The Lie That Many Paths Lead Into God's PresenceErwin W. Lutzer | September 19, 1999
Selected highlights from this sermon
There is no fear of God in this generation. There is no sense of unworthiness. In fact, they’re taught that they are entitled to just about everything and that they shouldn’t feel guilty about it.
This needs to be unlearned. Especially when it comes to knowing God. Because if you don’t acknowledge your unworthiness, if you don’t acknowledge your sin, if you don’t acknowledge your need for a Savior, your final destination will be away from God—in hell.
But even more importantly, you need to acknowledge that there is only one true God. He’s not accessible by getting in touch with nature. He is not accessible through trinkets or idols you pray to. He’s only accessible through His Mediator: Jesus Christ.
Whenever I’m on a plane I like to strike up a conversation with the people next to me if possible. It usually begins with the weather and then we talk about politics, and eventually religion, and finally Jesus.
One day my wife and I were riding on a plane together and across the aisle there was a woman with a necklace, and on it hung a small cross. In order to stimulate conversation I said to her, “Thanks for wearing that cross. We really do have a wonderful Savior, don’t we?” She looked up and rolled her eyes and said, “I don’t think I understand the cross like you do.” So she said, “Look at this,” and she scooped up the pendants in her hand. She showed me the cross and behind the cross was the Jewish star, and behind the Jewish star was a little pendant to the god Ohm, the Hindu god. She said, “I’m in social work and I’ve discovered that people come to God in many different ways.”
Well, as you know, this is the beginning of a series of ten messages on the topic Ten Lies About God and how you already may be deceived. And today we come to lie number one, that God can be approached in many different ways, and there are many paths to the Divine.
On one of our university campuses there was a sign that read, “It’s okay to think you’re right, but it’s wrong for you to think someone else may be wrong.” It’s okay to think you’re right, but it’s not okay to think that somebody else may be wrong. We have no sins left in America, but there is still one sin – just one – and that is the sin of believing that someone else might just be wrong. Well, I want you to know today that if the Bible is right, there are a lot of people out there who are wrong.
When I was in college (and it was so long ago that I don’t think that I could go to that new young couple’s potluck after the service), God was kind of banished from the skies by secularism. The secularists said, “We don’t need Him.” But there’s something very unsatisfying about that because we all have within us a raging thirst to somehow find an answer to the emptiness with which we were born. And so people always, once they abandon the true God, go to many other strange gods, so we live in an age today of spirituality. Secularism to God from the sky, but spirituality brings God down from the sky and puts Him into His creation.
That’s why if you read New Age literature you’ll find that your self is sacred, and the earth is sacred, and animals are sacred, and everything is sacred. It’s just like it says in the book of Romans with such clarity. God says that they once knew the true God, but having abandoned the true God, and they were not grateful, he says, they gave themselves over to other gods. It’s here in my Bible. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Isn’t this descriptive? “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” Thinking themselves to be wise, they foolishly made god out of God’s creation, and that’s why in the New Age movement all these things are sacred.
What kind of a god, therefore, have people created in their own minds? Because they create a god after their own image, the word god today is a canvas upon which every person is invited to paint his own picture. Well first of all, he is an inclusive god, a god who is very tolerant of immorality, tolerant of all of our religious diversity, tolerant of a thousand different alternate lifestyles. He’s a god who serves us. He’s not a god who judges us. He is our servant. Whatever gods or goddesses there might be, they exist for one reason, and that is that we might fulfill our human potential, and therefore this god can be readily accessed by anyone at any time in any way. As a result, we have reared a generation in which there is no fear of God. Nobody even suggests, “Hey, you know what? Coming into God’s presence might be a bad idea.” It’s never crossed their minds that it might not be wise.
There is no fear of God, no sense of unworthiness. All of us are inherently worthy, and furthermore, let us be clear. If you have guilt, it is a feeling that should be unlearned because this is a very non-judgmental god. Let me give you a quotation from the Psalms: “There is no fear of God before his eyes, for in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin.” What a commentary on today’s world.
Well, why should we be concerned about approaching God in the right way? In the Bible the Lord gives us two important warnings. The first warning is against idolatry. He’s saying, “Don’t make up these idols in your mind.” It says in Ezekiel 14, “These men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces.” God is saying, “Don’t construct an idea of Me that I have not revealed. Don’t you dare make Me into something that is compatible with your way of seeing the world.” That’s one warning, but there’s another warning. And the warning is, “Don’t come to the living and the true God in any way. Come the right way.”
