The Scripture Reading starts at 12 min 45 secs:
The Sermon starts at 17 min 35 secs: God’s Only Son
Reverend Todd Buurstra
Who among believers in other religions is closest to you? Maybe a family member, a neighbor, someone you eat lunch with at school, or who works the next office over. Got it? Now, suppose that person was here to hear you confess your faith through John 3:16, as we just did: For God so loved the world that God gave God’s only son… Then, just after this sermon your friend watched you recite the Apostles’ Creed: And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord… How would you feel about their stare?
On the way home what would they say to you? My person is my brother-in-law, Uncle Ko. He trained for the Buddhist priesthood, so we have some interesting talks. His religion can include me, in a sense, but can mine include him? At the Hindu temple our guide could tell our Confirmation Class that anybody, even Christians, can pray here. All beliefs are welcome. But when Uncle Ko would hear the God’s only Son words, he might say, I respect Jesus, but the one problem I have with him is when he says: I am the way, the truth, and the life. Even though I like you I feel excluded by your faith.
John 3:16 may be the most beautiful verse in the Bible, but John 14:6 is the most controversial. How do we confess that Jesus is God’s only Son and love our Uncle Kos?
A recent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey tells us that 65% of Americans who identify themselves as Christian believe that other religions could lead to eternal life. Here’s the breakdown: 72% thought Catholics would make it; 74% thought Protestants would make it, and 69% thought Jews were in, 52% gave Muslims the green light and 54% expected Hindus in Heaven. Even atheists got 42% thumbs up and people of no religious faith enjoyed a 57% chance. Whoa! Is that what the Bible says?
How does that fit in with this belief that Jesus is God’s only Son?
The Greek for one and only is μονογενηs. John uses this 5 times throughout his writing. Just what does it mean? The first among equals, perhaps? As in Jesus is somehow the older brother of Muhammed, Buddha, and Moses? This understanding would emphasize the similarities between the faiths. And there are those, like:
- Respect for creation. The Buddhist influence showed whenever the baseball team at the Japanese high school at which I taught would end practice. They would all line up on the first base line, face the pitcher’s mound, bow shouting, Arigatoo! Who were they thank-ing? The field, out of respect for creation. Similarly, global warming is reminding us Christians that Gen. 1 tells us to keep God’s garden. So we compost and use curly bulbs.
- Karma. Karma is a Hindu idea that roughly corresponds to Paul’s dictum: you reap what you sow. We may not think the Mumbai cow is Uncle Ko, but we believe in justice.
- Making the world a better place. Interesting to find out that Muslims are doing in the Netherlands what Reformed Christians used to do: change society. Amsterdam is in danger of losing legal prostitution and cannabis coffee shops, partially, to Muslim protests.
Even though we share those similarities with our friends of other faiths, God’s only Son, μονογενηs, means more than first among equals. It literally means one of a kind. Lucado says, “Jesus shares God’s DNA.” And this points to the differences between Jesus and Mohammed, Christian and Hindu, Moses and Paul. For example,…
- God more than creation. Even though eastern religions have helped us become comfortable thinking that God is an energy that courses through every neuron of creation, true Christianity has always taught that God is a person. And there’s an important reason for that. Energy is a material thing that can be channeled/controlled. An almighty person stands above the creation in control. The earliest Christian creed was: Jesus is Lord.
- Grace is greater than karma. A Hindu named Ghandi said it best, If we all lived by an eye for an eye, we’d all be blind. That’s why Jesus’ embodiment of unconditional love allows God to forgive us, instead of give us what we deserve. It may sound judgmental to you, but I believe one reason why we can’t make peace in the Middle East is that the religions have more of a law emphasis than a love emphasis. John writes, God is love.
- Servant Mission. A Muslim goal seems to be to take control of a society and rule over it through Sharia law where those who steal bread lose a finger. At our worst, Christians have married the church and state, but Jesus’ ideal is to make the world better by serving from below as salt and light. So instead of chopping off sinful fingers, Jesus would teach those thieving hands to make bread for a living. Servant mission.
So does the fact that Jesus is God’s μονογενηs, only Son mean that your friend/family member, my Uncle Ko, is going to Hell? After all, Lucado writes:
Heaven’s door has one key and Jesus holds it (p. 48).
I don’t know. As missionary to India’s Hindu population, Leslie Newbigin reminds us:
We are in the witness stand, not the judgment seat.
I hope that God looks at Uncle Ko’s heart, and that he lived by the light that he had, and the Judge of all the earth receives him into eternal life through Jesus. So that when he appears before the throne he bows down before God’s only Son, his ultimate Savior. For me the difference is-Faith in Jesus guarantees heaven for the believer, but only hope for others. Meanwhile, he and I will keep our friendly conversation going about our faiths.
Complicated though this is, I invite you to stand and confess that Jesus is Lord.
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