The Only Way
Main Idea: Jesus is the only way to God.
- The Only Way to Be on God’s Side Is to Join Jesus in His Work (11:14-26).
- A divided kingdom cannot stand (11:17-19).
- The kingdom of God is here (11:20-22).
- Don’t be recaptured by Satan’s kingdom (11:23-26).
- The Only Way to Have Light Inside Our Hearts Is to Obey Jesus’s Word (11:27-36).
- Don’t miss the greater sign (11:29-32).
- Don’t suffer the more severe condemnation (11:33-36).
- Don’t reject the gospel.
- The Only Way to Be Clean Before God Is to Offer Jesus Our Souls (11:37-54).
- First point: Pharisees are hypocrites (11:39-41).
- Second point: The Pharisees will be condemned (11:42-44).
- Third point: Scribes are hypocrites to be condemned too (11:45-52)!
- Main point: Give your soul to the Lord if you would be clean (11:41).
- The Only Way to Be Safe Before God Is to Acknowledge Jesus Before Men (12:1-12).
- Fear the coming judgment (12:1-3).
- Fear the Father (12:4-7).
- Fear the Son (12:8-9).
- Fear the Holy Spirit (12:10-12).
One objection many people have to Christians and Christianity is that they think we are narrow-minded for insisting that Jesus is the only way to God or to heaven. They ask, “What about the billions of people on earth who are not Christians and who are good people? Will they fail to reach heaven just because they don’t believe in Jesus or have never heard of him?”
Many people think that all roads lead to God. What matters, they say, is being sincere. If you’re a person of sincere belief, whatever the belief, then your religious approach is as good as any other, and people shouldn’t condemn you for it. They reject the exclusive claims of Christianity.
We can understand those views. If all religions are equally true or equally false, then it wouldn’t matter much. We’d simply have to make our choice and go happily on our way. It would be arrogance and narrow-mindedness to insist on one way if all the ways were equal.
But what if they are not equally true or false? What if some religious views are false or incomplete? What if the idea that Jesus is the only way was not something his followers made up? What if that was actually what Jesus himself thought and taught?
Inside the DNA of Christianity is a claim Jesus himself made. It remains an exclusive claim.
The Only Way to Be on God’s Side Is to Join Jesus in His Work
Verse 14 opens with Jesus casting out a demon. It’s a simple but profound scene. Jesus drives out the demon. The demon that caused the man’s muteness leaves. The man speaks. But these simple actions reveal profound truths.
- Demons are real. Their activity in the New Testament seems to cluster around the earthly ministry of our Lord.
- Demons sometimes afflict people.
- Jesus rules over and casts out demons.
The crowds “were amazed” (v. 14). But there are two groups of people who respond in two different ways. There are the slanderers, who say, “He drives out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons” (v. 15). And there are the skeptics, who “as a test, were demanding of him a sign from heaven” (v. 16).
The Lord addresses the first group in verses 17-26. He gives us some teaching on spiritual warfare. Then the Lord ends his sermon by dividing the world into two groups: those who are with him and those who are against him.
A Divided Kingdom Cannot Stand (11:17-19)
No group will last long if it’s fighting itself. It will fall. So Jesus says that the idea that he casts out Satan by satanic power makes no sense whatsoever (vv. 17-18). Why would Beelzebul fight against Beelzebul? He’d be destroying his own kingdom.
Apparently there were Jewish exorcists at the time. So Jesus asks about their own sons who cast out demons (v. 19). Are they under Beelzebul’s power as well? The Lord points out the hypocrisy of the slanderers.
The Kingdom of God Is Here (11:20-22)
If a divided kingdom cannot stand, then that must mean a new kingdom has come. Jesus tells the crowds that he drives out demons “by the finger of God” (v. 20). That’s a wonderful phrase. It takes us back to two amazing scenes in the book of Exodus. In Exodus 8:19 Moses struck Egypt with the plague of gnats. Pharaoh wanted his magicians to copy the plague in order to discredit Moses, but the magicians couldn’t do it. They turned to Pharaoh and said, “This is the finger of God.” In other words, this is genuine power from God, not witchcraft or trickery. In Exodus 31:18, when God finished giving Moses the Ten Commandments on two stone tablets, the Bible says the tablets were “inscribed by the finger of God.” The phrase shows up in the Bible when God’s power and revelation in redemption advances in a new way.
