It is an amazing thing which happened in the region of Caesarea Philippi when Peter confessed Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God almost two millennia ago (See Mark 8:27-30 and Matthew 16:13-20). Caesarea Philippi was a city dedicated to the worship of the emperor at the time of Jesus and in previous generations was a place dedicated to the pagan god Pan and to the idolatrous worship of Baal.1 It was in this place where Jesus' identity is openly confessed. In our world today we often speak of pluralism, the idea that there are many gods and many ways to worship. We think this is a new situation in the world brought on somehow by the diversification of viewpoints in contemporary America. Yet this reality is nothing new at all for people have been building alters from the dawn of humanity. People have always created and worshipped gods, yet the radical confession of Peter is that there was one God and that they were walking with him on the earth.
The claim of Monotheism was the teaching of the ancient Jewish people2 among nations who believed in many, many deities. The ancient philosophers were coming to monotheistic conclusions3 as they wrestled with metaphysical questions of ultimate reality and truth. Yet monotheism has an undeniable edge to it. If there is one and only one creator God, then all other pretenders to the throne are no gods at all.4 Those who stand for religious pluralism today and throughout history see this very clearly as a problem. Mary Lefkowitz, professor emerita at Wellesley College recently wrote the following in an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times.
Prominent secular and atheist commentators have argued lately that religion "poisons" human life and causes endless violence and suffering. But the poison isn't religion; it's monotheism.5
Of course she is following the drivel of the so called "new atheists" who place all the problems of the world on religion. The thesis is that monotheism, belief in one God, necessitates killing those who disagree. This of course is hardly what you find in the life of Jesus. Yes, some Christians in history have murdered and conquered others in the name of Jesus, but in doing so they acted in contradiction to his very life and teaching. Yet we must not dodge the reality found in the incarnation, in the biblical teaching that the one creator God, became flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The implications are that this person is the most important figure on the horizons of history and the coming contours of the future. He is not one teacher among many, nor one way to many gods.
The teaching of God incarnate in Jesus the Messiah is radical, humbling and life changing for in the gospel we do not see God coming to oppress humanity. In stark contrast to the totalitarian visions of human utopias, offered by king, caliph, or communist, God came to earth to die for and redeem a people for himself from every nation on the earth. There will be a kingdom on the earth some day which will be one of righteousness, love and peace. It will not come by force of man or technological heroism. It will come with the same Jesus at his return to the earth.
All people from every ideology, religion, ethnicity and background are welcome at the foot of the cross of Christ. It is a great heresy to teach that all from every nation are saved, but a beautiful biblical truth that some from every nation will be saved by grace. In every age, from the time of Jesus until the end of the world, Christians will proclaim the wonderful news of God incarnate in Jesus Christ dying for sinners. It was and will be an unpopular message to declare Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Yet this will be the song of all people at the close of history. We now have the great joy and privilege of knowing him and sharing him with all. In following Jesus in this world, living his mission and declaring his message, there will always be those who shout "crucify him!" and we must take up this cross. Yet there will be those, to whom the Father reveals Jesus, who will look at him as did doubting Thomas and exclaim-my Lord and my God...
1. Ben Witherington III, Mark: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001) 240.
2. See Deuteronomy 6:4,5.
3. The looming historical figures of Plato and Aristotle, though in very different ways, were coming to this conclusion.
4.For a good look at Jesus among world religions see Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods (Nashville, Word, 2000)
5. Mary Lefkowitz, Bring back the Greek gods—Mere mortals had a better life when more than one ruler presided from on high, LA Times, October 23, 2007.