Don't Check Your Brains at the Door part 5
What about People who Never Hear about Jesus?
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
June 8, 2008



[This message series examines several of the spiritual concepts that are dominant in our society but are contrary to Biblical teaching. In particular, we are looking at the spirituality being promoted by Oprah Winfrey and Eckhart Tolle in their webinar based on Tolle’s book, “A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.” The videos used are not available on the Sunrise website. However, you may still be able to find them on iTunes or YouTube. In the event that you do find them, the start times for the clips are included in the notes below.]



In about 20 minutes, we have some special guests that are going to come and tell you what they’re doing in the area of missions. But what I want to do before they come is just follow up on the message from last week.

Just to refresh your memory or to fill you in, in case you weren’t here, last week we attempted to answer this question, “Is Jesus the One and Only Path to God?” And what we discovered is, if Jesus is telling the truth about who He is, then yes, He is the One and Only way. That’s what Jesus Himself claimed. Jesus said…

John 14:6 (NLT)
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”

And that’s exactly what His followers understood, too. Peter said…

Acts 4:11-12 (NLT)
“For Jesus is the one referred to in the Scriptures… There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”

And then the apostle Paul said…

Romans 10:9, 13 (NLT)
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved… For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

So Jesus claimed to be the only way, and that’s exactly what He taught His followers. Either Jesus was lying about that, or He was delusional, or He was telling the truth and He really is the only way. And if that’s the case which, I believe it is, that means no other way will do. No other religion, no other strategy, no amount of good deeds or kindness or generosity… Nothing else will do. Jesus really is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to God the Father except through Jesus the Son.

That’s what we spent the morning talking about last Sunday. And we started off by looking at some video clips from Oprah Winfrey. Oprah has been making a lot of spiritual claims lately, and we’ve looked at several of them over the past month. And we’ve seen that a lot of her claims are very far from the truth. Last week we saw that Oprah believes there are many ways to God. But as we discovered, if Jesus is who He says He is, then she’s wrong and there is only one way.

But there was one question that was raised in one of the videos that we watched that we didn’t address here last week. We just didn’t have the time to do it. So I thought we’d take a look at it this morning. Take another look at this video…

VIDEO – Google "Oprah One Path" and you'll get several hits for this video clip. One site is http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=2025559108
(Oprah gets in a debate with audience members about whether or not Jesus is the only path to God. she says He can't be, not with six billion people on the planet. And she questions what happens to those who live in parts of the world where they've never heard about Jesus.)

All right. So that video is basically a debate between Oprah and an audience member about whether or not Jesus is the only way. And we dealt with that last week.

But nestled in the middle of their debate is a valid question that Oprah asks… “What about people who have never heard about Jesus? What about people who live in some remote part of the world who have never had the opportunity to even hear the name of Jesus and likely never will? What about them? If Jesus is the only way, then what about them? How unfair would it be for God to send them to Hell?

Now, I don’t think Oprah was really looking for an answer to that question. I think she was just looking for an intellectual argument. And no response, no matter how rational, would have mattered to her. It’s like that with a lot of people who ask this question. They’re not looking for an answer; they’re just looking to validate their reluctance to accept Jesus.

But still, it is a valid question. So what’s the answer?

Well, first of all, remember that God’s not in the business of sending anyone to Hell. Hell is the trajectory we’ve chosen as a race; God’s doing everything He can do to rescue people from Hell. So He’s not sending us; He’s saving us!


Will God Condemn People who have Never Even Heard about Jesus?

A.    God doesn’t send anyone to Hell; He rescues us from Hell

As a race and as individuals, we chose to rebel against God. We chose to live life without God. We chose to reject Him, and that leaves Hell as our only option. And what God has done is provide us with the way out… and that way is Jesus.

Galatians 1:3-5 (NLT)
May God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace. Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live. All glory to God forever and ever! Amen.

But that still doesn’t answer the question, does it? Can God rescue people who have never heard about Jesus? Can they still reap the benefits of that sacrifice of Jesus on the cross? In other words, can Jesus be “the way” for a person without them even knowing the name of “the way.”