When Jesus says he casts out demons by the finger of God, it’s a way of referring to the direct power and action of God in the situation. Our Lord is the strong man of verses 21-22. He overpowers Satan’s house and takes away the spoils. But some in the crowd could not see it. They missed the very kingdom of God among them.
Don’t Be Recaptured by Satan’s Kingdom (11:23-26)
So Jesus warns the crowd not to be recaptured by Satan’s kingdom. Unless Christ cleans a person like a house and then lives in him, that person will be indwelt by demons. People are in danger of being overcome again if they don’t come into God’s realm. If Israel rejects their Messiah, then their end will be worse than their beginning (v. 26). We do not get better by rejecting the gospel. We do not grow in health, strength, and prosperity by hearing the word of God and rejecting it. The way to spiritual soundness cannot be found by rejecting the power of God.
There are only two sides in this warfare: “Anyone who is not with me is against me, and anyone who does not gather with me scatters” (v. 23). Our Lord makes this exclusive claim about himself. Jesus puts himself forward as the only way to do the work of God. He basically says a person is either with him or against him in doing or failing to do God’s work. There are no other options. There is no neutral ground, no Switzerland. The way we know which side we’re on is by whether we gather with him or scatter against him. In other words, do we try to gather people through sharing the good news about Jesus, or do we scatter them by failing to share the good news?
Perhaps you are not yet a Christian. Have you ever thought of yourself as being against God? Most people do not. These religious Jewish people did not think of themselves that way either. Yet here they are opposing the very Son of God. I wonder if you see that there is no middle ground. In the warfare for your own soul you are not neutral. You had better not try to be neutral. You had better be for the betterment of your soul. The only way to do that is to be with Jesus. He is the only way to enter into the work and kingdom of God. All of us not with Jesus are against him and against ourselves by not being with him.
When we say Jesus is the only way, it’s not a matter of Christians being proud, feeling themselves superior to others. We did not assert this simply because we are Christians and boastful. That’s not what is going on at all. Actually, we are saying the kingdom of God has come into the world through a person, Jesus Christ the Son of God. We’re saying Jesus is the only door through which you can enter. So we point to him that you might know the one way in. All the other doors lead to destruction, but Christ leads to the kingdom and power of God.
The Only Way to Have Light in Our Hearts Is to Obey Jesus’s Word
You know, it’s funny. You never know where your “amen” is going to come from. The crowds don’t always say “amen” at the right time. A woman in the crowd gets a little happy. So she yells out, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the one who nursed you!” It’s a curious thing to shout, but she’s trying to “amen” the Lord.
The Lord replies, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (v. 28). With those words the Lord redirects the woman. There is no hint of the Roman Catholic idea of the veneration of Mary. If ever there were a place for our Lord to teach such a thing it would be here in this context. He would only need to “amen” her blessing. Instead, the Lord turns the woman’s attention and our attention away from Mary to God’s word.
There is promise and warning in verse 28. The thing that counts is obeying the word of God. That is the “blessed” or “happy” way of life. That’s the promise. The Lord has a conception of blessedness that includes all those who keep God’s word. The related warning is this: it’s possible to hear the word of God but not obey it.
Don’t Miss the Greater Sign (11:29-32)
Verses 29-32 illustrate how this happens. Here Jesus answers the skeptics from verse 16. Some people in the crowd demanded a sign from heaven. Jesus responds that the only sign this evil generation will receive is “the sign of Jonah” (v. 29).
Jesus has just said you have to obey the word of God; now he is referring to it. The Lord compares himself to the prophet Jonah. God recruited Jonah to go to the wicked people of Nineveh. But Jonah disobeyed and tried to run the other way. God prepared a great fish that swallowed Jonah and spat him up on the shores of Nineveh where God originally told him to go. Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights (see Matt 12:40). The Lord says those three days and three nights were “the sign of Jonah.” In other words, those three days, like all signs, pointed forward to something greater. The Lord says that he is the greater Jonah. He will be dead in the belly of the earth for three days, but then he will be resurrected. That’s a far greater miracle than Jonah’s.
