There can only be one. Even as Americans who pride ourselves on having the freedom and right to disagree with one another, quite often we don’t bat an eye at the assertion that there can only be one. A couple of examples will suffice. On Thursday 64 Division I college basketball teams started the NCAA tournament with dreams of winning it all; but everyone – fans, coaches, and players – understand that there can only be one champion. Over the past year or so, nearly 2 dozen men and women declared their desire to be the next President. Many of them have already dropped out and on November 8th, both candidates and voters know that there can only be one President. There are countless other situations where everyone understands there can only be one.
That’s why it’s so sad that many in our world are determined to deny another far more important truth: there is only one God. You hear it and see it all over. “All religions are basically the same. They all give us ideas on how to live a good life.” Now, in a sense, that’s true. All religions are similar in that they have a god or gods – and they have a way to become right with that god. In Isaiah’s day, heathen nations worshiped a god named Chemosh. They offered human (often times infant) sacrifices to satisfy his anger and earn his blessing. Others worshiped gods like Baal and Asherah. They worshipped by having sex with temple prostitutes to earn the blessing of fertility for their bodies and their fields. Even the Israelites eventually began to see their religion in terms of obedience and reward: wear the right clothes, eat the right foods, rest on the right days – and God will reward you with prosperity. Today, over a billion people worship a god named Allah who demands his worshippers to obey his five pillars to be welcomed into paradise. And so Satan works overtime to get people to believe that Christianity really isn’t any different. We don’t call him Chemosh, Baal or Allah, but Jesus – and what does he expect and demand? Obedience, praise, allegiance. What makes our God any different than the rest? What gives Christians the right to claim that theirs is the only true God?
700 years before Palm Sunday, Isaiah revealed the reason – and the truth hidden behind the palms and praise: turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. One of many? No. Isaiah makes an exclusive claim: this God, the God of Israel – he is the only God, the only King. That’s not exactly the politically correct, tolerant way to talk about one’s religion, is it? Isaiah says that every knee will bow and every tongue will swear allegiance to this king. But that’s not what we see in Jerusalem or our world, is it? In Jerusalem, the Pharisees called on Jesus to keep the people quiet with these exclusive claims. Today, we’re told that we better tolerate and respect both false religions and man-made philosophies as equally valid and true or run the risk of being labeled narrow-minded bigots. Here’s the thing, we aren’t the ones making this claim – God is. God, who created the universe, destroyed the world in a flood, who regularly demonstrated throughout the Bible his authority not just over idols but over nations and history, and promised and kept his promise to send a Savior born of a virgin – He claims to be the King of the universe and the only true God.
And while we see a partial fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy on Palm Sunday, on Judgment Day all will see it. In Revelation 19 we are given a glimpse of it: I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse whose rider is called Faithful and True…his eyes are like blazing fire and on his head are many crowns…he is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God…out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. (Revelation 19:11-15) On Palm Sunday, Jesus rides in humility on a borrowed donkey. On Judgment Day, he will return with power and glory and an army of angels. On that Day, every knee will bow, and all who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame. All those who worshipped Chemosh, Baal, Allah, or a god of their own creation will be put to shame when they realize their eternal mistake. But by then, it will be too late. They will bow, not in allegiance, but in terror. For on that Day, they will know the truth: there is only one King who rules the heavens and the earth – he is Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. Many people don’t want to hear it or believe it. Even many Christians seem ashamed to declare and defend this truth. One day, no one will be able to deny it.
That’s why Jesus didn’t quiet the crowds – because they were right. Jesus’ claim is exclusive – he is the only God, he is the only King, every other religion, every other god is an empty lie. But that’s not all. The truly remarkable part about Palm Sunday is that God’s Son, the real King of the universe, comes into Jerusalem not to rule or rampage or to force us to obey him – but to die. Every other god says: “do this, don’t do that and you will earn my favor.” What does Jesus say? Turn to me and be saved. This is what makes the true God utterly unique. The true God knows that we can’t climb to him, so he came down to us. The true God knows that we can’t live the perfect life his righteousness demands – so he sent his Son to live it in our place. The true God knows that there’s nothing we can do to wipe the sin from our records – so he climbed up onto a cross to pay our debt himself. Instead of demanding that we do something to find favor with him, He tells us to look to Calvary where Jesus reconciled us with God by paying for our sins. Isaiah sums up Jesus’ most exclusive claim this way: In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength.
Ah, but the world is not satisfied with grace, they can even find something wrong with salvation as a free gift. “Sure,” they say, “that’s fine for you middle class Americans. But you’re excluding the poor, the starving, the black and red and yellow people of the world with their cultures and their gods. You’re condemning them to hell without considering their history and heritage.” Are we? Did Isaiah? Does God? Who did his invitation, to turn and be saved, go out to? All the ends of the earth. Not a single person, no matter their nationality, language, skin-color or economic status is excluded from God’s love and the Savior’s redeeming work. Jesus himself said in Matthew 8: I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 8:11) This Savior is not the exclusive property of Midwestern, middle class Americans. He lived a perfect life for all. He shed his blood for all. He is the only Savior – the only Savior for all.
The most important question for us today is: is the only God your God? I suppose today we would say: “sure, we’re here giving our praises, laying our prayers and our palm branches before him.” But remember, the true God isn’t like all those other false gods. A relationship with him isn’t built on what we do for him or how genuine our praise is. It is good for us to worship him as he rides into Jerusalem. But never forget, he didn’t come to receive praise, he came for Good Friday. He didn’t come to show you how to live for him, he came to die for you.
On Palm Sunday, Jesus comes as our Savior, but just as importantly, he’s our Savior for the other 364 days of the year. The days when you totally screw up at work – Jesus is your Savior. When you make a mess of your marriage – Jesus is your Savior. When your kids and grandkids have you pulling out your hair and life seems to be blowing up in your face – Jesus is still your Savior. And especially on the days when you are ashamed and guilty, ashamed of who you are and guilty about what you’ve done remember Isaiah’s words: in the LORD all the descendants of Israel (that is, all believers) will be found righteous and will exult. To have Jesus as your God, your King, your Savior isn’t as much about praising him or living for him as it is standing at the foot of the cross and trusting: “he did this all…for me. He did all this to take away my sins and cover me with his righteousness so that I could stand before God without fear, and so that I can enter heaven without earning it.” Today of all days, we might expect that Jesus wants our praise, or maybe – looking ahead to Good Friday – our pity. But as the only Savior, do you know what he wants most of all? Your faith.
There can only be one national champion and one president. Everyone gets that (although its nearly impossible to find two people who can agree on who that should be). There is only one true God. Whether the world wants to acknowledge it or not, Jesus is the only King of the world and every knee will bow before him – if not today, then on the Last Day. More importantly, there is only one Savior. That’s what really sets the true God apart from the imitators. He’s not a distant being who only speaks when he’s telling us how to live. He became a man to ride into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey. This Palm Sunday, he comes not to rule us or judge us, but to die for us. Turn to [him] and be saved…for [he is] God, and there is no other. Amen.