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Christ Among Other gods

An Extraordinary Death

Erwin W. Lutzer | October 17, 1993

Selected highlights from this sermon

The only way God could possibly associate with sinful humans and retain His integrity and holiness was to have a plan of salvation that could be achieved without human involvement.

This plan required a perfect, sinless sacrifice: Jesus Christ. God the Son sacrificed Himself to God the Father in order to bridge the infinite gap between unrighteous man and a holy God.

Salvation costs us nothing, but it cost God everything.

A few years ago I was at a banquet seated next to a woman who was a popular pastor but whom I knew was into what we call the New Age Movement. And so halfway through the meal I leaned over and I said to her, “Do you believe that Christ is the only way to God?” She said, “Well, sure! Why do you even ask?” I thought to myself, “Well, I’m going to have to corner this lady somehow,” so I took another bite of steak. And a few moments later I said to her, “Do you believe that all the religions of the world are equally right?” And she said, “Sure, it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Hindu or a Buddhist or a Christian.” And I said to her, “How do you reconcile that? On the one hand you are saying that Christ is the only way to God, and on the other hand you are saying it doesn’t matter what religion you belong to.” And she said, “I’m not going to tell you because I want to be your friend.” I said, “Aw come on. Tell me.” So I pestered her a little bit, and finally she leaned over and she whispered in my ear and she said, “You must understand that when I preach Christ, I am not talking about Jesus of Nazareth.” She said, “I am talking about the cosmic Christ who indwells everybody.”

Do you realize that are many people who are living who put faith in the wrong Christ today, and they will be lost forever? In fact, Jesus said that the day is coming when there will be many Christs. He said, “There will be people who say, ‘Christ is here and Christ is there.’” He said, “Don’t believe them because those are the wrong Christ.”

What is it that the New Age Movement is trying to do? It’s trying to separate the historical Jesus, Jesus the man, from the cosmic Christ who is impersonal. And if you read their literature you’ll find out that Jesus was born a boy – was just a man – and then He became the Christ, maybe because He went to India and there He was imbibed with a guru who taught Him meditation. Or maybe it was because He was reincarnated, but He became the Christ. By the way, all such theories are really wrong. They have no basis whatever.

And then what they say is, “We believe that we have revelations that supersede the Bible, and furthermore, as for the literalness of the Bible we will reinterpret it in an esoteric way to strip it of all of its literal meaning. What is the New Age Movement after anyway? Well, first of all you have to understand their theory of salvation. In the New Age Movement Eve is to be commended for having disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. Eve is to be commended. The serpent is to be commended, which is Satan, because Eve chose enlightenment. If she had not disobeyed God her eyes would have remained closed, but because she chose enlightenment, rather than there being a “fall” in the Garden of Eden, there was actually the ascent of mankind in the Garden of Eden, and we’re better off because we disobeyed God. Now you must understand that this explains why in Gnostic literature, as well as in the New Age Movement, you have all of this emphasis on the goddess. Why the goddess? It is because it is related to Eve who led us in the right path. Satan, if you please, turns out to be the redeemer. Now you can’t harmonize a heresy like that with the New Testament unless you have a different Christ, a cosmic impersonal Christ. And the New Age Movement wants a Christ like this because such a Christ does not have flesh. Such a Christ does not shed his blood. There are no nail prints in the hands of an impersonal cosmic Christ.

Well, today I want to speak on the top of the death of Christ. You know, of course, that this is the fifth in a series of messages entitled Christ Among Other gods, and I’ve been trying to emphasize that there is a ditch between Christianity and all other religions. In fact, I’ve been trying to say it isn’t nearly a ditch. It is a chasm that is really as wide as the Grand Canyon, and today what I intend to show is that the chasm is not just that wide. It is an infinite chasm between Christianity and all other religious options.

What I’d like to do today is to give you six statements regarding what the New Testament says about salvation. Salvation, by the way, is defined as reconciliation with a very personal holy God. Six statements – six facts, if you will, regarding salvation in the Bible! Are you ready? I know you are.

