Recently, I heard some leaders of other religious faiths remark on a flaw of the Christian religion. It’s the fact that ours is the only religion that insists that there is only one way to get to God: Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It seemed to them very obvious that there are many paths to God, and they expressed hope that someday we would grow beyond this defect. I had to laugh. Because this “one defect” is the sole standard of the Christian Faith. If we did not believe that faith in Jesus was the only way to find the hope of salvation, Christianity would melt in a moment. If I believed that there were many ways to God, and all were equally good, why would I chose the hardest, most offensive one? Furthermore, why should I try to make my faith easy for you, when it is so hard for me? Because out of the first concern, these same religious leaders expressed annoyance that so many groups of Christians had set out to convert them. If our religion accepted that there were many ways to God, do you not think we would cease trying to convert everyone in the world? We would let them go. Perhaps they would find an easier, less humiliating path.
I also heard some Christian leaders recently saying how disappointed they were when they saw a Christian conform to the standards of this world, even if their goal was to evangelize. And I have to agree; although originally these leaders where actually referring to a Christian’s style of clothing and color of hair, which I think is inconsequential. Because every style of clothing, or lack thereof, has been claimed by a culture, or subculture somewhere. And every time you put on a piece of clothing or adjust your body in any way, you conform to something somewhere. And in Christ there is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, man or woman, black man or white man, or Protestant or Catholic. We are all one in Christ and look not at the flesh but at the spirit, and the fruits of the spirit. Which brings me back. You conform, not by what clothes you wear, or how many earrings, but when you subvert your nature, so that Christ is not glorified. A for instance: those Christian musicians who, in the church, sing unashamed the gospel to the saved. Then, when they go into the world, they change their name to hide the cross and change their lyrics, encrypting the message of shed blood, “lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and return and be healed.” Sorry guys! The times of blindness and misunderstanding are long since past. Now is the time that we preach, not in parables, but openly, so that all may understand. Yes, this is offensive to many. Yes, people will turn away from an unadulterated gospel, but an erated gospel brings in sons. Jesus himself turned the masses away when he said, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.” He gave them a hard saying in order to drive them away, but he did not cease from preaching!
You see, almost 6,000 years ago, God set a precedent: When one man (and in him, all of us) tried to stand separate from God and be holy like God in his own strength, through the knowledge of good and evil, he discovered the lie. Without God you cannot be holy. Instead all he had was the memory of good in the experience of evil. He tried to cover his ness with a lie: someone else did this to me. But he remained exposed. And God had compassion on Man and Woman in the agonies of sin. He knelt down, and with the blood and flesh of animals, he covered them. And since then it has been understood: without shed blood there is no remission of sins. The stain remains and remains and remains. There is no atonement without blood, there is no circumcision without blood. No temple article may be made holy without the sprinkling of blood.
And God prophesied: there will come a seed of woman to crush the source of lies at its head, and that serpent, turned dragon black, would bruise the heel of man. And that “seed of woman” relates that this man would not come down the normal way. And that crushed head says that on this move, the sin would be permanently destroyed. And that bruised heel implies that even as the serpent’s venom seeps into the blood, into the very heart, until you die, so also the weight of sin would infiltrate the son of man, killing him. But that the heel is only bruised tells that though the son of man may die, the serpent’s death is the only permanent one. For a bruise will go away. And even as Christ rose again, so we too will be free from sin, if we continue looking to the wounding in his heels.
And again, God said, if you acknowledge him, he directs your path. So we acknowledge by looking to the footprints of the man who leaves bruises in the sand. God directs us: we follow his son’s path. And in the book of numbers Moses lifted up a brazen serpent on a pole. When Israel looked up, both bite and bitterness were gone. So also, when we remember another serpent’s suffering symbol on another kind of pole, both the sickness and the sin are gone. We can be both physically and spiritually whole.
