Jesus makes absolute, universal claims like no other

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“He is risen; Indeed he is risen.” The Easter proclamation is now ringing around the world. As Christians we have the great joy and obligation to proclaim to the world that Jesus is Savior for all and makes universal claims on everyone.

In our pluralistic culture this may upset some people who think that we really shouldn’t make absolute claims — asserting that we have the one true religion. Some believe it is arrogant to say that Jesus is the Savior of the world — the only name by which any can be saved. Such statements are narrow and dangerous, we are told, and they offend and alienate others. Past generations might have held such a view but we live in the modern world in which our neighbors are secular or Muslims or from various faith or non-faith backgrounds. In this generation we shouldn’t make universal or absolute claims, saying our truth is the one truth. We are told we need to adapt and affirm that all religions are equally valid. That way we can live peacefully in a pluralistic society where all are respected.

Of course, I agree that respect for all faiths is essential to a civilized world. Christianity grew up in a religiously pluralistic culture and is comfortable in such a setting because it brings the best out of humanity by dialoguing with others and presenting moral truths and absolutes.

But for some to claim that there are absolutely no absolute truths is an illogical contradiction. As for the claim that all religions are really the same — where’s the proof? If that’s true, then why bother trying to change my mind? That’s a bit like saying your view of God is better than mine as a Christian?

The culture continues to tell us believers that we can believe in Jesus so long as we don’t say he is the only way, or the best or superior way to find God — better than say the way of Confucius or Buddha or Mohammed or Gandhi.

But if we can’t say this, are we truly free to believe and follow Jesus? Are we really free to believe and follow a Jesus who said before Abraham was he already existed? A Jesus who said he was going to heaven and would return to destroy all death, evil and suffering in the world? A Jesus who said he is the way, the truth and the life and that no one comes to the Father except through him? A Jesus who died and rose from the dead? That is the only Jesus Christians have. No other religious founder makes these claims. Therefore Jesus can’t be like every other religious founder.

Let me share a Christian conversion story. Toyohiko Kagawa, a Japanese Christian who died in the 1960s, worked for the poor and was deeply committed to social justice. This is what he wrote concerning his conversion: “I am grateful for Shinto, Buddhism, Confucianism. I owe much to these faiths, yet they could not meet my heart’s deepest needs. I was a pilgrim journeying on a long road that had no turning, and wandered through a dark and dismal world that was thick with suffering. Buddhism teaches great compassion, but who has ever said from the beginning of time this is the blood of the covenant which is to be poured out for many for the remission of sins.” No one in history except Jesus said these words — a truth we affirm at every Eucharist. No other religious founder claimed to forgive sins through his death. No other religious leader was such a servant and so full of forgiveness, even for those who killed him.

Anyone is free to reject Jesus’ claim to being the Savior of the world but if he isn’t who he said he was then he was worse than any other world religious leader. He was a megalomaniac, a crazy man who said he was God in flesh. We can’t just make him into merely a “good man.” His claims are too great. If we look at the evidence of the Resurrection in its fullness, the brilliance of Jesus’ teaching and the radiance of his character, we see that it is not arrogant to see him as the way to God.

With the world so in need of a Savior, the Prince of Peace, the Lamb of God, we say, “Jesus Christ has Risen. Indeed he has risen.”

The writer is pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Magadan, Russia.


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