Number one, God planned salvation. God planned it! It says in the book of Titus, chapter 1, verse 2, “…in hope of eternal life which God, who never lies, promised before the world began…” And after mankind fell in the Garden of Eden you remember it was the Lord who, speaking to the serpent, said, “I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed (the seed of Satan) and the seed of the woman (which is Christ). And the seed of the woman will crush the serpent’s head.” God plans it right from the beginning.

Now I need to pause here and point out that this means that the God that is represented in this Bible is different from all the other gods of the religions of the world. First of all, He is a personal God. He is a God who can think, feel, choose, will and act. He is a personal God. Not only that but He is the infinite personal God, the one infinite personal God. Do you realize that this separates Christianity from all of the other eastern religions where God is thought to be impersonal, and where the various gods are finite?

Have you ever wondered why it was that in the early days of the Christian church, when in Rome Christians were asked to worship Caesar on one day of the year and simply confess him as lord, the choice was not between Caesar and Christ? The choice was whether they were willing to worship Christ and Caesar. Rome was very tolerant of all kinds of pagan gods. After you gave your allegiance to Caesar you could go back and you could privately worship whatever god you wished. But the Christians did not do that. For the most part they understood that even though we could worship Caesar on one day of the year and God the other days of the year, we still could not compromise.

Finite gods are always very tolerant. Wherever paganism goes it absorbs the paganism of that country because finite gods have very little choice except to be very tolerant of other finite gods. But the Christians understood that the gap between those pagan gods and Caesar and the infinite personal God was a gap that was so great that there could be no divided loyalties. They understood that we were talking about a personal infinite God who planned salvation.

Well, first of all, God planned salvation. Secondly, He initiates it. I want you to take your Bibles and turn to Romans 3. One of the most important passages in all the New Testament begins in Romans 3, verse 21, where Paul has been arguing that salvation cannot come through the law. Romans 3:21-25: “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” I’m going to stop there for just a moment.

You see, what the Bible is saying is because we are under sin, God is the one who took the initiative. He took Christ and displayed Him publicly as a propitiation, that is, as a mercy seat, as a blood offering. God took the initiative. He planned redemption and then He took the initiative in redemption and began the plan.

Now you need to understand why God did this, and this separates Christianity even further from all other religious options. The Bible teaches what we call the depravity of man. It’s not a very nice thing to say about people. I remember a friend of mine when one of our daughters was born, looking at that precious little darling girl and saying, “That is one of the most beautiful totally depraved babies I’ve ever seen.”

Total depravity doesn’t mean that we always do bad things. We sometimes can do good things. Total depravity means though that whatever we do, it is always tainted. We have mixed motives. And even when it appears as if our motives are pure, God’s standard is so infinitely higher that there is no way that we can attain His standard because the standard is the glory of God.

Verse 23: “For all have sinned and fall short - not of man’s standard but - of the glory of God.” Do you realize what that means? That means that just as you can take a thousand bananas and never get an orange, so you can take all the human righteousness that has ever been produced on planet earth from the beginning of time, and you can add it together and it will not change God’s opinion of one single sinner. Why? It’s because there’s no common ground between God and us.

If there is anything that was evident in the Parliament of World Religions, it was the naïve utopianism, the belief that we could get together and begin to meditate and unite and solve all the problems of the world regarding hunger simply through meditation. We could redistribute the world’s wealth. We could take care of the planetary problems of ecology and we could all live happily after.

Hans Küng, the great famous German theologian, said basically that all the religions of the world conflict, but we all agree that we should treat one another as we would like to be treated. That is the central point and so he lectured on what that would mean. I went up to him later and I said to him in German, “It was a good speech,” but I said, “You know that after people have heard you, they aren’t going to go out and live that way.” I said to him, “You’re a theologian. You know that Jesus said that from within the heart of men comes evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, thefts, covetousness and wickedness, and unless we change the heart, we’ll never transform society, and the reason that Jesus came was actually to change the heart. We know what we should do but there is no power within us to do it. That’s our problem.” And he said to me, “Well, you may be right, but I think we should be more optimistic than that.”

But I want you to know today that when I look at the Chicago newspaper, and when I look into my own heart, I have run out of reasons to be optimistic about human nature. You see, there is the depravity of man, and then there is the holiness of God. God is wholly other. There is nothing in God that corresponds to us.

