Let’s look at some of the statements Jesus made in our Bible reading for today. “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life.” “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” “Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
Those words from Jesus seem to make it pretty clear. Jesus said that belief in him is the way to eternal life. And Jesus made other statements that are similar. At John Fourteen, Six Jesus says “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” In the third chapter of John, Jesus says, “The Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him...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.”
If we believe that the words of Jesus are true, there does not seem to be any way around this. Jesus said, quite plainly, that the only way to eternal life is through belief in him. There’s no hesitation about it. There’s no equivocation about it. Jesus does not leave wiggle room there. We can choose to believe Jesus’ words, or we can choose not to believe them, but we cannot be honest about it and not recognize what Jesus said. Jesus said that the only way to eternal life is through him.
As you heard, that was not a popular statement in Jesus’ time. It’s not a popular statement today, either. We’re not supposed to make black-and-white statements like that. We’re supposed to see shades of grey. We’re supposed to tolerate other points of view. That’s especially true when it comes to religion. We’re supposed to believe that all faiths are equal. We’re supposed to believe that all roads lead to heaven. We’re not even supposed to say that Christianity is superior to other religions, much less that belief in Jesus Christ is the only way to eternal life.
That’s true even among Christians. A lot of us are uncomfortable saying that Christianity is the only way to eternal life. And I can understand why. It’s a statement that sounds kind of arrogant, right? And arrogance is supposed to be a sin, right? Who do we think we are, that we think we have the only way to eternal life?
Not only that, but saying that Christianity is the only way to eternal life sounds pretty judgmental. What makes us think we have the right to judge people? We’re supposed to leave judgment up to God. Who do we think we are, that we think we can judge other people’s faith, or lack of faith, like that?
But here’s the thing. What I think about this really does not make any difference. What I say about this really does not make any difference. I’m not the one who’s saying Christianity is the way to eternal life. I’m not judging other people’s faith, or the lack of it. I’m reading the words of Jesus. I’m reading what Jesus said. Again, we can choose to believe those words, or we can choose not to believe them. But we cannot be honest and pretend Jesus did not say them. And we cannot be honest and pretend Jesus did not really mean them.
The words of Jesus are quite clear. Jesus did not say that all faiths are equal. Jesus did not say that all roads lead to heaven. Jesus said the way to eternal life is through him. And if we’re going to be honest, we have to deal with that statement.
Again, I understand why it makes people uncomfortable. It makes me uncomfortable, if you want to know the truth. I know people who do not believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior. I’m sure some of you do, too. Some of them are my friends. I don’t like to think of my friends missing out on eternal life. I’d like it if I could say, well, if you just do your best and treat people well and try to be a good person, that’s good enough. But that’s not what Jesus said. Again, we can choose not to believe Jesus’ words if we want to, but we cannot be honest and pretend Jesus did not say them or that he did not mean them. We either believe that Jesus was telling the truth or we believe he was not. I’d like it if Jesus had provided an out for people who do not believe, but that’s not what Jesus did.
Jesus did not provide that out because Jesus is the out. See, God does not owe it to any of us to give us eternal life. None of us, Christian or non-Christian, deserves eternal life. We are sinners who have fallen short. But we’re provided an out through Jesus Christ. God loves us so much that he sent Jesus into the world, so that whoever believes in him will not get what he or she deserves. Instead, whoever believes will get eternal life. Not because we’re so good, but because God is so good and loves us so much. God does not give us what we deserve. God, through Jesus Christ, gave us the chance for so much better than what we deserve. God gives us the chance for eternal life. And all we need to do is believe.
So, what does that mean for us? Well, for one thing, it means we should be incredibly grateful to God. If we believe in Jesus Christ as our Savior, we should thank God every day that God gave us eternal life. We should thank God every day that God does not give us the punishment we deserve for our sins. We should thank God every day that God loves us so much that God sent Jesus, the divine Son, into the world so that, through our belief in him, we can have eternal life. God would not have had to do that. God did it out of love for us, a love we don’t deserve and could never earn. We should always be incredibly grateful for that.
But it also means that we need to do everything we can to bring others to faith. We need to do everything we can to convince people that Jesus Christ is, in fact, the Savior. We need to do everything we can to bring others to eternal life. Because again, if we truly believe what Jesus said, then there are people we know, right here in our own community, who are not going to have eternal life.
And again, that’s not because of what I say or because of what I think. What I say and what I think doesn’t matter. I’m simply reading the words of Jesus Christ. And again, we can choose not to believe them if we want to. But if we do choose to believe them, then we need to take them seriously.
And that means that we have a duty, we have an obligation, to continue to reach out to people. We have a duty, we have an obligation, to try to bring people to faith. We have a duty, we have an obligation, to try to fill this church on Sunday morning. Not because I want to be the pastor of a big church, but because we don’t want people in our community to miss out on eternal life. This is not something we do for ourselves. It’s something we do for others. It’s something we do out of love, love for God and love for other people.
And this is not our duty as United Methodists. It’s our duty as Christians. Every Christian church in town has that same duty, that same obligation. I hope they take it seriously. I hope we take it seriously. We’re not in competition with the other Christian churches. We’re on the same team. If everyone in town was coming to church on Sunday morning, our Christian churches would not be big enough to hold them all.
So how do we do this? Because one of the things that holds us back is that we’re afraid we’ll offend people. We’re afraid that if we reach out too much, if we try too hard to bring people to church, they’ll get mad at us. I think we tend to overestimate the chances of that happening, but certainly, we don’t want to be obnoxious about it. We don’t want people to roll their eyes whenever they see us coming. There is a certain amount of tact and discretion that needs to be involved here.
So, what should we do? Well, for one thing, we should pray. But we should pray for some specific things. We should pray for God to put us in the path of people who do not believe in Jesus Christ. Some of them probably already are in our path. If they’re not, pray for God to send you where you will meet them. After all, Jesus told us to “go” and make disciples. Jesus did not say for us to sit and wait for God to send people to us. He told us to go, go where they are.
Then, we should pray for God to give us the faith, and the trust, and the courage, to talk to them about Jesus. We need to both share God’s word with them and show God’s love to them. Because God does love them. God loves everybody. And God calls us to love everybody, too. Again, that’s why we want to bring people to faith--because we do love them and we don’t want them to miss out on eternal life. That love needs to be present in all of our interactions with people, but especially in our interactions with people who don’t believe. As has been said, you and I may be the only Bible some people ever read. We need to make sure people are seeing God’s love in us.
We won’t always succeed. Even Jesus did not always succeed. But we need to try. And we need to keep trying. And we need to not get discouraged if we don’t see immediate results. We’ve talked before about how God is a long-term God. We need to be long-term Christians. God never gives up on anyone. We should not give up on anyone, either.
Jesus said that he is the way to eternal life. If we believe that, we need to do everything we can to help others have that eternal life. It’s our duty as Christians. It’s our obligation as Christians. And it’s the most loving thing we can do.