Robert Jeffress - The Intolerant Christ
When you hear the name, Jesus, what's the first word that comes to your mind? Some people might say, love, compassionate, all powerful. But I imagine there is one word that isn't at the top of your list, or anyone's list. It's the word, intolerant. I mean to describe the Son of God as intolerant, well that borders on blasphemy, we think. But the only reason that's true is, we have confused the Jesus of our imagination, with the Jesus who actually existed. And contrary to most people's opinion, Jesus was not this wimpy little rabbi who roamed the countryside plucking daisies and saying nice things to people. That's what most of the world thinks about Jesus.
Dorothy Sayers, a gifted author, has contrasted the Jesus of most people's thinking, with the Jesus who actually existed. She writes: "We have very efficiently" "Pared the claws of the lion of Judah," "Certified him meek and mild" "And recommended him as a fitting household pet" "For pious old ladies". We cannot blink at this fact that Jesus, meek and mild, was so stiff in his opinions, and so inflammatory in his language, that he was thrown out of church, stoned, hunted from place to place, and finally nailed to a cross. Somebody had said, when answering the question, "What would Jesus do"? We should always remember that turning over tables and chasing out the moneychangers with whips, is within the range of options.
The problem we have is we have confused the Jesus of the Bible, with the Jesus of our imagination. When it comes to the issue of salvation, and what you and I believe about salvation, it is critical that we base our beliefs about salvation on what Jesus actually said, instead of what we wish he had said. Today, we're going to look at what Jesus said about four very specific subjects. And when we synthesize his teaching about these four very specific topics, we will come to the conclusion that Jesus firmly believed that not all roads lead to heaven. If you have your Bibles, I want you to turn first of all to John 8. John 8. First of all today, I want us to consider what Jesus taught about his uniqueness. What is it that made Jesus unique?
There are many things Jesus claimed about himself, but today I want us to consider two things, Jesus said about his uniqueness. First of all, Jesus claimed to be God. Remember when Jesus lived on the earth, the gentiles ruled the world. And the the gentiles, specifically the Romans, were polytheistic. They believed in a multitude of Gods. And yet against that background, Jesus came to say, I am the one true God. And to the Jews he said, not only am I the one true God, I'm the God your forefathers worshiped in the Old Testament.
Now perhaps you've heard this myth. And those of you who are students in school, you'll hear it all of the time. It's a myth that has been around for ages, it was popularized in the book and movie, "The Da Vinci Code". The myth was, Jesus never really claimed to be God himself. That's something that his followers claimed about him long after he had died. Some say it was claimed 300 years after his death, for Christians to seize political power. The only problem with that is, it doesn't coincide with historical fact. Because over and over again, Jesus claimed to be God himself. Let me just show you two instances of that.
First of all, consider Jesus' revelation to the pharisees, you find in John 8. Jesus and the pharisees were having this extended argument about the importance of Abraham. Remember Abraham was to the Jews, what George Washington is to Americans. Now Abraham was the father of their nation. And the pharisees believe the way you go to heaven, the way you have a right relationship with God, is by being a physical descendant of Abraham. Jesus said, no. It's not being physically related to Abraham, it is being spiritually related to him. That is, by having the same faith that Abraham did. Look at verse 53 of John 8. The pharisees said: what are you talking about Abraham for? Surely you are not greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets died too. Whom do you make yourself out to be? And verse 56, Jesus said: your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day, and he saw it and he was glad.
Now the pharisees were really confused. Why are you even mentioning yourself and Abraham in the same breath? Why, Abraham died 2.000 years ago. And you're not even 50 years of age yet, they said. How could you have had any relationship with Abraham? And look how he answered in verse 58: Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am". Jesus said I existed long before Abraham was even born. I am eternal. Now he could have stopped there but he didn't. He said, "Before Abraham was born, I am". That simple phrase, I am, sent the alarm bells ringing in the pharisees' minds. They recognized that phrase, I am. Because that phrase, "I am", is the most holy name for God, Yahweh. It was the name that God identified himself by when he appeared before Moses in the burning bush.
Remember in Exodus 3:14 Moses said: "Who am I to say sent me to you, Pharaoh"? And God said to Moses, "I am who I am," and he said, "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'i am, has sent me to you.'" I am, Yahweh, the most holy God, the only God. The pharisees understood what Jesus was saying when he said, "Before Abraham was I am," because look at verse 59, "Therefore they picked up stones to throw at him". They understood what Jesus was saying with two little words. Jesus was saying, I am God. Secondly, consider Jesus' declaration to Caiaphas. It's found in Mark 14:60-65. Remember the night before Jesus was crucified, he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, and throughout the night, he went through five different trials. They weren't real trials. They were more like kangaroo courts. But they were pseudo trials.
