An Activity – Jesus, the only way to God
You will need 20-30 strands of yarn about a metre long, and a small prize, such as a chocolate bar.
Tie the prize to the end of one strand and have a volunteer hold all the strands together near the prize, making sure that other ends are all level. Split the yarn into three bunches and plait them together loosely. You can have three children hold the bunches and weave around if you like – it can be quite funny!
Then have people come and choose one of the strands of yarn. They should be able to pull the strand out if you have plaited them loosely. It might be good to have a basket of consolation prizes for people who did not choose the strand tied to the chocolate bar.
(Hint – to find the right strand, pull on the chocolate bar)
All the strands look equally good, but only one leads to the prize.
The buzz-word of the day is tolerance. We must all be tolerant of everything. Nothing is absolute. You can believe anything you like as long as you are tolerant of all other beliefs.
Up to a point, I agree whole-heartedly. We certainly should not be returning to crusades or pogroms or jihads and forcing beliefs upon others at the point of a sword or muzzle of a gun. But is it therefore true that any belief, or none, is as good as any other?
The ‘anything goes’ culture of modern Western Europe and USA would say yes. Jesus apparently disagrees.
When I am not writing I teach – mathematics mainly and some physics. The mathematician in me is very black and white. One plus one is two by the very nature of what one and one and plus mean. It is not my opinion, it just is so. The square root of two is irrational, no matter what beliefs anyone may have about it. If they disagree, they are just plain wrong.
On the other hand, the scientist in me sees shades of grey everywhere. Two hundred years ago we thought we knew about the smallest particles – atoms. One hundred years ago we thought we knew about the smallest particles – electrons. Fifty years ago we thought knew about the smallest particles – quarks. Ten years ago … you catch my drift? Science rarely has definitive answers. Everything is ‘the current understanding’, ‘the best working hypothesis’ or ‘the latest model of the phenomenon’. The humility of knowing pretty much nothing is very liberating.
So which approach do we use with Jesus? Is Christianity right and everything else (however well-intentioned) wrong? That sounds dreadfully arrogant and intolerant. But then, is it right to hide the truth in layers of fuzz and fluff until no-one believes anything for fear of offending?
Pilate had this dilemma, too. “What is truth?” he asked, frustrated with Jesus putting him in the situation of condemning an innocent man. (John 18:38) And we have the same situation in this reading. “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly,” they demand. “I have told you,” Jesus replies. And he goes on to tell them even more. Not only is Jesus claiming to be the Messiah, he is claiming to be God himself. “The Father and I are one.”
Well if they weren’t angry before, they certainly are now. There’s nothing like claiming to be God to polarise opinion.
It’s a stark choice. Either Jesus is God or he is not. There is no mid-ground. There is no via media. There is no grey. So, I’m sorry, all those well-meaning people who say that all religions are different routes to the same god. No they ain’t.
Of course, he might have been delusional, and genuinely thought he was divine when actually he wasn’t. We can feel a bit sorry for him in that case, but it doesn’t alter that fact that over the millennia tens of thousands have faced death rather than deny his delusion. Nasty guy or nutter – neither is worth my worship.
But, if Jesus is God, if it is true, then all religions that have him down as a prophet or a good moral teacher or whatever are just plain wrong. Sincere, undeniably. Well-intentioned, unquestionably. Possessing many socially useful traits, most certainly. But the way to God? Nope.
Jesus said he was the way, the only way, and we each have to decide whether he was telling the truth or not.
It’s not fashionable. But neither was racial equality in 1930s Germany. An unpalatable truth is still true. Intolerant? Depends. Would you call me intolerant as a maths teacher if I marked 1 + 1 = 3 wrong?
CS Lewis put it this way
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952, Macmillan)
Where do you stand?
I am mortal and finite, limited and imperfect.
I do not always understand the big questions of life – Why the good suffer, what happens to those who have not heard or cannot understand, why you do not stop wars or prevent disasters.
But this I do know – That you are great and you are good, and that your ways are above my ways and your thoughts above my thoughts.
Help me to rise beyond the here and now, beyond the customs of my culture and time, and to see with eternal eyes. Help me to grasp the truths that are the solid rock beneath the shifting sands of culture, country and time, and to stand for the eternal truths that I believe, even when they are not in vogue.
John 10:22-30 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised
At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered, ‘I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.’
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.