Robert Jeffress - The Old Way Was One Way
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. As a pastor I often have people ask me, "How could a loving God send people to hell"? It's a fair question, and here's the answer. While God is certainly loving and merciful, he is also holy, and he makes it clear throughout all of scripture there's only one acceptable way to approach him. Turn with me to the Old Testament book of Isaiah to discover why the old way was one way on today's edition of Pathway to Victory.
My friend David Jeremiah tells about a woman who approached him after a service absolutely irate. She said, "Dr. Jeremiah, I just want you to know that the God I serve would not send people to hell for eternity for not believing in Jesus". Dr. Jeremiah surprised her when he said, "I agree with you. The God you serve wouldn't do that because the God you serve doesn't exist". You know, many of us are guilty of serving the God we wish existed instead of the God who actually exists. What's the difference? The difference is eternal life or eternal death.
A.W Tozer said, "What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us". To put a finer point on it, it's very important that when we contemplate God we make sure that we're not thinking about the God who resides in our imagination, but instead we're thinking about the God who actually rules over all creation. You know, I love the story about the first grader in Sunday school who was working furiously on a drawing and his first grade Sunday school teacher approached him and said, "What are you drawing"? The little kid said, "I'm drawing a picture of God". The teacher said, "Well, since nobody has seen God, nobody knows what God looks like". The student looked up and said confidently, "They will in just a minute".
You know, it's true nobody has seen God the Father but we do know what God is like. We know what he wants from us. We know about his likes and his dislikes. We know about his plan and purpose for the universe. How do we know these things about God? They are all deposited in this book, the Bible. You know, the foundational assumption of this series is that the Bible can be trusted to tell the truth about God. I had somebody ask me just after last week's message, "Pastor, what if you're talking to somebody about the exclusivity of Jesus as the only way to salvation and they say, 'well, I don't believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God.'" Frankly, you probably have to end the conversation there because there's really no basis to claim there's only one way to God if you don't accept the Bible as God inspired and his inerrant word.
You don't have to commit intellectual suicide to believe that the Bible is true. There's historical, literary, prophetic, archeological evidence that point to the truthfulness of the Bible. But the fact is, we're assuming the fact that the Bible is the Word of God when we say there are not many ways to God. There is only one way to God. And the beginning place for finding that truth of the exclusivity of the Gospel is not the New Testament, but it's in the opening passages of the Old Testament.
Today, and next week, we're going to discover what the Old Testament had to say about the exclusivity of approaching God in only one way. We're going to discover why the old way was truly just one way. So let's look at the Old Testament. You know, a lot of people have difficulty in knowing how to interpret the Old Testament. The secular media tries to trip me up all the time on this point, saying, "Why do you Christians selectively obey the Bible"? That is, you pick and choose what parts you want to obey. You obey some parts and you discard other parts of the Bible. Have you ever had people ask you that question before? Usually they're referring to the Old Testament. Why is it we say this is true for today but one page over we say this no longer applies to today.
Maybe unbelievers have a point there. The only laws we obey from the Old Testament are those that have been repeated in the New Testament. In fact, when we turn to the New Testament we find prohibitions against homosexuality or adultery or lying or stealing or taking the Lord's name in vain. All of those things are repeated in the New Testament and that's how we determine what we are going to obey. What is the value of the Old Testament? If, in fact, the only parts of the Old Testament that apply to us today are those parts repeated in the New Testament, what's the value of even reading the Old Testament?
J.I Packer in his book "Knowing God" says that the link between the Old Testament and the New Testament is God himself. You see, the God with whom the Old Testament characters had to do is the same God with whom we have to do. The bridge that links these Old Testament people with strange customs and names that can't be pronounced, the link between them and us today is God. God does not change. He's the same yesterday, today, and forever. The value of the Old Testament for us is what it teaches us about God himself. Unfortunately, many unbelievers as well as believers alike don't think that the Old Testament teaches us anything valuable about God. The God of the Old Testament has nothing to do with the Jesus of the New Testament. Is that true?
When you look at the Bible seriously you'll find that there is no dichotomy between the God of the Old Testament and the Jesus of the New Testament. For example, write this down. The Jesus of the New Testament is both loving and judgmental. Did you know that? The Jesus of the New Testament is both loving and judgmental. We accept the fact that he's loving. John 3:16. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life. But did you know that the God, Jesus of the New Testament, is also judgmental? When Jesus came the first time, he came as the suffering servant to be our Savior. When he comes the second time he's coming as judge over all of the world.
In Revelation 19:15 John saw the vision of the return of Jesus to earth and from his, that is Jesus', mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it he may smite the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, and he treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God the Almighty. That's Jesus. He's both loving, yes, but he's also judgmental. Now mark this down. Secondly the God of the Old Testament is both judgmental and loving. He's both judgmental and loving. One of the instances of the judgment of God is found in Joshua 6 when God said to Joshua, "When you go into the city of Jericho I want you to kill every man, woman, boy, girl, animal". Get rid of all of them. They're all unbelievers. We've got to remove the cancerness of ungodliness from the country.
So you're to slay all of them. There is no dichotomy, contradiction, between the God of the Old Testament and the Jesus of the New Testament. They are both loving, yes, but they are also both judgmental. Listen to Psalm 103:8 about the Old Testament God. For the Lord is compassionate and he's gracious and he's slow to anger and abounding in loving kindness. Now you may wonder, what does this all have do with the issue of the exclusivity of the Gospel? Everything. Everything. You see, what you think about God is the most important thing about you. You've gotta make sure that the God you're trying to approach is really the God of reality and not the God of your imagination. That leads us to the Old Testament.