And one of those trials was before Caiaphas, the high priest. It was late at night, Caiaphas was tired. The Jews came and said, this man Jesus is claiming to be the Messiah. Caiaphas was ready to call it a night and so he said, let's just cut to the chase about all of this. He says in verse 61 to Jesus, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the blessed one"? And Jesus answered with two words, in verse 62, "I am". I am, there are those words again. Now Jesus could have stopped there easily and made his point. But then he goes on to say something else. Not only to drive his point home but to drive his accusers absolutely crazy. He said, "I am," and verse 62: you shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of power, and coming with clouds of heaven.
This is a quote from the Old Testament book of Daniel 7:13. It was a verse that prophesied of the Messiah's second coming, when he would come with power. And by quoting that verse about himself, Jesus said, I am the fulfillment of that prophecy. You know what Jesus was saying to Caiaphas? He was saying, Caiaphas, you think you're the big cheese right now because you're sitting on this throne of power, guess what? One day, you're going to see me coming with power. You're going to see me seated at the right hand of God the Father. Your authority is limited here on earth. Mine is eternal.
Now, if you think I'm reading too much into that, just look at what Caiaphas' reaction was to what Jesus said, verses 63 and 64: and tearing his clothes, the high priest said, "What further need do we have of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy, how does it seem to you"? And they all condemned him to be deserving of death. When people say to you, well Jesus never claimed to be God. Remind them, Jesus didn't get himself crucified for telling people to turn the other cheek. Nobody would have found Jesus' teaching offensive. It was because he claimed to be the Son of God, that he was put to death. Throughout the Bible, he made that claim. In John 10:30, "I and the Father are one". John 14, verse 9, "He who has seen me has seen the Father".
Jesus claimed to be God. Now truthfully, anybody could claim to be God. Though isn't it interesting that none of the founders of any of the major religions ever claimed to be God? Buddha never claimed to be God. Confucius never claimed to be God. The prophet Mohamed never claimed to be God. Jesus claimed to be God. And then he did not only make that claim, but he proved the claim was true by what he did. Jesus claimed that he could heal the sick, and he did. He claimed that he could turn water into wine, and he did. He claimed that he could rise again from the dead. And guess what, he did. Jesus claimed to be God. That's what made him unique.
Not only that but secondly, Jesus claimed that belief in him led to eternal life. This is what made Jesus unique above other religious leaders. No other religious leader ever tied eternal life to what you believed about that leader. But Jesus did. In the passage we read just a few moments ago, John 6:40, Jesus said: for this is the will of my Father, that everyone who beholds the son and believes in him, has eternal life, and I myself will raise him up on the last day. Jesus said if you want to have eternal life, you must believe in me. But what about those who don't believe in him?
Listen to what Jesus said to the pharisees, the righteous followers of God in John 8:24: I said therefore to you that you shall die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he, you shall die in your sins. Well you notice here folks, Jesus doesn't offer eternal life to everyone who is sincerely seeking the truth. Jesus doesn't say, whoever follows the God of his or her own choosing, has eternal life. No, he says very clearly, only those who believe in me have eternal life. Secondly, beyond what Jesus taught about his uniqueness, let's look at what Jesus taught about his death.
You know, there is no way to over-emphasize the positive impact that the life and teaching of Jesus have had on this planet, planet earth. I mean think about all of the things that had been accomplished for good by those who sought to emulate the life and teaching of Jesus. The whole concept of orphanages, caring for abandoned children, that was started by Christians. Or think about the red cross. It was started by a swiss philanthropist who wanted to follow the example of Jesus. The salvation army is all built on following the example of Jesus. On and on and on it goes. But ladies and gentlemen, the life and the teaching and the example of Jesus, are insignificant compared to the death of Jesus. Jesus came to die. And what he accomplished by his death, is far more important than what he accomplished with his life.
That's what, by the way, Jesus said about himself. Jesus taught, first of all, that his death was central to his mission. You know the popular take on Jesus' death was, Jesus' death was a tragic end to an otherwise happy story. Jesus was doing all of these wonderful things when these bad men grabbed hold of him and nailed him to a cross. What a tragedy, no! Jesus said no man takes my life from me. I voluntarily give it. That was his whole reason for coming. He taught over and over again that his death was central to his mission. For example, in Matthew 16:21, Jesus said: from that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. He told his apostles, this was the plan.
