THE UNIVERSAL GIFT

13 Nov

Most everyone knows I am a cellphone addict. I carry it with me everywhere I go. In fact, the only drawback of prison ministry is they won’t let me carry my phone inside the unit.

But one thing that keeps happening is I keep losing my charger cord. I probably buy five or six cords a year.  Now I am pretty sure it’s not completely my fault.  I think it’s possible that after much use, they just vaporize into thin air. I don’t know.

In replacing my cord, I have learned something else. With the many different kinds of phones, and the many different ends that connect them, I feel like I need an engineering degree to figure out which one to buy. There are so many ends to choose from, I wonder why don’t they make a one size fits all. Alas, not all chargers are equal. Not all chargers fit my phone. And despite what the package may say, not all chargers are universal.

This is certainly true of cell phones. But what about the spiritual realm?

In the youth ministry that I served, I would pass a church about a block and a half from our church campus. It was a Universal Church. They had a sign board out front that read, “Now accepting all religious faiths – find your path to heaven.”

It’s a claim that all religions are universal.

Simply choose one to find your way to Heaven.

The appeal of a Universal church is twofold. They are high on tolerance. In fact they have made tolerance the highest virtue that one can strive for. The second thing they have done is made sincerity the key indicator of faith. So every path is thought to be equal whether it is Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, or the religion of the flying Spaghetti Monster. As long a you or I are genuine about our belief, we have our ticket punched.

And in our culture it has a certain appeal. In American culture, the new buzzwords are “tolerance” and “genuine”. And in our society it is considered outrageous to make any exclusive claim to know the right path to attain eternal life. It’s our culture; it’s the mindset of the world around us.

And it leads to some questions. As Christians, are we really too intolerant of other beliefs? Are we being unfairly exclusive when we say that Jesus is the only way to have eternal life? How do we address this issue in a culture where tolerance is the highest virtue and where sincerity is the only thing necessary for faith?

As we read the text, understand these are the words of Jesus. Jesus is preaching to a crowd of people while they are seated on a hillside to a Jewish audience.  Listen to what He says.

Matthew 7:1-5
1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Now you have probably heard this passage thrown around a lot by the “tolerance movement.” But it is often ripped out of context.

To whom is Jesus speaking? He is talking to Jews who believe they have salvation guaranteed because they are Jews. Yes, their outward religious activity is unmatched. But their hearts don’t match. In part, this IS a call for sincerity. That’s what Jesus has been saying in Matthew 5-6. But they are not willing to accept anyone outside of themselves into the faith. Jesus is talking about is a Jew looking at someone who isn’t Jewish and saying, “There’s no way that evil person can ever have salvation.”

And he is telling them that salvation is not limited to the select few who believe they have it already made. The gift of salvation is more “universal” than that. Being genuine is part of it, but it isn’t the whole picture. And not all faiths are alike. Look at what Jesus says following this.

Matthew 7:6
6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Pearls are precious. Pigs would have been unclean animals. So while Jesus points to a Salvation that is open, he also warns, “Be careful and evaluate who you share your pearls with.” There will be some who will not accept it.

Not all will treat the gift of salvation as precious.

There will be some who reject salvation. The gift is universal, but acceptance of it not.

I could put an advertisement on Facebook that said, “F.C.C. now giving away $50.00 free of charge. Stop by the office to pick up your free gift.” There would be people who stopped, but there would also be people who ignored the ad. It must be a scam, or there must be a catch. The gift is universal (open to anyone to accept), but not everyone will accept it.

Jesus goes on to describe the universal gift in verses 7-11.

Matthew 7:7-11
`7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Again some take this passage and pull it out of context to talk about material possessions.
But what is the context of the surrounding verses that is Jesus already talking about? Jesus is talking about worthiness of salvation. I think it’s appropriate to insert the words “gift of salvation” in the text.

Ask and the gift of salvation will be given to you. Seek the gift of salvation and you will find it. Knock on the door and the gift of salvation will be opened to you.

That is a tremendously beautiful picture of the openness of salvation.

Salvation is available to anyone who asks, seeks, or knocks.