But why all the signs and symbols? What’s the point of precedent? So that in the here and now we could look at words with awe and wonder? No, a simple point of law on the order of the universe: When the law is broken, a debt must be paid. If you throw a rock in the air, it will come down again. It has to. It’s the law. Unless you throw it high enough, and it manages to get outside our planet’s pull. Then suddenly, its bound by higher laws. If, one year, you suddenly decided not to pay your taxes, does the government say, “Aw, we understand. That’s okay.”? No! Your taxes must be paid! They will bind up your property and freeze up all your accounts. And I say to you, you will by no means be free until you have paid every penny back. Plus interest, multiplied and compounded. So also: “without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins.” But for nearly 2,000 years, there has been no shedding of blood for remission of sins. The temple was destroyed to the stone in 70 AD. And since that time, not a single drop has been shed on any brazen altar. There isn’t any brazen altar! There isn’t any mirrored laver. The Ark of the Covenant cannot be found. Most likely it was melted down. But it seems that only the Christian is concerned how God will judge his sins. Only the Christian seems to realize that no amount of good deeds will scrub away even one sin. We stand utterly condemned!
Technically, though, even that bronze altar and the Ark of the Covenant weren’t good enough. The sin offering was offered morning and night. The sins of the people were carried away on the scapegoat but once a year. But a sacrifice for my kind of sinning would have to be constant, or eternal. James says that if you have broken even one law, you might as well have broken every one, for you have condemned yourself as a lawbreaker. And the judgment is the same for one or many. For a person who breaks a law has broken the whole law, even as a person who quotes a line of poetry invokes the whole poem, or even the author, and every poem he’s written. They are all tied together, and if one string is broken, the whole weave of life unravels. Some Christians, in times past, understanding this, established among themselves proper ways and times of repentance, and believed that if they died between these times, then the sins that they had committed would be on their own heads, and they themselves would have to pay. Of course, they didn’t understand that, if this was true, then the payment they would have to make would be the true kind of payment, the kind you cannot earn with good deeds, but cannot be freed from till every penny has been paid. Nevertheless, it is true: if I die and my every sin has not been counted washed away, then I stand, breaker of all, condemned. The blood of sheep and goats is simply not enough. I need the blood of something greater to stand between me and my sin.
Remember that rock you threw into the air? If only you could get it high enough, it would stay there. All you need is someone strong enough to throw it high enough, until a higher law takes precedence. On all scores, impossible, so far as throwing goes. But C.S. Lewis puts it this way: “There is a magic deeper still. . .when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead the table would crack and death itself would start working backwards.” That’s what Jesus’ cross was. His life was the only one that was strong enough to throw our rock of sin far enough from the earth. The sacrifice on the cross was good enough to start death running backwards. A deeper magic, a higher law takes precedence. And when it does, the stone tables that Moses brought down will crack. And all the law is made of no effect, for it is overtaken by a higher law, called grace, empowered by faith in one man’s suffering. It’s not that the law is no longer there, but it is contained as a small, minute aspect of the greater law. The rigor of those ten lines of arbitration is seen within the steady flow of two rivers: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your strength, all your mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. And they flow onward . . . Love God even with the strength you do not have. Love your neighbor as more important than yourself . . . A never-ending well.
At the end of the river, it becomes not a commandment, but a compulsion. I must preach the gospel. Not because I have to, but because I need to. I cannot contain it. There is an inward yearning inside all of us to leave off these earthen tracks. To reach for the stars until we become no longer planetbound. In the natural sense, we have achieved the ability to leave the atmosphere. We’ve gone as far as the moon. But no one lifetime, in any way we can design it, will ever be long enough to start here, and end up living among the stars. And even then, no technology imaginable will ever take us to that place we all know is real, the place beyond the stars. The other world. God has said it: “Even as the heavens are above the earth, so my ways are above your ways.” I guess, if we are still straining to be holy on our own strength, these could be discouraging words. But to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. Now we know the way: One man can take us there. One man can show us the way and direct our path. We need this man in absoluteness. He is the only one. We need the man from Galilee.