With these words Jesus teaches that if we read our Bibles well, then we are reading about him. He sees in the story of Jonah a pointer to his own passion and resurrection.
Then the Lord looks back in the Scriptures to the account of the “queen of the south” (v. 31), likely Ethiopia, who comes to seek wisdom from King Solomon. The Lord declares that anyone who knows the Scriptures would know that he is Wisdom personified. The wisdom of Solomon was simply a foretaste of the Wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:30; Col 2:2-3). He explains that one greater than Solomon is standing before them.
Don’t Suffer the More Severe Condemnation (11:33-36)
Yet the people of Jesus’s day miss the sign. That’s the point of this parable. Their eyes are bad, which means they focus on evil rather than light. Their sight is darkened, and so their entire bodies are darkened.
Their condemnation will be more severe than the judgment against the queen of the south—even though she was a Gentile—because she pursued and acknowledged God’s wisdom. Their condemnation will be worse than the people of Nineveh—even though those people were Gentiles—because Nineveh repented at Jonah’s preaching.
Jesus takes an ancient prophet from the Bible and the events from that prophet’s life, and he says those things were really signs about him. Two things should be evident: The only way to read the Bible properly is to read it understanding that it is ultimately about Jesus. And Jesus sees himself as central to God’s work of salvation.
Don’t Reject the Gospel
The only way to enter the kingdom is to hear God’s word and recognize the sign of the cross and the empty tomb. The only way is by hearing and obeying the word of God, beginning with the gospel. It is by believing the gospel that light enters our souls.
For the time has come for judgment to begin with God’s household, and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who disobey the gospel of God? (1 Pet 4:17)
[God will afflict the ungodly when Jesus] takes vengeance with flaming fire on those who don’t know God and on those who don’t obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will pay the penalty of eternal destruction from the Lord’s presence and from his glorious strength. (2 Thess 1:8-9)
The finger of God points you to the kingdom of God through faith in the Son of God so you might escape the wrath of God. The people in Jesus’s day missed it and were condemned. Will you miss it, or will you obey? Will you repent and believe? Or will you suffer condemnation forever?
The Only Way to Be Clean Before God Is to Acknowledge Jesus Before Men
When the crowd questions him, Jesus the preacher shows no fear of the people in public. The scene changes: Jesus no longer hangs out with the crowds. He now sits as invited guest in the private home of an unnamed Pharisee. Apparently there are also other guests there. Verse 45 mentions “one of the experts in the law.” It seems to be a private gathering of some major Jewish religious leaders—Pharisees and scribes.
The Pharisees are upset because Jesus didn’t wash his hands according to their custom (vv. 37-38). The issue was not Jesus’s cleanliness; the issue was the Pharisees’ traditions. They want Jesus to show respect for their religious customs even though their customs really have nothing to do with God’s commands.
So what does the Lord Jesus do? He preaches another sermon in the Pharisee’s home. We might call this sermon, “The Problem with Legalists.” It goes something like this:
First Point: Pharisees Are Hypocrites (11:39-41)
The Pharisees are so worried about outward appearances that they have neglected the state of their hearts. What matters most is not outward obedience alone. What matters is both outward behavior and inwardly clean hearts.
Might I remind you that Jesus is saying these things to his host? He shows no fear, and he is not done.
Second Point: The Pharisees Will Be Condemned (11:42-44)
A message of “woe” was designed to make the people go, “Whoa!” Here Jesus pronounces three woes on the Pharisees, each revealing why they are unclean.
You don’t love justice or love God (v. 42). They were specific about giving a tenth of their mint and herbs, but they were specious about God. I was never more convinced than I am now that the Pharisees are not only an ancient Jewish sect but are alive and well today. To meet one, all you need to do is speak of “justice” as a Christian and they come out in force. Just the mention of the word angers them. The insinuation that there is some injustice in the world for us to confront causes them to gnash their teeth and sharpen their pencils so they can detail the exact rules of “Christian engagement,” so they can dot all their theological i’s and cross all their theological t’s while neglecting true justice, compassion, and the love of God. Jesus thinks the Pharisees’ approach is not what it means to follow him—to do the first (tithe) and neglect the second (justice, mercy, love). The Lord would indeed have us be scrupulous about the small things but to then go on to complete the larger matters of the law (Matt 23:23). We cannot neglect the love of God and love of neighbor when the whole law is summed up in these points.