Look at John 12:32-33: "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself". But he was saying this to indicate the kind of death by which he was to die. Jesus' death was central to his mission. Well why was it central? What did it accomplish for me? I want you to write this down. Secondly, Jesus' death was the payment for our sins and the ransom for our freedom. His death was the payment for our sins, and the ransom for our freedom. The Bible uses two metaphors to describe what Christ's death accomplished for us. First of all, it was a payment for our sin debt.
Now listen to me, the Bible says every time you and I sin, we go into debt to God. The wages of sin is death. Every time we have an ungodly thought, every time we engage in an ungodly action, every second of every minute of every day, that debt we owe to God is piling up higher and higher and higher. Now what happens when we die? If we die without having our debt to God satisfied, we will spend eternity paying that debt off ourselves in hell. Remember that verse we looked at just a moment ago, in John 8:24? Jesus said to the pharisees, "Unless you believe I am he, you will die in your sins".
Do you know what it means to die in your sins? It means to die with your debt having not been paid. It means dying still owing God for the sins you have committed against him. That is a terrible thing to die in your sins. You see, the biggest choice we make in life is, how are we going to pay for our sins? We can say, well I'll just try to pay off the debt myself. I'll have God take a little bit out of my check every month. Guess what? You and I owe God a debt we could never repay. And that's why if we die, without our sin debt being taken care of, we will spend eternity paying for it. But the reason Jesus came was to satisfy that sin debt for us.
When Jesus hung on the cross, remember some of his final words, John 19:30 were, "It is finished," - telelesti, paid in full. Jesus is the one who has paid our sin debt for us. He doesn't force us to accept that payment. We get to choose how we're gonna pay for our sins. We can pay for it or let Christ pay for it. Jesus' death was, first of all, the payment for our sins. But secondly, it is a ransom for our freedom. That's another image used in the Bible.
In Matthew 20:28, Jesus said: "Just as the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many". That word, ransom, is a word that was used to describe payment that had been made for a slave. You and I are born into this world, slaves of Satan. We are his property. He is free to do whatever he wants to do with us. He is a cruel taskmaster. But Jesus, seeing our plight, came to earth. He paid the price to buy our freedom. He ransomed us, out of the market of sin and death, and brought us into his own presence. Now listen to this. He did not pay the ransom for our deliverance, to set us free to do whatever we wanna do. When you become a Christian, when you trust in Christ as your Savior, you're just trading masters. You're giving up being a slave of Satan, and now you become a slave of Jesus Christ. He did not purchase your freedom to set you free to live however you wanted to live.
Remember what Paul said? "Do you not know you are not your own? You have been bought with a price". Salvation is not the freedom to do what we want to do. It's the freedom to do what Christ wants us to do. He purchased us out of the slave market with his own blood. And that's why Jesus came. He came to be a payment for our sin and to be a ransom for our freedom. And that is why his death is so central. The only way Jesus could pay our sin debt, the only he could secure our freedom, was by his own death. And that's why he said in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the father except by me".
If there is any other way to have paid our debt, if there is any other to secure our freedom, then the death of Jesus was totally unnecessary. But there was no other way. That's the reason he came. You know the way to understand John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth and the life," is to put it into context. Turn over to John 14 and let's see how this verse fits in to what Jesus is saying about the exclusivity of salvation. Remember, Jesus was preparing his disciples for his death, his resurrection and his ascension back into heaven. And in verse two, Jesus said: in my father's house are many dwelling places. If it were not so, I would have told you, for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.
So Thomas asks the question and said, "Lord we don't even know where you're going". Apparently, he hadn't listened that closely to what Jesus said. Jesus had told him, I'm going to the father's house, to build a place for you. But he said, Jesus, we don't know where you're going, and furthermore, we don't know the way. Well Jesus would later explain more about where he was going before he ascended into heaven. But he took the opportunity right then to say to Thomas, you wanna know the way to this new place I'm going to, and that I'm going to take you? I am the way. I am the truth, I'm the life. No man comes to the father, to heaven, to all of the things we have prepared for you, no one comes except through me.
The writer, William Bussey, tells a story about a group of businessmen who decided to go to Canada for an extended exploration trip in the wilderness. They were disturbed when they noticed their guide was not packing any maps, no compass. So they asked him why he didn't have any maps or any compass. They were concerned. And he said to them, "Maps and compasses are not the way through these mountains. I am the way through these mountains". That's exactly what Jesus is saying. He is saying, "I am the only reliable guide who will lead you out of the wilderness of this world into the presence of God. I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life. No man comes to the father except through me".