I mean, this morning on the way here, I drove one a street that I don’t even know the name of. But I still got here. That street was still the way for me to get here.

Can Jesus be “the way” for someone who have never heard of Him? And I’ve got to say, theologians have debated about this for centuries. Some say that ignorance is no excuse, Jesus is the only way, so if someone never hears about Jesus then they are truly lost. Some others go on the opposite side and say, “If a person never even has the opportunity, of course God will show mercy to them.”

So you’ve got the two extremes… God is a God of justice; if a person doesn’t accept Jesus then they are lost. And, God is a God of mercy; surely He would save everyone who never even had a chance to hear. But I wonder, is there a place in the middle? I’ve got to be honest, I don’t really know the answer to that question. But let’s at least look at the possibility.

And understand, this is my opinion. This is speculation. I could be wrong. In the Bible, there are times when Paul would give his opinion on something and he would preface it by saying, “These are my words, not God’s.” Well, these are my words, not God’s. But I hope the answer to this question is that…


B.    Each person must respond to the level of revelation they have received

This means that Jesus is still the way, but the way to get to Him and through Him to God is clearer for some than for others. Now, that is my opinion. But let me try to support it with some verses.

Psalm 19:1-4 (NLT)
The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known. They speak without a sound or word; their voice is never heard. Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world.

So God has revealed Himself to all people throughout the world through His own creation. Everyone has at least some level of revelation from God.

Romans 1:20 (NLT)
For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

So looking at those kinds of verses, it seems as if people who have never heard the name of Jesus might have at least some hope. They could still discover Him by responding in faith to the eternal power and divine nature that God has revealed through Creation.

Jeremiah 29:13 (NIV)
“You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

And understand this: the people of the Old Testament… people like Abraham, Moses, David, Esther, Ruth… they placed their faith in God and were considered righteous. They reaped the benefits of the sacrifice of Jesus even though they lived centuries before He came. Abraham and Moses… they didn’t even have Scriptures. There was nothing written down yet. But God revealed Himself to them through Creation and through extraordinary means. And then He revealed Himself to other Hebrews through them.

Romans 4:1-3 (NLT)
Abraham… What did he discover about being made right with God? If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way. For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.”

Hebrews 11:26 (NLT)
[Moses] thought it was better to suffer for the sake of Christ than to own the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking ahead to his great reward.

As far as we know, Moses never even heard the name Jesus. But the Bible says that he was still willing to suffer for the sake of Christ as he looked forward to his great reward.

So God can reveal Himself through Creation. And He can reveal Himself through extraordinary means like a burning bush. Or like Phillip when he was literally transported, whisked away, to speak to the Ethiopian eunuch. (Maybe these people in remote parts of the world have more revelation than you think. Maybe God has arranged for them to hear the message in ways that we’ll never know about.)

So God can reveal Himself through Creation, through extraordinary means, and He can reveal Himself to us through our own conscience.

Romans 2:14-16 (NLT)
Even Gentiles, who do not have God’s written law, show that they know his law when they instinctively obey it, even without having heard it. They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts, for their own conscience and thoughts either accuse them or tell them they are doing right. And this is the message I proclaim—that the day is coming when God, through Christ Jesus, will judge everyone’s secret life.

Whether they’ve heard of Jesus or not, they will be judged through Jesus. And it is my hope that Jesus will take into account whether or not people have heard of Him. The question would be, “How did they respond to the revelation that they were given?”

So then… even without the Bible, and even before God entered into Creation and revealed Himself in the fullness of Jesus, He was revealing Himself through Creation, through extraordinary encounters, and through conscience.

Acts 17:27,30 (NLT)
“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. …
“God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him.”

What does that mean for people today who never hear that command? People who don’t know about Jesus, who don’t know to repent and turn to Him? I don’t know. I hope they have a chance, but I don’t know that they do. I’m just glad that God’s the One that has to answer that question, not me.

