Earlier this year I was at a large university gauging students’ understanding about the identity of Jesus. The questions were fairly straightforward and simply asked the students what they thought of when they heard the name Jesus. The responses were wide and varied. For some, Jesus was a historical figure who lived a good life and offered good wisdom. He was kind of a self-help nice guy. Others felt Jesus was just an ordinary man who others invented to be some kind of superhero. Still others felt that Jesus was some kind of prophet from God. He was, in their mind, a miracle worker who basically wanted everyone to be happy. A small minority believe He never existed.
The responses of the students gave us a snapshot into how people think about Jesus. For those who have an opinion about Jesus their perception is normally that He was a safe, loving, and caring man who had some good things to say, but really has very little significance for our modern world. A good guy, but kind of irrelevant.
These students were, however, shocked to hear the actual claims of Jesus Himself. Far from being the politically correct, hippie-like teacher, Jesus, they found, made extraordinary claims about Himself. Jesus’ statement about himself in John 14:6 was particularly confronting. In that verse Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” This statement rocked the students because in it they clearly heard Jesus’ claim of authority.
Jesus’ exclusive claim to be “the way” not one of “many ways” to heaven is something that makes many feel uncomfortable. In our pluralistic culture we’d like to think that everyone regardless of religion, gender, age, or ethnicity will all wind up in a “better place” after death. Jesus, however, teaches that entrance to God’s presence, both now and in the future, is only possible through Him.
Jesus states it plainly when he says, “All who believe in God’s Son have eternal life. Those who don’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life, but the wrath of God remains upon them” (John 3:36). Likewise Peter states, “There is salvation in no one else! There is no other name in all of heaven for people to call on to save them” (Acts 4:12).
The teaching of Jesus and the apostles is unmistakable. Heaven is for those who have been saved from their sin by trusting in Jesus. Heaven is not a mythical place for all people regardless of their background. Heaven is God’s redeemed creation populated by those who have trusted in the finished work of Jesus. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are the basis, and the only basis, upon which eternal life can be made. This brings up a few questions we must ask ourselves. Am I living with the reality in mind? Does it strike me that my neighbour, my boss, my son or daughter needs Christ to enter into God’s new creation? Does the reality that a person must hear of Jesus and His forgiveness move me to speak up and talk of the abundant life found in Him?
The startling fact that Jesus is the only way to heaven has practical implications for us.
First, the fact that Jesus is the only way to heaven should move us to be people who pray. We need to pray for those in our sphere of influence who don’t know Jesus. Pray for workmates, family members, parents. Pray they would come to trust in this all sufficient Saviour.
Second, we should look for opportunities to speak with others about the hope we have for heaven. It should be clear to those we meet that our hope is not based on our achievements, but on the achievements of Jesus who died for us.
Third, our focus must be missional. Our task is to take the Good News to people all over the world who haven’t heard the Gospel message. We should pray for and support those who take God’s message of hope to the nations.
Jesus is not the safe, politically correct, hippie-like teacher of modern day pluralism. He is the exclusive Saviour who offers the hope of heaven to all who would come to Him in humility and faith.