One day there were two brothers – the first two brothers. One was Cain and the other was Abel. Abel is the first one mentioned. He brings the firstlings of his flock to God, and God regards his sacrifice. Cain says, “Well, I don’t have to do it that way. I’m going to bring from my crop. What difference does it make? Well, possibly at that time God had already revealed that a sacrifice of blood was necessary, but Cain said, “I’m going to approach God in my own way.” And what happens? Abel is accepted and Cain is rejected. Are they coming to the true God? Yeah! One is accepted and the other rejected.
One day there were some seminary students, some young men who were being trained for the ministry. Their father was a priest. His name was Aaron, and he had a number of sons, and one day Nadab and Abihu – I mean these guys were just playing around in a laboratory - find some oil, and then they add some incense, and then they burn this incense and they go into the sanctuary of God. They say, “You know, our dad does something like it. He does it a little differently from what God has prescribed, but you know, after all, God is going to accept us. We’re sincere.”
Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, took their censors, put fire in them and added incense, and they offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, contrary to His command. So fire came down from the presence of the Lord, and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. You say, “Oh my, that’s an over-reaction. I mean, they are young. They are experimenting. I mean, give them a reprimand, but don’t kill them.”
Why did God do that? Notice what the Lord said through the lips of Moses. “Among those who approach me I will show myself holy in the sight of all the people. I will be honored.” When you come to Me you had better come according to the prescribed way or else you will be rejected and judged. Your self is important, but it isn’t holy or sacred. God is. The earth is important but it isn’t holy or sacred. Only God is holy, and God is sacred.
In the Old Testament they had what is known as the tabernacle. In the tabernacle you had to come, first of all, to the holy place, and then behind the holy place there was what was called the holy of holies, that small room in which the glory of God resided. Now keep in mind that God exists throughout the whole universe. The whole earth is filled with God and His glory. But the Bible always says that there is a place where God’s presence is particularly localized. It’s the place where He dwells. It is the unapproachable. It is the place of light, the place where He is willing to reveal who He really is, because all revelation in the Bible has to be veiled because we can’t see God directly. But it is here that He is manifest.
The high priest, on the day of atonement, would go into that room a number of times, but only on that day, and according to the traditions that we have, a rope was tied around him so that if he did something wrong and was struck dead like Nadab and Abihu were, then they could pull him out without having to go into the room themselves, and also risk the possibility of being struck dead. We’ve come a long way, haven’t we, from that kind of a God, this God that everybody can access? You just access Him within your own soul, and you come to Him in many different ways.
Martin Luther had an understanding of the holiness of God. When he performed his first mass (and it’s been my privilege to stand behind the table where he did that on a number of occasions, and I always have a member of the tour group read his words), he was picking up the cup, and when he got to the ritual that said, “We offer unto Thee, the living and the eternal God,” he froze. Beads of perspiration came and formed on his face, and it appeared as if he could not continue. His hand trembled. He feared that he would spill the cup. Why?
Later he said these words. He said, “At these words I was utterly stupefied and terror-stricken. I thought to myself, ‘With what tongue shall I address such majesty, seeing that all men ought to tremble in the presence of even an earthly prince?’ Who am I that I should lift up my eyes, or raise my hands to the divine majesty? The angels surround Him. At His nod the earth trembles, and I, a miserable little pygmy, say, ‘I want this,’ and I ask for that, for I am dust and ashes, full of sin, and I am speaking to the living, true and eternal God.” No wonder he trembled.
Why is it important for us in this day and age to get the idea straight as to how God is to be approached? It’s protocol. There are more people who would give consideration as to how a president should be approached, or how a queen or king should be approached than they do God. They come traipsing into His presence, thinking that He ought to be thrilled with everything that they are doing, and thinking that He should be glad that they just come.
No, He’s glad that they have come, but they must come the right way. Why? First of all, it’s because of the gap that exists between us and God because of His holiness. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts. The whole earth is filled with His glory.” The most basic, the most essential attribute of God is holiness, and because that is His essential attribute, His love is holy. His grace is holy grace. And His justice is holy justice. And the gap between us and Him is infinite and unbridgeable. That’s why in the Bible when people saw a glimmer of God, and nobody saw Him directly, but they saw manifestations, they fell on their faces like Job and said, “Woe is me, for I am ruined, for I am an man of unclean lips.”
