Whenever you try to compare world religions today, some people will accuse you of being intolerant. But what we call tolerance is often not tolerance at all. Its absurdity. We want to have our cake and eat it too. We want to accept any idea that comes along even if those ideas totally contradict one another. Some people, thinking they’re being tolerant, will say that all religions lead to the same destination so it really doesn’t matter what you believe along the way. But if two religions answer the same questions in completely different ways, you can’t say they’re pointing in the same direction. It’s like comparing two compasses. If one says that North is this way and the other says that South is in the same direction, you know that one of them must be faulty.
There are ways to test whether a religious faith is what it claims to be. You might ask, for example, how has it helped the people who’ve adopted it. Has it lifted them to a new level of life socially, spiritually or even economically? But I think the acid test of any religious faith is the person of its founder. Who does this person claim to be and what right does he or she have to speak to me? This is where Christianity really stands apart. If I took Budda out of Buddhism, you’d still have a religious system. If you took Mohammad out of Islam, you’d still have areligious system. But if you took Jesus out of Christianity, you’d be left with nothing at all. Jesus didn’t just point the way to God, he claimed to be God in human form.
CS Lewis the celebrated author started out a committed atheist. He only became a Christian when he found he couldn’t explain Jesus away. When we think about who Jesus was, said Lewis, we really only have three options. First, that he was a master liar. But that doesn’t fit with the moral integrity of his life. Second, that he was a deluded megalomaniac. But that doesn’t fit with the sanity of his teaching. Our third and only other option is that Jesus was who he said he was, the Son of God. Jesus didn’t claim to be a great man. He didn’t leave that option open to us.
Jesus didn’t challenge us to believe in his teaching or even to follow his path; he challenged us to believe in him. He said that believing in him was the only way a man, a woman can be made right with God. Most people think of Jesus as a nice guy who wore a kaftan and said some pretty amazing things. But Jesus could be downright dangerous. He didn’t say I know a way to God; he said I am the way. One day Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was. One of them Peter made a bold announcement. He said, “You are the Christ, the Anointed One, the son of the Living God” and this was an astonishing statement to Jesus followers. Most Jewish teachers would have rebuked Peter sharply but Jesus actually congratulated him. He said, “Peter, you’ve received a great revelation from God and on this revelation, on this rock, I will build my church.” The Church of Jesus was not to be built on the soundness of his philosophy or the wisdom of his words. It was going to be built on who he was.
When the Prophet Muhammad first received his revelations, he wasn’t really sure they were from God. He needed to be encouraged by others. Buddha left behind his wife and young son in his quest for spiritual truth but Jesus’ unique sense of identity was with him right from the beginning of his ministry. Even as a boy of 12, he knew that he was God’s Son sent on a special mission.
With most religious systems, there’s no proof for the teaching except the teaching itself but Jesus claimed to be the Son of God and he offered proof of his claims. First of all, there’s the moral weight of his life. It’s one thing to preach a certain lifestyle, it’s another thing altogether to live it out. Nobody ever practiced what he preached as completely and consistently as Jesus did. In fact the Bible says he was without sin and no other religious faith makes that claim for its founder.
And then there’s the teaching of Jesus. Most religious leaders give us lists of instruction to live up to if we’re ever going to reach the goal but not Jesus. In fact, he did exactly the opposite. Rather than adding rules to our lives, he said, “I came to fulfill God’s law on your behalf.” Jesus completely fulfilled all of God’s laws within his own lifetime and when he died, he did so on my behalf so that my moral debt could be cancelled.
A core part of Jesus teaching was his insistence that God has a father who cares about us in a very personal way. Most religion see God as a stern disciplinarian. He might show mercy, he might even show compassion but he doesn’t enter into a personal relationship with his creatures. He’s too far above us for that. But Jesus said, “If God cares about small birds, how much more will he care about you. Jesus talked about a God of amazing forgiveness who shows mercy where it’s not really deserved.
And many other religions talk about God forgiving people when they come in humble repentance. But Jesus took this a step further than anyone else had ever done. Jesus said that a person can know in this life whether God will accept them in the next. In most religions, the eternal destiny of the soul remains a mystery until we die. But Jesus said to a repentant thief dying beside him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
Jesus backed up his claims with his miracles. Unlike the stories of other religions where miracles take on mythological proportions, the miracles of Jesus were recorded by eyewitnesses as if they were historical facts. Everyone is located at a certain place and time and each one fits into a sequence of events. The miracles of Jesus were not added later just to add effect to the story; they were a central part of his life and very often they were part of his teaching.
One of the most remarkable features of Jesus teaching was the way he linked it with his death. In fact, he talked about it as if his life would make no sense unless he died. Buddha made no such link between his teaching and his death. Neither did Muhammad. According to Jesus, the line of rich life he was promising could only happen once he died to remove the barriers between me and God.
Of all the proofs that Jesus offered us, one is more conclusive than the rest. He predicted that three days after he died he would be raised from the dead. This claim is totally unique among the founders of the world’s religions. It’s so important to Christianity that the Christian Apostle Paul said if Jesus isn’t raised from the dead, then Christianity is worthless. With Christianity, God has put his stamp of approval on the message. Jesus didn’t just crawl out of that tomb; he was so completely alive that even his own followers were overcome with fear when they saw him. He appeared to them many times before he ascended into heaven, walking, talking and even eating among them. This was no phantom they had seen. They could actually touch his body. It was no hallucination either. Because he appeared to over 550 of them in one place at one time, people don’t have mass hallucinations like that. What’s more, they weren’t even expecting to see him alive. There’s a museum in Turkey where you can see the sort of Muhammad and what some people say a strand from his beard. Nobody denies that he’s dead. Some people claim to have found a tooth of the Buddha. No one denies that he’s dead. Moses is dead. Abraham is dead. Nobody denies that but Jesus left no physical relics. No part of his body has ever been found. Why not? Because he’s not dead. He is alive.
Jesus Christ is totally unique among all the founders of the world religions. He claimed that he alone was the way to God. Perhaps the greatest proof of his claims was the way he’s still changing people’s lives today. I don’t mean changing people through the memory of his example or the wisdom of his words. I mean transforming lives to were real here-and-now relationship with him. Why is Christianity still by far the largest and fastest growing faith in the world? Because Jesus still heals the sick, calms troubled minds and mends broken hearts.