What Jesus taught about is uniqueness, what he taught about is death, thirdly, what Jesus taught about eternity. Well, what about those who fail to follow Jesus through the valley of the shadow of death? What about those who find another path to God? Will they make it to heaven as well? Notice what Jesus had to say about eternity.
First of all, Jesus taught that two eternal destinations exist. Two eternal destinations exist, not one, but two. You know, Jesus could have driven a stake through the universalist claim right here, if all roads lead to the same place, if everyone's going to heaven regardless of what he or she believes or doesn't believe. But notice what Jesus said instead, in Matthew 25:46, "And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life". There are two destinations: eternal punishment and eternal life.
Secondly, Jesus taught that hell is a reality. He taught that hell is a reality. Of the 1300, or pardon me, the 1800 and 30 verses in the New Testament that record the words of Jesus, do you realize that 13% of those verses deal with the reality of hell? For example, Jesus believed that hell's an actual location, not a state of mind: Matthew 25:46. Jesus taught in Matthew 22:13 that hell is a place of physical suffering.
Thirdly, Jesus taught that the majority of humanity will occupy hell. The majority of humanity will occupy hell. You know, the single greatest objection to the idea that faith in Christ is the only way to heaven, the single greatest objection is the idea, "Well, if that's true, then that means relatively few people will be in heaven," and that's true, people who object to this doctrine have done the math. When you talk about those who've actually trusted in Christ, it's miniscule compared to the world's population. People say: that can't be true. It just can't be true that billions and billions and billions of people will be in hell while only a few will be in heaven. That seems illogical until you consider what Jesus said himself. That's exactly what Jesus taught. He said the population of heaven will be relatively small compared to the population of hell.
Matthew 7:13-14, "Enter by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it, but the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life and few, few are those who find it". I realize there's some of you here today, some watching this broadcast who find this teaching, quite frankly, offensive. The idea that God would subject people who had not paid for their sins to an eternity of hell and separation, the thought that hell is an irrevocable destination, the thought that very few people will actually end up in heaven, and most people will be confined to this horrible place. I realize that's disturbing and offensive, but please consider this. Do you realize the majority of everything we know about hell comes from the lips of Jesus Christ himself? To dismiss the hell itself means you have to dismiss Jesus Christ himself, what Jesus taught about eternity.
Finally, consider what Jesus taught about the necessity of personal faith, the necessity of personal faith. Jesus rejected the claim that everybody's going to heaven because of what his death accomplished for them. That's the inclusivist's view. The inclusivist says, "It's true that Jesus Christ's death made it possible for people to go to heaven, but his death applies to everyone. It forgave everyone's sin, regardless of what they believe". No, Jesus repeatedly said personal faith is a requirement for an eternal. For example, in John 5:24, "Truly, truly I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but is passed out of death into life". Or John 6:40, "For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who beholds the son and believes in him may have eternal life and I myself will raise him up on the last day". John 11:25-26, "Jesus said to her, 'I am the resurrection and the life, he who believes in me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.'" "'do you believe this' Jesus asked".
Over and over again, Jesus says it is belief in him that is the link to eternal life. Now here is the question: what does it mean to believe in Jesus? I know I have been over this before, but I'm gonna continue to go over it, because quite frankly, your eternal destiny depends on a proper understanding of what it means to believe in Jesus. We believe, we believe, we believe, we believe in God the Father, we believe in Christ the son, we believe in the crucifixion, we believe in the resurrection. What does that mean, to believe? Let me tell you what it doesn't mean. To believe in Jesus does not mean to agree intellectually to a certain set of facts about Jesus. That's what most people believe believe means, though. They say, "Well, I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, I believe that he died for the sins of the world, I believe that he rose again on the third day".
Guess what, you can believe all of those things and still split hell wide open when you die. You know how I know that? Because Satan and his demons believe all of those things. They believe Jesus was the Son of God. Remember the demons would say, the demons of the Gadarenes said, "We know who you are, you're the holy one of Israel," they believed that. They believed Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world, you know how I know that? Because they did everything they could to prevent it. They wanted to disqualify Jesus from being the Savior of the world. They did not want him nailed to that cross. Satan knew what it would accomplish. They believed that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day. In fact, they believe it more than you do, they believe it more than I do, because they were there, they saw it happen. No, belief is not agreeing to a set of intellectual facts about Jesus. Well then, what does it mean?