Isaiah said, “I have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Job said, “I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Where is that in today’s spirituality? Where do you find that kind of an attitude? Who is there on our talk shows that might suggest it’s a bad idea to try to get close to God if you do it the wrong way? Do you see how the shift in culture has occurred? There is the moral gap because of God’s holiness. There’s the knowledge gap. After all, He knows everything. It’s not just that He knows more than we do. He knows everything, and He knows us intimately and continuously, and He sees all the hidden sins that we have so successfully kept from others. He knows reality, and that should make us shudder.
Then there is (May I use the word?) an ontological gap. That means that God is the creator, and He has a different form of existence than we do who are the creature. And so we can understand Luther’s words – who are we that we should approach the divine majesty? Who are we in our sinfulness that we should come to God? Let me say it with a clarity that I hope you never forget. You will never, never, never approach the manifestation of God’s presence on your own because you cannot (you cannot, cannot, cannot) do it directly.
How then do we do it? The text for today is Hebrews 10 where we have a discussion about how the priests entered God’s presence, and how Jesus enables us to do it. Hebrews 10 (and I’m picking it up at verse 11): “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” Now notice the sharp contrast between those priests and Christ. “But when Christ (I love this) had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
How do you get to God? Somebody showed up here at the church one time and said, “You know, God must have His receiver off the hook. I don’t know His number. How do I get in touch with Him?”
Let me tell you how He must be approached. Number one, you must have the right mediator. God cannot be approached directly. All relationship with God is mediated. In Medieval times there were mystics who thought they could just get through to God on their own. It’s got to be mediated.
We think, for example, of the contrast of the Old Testament priests. There were many of them because they died and then they were replaced. There was one high priest, but when he died he had a replacement. And on and on it went because they were symbolic of the coming of Christ who would be the priest who would once and for all become our mediator, our intercessor, to stand between us and a holy God. And so you see the contrast here in the text. Notice that he says, “Day after day, every priest (many of them) performing his religious duties.” Again and again he’s offering the same sacrifices. Furthermore, these priests were sinful and they had to offer sacrifices for themselves first, and then they had to do it for others.
Jesus never had to offer a sacrifice for Himself because He was sinless. Some of you know how often I’ve told you the story of going to the Parliament of World Religions and looking for a sinless savior. I don’t need somebody who is a part of my predicament. And I discovered that in the religions of the world in the Palmer House, represented downstairs at booth after booth after booth, no other religion has a sinless savior. They have teachers who are sinners just like the rest of us. I need something better than that personally. And so what we have here is someone who can respond to Job’s need.
Do you remember that Job said, “Oh, if I could just get through to God would I ever unload? I’d just give all of my complaints.” But he said, “I need an umpire. I need somebody who can put his hand on both of us, and somebody who can bring us together.” Only Christ, fully man, fully God, the God man – there is only one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus. And we cannot go into the presence of God alone. We must have a mediator with us, and you’ll notice that it says, “When this mediator gave his sacrifice, he sat down on the right hand of God.” The other priests worked and worked and there was no end to it, but He could say, “It is done.” The right mediator!
Secondly, we need the right sacrifice. The same passage speaks about sacrifices. Justice demands it. I’m always amused by people who say, “Well, you know the idea that God demands a sacrifice is archaic (and so forth).” My dear friend (and we’ll do this as we look at this series because this is only the first in a series of ten messages on God), I have to tell you upfront, God is stuck with the attributes He has. I mean He can’t change His attributes. If His justice demands a sacrifice, it demands a sacrifice. And let us not think again that we have to recreate God according to what we would like to see, or what we think is best. All that we can do is to accept His revelation.
Justice demands a sacrifice. Now we should not think of God the Father as being angry and vengeful, and Jesus appeasing Him. After all, the Bible does say that God loved the world. God showed His love to us. God also loves us. God also cares. The Father also cares. But it was an arrangement within the Trinity that God the Son would be a sacrifice so that we could be free.