But implied in this is a need to ask, a need to seek, a need to knock on the door.

That’s a huge implication in this text because if this is correct, the door is shut. It’s not open for whoever wants to enter in with whatever faith they have.

Now, Jesus is ready to open the door — it’s unlocked. Jesus doesn’t look through the peephole and say, “Oh no, It’s HIM!” That’s what He was warning the Jews about when he said “Do not judge.” But the door starts shut.

So how do we gain entry?
Listen to what Jesus says in verses 13-14

Matthew 7:13-14
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Jesus says enter through the narrow gate. It’s small, the road is narrow. It is difficult to find and it is difficult to stay on. But the narrow gate leads to life.

Now my question to those who are Universalists is this: Narrow and small are restrictive kinds of words aren’t they?

Salvation does not allow us to “be comfortable.”

The truth is that there will be people who reject the narrow path to take the wide road because the narrow path is uncomfortable. For some the idea of being a Christian is very uncomfortable. It can lead to ostracizing by family, suffering, even death. We miss that in American culture where the word “Christian” now has a watered down meaning. (It’s the reason I prefer the phrase “Evangelical” or “Christ follower”

And can I stop and make a quick observation?

When I hear someone say, “Just do what makes you happy”, I often cringe. Our goal isn’t to be comfortable.

Being on the narrow path isn’t always going to be comfortable, but we know where the path leads. Jesus says the small gate and the narrow road lead to life.

But what does that mean. What is the gate; where is the road? Are all roads the same?
Jesus defines in the gospel of John what the gate and the road are.

In John 10, Jesus is talking to a group of men known as Pharisees.
There are some who are jealous of Jesus and his popularity and they have already decided to reject Jesus. But there are also some who are still debating whether his teaching makes sense. Jesus speaks to both groups using a word picture about a shepherd and his sheep.

John 10:7-10
7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.
9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Jesus refers to HIMSELF as the gate. Jesus is the small gate.

Jump ahead to John 14. Again these are Jesus’ words. In John 14, Jesus is talking to his disciples. This is part of a conversation that he has with them just hours before he is arrested, tried, and led to the cross. In the dialogue, Jesus has revealed to his disciples that he is going to a place where they cannot follow. He says I will soon invite you to follow. When his disciples ask him how they will find their way, he tells them this in John 14:6

6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Jesus clearly refers to himself as the way. In fact he refers to Himself as the ONLY way. No one reaches the Father except through me. It’s a pretty exclusive claim.

So going back to our text in Matthew 7, I think it is logical to conclude that when Jesus says enter through the narrow gate he is referring to himself.

The Universal Gift of Salvation is limited to those ONLY who enter into it through Jesus.

The gift of salvation is universal, but the passage to it is limited to Jesus.

According to Jesus, only a few find it. Not everyone will be saved. In fact, those who enter the gate and walk the road are rare. My goal is not to have people question their salvation, but there may be people who are here today who haven’t really entered the gate. There may be some who have not found the road. In fact we need to evaluate. If Christ is a convenience rather than a necessity, be warned. If you or I have never endured discomfort for the sake of Jesus, and notice I said “for the sake of Jesus”, we might be walking on the wide road. And where does that road lead? Jesus says, “To destruction.”

We have seen in this passage how Jesus takes the world’s idea of tolerance and he turns it upside down. We can almost see where Jesus has said, “Tolerance of other religions is not the highest virtue; the highest virtue is faith in Me.”

Yes Christianity is exclusive, but so are all other religions. Buddhism is reserved for those who are good enough (Karma). Islam is for those who are obedient enough. Hinduism has a cast system that people move up and down in. It includes people known as “untouchables” (people unworthy of salvation and unworthy to help). But in Jesus it’s different. We have seen where Jesus has given an open invitation to anyone who asks, seeks, or knocks.

It’s a different view than the world has. But for those who accept Christ, the gift of salvation is universally inclusive. We don’t have to be good enough to enter. We don’t have to be the right heritage or culture to enter. There is no padlock on the gate; there is no magical key we have to turn. We simply have to get on or knees to get through the gate.

salvation

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