Now follow this carefully. How big and long is the bridge between God and us? The gap, morally and spiritually, between God and us is infinite. It is infinite, and the Bible says that we cannot take one single step in God’s direction. If man is to be rescued, if we are to be reconciled to God, God must begin from His end and span the entire gap alone. That’s why Augustine said that he who understands the holiness of God will despair in trying to appease Him. And the Bible would teach that until we know how bad we are, we have no idea as to how good God is. God plans redemption. God initiates it. It comes from His side.

Thirdly, God completes it. He does it all without any human being involved. Notice what the text says. How does God do it? He demonstrates His righteousness. In the last part of verse 25 the sins previously committed are those who committed sin in the Old Testament. They were saved on credit. God said, “I’m going to let your debts accumulate and then take care of them when Christ comes,” so that when Christ died, He died not only for future sinners like us, but past sinners as well.

But notice it says in verse 26: “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Oh how important that is. God could not bend His attribute of righteousness one little bit. God retained His integrity and holiness. It could not be compromised. There was no way that God could say, “Well, you know I’m such a loving being, I’ll just accept you sinners.” No, He couldn’t do that because His holiness would not allow it.

How does a man who is dressed in a beautiful white suit go into a coalmine, and then having gone into that coalmine, to rescue people and to bring them out of the coalmine without he himself becoming soiled? That was God’s problem. The question was how can God possibly rescue sinners, reach down and become one of us, and take us out of the pit of sin, and reconcile us to Himself, and still remain untainted?

Years ago there were some atheists who wanted to mock God so they wrote a pamphlet, a little tract, in which they said, “Look at God. In the Old Testament Abraham was a liar and he is called a friend of God. Jacob was a cheater, and yet he is called a prince of God. David was an adulterer and a murderer, and he was (quote) a man after God’s own heart. Now,” said the atheists, “what kind of a God associates with people like that?” In their perverse way they had a point, didn’t they? That’s the question of the Gospel. How does God associate with sinners and still retain His integrity? How can the scandal be removed from His name, even though He associates with us who are sinners?

So the Bible teaches that God remained just, but He also became the justifier. God says, “I sure can’t look to man to rectify this relationship.” That’s for sure. That’s already been excluded. But God says, “I will do it. I, as God the Father, will allow God the Son, who is Me in the flesh (three persons but one God), to become one with humanity though remaining distinct from it and being sinless. And He will offer a sacrifice, which I will receive. And so it will be God the Son, making a sacrifice to God the Father without so much as one bit of human initiative or effort or works involved. None! Salvation will be of the Lord.”

I’m told there was a man in California who was caught speeding and who went to court to pay his fine. And the judge read him the sentence. He had to pay the fine. But after the sentence was read the judge left the bench, stood by the defendant and paid the fine for him. That’s what God does.

How does God associate with sinners? How does He do it without spurning His own reputation or denying His own honor? He says, “These sinners who have done nothing for their salvation, and to rectify their relationship with Me, every single demand that I could ever ask of them has been met and I have been the one who has met it.”

Now, my friends, those of you who are students of comparative religions, who are interested in finding the common center of all religions, you go to the libraries. You study the textbooks. You travel to different countries. You search it out. You find whether there is another religion that teaches that man has absolutely nothing to do with reconciliation. It is God who does it all on the basis of His mercy and love, and still retains His justice. You seek it out. There is none.

All the other religions say that it is your responsibility to become enlightened. It is your responsibility to follow the eight-fold path. It is your responsibility to do the will of Allah, but nobody knows how high Allah’s standards are. All that you can do is hope that everybody else says it is up to you, and the Bible says that Jesus paid it all. There is no other religion like that. Imagine! God plans it, God initiates it, God completes it, and number four, God freely offers it.

Now if you are thinking, and I know you are because everybody who comes here thinks, you already knew what the fourth point was going to be. Obviously it has to be given freely – obviously - because we have no part in having worked it out. We’ve already agreed that we are on the other side of the chasm, and there is nothing that we are on the other side of the chasm, and there is nothing that we can do to take a step in God’s direction. God must reach over, and in the Incarnation He did. And that’s why Christ has to be God, because a Savior not quite God would be like a bridge that was broken at the farthest end. He had to be God and man, and He had to do it all and then offer it freely. “By grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God (not of works, not of sacraments, not of a cooperative effort) lest any man should boast.”