You do love yourselves (v. 43). They want applause and popularity, not God. They want to be worshiped, not offer worship. They think little of God but much of themselves. It’s possible to use religion for popularity and privilege. That’s the Pharisees.
You lay traps for others (v. 44). In Judaism touching a grave made a person unclean. Jesus says to this Pharisee that following him is like walking across an unmarked grave. Men walk right into the unclean grave of hypocrisy without even knowing it.
That’s the problem with Pharisees, and they are sternly judged for it.
Third Point: Scribes Are Hypocrites to Be Condemned, Too! (11:45-52)
Now this is funny. Just as Jesus finishes rebuking the Pharisee, a scribe speaks up in Verse 45. He says, “Teacher, when you say these things you insult us too.” Jesus responds, “Woe also to you experts in the law!” (v. 46). Jesus turns to the scribes and pronounces three woes against them, too!
You burden the people with the law without helping them (v. 46). Jesus does his work by the finger of God, but these people will not lift a finger to relieve others.
You bury the prophets like your ancestors did without seeing the condemnation (vv. 47-51). The Lord tells them the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. They are just like their fathers before them.
You block the path to salvation without entering it (v. 52). What a devastating condemnation of these religious leaders. Perhaps the hottest parts of hell are reserved for such religious leaders, who knowing the gospel will not preach it, who knowing the entrance to heaven will not point it out, who will not enter that blessed kingdom themselves and forbid others also.
The Lord tells them that their guilt remains on their hands. They are not saved and keep others from being saved. These are not the kind of preachers you want for your soul. The agony of their condemnation will be terrible.
Main Point: Give Your Soul to the Lord If You Would Be Clean (11:41)
“But give from what is within to the poor, and then everything is clean for you” (emphasis added). The Lord offers this gospel to those who know that their lives are messed up because of sin and that they need a Savior. They know their need for repentance, and they delight to turn to the Lord from sin for his salvation. Those sinners who turn and trust are cleansed by Christ. If you would offer your entire self to Christ, to be his servant, to follow him, he will cleanse you, make you new, wash you. Feel dirty? Feel soiled and unclean? Come to the one who washes souls. Feel broken and torn apart? Come to the one who will heal and mend you, who will take the pieces of your life and make you whole. Come to Christ.
Preachers, be sure your souls are secure in the salvation of Christ. The Puritan pastor Richard Baxter offers sober words for preachers of God’s Word:
Take heed to yourselves lest you should be void of that saving grace of God which you offer to others, and be strangers to the effectual working of that gospel which you preach; and lest, while you proclaim the necessity of a Saviour to the world, your hearts should neglect him, and you should miss of an interest in him and his saving benefits. Take heed to yourselves, lest you perish while you call upon others to take heed of perishing, and lest you famish yourselves while you prepare their food. . . . Many men have warned others that they come not to the place of torment, which yet they hasted to themselves; many a preacher is now in hell, that hath an hundred times called upon his hearers to use the utmost care and diligence to escape it. (Reformed Pastor, 53)
Church, be careful how you hear the Word of God. We know what we prefer by whether we accept the hard truth gladly or become enemies of the truth teller. When a hard truth hits a hard heart, you get sparks and resistance. But you can’t soften the truth or it ceases to be the truth. A hard heart must be broken. Jeremiah 23:28-29 says,
“The prophet who has only a dream should recount the dream, but the one who has my word should speak my word truthfully, for what is straw compared to grain?”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “Is not my word like fire”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“and like a hammer that pulverizes rock?”
God expects his word to fall like a hammer and break up the rocky heart.
A good preacher never shades or softens the truth. He never preaches the truth unlovingly, but he does preach it unflinchingly. That’s how our Lord preached in this passage.
