I recently watched a very interesting documentary on holy places in Jerusalem. It showed places which Islam, Judaism and Christianity hold to be sacred. The Islamic shrines in particular were very beautiful. I marveled at the patience and dedication it must have taken to build them. They are truly works of art. Islam was once the bastion of science and math. Though I recognize that not all Muslims may agree with the practice, it’s a shame that Islam is now known mainly for blowing things up and killing people.
One of the things that struck me was the difference in the places honored by the three groups. Islam and Catholic Christianity have large, ornate buildings. Judaism has a ruin….
In contrast to the ornate monuments of the other religions, Judaism has the Wailing Wall. There was a segment describing excavations at the base of the Wall, showing what Herod did to prepare to build it. There was also mention of the oldest synagogue in Jerusalem, on the first floor of the home of the Jewish family featured in the film. Nevertheless, the Wailing Wall is the main Jewish location in Jerusalem.
The documentary told the story of Jerusalem through the eyes of three families, one from each of the three religions represented in the city. In a way, it was a sad documentary. The Muslim family was separated by the politics of the region. The mother and son lived in Jerusalem. The father was forced to live elsewhere because he was not Jewish. The family could only get together at a “neutral” site, which they did once a week on Friday.
The Jewish family had been in Jerusalem for nine generations, except for a few years because of one of the frequent battles in the area. In fact, they were responsible for watching over the oldest synagogue in Jerusalem.
The Christian was a member of the Franciscan Order, whose brother had been murdered and the perpetrator had never been found.
The story revolved around these three families preparations for their respective ways of worship on Friday.
The Islamic woman and her son had prepared food for a meal with the father, then had to go through security checkpoints to get to him – then to get back home. The Jewish family observed a meal before making their way to the Wailing Wall to pray for their city and people. The Franciscan monk, with several of his brothers, walked the Via Dolorosa, the traditional journey Jesus took on His way to the Cross. In it are the 14 Stations of the Cross, which depict various events believed to have been part of that journey. The Franciscans’ goal was The Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the traditional site of the Crucifixion. It was this monk’s job this time to read the English version of the narrative at each Station. The interesting thing about him was that he is Palestinian, not Jewish or Caucasian.
There was something else which struck me. During the course of his narrative, the narrator described these three religions as “three paths to God.”
If “God is One,” as all these religions teach, then how can such divergent views – indeed, such contradictory views – all lead to Him?
Toward the end of the documentary, one of the Muslim spokesmen referred to the teaching of the Quran that “the people of the Book,” that is, Jews and Christians, were to embrace the teachings of his book.
Although the theology of all this is way beyond the scope of this post, I acknowledge each person’s right, humanly speaking, to believe as they will or not in this present world. We have that freedom in the US, a freedom not enjoyed in other countries, particularly where Islam is predominant. I would never force others to accept my views. I put these views on this blog with the hope that they may at least give others something to think about.
The thing is, how can I, as one of “the people of the Book,” turn from it to receive new and contradictory teachings?
For example, Islam, though recognizing Isaac, teaches that Ishmael was the favored son of Abraham, and it was he who was sacrificed on the Mount. Scripture teaches that Isaac was the chosen son of promise and that Ishmael, though blessed as a result of Abraham’s prayer, was rejected and sent away. Isaac was sacrificed, not Ishmael. And he was truly sacrificed, the fact that God intervened at the last moment notwithstanding. Abraham was fully prepared to kill his son, though he was prevented from doing so. Hebrews 11:17, 18 has a commentary on this, which you ought to read to get Abraham’s thoughts during this trial.
Jesus is looked on as just another prophet, like Moses and Adam. Of His crucifixion, Islam says that it is a “monstrous falsehood”. On these two distinctions lie the main differences between Islam and the Bible.
Moses was indeed a prophet, but Scripture never tells us whether Adam was ever “saved”. His son Abel is the first one it ever calls “righteous”.
During His own lifetime, some people thought Jesus was merely a prophet, or a reincarnation of one of the Old Testament figures, Matthew 16:14. As the spokesman for the disciples, Peter said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” v. 16. Though the disciples didn’t understand everything that was involved until after the Resurrection, they understood that Jesus was more than just a mere man.
It’s often said that Jesus never claimed to be God. This is false. John 8 records one of what were probably many such confrontations between Jesus and the Jews. In this particular incident, the Jews were talking about Abraham and during the discussion wanted to know if Jesus were greater than their founding patriarch. In John 8:58, Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, ‘Before Abraham was, I AM.” By His use of the designation Jehovah in the Old Testament used of Himself, Exodus 3:14, the Jews understood fully that Jesus was claiming to be God. That’s why they tried to kill Him, v. 59.
As for the crucifixion, our Lord many times referred to His death, Matthew 16:21; 17:22, 23; 20:18, 19. The disciples fell woefully short in their understanding of what He was saying when He told them about it because His dying didn’t fit in with what they thought would happen when the Messiah came. They failed to understand that without that death, none of the things promised in the Old Testament about the final restoration of Israel could happen.
This is outside the scope of this post, but let me say only that the OT promises of Israel’s restoration were not all fulfilled in the return from Babylon under Ezra and Nehemiah, nor are its promises of “the kingdom” fulfilled in “the church” in some sort of “spiritual Israel.” Many disagree.
As for the other, how many “paths” are there to God?
The Lord Jesus was very clear on this. In Luke 12:24, He said, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” In Matthew 7:13, 14, He said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
You see, there is no salvation in a Christianity which is looked on as just another of the world’s religions. Indeed, if that is all it is, it’s unnecessary. “Religion” is about ornate buildings, impressive ritual, solemn liturgy, all part of what someone has called “the trappings of religion.”
It’s only as we understand what the Lord meant when He said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” In other words, if you ever want to get to know the Father, the Son will have to introduce you.
“Religion” looks on His statements as unnecessarily restrictive, or as “bigoted.” But Christianity is the only religion with a Cross, with a Resurrection. In just a little while, it will be Easter. Multitudes will take part in “Easter Sunrise Services.” I wonder, though, how many truly understand the significance of what they’re celebrating. Or is Easter just an opportunity to wear a new outfit? One of a couple of time a year one goes to “church”? Something to be done before the annual Easter egg hunt?
The Resurrection is the evidence that God accepted the death which preceded it. That death was a payment for sins. In theological terms, it was a “satisfaction” for the penalty required by our breaking of God’s Law. The Franciscan brother mentioned above talked about “getting to salvation” by suffering, etc. But salvation is NOT about what WE do. There’s nothing we can do to pay for our own sins. It’s all about what the Lord Jesus did, not only on the Cross, but during His whole life.
God requires absolute perfection, with not a single misstep in our whole life. Who can honestly say that of themselves? A single fault, a single “mistake” is enough to condemn us forever. What, then, about the innumerable things of which we are all guilty? There’s only been One Who could ever challenge His enemies, “Which one of you can accuse me of sin?” John 8:46 paraphrase.
It’s that perfect righteous life that’s imputed to the believing sinner that allows him or her to stand uncondemned before a holy, righteous and just God. It’s that effective death which allows him to enter heaven rather than being consigned to hell. In and of ourselves, we have no such life or death.
There’s no salvation in “religion,” no “path to God” through the doors of any religious building, no matter how beautiful or impressive it may be. No religious observance can atone for a single sin.
Salvation is only to be found in the Lord Jesus Christ, who He was and what He did. There is no other “path to God.” No other door by which we may enter.
There’s so much that could be said about this. Let me just finish up with this: Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, Acts 16:31. He alone is the path to God.