got involved in a false cult and realized that that was going nowhere, and then she came across this book, which was written by automatic writing. Actually a spirit comes along in occultism and sometimes writes books. The book, “Conversations with God” was written that way, if you’ve read the introduction. And she said, “This book gave my Jesus back to me.” She said, “I love Jesus so much and it is filled with stories about Jesus when He was a little boy.” She said, “Do you mind if I read one to you?” And I said, “No, read it.” And it was a story about how Jesus at the age of 12 helped a little boy who was lost get back to his father. And she said, “You know, that’s just like Jesus, isn’t it, to do something so beautiful and so kind?”
I said, “Yeah, that is.” I said, “You really do love Him, don’t you?” She said, “Oh, I do love Him,” and tears began to form in her eyes. Wow! I said, “Tell me why you love Him.” She said, “I love Him because He’s a teacher. I love Him because He’s the Lord. I love Him, I love Him, I love Him.” And then I looked her in the eye and I said, “Do you also love Him because He died on the cross and shed His blood to reconcile us to a holy God?” And she looked away and she said, “I have never thought of that before.”
What a tragedy. Do you know that there are hundreds of people, some who are listening to this message, who basically love Jesus? They admire Him. They sing songs with us, but they’ve never accepted Jesus as Savior. What a tragedy to know Newton but not as a scientist, to know Shakespeare but not as a man of literature, and to know Jesus and even love Jesus and to never have received Him as the Savior! What a tragedy!
So where are you at today? Have you ever received Him? It says in verse 12 of this chapter, “As many as received Him to them He gave the authority to become the sons of God, even to those who believe on His name.”
Let’s pray together.
Father, I wish I had done a better job of persuading people to believe in Jesus, but I pray for those who hold Him at arm’s length, for those who say, “He’s just one among many.” Help them to see the uniqueness and the beauty of Jesus and the credentials of Jesus, and that there is no one else out there like Him. We pray that You might bring them to faith, and even at this moment while I am praying, we pray that You might open their hearts so that they would say, “Jesus, I receive You as my Savior. I’ve admired You. I have read about You. I’ve sung songs about You but I’ve never received You.” Cause them to do that at this moment, oh Father, in Your mercy and grace, and give them no rest until they have come to the full assurance of faith.
Whatever God has said to you, you talk to Him.
Father, thank You, thank You for Jesus. In His name we pray, Amen.