It’s the hearer’s responsibility to keep a soft heart. A soft heart is like a fluffy pillow. When the word falls into a soft heart it rests gently and comfortably in that heart. That’s the hearer’s responsibility.
How do you keep a soft heart toward God and his word?
- Pray for a soft heart. If ever you notice hardness in the heart, pray for a fresh softening.
- Read and meditate on God’s Word daily. It’s by the Word our hearts are changed and made glad before God.
- Receive God’s Word in faith. Do not receive it as cold and dead. The Word is alive and active, so take it into your heart.
- Apply God’s Word and obey it. If we read the Bible, God will speak to us; but we will receive more from his voice in the Bible if we commit ourselves to obeying it.
- Expect God’s blessings in righteousness and growth.
The Only Way to Be Safe Before God Is to Acknowledge Jesus Before Men
Chapter 12 begins the third sermon. In this scene “a crowd of many thousands came together.” Most Christian leaders and Christian churches would say, “That’s success!” We love to measure ministry effectiveness by numbers. The fear of man often expresses itself in love of crowds.
But Jesus is not impressed with numbers. We know this because the Lord never preaches to please crowds, and he often leaves the crowds to be with his small group of disciples. That’s what Jesus does here. His third sermon—for his disciples—might be titled, “Fear God Always.” It’s a sermon on how to cultivate the fear of the Lord. He has four points:
Fear the Coming Judgment (12:1-3)
The main problem with the Pharisees was their hypocrisy. It’s also the main problem of too many professing Christians today. Hypocrisy is saying one thing but doing another. It’s living a double life. Hypocrisy is moral inconsistency. It’s when people praise God with their lips, but their hearts are far from him.
The problem with hypocrisy is that it spreads. Jesus says it’s like yeast. Yeast is that leavening ingredient in bread that spreads throughout the entire loaf. In the Bible it’s often used as a symbol for sin. The Bible says, “A little leaven leavens the whole batch of dough” (1 Cor 5:6). That’s why our Lord tells his disciples to beware, or “Be on your guard against the leaven of . . . hypocrisy” (v. 1). For not only does it spread, it also condemns. It will be exposed in the judgment of God (vv. 2-3).
One day our lives will be shown on the big screen of God’s judgment. It will be a split screen. On one side will be the life we showed the world. On the other side will be the life we tried to hide. If they’re the same, then we have integrity. We are true disciples—true to God, true to self, and true to others. But if the two screens show different pictures, then we will be condemned as hypocrites. It will be shouted from the rooftop of heaven.
So we have to ask ourselves—every one of us who claims to be a disciple: Am I a hypocrite? Do I fear God’s judgment? Fearing the searching, all-seeing judgment of God is the first step in cultivating the fear of the Lord.
Fear the Father (12:4-7)
We have to embrace and respect two aspects of God’s character—his terrifying power on the one hand and his trustworthy love on the other.
Jesus speaks of God’s terrifying power to destroy the soul in hell:
“I say to you, my friends, don’t fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will show you the one to fear: Fear him who has authority to throw people into hell after death. Yes, I say to you, this is the one to fear!” (vv. 4-5)
When we think of what other human beings can do to us rather than of what God can do to us, we are guilty of the fear of man rather than the fear of God.
Jesus seems to have in mind the reality of his disciples being persecuted. He pictures men killing his disciples. He says, don’t fear them; fear God instead. Jesus pushes us to see beyond the body to the soul. That’s why twice he tells us to fear God. Tremble in God’s presence. Tremble at his judgment. For God deals with body and soul. Hell is far more serious a problem than physical death! Our bodies cease to exist, but our souls don’t. Physical pain may be great, but it’s temporary. The agony of souls in hell is eternal! We had better fear God’s judgment much more than man’s.
There’s another side to learning to fear God’s very person: We must learn to love and appreciate God’s goodness. The life of sparrows isn’t worth much in the eyes of men; in Jesus’s day you could buy five for two pennies. But the sparrow’s life is precious in God’s sight; he does not forget one of them. If God cares that way for sparrows, how much does he care for his people? God’s care for Christ’s disciples is so particular it includes the number of hairs on our heads! Because of this, Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid” (v. 7) of God.
