Jesus often surprised people with teachings that cut across the grain of human nature. "Lose your life to save it." "The first will be last." "The meek will inherit the earth." "Rejoice in persecution." "Pray for your enemies." "It's better to give than to receive." "Turn the other cheek." These are revolutionary teachings.
But by far the most outrageous assertion that Jesus ever uttered is in John 14:6: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." This claim rankles people like nothing else. It's been called narrow-minded. It's been called bigoted. It's been called snobbish. Some of you are seekers and something inside of you chafes at the idea that Jesus is the only way to God, for you are living in a world where there seems to be endless options in virtually every area of life. For some of you this is a stumbling block to faith.
Why is this claim so controversial? One reason is that it strikes at the core of three great myths about religion.
Myth 1: All religions are basically the same.
The first myth is that all religions are basically the same. You've probably heard people say through the years that there may be distinctions between various world religions, but if you strip them down to their essentials, all religions fundamentally teach the same thing. In other words, all spiritual paths lead up the same mountain because all religions basically teach the brotherhood and the sisterhood of men and women and the universal fatherhood of God.
Let's concede that there is some common ground shared by many of the world's religions, especially when you look at the level of basic values and statements of belief about morality. Respectful dialogue between people who represent different faith systems is a great starting point. But, at the same time, there are significant differences between the world religions that cannot be papered over. In fact, with this one outlandish assertion, Jesus boldly puts Christianity in a class by itself, because if the path to God is through Jesus, then Christianity cannot be reconciled with any other religion.
The uniqueness of Christianity is rooted in the uniqueness of Jesus himself. Other religious leaders say, "Follow me and I'll show you how to find the truth." But Jesus says, "I am the truth." Other religious leaders say, "Follow me and I'll show you the way to salvation." But Jesus says, "I am the way to eternal life." Other religious leaders say, "Follow me and I'll show you how you can become enlightened." But Jesus said, "I am the light of the world." See the difference?
There are drastic and irreconcilable differences between Christianity and all other belief systems. Every other religion is based on people doing things through their struggling and through their striving to earn the good favor of God. They say people have to use a Tibetan prayer wheel, or they have to go on pilgrimages, or they have to give alms to the poor, or they have to avoid eating certain foods, or they have to perform a certain number of unspecified good deeds, or they have to pray in a certain way, or they have to go through a cycle of reincarnation. These are attempts to reach out to God.
But Jesus Christ is God reaching out to us. Jesus taught the opposite of what those other faiths teach. He said that nobody could do anything to merit heaven, so you might as well stop trying. He said that we're all guilty of wrongdoing. That's consistent with our experience. We know that not a single person here today would claim to be perfect.