When missionary John Paxton had arrived in the new Hebrides Islands, the first thing he wanted to do was to translate the Bible so that the residents there could understand God's word. He got to John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him," and he sought a word that would convey what it means to believe. He couldn't come up with it until one day, he found himself leaning on a chair, and putting his whole weight on that chair, and then it dawned on him: that's what he means when Jesus says to believe. To believe means to put your whole weight upon, to depend upon completely. To believe in Jesus for your salvation means that you are trusting in him and him alone. What he accomplished for you on the cross, the payment for your death, the ransom for your freedom: depending upon that and nothing else, not your works, not your baptism, not your church membership, depending on, leaning on, trusting in Jesus and Jesus alone.
Isn't that what Jesus himself said? The context for John 3:16 is John 3:14-15. Turn over there for just a moment. Do you remember this exchange very well? It was a dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a respected man, he was a rich man, he was a religious man. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, the highest ruling party of the Jews. Jesus said, "You must be born again". So Jesus explains to Nicodemus what it means to be born again. Nicodemus wanted to know, "How does that happen"? Jesus said, "It is by believing in me". Nicodemus still didn't get it, and so Jesus uses this illustration in verse 14. He said, "Nicodemus, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes may in him have eternal life".
What's all this about serpents, bein' lifted up? Well, Nicodemus knew this story. Jesus was referring back in the Old Testament, numbers 21, to the story of the children of Israel who were wandering in the wilderness, and because of their disobedience to God, God disciplined them. He sent the fiery serpents into the wilderness to bite them, and they begin to die, they begin to watch their children die, and they came to Moses begging for relief, so Moses went to God on their behalf and said, "God, please heal these people". This is what God said: "Moses, I want you to make a serpent out of bronze, and I want you to take that bronze serpent and I want you to put it on the end of a pole, and I want you to lift that pole high in the sky, and you tell the Israelites that if they will simply look at that bronze serpent, in an instant, they will be healed".
Look and live was the message of numbers 21. Now, couldn't God have just healed the Israelites instantly if he wanted to? He could have, but he didn't for a reason. This was an illustration of a far greater truth, and that truth is one day, the Son of God would come to heal us of our spiritual sickness. He would offer us eternal life instead of eternal death. God was offering Christ as the provision for our salvation, but in order to be saved, we have to exercise faith, we have to look in order to live.
You see, we have a desperate need. God has an abundant provision to meet that need, but our faith is the, is the bridge that bridges the gap between God's provision and our need. We have to look, we have to exercise faith in order to live. Notice it doesn't matter how much faith you have, how little faith you have, it's not the quantity of your faith that matters, it is the object of your faith that matters. Isn't it interesting that God didn't say to the Israelites, "Now you look at that serpent and you keep on looking, and if you ever look away, you're gonna be sick again". No, it wasn't a continual looking, it is a one-time look that healed those Israelites forever, and it is the same way for you and me.
Only when we come to that desperate state in our life that we realize we cannot heal ourselves, and that only Christ can heal us, only then, if we look one time at the Savior, we will live for all eternity. As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes, looks at, trusts in one time may in him have eternal life and then he adds in verse 16, "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes, trusts in, clings to, puts his whole weight upon Jesus, shall have eternal life".
Pastor Charles Stanley illustrates the reality of that truth with this illustration. He says imagine you're walking by an apartment building that you see is on fire, and you see a throng of people on the street below, and they're all pointing to the same thing. There's a woman, trapped on the ledge of the third story of that burning apartment building. She's confused, she's frightened, but below her, on the street is a group of firemen, and they're holding a net, and they're telling her, "Jump, jump, jump". She's frightened, she's confused, but she realizes it's her only hope, and so she takes that leap of faith and jumps into the waiting net. She's rescued without injury.
You know, the question is, what is it that saved that woman from the fire? Was it her jumping that saved her? No, jumping is not what saved that woman. Here's what saved the woman. She had a desperate need. The firemen below saw her need, they formulated a plan for her rescue, and they executed that plan. Her jumping was simply the way to bridge the chasm between her desperate need and the firemen's gracious provision.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is the same with us. We are burning, so to speak, we are perishing, we are in danger of eternal death. We have no way of escape, but God, in his graciousness, saw our need, he formulated a plan for our rescue, and he executed that plan when he sent Christ to die for us. But we have to do something. We have to be willing to take that leap of faith into the Savior's arms. It doesn't matter how little or how much faith we have when we do so, we have to be willing to take that leap of faith in order to be saved. It is not our faith that saves us, it is God's grace. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works, lest any person should boast".