Now notice again the contrast. The contrast is between many sacrifices, day after day offering the same sacrifice, the lambs constantly being slain and sin never permanently being taken away. God did allow them to enjoy forgiveness on the basis of Christ’s coming, which was still future. But the sacrifices themselves never had the ability to take sin away. But notice it says, “By one sacrifice for all time.” He took sin away. His actually worked. His actually is qualified to bring us to God.
There’s something else. You think of those priests. What did they offer? They offered animals, the blood of bulls and of goats and of sheep. But Jesus, it says in Hebrews 9 (the preceding chapter), did not enter heaven by means of the blood of goats and calves, but He entered the most holy place by His own blood. Now here’s a priest who actually becomes the sacrifice Himself. What we need when we enter into God’s presence is the right sacrifice. And notice the completeness of it.
About ten days ago several of us on the staff were taking a cab here in Chicago, and we came across a man who was very open to talk. He was a Muslim cab driver. And we were trying to explain the wonders of Jesus and His forgiveness, and this cab driver said (And I’m not sure whether or not he represents the Muslim faith. I’m just telling you what he said.), “I know that I have to go to hell. Justice demands it because,” he said, “I’m not supposed to sleep with other women, and I’ve slept with other women. I’m not supposed to get drunk, and I’ve been drunk, but,” he said, “when I get to hell and when I’m there long enough and pay for my sin, then I hope to get to heaven.”
Well, he was wrong on a couple of counts. First of all, when you go to hell you don’t get out. Sorry! But second, no human suffering can ever possibly take away sin, even if the suffering is eternal. But third, what a wonderful opportunity we had to share with him the beauty of the Gospel. “For by one sacrifice Christ took sin away permanently forever (it says) for those who are being made holy (the last part of verse 13) because by one sacrifice he is made perfect (yes, forever, those who are being made holy). There is no need for you to go to hell if Christ’s sacrifice was accepted by the Father, which it was.
How do we get to God, and I’m not talking about simply living in His presence because everybody does that. He fills the universe. I’m talking about getting His ear. I’m talking about getting His regard. I’m talking about connecting. I’m speaking about going right into His presence, into that holy place. I’ll tell you it’s a mighty bad idea and very futile unless you go with the right mediator and the right sacrifice.
You say, “Well, God doesn’t blow people away today like He did back then.” No, but we’re going to deal with that in the next message. The next message in this series deals with the lie that God is more tolerant than He used to be. Some people think, “Well, you know, old age! He’s beginning to wink at sin.” Well, that’s next week’s message.
You go with the right mediator. You go with the right sacrifice, and now you go with the right attitude. Look, it says in verse 19 of Hebrews 10: “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain,” and he’s thinking here of the veil that separated the holy place and the Holy of Holies.
He’s saying, “And since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near.” Now we’re ready to come close. Now we can come close. And how do we draw near? We draw near with a sincere heart. The word is honest. We don’t have to pretend. You know, we all pretend in the presence of others. In the presence of God there is no use. I mean He knows the whole thing anyway, so you come honestly, and finally honestly admit who you are with a sincere heart, with full assurance. We come, believing that we are going to be accepted on the basis of having come with the right mediator and the right sacrifice, and now we trust Him.
Last week I was reading a book by a very fine Christian author in which he told the story of a prostitute here in Chicago who was selling her two-year old child sexually to perverts so that she could get money to live. And someone, thinking of this horrid situation, said to her, “In your need why didn’t you think about going to a church?” And she said, “Why would I bother going to a church? I feel guilty enough and they will only make me feel more guilty.”
Now let’s think about that response for a moment. Let’s not brush it off quickly. If people come to a church, do they feel guilty? Yes, there’s certainly a place to feel guilty, and maybe she will feel more guilty for a short time. But there’s something else that should happen at a church if it’s worth existing, and if not, may its doors be closed. And that is that in the midst of the guilt there is also hope. There’s also the recognition that yes, she too, can draw near if she comes in the right name – the name of Jesus, the right mediator, and she knows the right sacrifice of the cross and Jesus dying. Yes, she too, can come into the very holy place of God.
Do you notice what the text said? Did I read it too quickly? It is there in verse 19. “Since we have confidence to enter the [most] holy (Oh, I can hardly get through this.) place by the blood of Jesus.” That woman, and a thousand like her can be right in the most holy place by the blood of Jesus. Guilt drives us away from God, but it also draws us to God. And I say to those of you today, feeling awash with failure and guilt, do not turn away from God, but draw near to the most holy place. But come with Christ. Don’t go alone.
