There’s a desire in all little boys and girls to be exclusive. From the first fort my older brother and I built in our backyard, we were already thinking about how we might exclude girls from our establishment of twigs and branches. My first sports experience taught me that there can only be one winner, which meant everyone else was excluded. My education taught me that only a few scholarships are given to those who graduated with honors, all the rest are excluded.
Inclusiveness has become trendy even popular. The ‘everyone is a winner’ mantra has now twisted the minds of an entire generation of young sports players. Trophy shops have seen a spike in trophy sales, but kids are being mislead about how the competitive world works. Scaled educational opportunities warp the results of students who are less capable of performing at the higher levels. Even gender roles in relationships have become a program of inclusiveness, rather than the traditional system of exclusion.
Where does this new wave of inclusiveness leave Jesus and his teachings? A new generation of Christians are working hard to develop verse-blindness. Oh, you haven’t heard of verse-blindness? That’s where you intentionally become blind when you come across certain Bible verses that don’t fit your new super trendy model.
This seems to be the method used when many are faced with Jesus’ offensive words. Here is an example of some of Jesus’ teachings on how exclusive the Christian faith is. “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Jesus is basically saying, “only a few will be saved, and the rest will go to Hell.” Wow, Jesus set the standard for exclusivity.
Jesus once said, “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me.” This is almost an insane level of narrowness. This has almost no place in our world today. People begin sweeping when these verses come up in conversation. We have a desire to erase certain words and phrases, and these are among the most incendiary. It takes real guts to stand toe to toe with a person of the Islamic faith, or Hinduism and say, “Jesus is the only way.” In fact, I met a Christian pastor on a trip to India who was beaten to death by Hindu activists because he was talking about Jesus. They understood that Jesus had made an exclusive claim to salvation, and they couldn’t stand it.
Here’s another one, Jesus said, “I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me were thieves and robbers… I am the gate, if anyone enters through me he will be saved.” What are you trying to do, Jesus, get yourself killed? You may see these statements as polished theological treatises, however, they are not. They are bold declarations of war on all other religions and moral systems. Jesus was a destroyer. He came to knock down everything that came before him.
At one point he was acknowledging how divisive his teaching was when he said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to ‘set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’” He knew that what he had to say was going to tear the world apart. He knew that his words would drive a wedge between family members and friends. When my wife and I visited Thailand we met a young lady who had been shunned by her family because she had become a Christian. Even today, Jesus’ words are still ringing true.
But why? Why do Jesus’ words make so many people so mad? It’s because he claimed an exclusive relationship with God. If Jesus is right, then he is the only one with the keys to Heaven. Everyone else is a spiritual crook. Although there are those that would like to polish Jesus’ words and make them less offensive, it won’t work. If you try to remove the grit from Jesus’ speeches, they become flat and illogical. Only when Jesus is allowed to speak in entirety do his words resound with their full meaning.
As difficult as it may be in our inclusive, ‘everybody wins’ world, Jesus boldly proclaimed that the way was narrow and most would miss it. It’s like a business that has the entrance as a miniature door in the back of the building, while the door in the front is huge, well lit, and inviting. Those who enter the front door will do so only to find that it leads to the incinerator, while the little hidden door in the back leads to comfort and enjoyment. Even as I write this, I know that it is offensive. However, that’s the image that Jesus gave.
As far as we know, Jesus never punched anyone but his words come as a knockout blow. Either the guy is crazy because he believes that he is the only way for the human race to experience salvation, or he loves us so much that he’s willing to say the difficult things because they are true.
Jesus’ most offensive words were directed at a certain group of Jewish authorities. Once he said, “Misery will come to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation. Misery will come to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”
Jesus was attacking the most powerful religious authority in his nation. He squared off and drew the battle lines between himself and the entire religious system. He challenged them to a wizard duel of sorts. He claimed that they were thieves and robbers, leading the people down a path of destruction.
Jesus was very clear that not everyone will be saved. In the back of my mind, I often hope we’ve misinterpreted Jesus’ words in these verses, but I just can’t ignore them. He’s too brash, and powerful in his wording for me to take a chance. He talks of those who will reject him in terms of destruction and judgment. He finds his solid footing on the narrow road and invites all who will to come. However, he warns with strong words of exclusion that most will not make it, because they refuse to come by way of Jesus.
On one occasion he said to the same group of Pharisees, “You pore over the scriptures because you presume that by them you possess eternal life. These are the very words that testify about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me to have life.” He uses the word ‘refuse.’ He doesn’t say, “you have insufficient evidence.” He doesn’t say, “you are weighing your options.” He says, “you refuse.” This means that they had all the evidence needed to believe in him and receive eternal life but wouldn’t do it. They were stubborn and unwilling. This is what he means when he says, “wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.” They exemplify the wide road to destruction.
I have been called narrow minded by more than one person. I’ve come to consider that a good thing, based on Jesus’ words. Those who are on the narrow road must be narrow minded. In other words we must be focused.
To believe in Jesus is to exclude all other methods of salvation. In the Roman era, believers could not hold public office because it would require them to acknowledge the Roman gods. They refused to do it because they were narrow minded in their focus. In Rome all citizens were expected to agree to this mantra, “Salvation is to be found in none other save Augustus [Caesar], and there is no other name given to men in which they can be saved.” The Christians that refused to bow the knee to the Roman god Caesar, were killed in terrible ways. Jesus acknowledged that this would happen. He knew his way would be hard to find.
Those who believe in Jesus only as their source of salvation will be saved. This is incredibly narrow minded, but it is what Jesus prescribed. It’s a powerful idea that still offends many today. Jesus was exclusive, but that exclusivity was part of the Christian DNA. The church could not have survived without this strong foundation of exclusivity. It’s protected the church for thousands of years and continues to this day.