How Many Ways to the Father?
If you were to take a road trip to Canada, which route would you take?
I've heard people describe their plan on getting to heaven like a road trip to Canada: there's this large destination, and as long as you keep north, you can't go wrong. You can pick your route according to what you want out of the trip; do you want the fastest route, or the best scenery through the forests? The shortest mileage, or novelty shopping in Thief River Falls or Bemidji? The route isn't all that important; Canada's a pretty big place that can't be missed if you just keep heading in that direction.
Some people assume navigating to heaven is much the same way; you point yourself in the general direction and you can pick from various routes that offer you what you want, but that isn't how Jesus described the passage. When Jesus told the disciples in John 14 that he was returning to God the Father to prepare an eternal paradise, Thomas said, "but we don't know how to get there! We don't know the way!" Jesus replied, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." Jesus was adamant that without his death for sin and resurrection to life, there is no other way to find a place in heaven. This fact carries through in Jesus' prayer to his father in Gethsemane shortly before he was crucified, because he implored the father that if there was any other possible way to bring God and mankind back together, to allow him to be released from the torments of the cross: "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will." (Matthew 26:39)
Jesus' death and resurrection wasn't just one way God could allow forgiveness of sin, however; it was the only way - so Jesus submitted himself to a brutal execution in order to pay the consequence of sins he didn't commit: "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit..."(1 Peter 3:18). If there would have been any other way for a holy God to forgive our sin and offer a heavenly place to dwell with him, He would have chosen it. Sin is not something simply spoken away, however; God's holiness dictates it must be punished, and that is what Christ's death accomplished - the way to be forgiven and made right with God.
Jesus plainly taught that there is only one way to the father, but the way is open to you - to anyone who repents of their sins against God, however minor we may view them - and seats their faith in forgiveness on the righteousness Jesus offers to everyone who believes that "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the Scriptures." 1 Corinthians 15:3,4.