A number of years ago I was in Washington D.C., with our two oldest daughters, and I was speaking at a retreat. And at the retreat there was a Secret Service agent who said to me, “Would you like to see the Oval Office tomorrow?” Tomorrow was Monday. It was a holiday, and President Bush (at that time he was the President) was out of town, and he said, “I can show you the Oval Office.”
Well, here I am, you know, a farm boy from Canada, thinking to myself, “I’ll never have an opportunity like that again.” I’ve often thought you see it on TV (you see pictures), but I thought it would be wonderful to say, “This is the Oval Office.” So I didn’t even pray about it. I said, “I’ll meet you. Just tell me the time and I’ll be there.” (laughter)
So we show up at the White House and he is there, and we begin going through the guard stations to get to the Oval Office. I remember the first station. It’s the one that’s at the gate at the White House there, and our umbrella set off the metal detectors. But you know, the guards scarcely looked at us. My daughter offered to open her purse so that he could check it. He said, “No, I don’t want to check it.” He said, “You’re with him. Go ahead.”
We came to the next guard station. They looked at the Secret Service agent. They didn’t know who we were. I could have been a criminal as far as they were concerned, but they looked at him, and they said, “You’re with him? Go ahead.” And now we were in the hallway, and I could already see the door of the Oval Office. I could see it partially, and there’s one more guard sitting right there at the door, and I wondered if he was going to turn us away. But he came and he looked at the Secret Service agent, and he waved us on by. “You’re with him? Go ahead.”
In my mind’s eye, if I may use my imagination and yours, let us suppose that all who are members and friends of Moody Church died at the same time, and suddenly we find ourselves now on the other side of death, and we look around and whom do we have? Well, we have people. Perhaps some are women who were at one time prostitutes before they believed on Jesus, women who have had abortions, who struggled with all kinds of guilt as a result of it. We have people who were into the homosexual lifestyle before they believed on Jesus. We’ve got criminals. We’ve got people who were guilty of thievery, people who spent time in prison. And then we’ve got a whole bunch of really scrubbed up people who haven’t done any of those things. But if you knew their thought life you’d know that they were just as guilty as the rest. So we’re all there, and Jesus comes and stands among us.
Then I can imagine as we are on our way to the Holy City that angels are like guard posts along the way, and we come to the first one, and they look at us and they say, “You’re with Him? Go on through.” Then we come to another one and they say, “You’re with Him? Go on through.” “You’re with Him? Go on through.”
And then we can begin to see the glory of God. We’re actually so close now that the God who dwells in unapproachable light, oh, this is it now – unveiled. You see, everything that God has in the Bible is veiled, but now this is the glory of God unveiled in blazing light and holiness.
And then we have a flashback, and we think of our sins and how miserably we lived, and how we failed God and all the depths of our iniquity. It all comes awash on us and we say, “We can’t go any further. We just can’t. We can’t!” The angel says, “You’re with Him. Go on in.”
My dear friend, don’t you ever think it doesn’t matter how you approach God. “Therefore brothers, since we have confidence to enter the most holy place by the blood of Jesus by a new and living way…” That’s the way you go. You have the right mediator. You have the right sacrifice, and the only, only, only reason we are admitted is because we’re not going alone. We’re with Him.
Have you ever accepted this Christ as your Savior? Do you understand now why it’s utter foolishness and stupidity to think that you can just get there however you wish, whatever religion, whatever you believe? Not this God! We need to go the right way. “No man (no man) gets to the Father but by Me.”
Our Father, we ask today that in grace You might reach down and save those who need to be saved. Make them aware of their need for a qualified Savior.
And even at this moment, if you’ve never received Christ as Savior, just like Mickey who gave that wonderful testimony a moment ago, you can receive Him. He was sitting in his seat and he prayed just like you can pray, and say, “Jesus, I am a sinner, and I receive you as Savior right now, as my mediator, as my sacrifice.” You talk to Him and you do that.
And Father, in this age when we have so blasphemed You by thinking that we can get to God however we wish, grant that the folks who have listened to this message may know eternally why there’s only one way to the Father. Oh grant that, Father, we pray, in Jesus’ name, Amen.