There is no contradiction, ladies and gentlemen, between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Just like the New Testament, the Old Testament taught that there are not many ways to the true God. There is only one way. We see that truth in five themes, the five basic themes that are pronounced in the Old Testament. Now don't get nervous. We're only gonna look at two of those today and three of them next time. What are the five themes of the Old Testament that remind us that the old way was one way? Theme number one is the most basic theme of all of the Old Testament and that is the oneness of God. The oneness of God.
If you ask the average Christian today, what is the most important verse of the Bible? If you could only claim one verse in the Bible as yours, what would it be? Most Christians would answer, John 3:16. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whosoever believes on him will not perish but will have everlasting life. But if you were to ask the Israelite living in the Old Testament times, what is the most important verse of the Bible? They would say Deuteronomy 6:4 hands down. "Hear, o Israel, the Lord your God is one God". In fact, if they had had football games back then that's the verse that would have been on the banners around the stadium.
Deuteronomy 6:4. The Lord is one God. Why was that such a foundational verse? Remember, as the children of Israel were preparing to enter into the Promised Land, into Canaan, Moses was an old man by now, but he stood on the mountain and delivered the second giving of the law. We call it Deuteronomy. That's where he gave that reminder, "The Lord your God is one God". Moses warned the Israelites that when they came into the new land they would be faced with numerous temptations from the ungodly Canaanites. But not only would they be faced with numerous temptations, they would be faced with numerous gods, all kind of deities, and what Moses was saying is you'll be tempted to go after this God, after this God, after this God, but remember this. God is one. There is one God. There aren't many ways to God. There is one God and one way to that God.
Hear, o Israel, the Lord your God is one God. And who was that one God that Moses reminded the Israelites about? It was the God who had appeared to Moses 80 years earlier on mount Horeb. It was the God who had appeared to Moses as a fire in a burning bush. It was the God who said to Moses, "I am who I am". Not, "I am whoever you think I am". Big difference. You see, I am not the sum of other people's speculations about me. And neither are you. And neither is God. I am who I am. The oneness of God.
The second theme that you find that points to the truth of exclusivity. The Old Testament theme of the holiness of God. The holiness of God. If your best friend were asked to describe you, what one word would they use to describe you? Is there one word that would capture who you are? I mean, God is not loving all the time. He is not judgmental all the time. He's not this all of the time. God is a number of characteristics. He's omnipotent. That is, he's all powerful. He's omniscient, he's all-knowing, he's immutable, he's unchangeable.
Those are things that are true about God all of the time. But even though those things are true about God all the time, there is no single word that sums up God. God is greater than all of his attributes combined just as you are greater than all of your attributes combined. But if we had to pick a single word to describe God, there is one characteristic of God that is transcendent above all others and it's the word holy. Holy. Holy.
What does that word, holy, mean? Comes from a Hebrew word that means to cut or to separate. When we say that God is holy what we're literally saying is he is a cut above. He is separate. He is distinct from anyone in heaven or on earth. The holiness of God. When Isaiah saw that and saw the separateness, the distinction, the uniqueness of God, what was his response? Isaiah 6:5. Then I said, "Woe is me, for I am ruined. Because I'm a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, for my eyes have seen the king, the Lord of hosts".
That was Isaiah as he saw the holiness, the separateness, the uniqueness of God. He was undone by it and he cried out, "I am ruined for I am a man of unclean lips". See, this is what makes the true God different than any other God. Pagan religions picture their Gods as participating in evil, even enjoying evil, but not the true God. The prophet Habakkuk said this in chapter 1, verse 13 about the true God. Thine eyes are too pure to approve evil and thou canst not look on wickedness with favor.
Of all the attributes that create the distance, the chasm between us and God, it is his holiness and, specifically, his zero tolerance level for sin of any kind. You know, we are so fallen as human beings. We actually imagine ourselves to be more tolerant and moral and loving than God himself is. We're comfortable with sin because we're sinners. But because God is absolute purity and holiness, he has no tolerance for sin of any kind and it is that zero tolerance for sin that creates the distance between God and us.
We see that illustrated in one of the strangest stories in all of the Old Testament. It's found in 2 Samuel 6. It's the story of the children of Israel who were carrying the Ark of the Covenant. The children of Israel in the days of the tabernacle, they were transporting the Ark of the Covenant. They had it on a wooden cart and it was being pulled by oxen and the cart was going up the hill and as the cart went you the hill, the oxen begin to stumble. One of God's servants, Uzzah was his name, instinctively reached over and placed his hand on the ark to steady the ark and to catch it from falling.
I can just imagine the other Israelites around the ark saw that and said, "Great catch, Uz! Great work, great work". I'm sure Uzzah started to feel proud of himself for saving the ark. He probably thought, "Certainly this is going to earn me a place in God's hall of fame". Instead, his actions earned him a place in the cemetery. Listen to what happened immediately when he touched the ark. 2 Samuel 6:7. And the anger of the Lord burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there for his irreverence and he died there by the ark of God.
His irreverence? What are you talking about, God? God, he was trying to show respect for your holiness. He was trying to do the right thing. Here's the problem. God had issued a command. He said, "No one is to touch the ark for any reason at all". But God, I mean, can't you overlook the letter of the law and look at Uzzah's heart and know that he was sincerely trying to follow you? Nobody is to touch the Ark of the Covenant period.
We tolerate sin not because of our Godliness but because of our ungodliness. This disturbing story reminds us of something. God is not like we are. God has no tolerance for sin of any kind. This story also reminds us we are not free to approach God any way we choose, no matter how sincere our motives. There is one true God, a God who is holy, who is different than we are, and a God who can only be approached in one specific way.