Look at what Paul says. Put your finger on the text. Verse 27: “Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith!” Who is there then who can say, “I worked out my salvation because I earned it?” None! Every mouth is stopped. Every mouth is guilty. It is offered only to those who personally believe.

You say, “Well, why does God limit it to those who believe?” Well, I need to tell you that God enjoys being believed. That’s why the Bible says that our faith is so important. It is more important than gold that perishes, and the reason that God sends trials into our life, even after we have accepted Christ as Savior, is because God says, “I want you to go on believing me so that you have something to offer me when I see you.” Faith! But even the faith with which we initially believe is not a work. It is a gift from God. Salvation from beginning to end is of the Lord. He offers it freely through faith. And you know, of course, another consequence of that is the fact that He can give it to anybody who believes.

You know, I’m talking to some of you who think today that you cannot receive Christ as your Savior because of the enormity of your sin. If you are willing to admit how bad you are, you are in a good position to receive this free gift. Sometimes God has more trouble with those who think they aren’t so bad and don’t need it. You may say, “Well, I have to work out the consequences of my own sin. I’m in a mess that I’ve created.” Well, I want you to know that we do not believe in karma, thank God, that cruel impersonal law that says that everybody gets exactly what he deserves because of what he did in a previous existence. No, I’m here to tell you today that grace means that we don’t have to get what we deserved because Jesus Christ took the suffering that He didn’t deserve that we might receive the forgiveness that we don’t deserve. And no matter how bad your need, no matter how deep the pit into which you have fallen, God does not find it harder to give you the gift than He does some person who is not even acquainted with some of the sins that you have committed. You know, if you are giving out free gifts it is as easy to give them to the criminals and to the immoral as it is to the self-righteous who perhaps don’t even recognize how desperately they need it. A free gift to those who believe!

So God plans redemption. God begins it. He completes it. He offers it to us freely. And He guarantees it. This comes with God’s stamp of approval. It means that once we have come to that place of savingly believing in Christ, we will be God’s forever. “Oh,” you say, “we might want to give the gift back.” Well, it’s not quite that easy, I need to say. It’s not easy to give this gift back. In fact, let me be clearer. It is impossible to give it back. It involves so many of God’s attributes. It involves the truth of God regarding sin and regarding us. It involves the mercy of God, of having declared us righteous in His presence. “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifies. Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died, yea rather that is risen again.” It involves the integrity of God, of having purchased those who believe, and then being unable to take them to glory. That is unthinkable. It involves the faithfulness of God in granting us the Holy Spirit within our hearts. It involves the creative power of God. It says if any man be in Christ he is a new creation. God does the miracle within. He has to speak the Word to change us. All of this is involved, and if you are a believer today, you are already seated with Christ in heaven, and you can’t be thrown out of heaven unless He is thrown out of heaven, and He is not going to be thrown out of heaven. It comes guaranteed by God.

And then finally, it comes giving us a future with God. Now you know there are many people who believe in reincarnation. Shirley Maclain says that you just keep being recycled. It’s like shooting a movie and you keep redoing it until you get it right. The problem is that there is not only evolution in the process. There is sometimes “devolution” and some people think that you come into the next existence being a mouse or an ant or a reptile of some sort. Christianity has nothing to do with that. No, absolutely not! But Christianity says that when you die your body is actually going to be raised from the dead, the body that you brought with you today. And it is impossible to come to The Moody Church without a body I might add. We do make that limitation. The very body that you brought with you is going to be put into the grave someday. It is going to be raised. It is going to be recreated, and it’s going to look something like the one that you brought here today but much better. And the mind and all your memories and everything else is going to be a part of you, and you are going to be a totally and completely whole personally in the presence of a personal God forever. There is no other religion in the entire world that believes that. All the other religions give an expression of human experience in an attempt to somehow get at the divine. And many, many books have been written about that – many, many muddled books, and many, many contradictory books because everybody has a different experience. Christianity, as we have learned in previous messages, says that God has spoken. He has given us clarity, and He, in mercy, has done it all. Not the cosmic Christ but Jesus of Nazareth, the only qualified Savior of the world!

