“The Exclusive God Is All-Inclusive”
February 13th marked the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. Lent is intended to lead us to repent before celebrating Easter, because without fully understanding our great need for forgiveness, we cannot fully understand how great a price God paid for us on the cross.
This 40-day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday can provide us all with a time to reflect on our instinct of self-preservation, our basic self-centeredness, about the wrong we have done and the good we have left undone – reflections about how my own personal actions made it necessary for Jesus Christ to die on the cross to pay for the sins of the world, including my own.
If we lose sight of the forgiveness that is ours through the cross of Christ, we can despair in our sorrow over our sins. How we long for Sunday, when we celebrate the fact that Jesus did not stay dead – and neither will we! We normally gather to hear God’s Word and respond in praise on Sundays, because Jesus rose from the dead on a Sunday, “the Lord’s Day.”
Interestingly, if you count carefully all the days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, you will count more than 40, yet Lent is still just 40 days long. This is true because Sundays don’t count as part of Lent. Sundays may be in Lent, but there are no Sundays of Lent.
On Sundays we always celebrate the Resurrection, even during the penitential season of Lent. It’s just that important: Because He lives, we too shall live! Some say Sundays are “little Easters.” It is perhaps more true to say that Easter is a big Sunday. He is risen!
So, Lent helps us prepare to celebrate Easter with greater joy by allowing us an extended period of repentance. Properly speaking, repentance has two parts. One, we are sorry for our sins and turn from them. Two (and this is by far the more important part), we turn to the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ, trusting in what He has done for us on the cross when he took away the sins of the world – even mine, even yours!
“He is the payment for our sins, and not only for our sins, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John 2)
See how inclusive Jesus is! He did not exclude anyone, but paid for the sins of the entire world – every man, woman, and child who has ever lived – even those who haven’t yet been born! Imagine love this great: God the Son, Jesus Christ, gave his life to pay for even the sins you haven’t yet committed! “Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15)
How could the life of just one man pay for the sins of all people? Well, the answer to that question explains why Christmas is the other huge Christian festival, probably more familiar to the world than Easter. The reason Jesus could pay for all of us is because Jesus is God – God the Son, “the word made flesh”.
In order to live a perfect life for you, die a perfect death on Good Friday for you, and conquer death on Easter Sunday for you, God came down at Christmastime for you. That’s why we sing with joy, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the incarnate Deity! Hark! The herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the newborn King!’” As God the Son, the life of Jesus is infinitely more valuable than the life of even an angel, so He could pay for the sins of the whole world, including you and me.
As totally inclusive as God is about grace, He is also totally exclusive when it comes to other gods. The very first of His Ten Commandments says, “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20)
God has revealed Himself by many names, but there is only one God. His many names include Yahweh, Sovereign God, God Almighty, and the Holy Trinity, which is a name for the one true God that summarizes “the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28) His Word reminds us that the Word was God and the Word was made flesh. (John 1) God the Son, who was God at Creation and even from eternity, became man when He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. “In many and various ways God spoke to his people of old through the prophets, but now in these last days, he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1)
Some who tell you plainly that they certainly do not worship Jesus as the Messiah or the Word made flesh will also tell you that they worship the same God Christians worship. How can this possibly be? Adherents to many other faiths vow that they certainly do not worship Jesus, yet Christians do worship Jesus as the Son of God and God the Son. How can we possibly be worshipping the same God, unless they also worship Jesus?
That we are all worshipping the same Father, even if we differ on the role that Jesus plays, contradicts what the Bible tells us about this same Jesus: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14) God’s Word also reminds us that “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” (John 8) “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” (John 5) These and other claims got Jesus charged with claiming he was God, blasphemy, which was a capital offence, punishable by crucifixion for you.
This exclusive claim by God (to tolerate no other gods) is not a message welcomed in the politically correct climate of interfaith services. Try to imagine the public outrage if a Christian were to read at an interfaith service these words about Jesus from the Holy Bible: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) In the public squares of America today, we are expected to be silent about any exclusive claims God has made.
Obviously, for a Christian to participate in interfaith services, he or she would have to avoid mention of some elements of our faith, such as the Incarnation, which is no small thing. In “mixed company” speakers are expected not to violate a “sacred” worldly belief: Either we are all worshipping the same God, or your God is no more worthy of worship than any other.
But the only Savior who was inclusive enough to pay for the sins of the world was also exclusive enough to tell us to have no other gods. “You shall have no other gods…”
And you need no other gods! God the Father sent His Son to save you! May God the Holy Spirit inspire you during this season of Lent to realize more fully your need to be saved this season of Lent! May God grant you faith to know that Jesus already saved you on the cross!
Rev. Ted L. Crandall
Faith Evangelical Lutheran Church
1812 Boundary Street
Beaufort, South Carolina