Do you see the tension? We are to fear God’s judgment (v. 5). But we are not to be afraid of God in his love (v. 7). That’s what holy reverence or the fear of the Lord consists of: trembling before his holiness and rejoicing in his love.
My daughter has a classmate in school. I’ve seen him a couple times at her performances and school events. He’s got a pretty nice voice for singing and the like. My daughter told him that I said he has a nice voice. The young man said, “Your dad seems like he’s real cool, but I am still afraid of him sometimes.” Yeah. That’s how I want them—trembling to shake my hand and smiling with the hopes I’ll be kind! Something like that is the Christian’s fear of the Lord. We tremble at the thought of him lifting his hand in judgment, but we run to his hand for his love.
We must cultivate fear for God’s coming judgment. We must cultivate fear of God’s very person.
Fear the Son (12:8-9)
Here’s where we see Jesus’s thoughts about himself most clearly. Here is where he clearly tells us that he is the only way to God. Jesus says to his disciples and says to us,
And I say to you, anyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God, but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God.
This is a stunning sentence. Jesus presents himself as standing between man and God. The key factor in whether we have Jesus’s approval before the court of heaven is whether we remained loyal to Jesus before the courts of earth. If we continue to acknowledge Jesus as Lord and God, then we have an advocate before the angels of God. But if we disown Jesus before men, he will disown us before the angels.
This means following Jesus is not a matter of our convenience, popularity, or man’s approval. We’re to follow Jesus no matter the cost and trust that he will reward us when men reject us.
We had a wonderful example of this a couple of years ago. Perhaps you followed the story of Meriem Ibrahim. She was the pregnant Sudanese woman imprisoned for professing faith in Christ. She was nine months pregnant and had her twenty-two-month-old son imprisoned with her. The penalty was to be one hundred lashes and death if she did not disown Jesus to the Muslim authorities. This pregnant, frail woman, whose husband is wheelchair bound with muscular dystrophy, never disowned Jesus. She feared the Son of God more than she feared men.
I think her reward in the kingdom of heaven will be great. I believe Jesus said to all the heavenly hosts, “Do you see my daughter? She belongs to me. She will be honored in all of heaven for all of time, for she did not reject me and I will never reject her!”
So it should be with everyone who follows Jesus as Lord. Let us fear the Son, lest we perish. Let us acknowledge him at all times before all men so that he will never be ashamed of us.
Fear the Holy Spirit (12:10-12)
Jesus warns that we can be forgiven of blaspheming, or slandering, him. There’s pardon for slandering the Son, but there can be no forgiveness or pardon for blaspheming the Holy Spirit.
These words take us back to where we began. Do you remember those who said Jesus cast out demons by Beelzebul? They were slandering the work of God. They were slandering the Holy Spirit. They were hardening their hearts in unbelief. That slander and hardening, ultimately, is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.
But those who truly believe trust the Holy Spirit. Even in times of persecution, they rely on the Spirit’s power. Verses 11-12 tell us that the Spirit will speak through the apostles and for us on the day of our earthly trial. We do not worry about defending ourselves. The Lord the Spirit will argue our case. So rather than blaspheme the Spirit of God, we trust him.
Ecclesiastes 12:13 says, “When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: fear God and keep his commands, because this is for all humanity.”
In all of this, Jesus teaches us what it means to fear God. It is to
- recognize the finger of God,
- obey his Word,
- fear his judgment, and
- fear Father, Son, and Spirit.
Do you fear God? The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, knowledge, and eternal life. That fear points out to us the one way to heaven itself. We only need one way. Truth be told, if there were many ways we would take none in our confusion. God has been merciful in giving us one way, marking it clearly, and calling us to it. Seek the Lord Jesus Christ while he may be found. Seek him and live.
Reflect and Discuss
- Do you think there’s only one way to God? Why or why not?
- How would you respond to a neighbor who says, “All roads lead to God”?
- What is the relationship between spiritual light and God’s Word?
- Jesus claims the Old Testament is about him. Is that an exclusive claim? How can we know it is true?
- Have you ever faced the fear of man? What was the situation, and how did you respond to it?
- How does fearing God displace the fear of man?