Now I need to remind you that we’re living in a day and age when all kinds of saviors are popping up. Arthro Guthrie who was at the Parliament of World Religions (who is into Buddhism and Hinduism and Christianity and that wonderful amalgamation that we showed in previous messages can never be pulled off), and he said that he had a vision of Jesus 17 years ago that totally changed him. He was on the back porch, he said, and Jesus appeared to him, and Jesus was light and Jesus was love. And he said, “You can believe me or not believe me, but it was just wonderful to behold Jesus.”

I was listening to a tape this last week of another pastor who said he was talking to another pastor. And this pastor said, “While I am shaving in the morning, Jesus comes and puts His arm around me.” Isn’t that sweet? I wonder if the man keeps shaving. I wonder.

There was a televangelist a number of years ago who said that Jesus came to him and they spent seven and a half hours talking about some things that now, I believe, have not come to pass. All kind of cosmic Jesuses! Well, you know that Satan comes in whatever appearance he is expected to take. If you want a visitation from Jesus, Satan might give it to you. But the question is, is it Jesus of Nazareth? That’s the question.

Many of you know that even though I strongly disagree with Martin Luther on a number of points, I do greatly admire him, his courage, and his ability even as a theologian and an author. One of the things about Luther is that he often struggled with the question of whether he was hearing God correctly because he came from an era in which there was lots of mythology and lots of appearances of Christ. And he always wanted to make sure that he was hearing God correctly, and that’s why he kept going back to the book – to the Bible.

The reason that Martin Luther was named Martin is because he was born on St. Martin’s Day. Martin was his patron saint, and there was a legend about St. Martin, which, I’m sure, Luther frequently contemplated. The legend, or perhaps it wasn’t a legend (it may be a true story – I do not know), was that one day Jesus appeared to St. Martin, and they were having a conversation together, and then suddenly it flashed into St. Martin’s mind that maybe this was not Jesus, and maybe it was an aberration of the devil. To verify that it was Jesus, St. Martin glanced down at his hands to see if He had nail prints. And just as he glanced at His hands, the aberration disappeared, and St. Martin did not get a chance to see His hands. And so there were times when Luther would wonder if he had heard God correctly. He wanted to be sure, and he realized that the only way to be sure was go back to the Bible because if not, you might end up accepting a Jesus without nail prints.

I have the mind to believe that if Arthro Guthrie (and the televangelist, and the man who says that Jesus comes to him while he is shaving) looked carefully, there would be no nail prints.

And so I say to you today, if you are out looking for a savior, and you say, “Well, you know, we’re savior shopping, and today we came to Moody Church to see what they had to offer,” and you are savior shopping, well first of all, just be clear. Christianity is the only religion that has a Savior. All the others have gurus and prophets and teachers but no savior, so if you are savior shopping, that narrows it down to Jesus. But having said that, there are plenty of Jesuses, like the cosmic Jesuses who seem to be appearing everywhere. I suggest that before you believe in him, you look for nail prints. No other Christ can save. A false Christ leads to a false salvation, and only Christ can save.

We used to sing a song, which I notice, is not in our hymnal. I looked for it and couldn’t find it, but the chorus went like this.

I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
And redeemed by His side I shall stand.
I shall know Him, I shall know Him,
By the print of the nails in His hands.

When you are looking for a savior, look for nail prints.

And let us pray.

Our Father, today we do want to thank You for the faithfulness of Your Word. We thank You that there is nobody here that has fallen so far but that You cannot give them the gift of eternal life. We thank You that salvation had nothing to do with us. Thank You that You did it all. And now You offer it to us as a free gift.

We pray for those who have believed in many different things, believed in their own goodness, believed in going to church, and believed in all kinds of things that they thought would change their relationship with You, and it hasn’t. At this moment strip all that away and may they believe in the Christ with nail prints.

And before I close this prayer, what is it that you need to say to God today? Would you, at this moment, say, “Lord Jesus, I receive You as mine. I receive the free gift that was worked out on Calvary. At this moment I transfer my trust to You.”

Why don’t you tell Him that at this moment?

Lord, we thank You for Your work in our hearts. In Christ’s name we pray, Amen.

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