All I can really say is that I trust God’s wisdom. I trust Him to handle them correctly. I hope they still have a chance. My opinion is that God expects them to respond to the level of revelation they’ve been given. But I could be wrong. It’s open to debate, and my own understanding may change. But what I can say with complete confidence is this…


C.    Let God worry about those who never hear; our job is to make sure people hear

You can be sure that God can and will judge fairly when it comes to people who live their entire lives and never ever even hear the name of Jesus. It’s an interesting debate, but really it’s not our concern. Let God worry about them. Let us focus on the task that He has given to you and to me. We need to be about the business of letting as many people as possible know about Jesus. We need to remove all doubt and clearly point people toward Jesus.

Here… think about it like this. What if I gave you a map like this [PowerPoint - just an outline map of the U.S.] and told you to drive to Avon, South Dakota. I used to live there, so I kind of know where it is. But I bet the rest of you don’t know. If I gave you a map like this and told you to find Avon… to get in your car and drive there… would you be able to? Possibly, but the chances are pretty slim. Some of you wouldn’t even know where South Dakota is, let alone Avon. So you’d really be at a loss.

That’s what it’s like for people who have never heard of Jesus. Can people who have never heard about Him find their way to Him through the revelations of Creation and conscience? Well, maybe, but I’d say the chances are pretty slim. Their map is pretty vague.

That’s why God has revealed Himself to us through Christ… so we would clearly be able to find Him. [PowerPoint - detailed map of the U.S.] It’s like adding all the roads to this map. Or to change the analogy a bit, Leonard Sweet wrote…

“Jesus of Nazareth is our North Star… Lose sight of Christ, and a sailor on the sea of life quickly becomes lost.”
~ Leonard Sweet
AquaChurch p. 36

Jesus came so that we wouldn’t be lost at sea. Jesus came so we could clearly see God and find our way to God through Jesus.

John 1:18 (NLT)
No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us.

Colossians 1:15 (NLT)
Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.

So the task we have is to give people this clear map… to tell people about Jesus… who He is and what He has done for them. That’s our task here in Charlottetown, throughout PEI and Canada, and around the world. As Jesus told His followers…

Acts 1:8 (NLT)
“And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere—in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

That begins in our families and the friendships we already have. It extends to our neighbours and our co-workers and the people we encounter every day. We’ve talked a lot about this… representing Jesus to the people around us. But that’s not where our responsibility stops. As His followers, we are also to represent Him around the world. We are to take His message to those who otherwise may never hear and let them hear.

Romans 10:14-15 (NLT)
But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent?

Does that make sense? What happens to people who have never heard about Jesus is an interesting question, and it can be debated on either side. But really, that’s just a distraction. It’s not our mission. Our mission is to make that question irrelevant because there’s nobody left who hasn’t had the opportunity to hear about Jesus. Our mission is to spread the news about Jesus… here in North America and around the world.

For some, that means that we go. We go to other parts of the world with that mission of letting the people there know about Jesus. That’s the “mission” of a “missionary”. Robin White, who was part of our church here, is now a missionary in Japan. Some of you have been talking about going on a short-term, 2-3 week mission trip. In about a month, I’ll be telling you about several possible trips that are coming up. So for some, it means you go.

For others, it means you give. You provide the resources that enable others to go. You support them and partner with them in their mission.

And for all of us, we pray. We pray for those who are representing Jesus in various locations around the world, and we pray that the message of Jesus will be clearly understood and received.

Now, we’re pleased this morning to have some guests with us. Barry and Beth Gould are from Amherst, Nova Scotia. They attend the Wesleyan Church there, and they are preparing to go to Haiti to represent Jesus there. They’re going to use their gifts and talents to serve the people there and to create opportunities for people to hear about Jesus.

So here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to watch a short video and then they’re going to come and talk a bit about what they’re planning to do.

[Barry and Beth]



 

 

Copyright © Greg Hanson, 2008 SunriseOnline.ca