Many of you know my background when it comes to faith and religion. Growing up non Churched, and then going to a Roman Catholic church, tended to lead me to look at “What do I need to do, to go to Heaven?” How can I do the right things? What are the right things and how much is right? It is the question of the ages, if not all religions? How do I get to heaven or achieve a future beyond this life?
Spiritual questions have different answers than human questions. In life, there are certain things that just must be done. I must earn a living. I must pay taxes. I must obey the laws. You are judged in this life on performance. Sometimes that is formally—if I obey the laws, I am a good citizen. Or sometimes informally, if I am a nice person, my neighbors judge me to be a good guy. Or in certain situations, if I look like I fit in, then I am ok. If I am different than everyone else in the room (for whatever reason) then I am not ok. I have been to churches where I did not fit in because of my looks , size of my wallet and where I lived.
But its not just me. We all have different arenas or situations in this life we must prove ourselves. It’s just a part of life. Let me give you an Example:
On New Year’s Day, 1983, the Louisiana State Tigers played Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. Jerry Stovall, Louisiana State coach, had been chosen Southeast Conference Coach of the Year in guiding his Tigers to an 8–3-1 record in 1982. In December, 1983, the LSU Board of Supervisors ignored widespread fan and alumni protest and fired him. Just twelve months earlier they had given him a bonus—now they gave him the sack. So much for collegiate sports being merely for the thrill of competition! It’s win, tie, or be canned. This win complex subordinates the worth of individuals to the team’s record.
Now I am sure at one time or another, we have all had occasion to try to achieve a goal. Some seem very obtainable, however the larger the goal, the more difficult. Cub Scouts looking to get their Arrow of Light. Boy Scouts to become an Eagle Scout. Students to get all A’s on a report card. Students to graduate from college with a Bachelors, Masters or a Doctorate. Becoming a manager at work to opening your own business. I could go on and on of all the things that we have worked at to obtain our goals.
I recently bought a new Translation of a Bible for someone I know. The new version called “The Voice” was released in 2008 and currently only has the New Testament. When they started to read Matthew, there was a very concerned voice I heard. “I can’t do it. There is no reason to try, there is no way I can make it into heaven.” Have you heard anyone say that or something similar to that? So, what did they read to cause them to say this?
Matthew 5:20 (NIV)
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
So, what is Jesus trying to tell us. Well first of all, as Pastor Ben said to me, surpassing the righteousness of a Pharisees was setting the bar low! Of Course, that is from our 20th century view of what happened 2000 years ago. At the time of Jesus, the Pharisees were looked upon by the common Jews as being righteous. Thus for Jesus to say that you could not enter the kingdom of heaven without surpassing the Pharisees, what a big deal that was in their minds.
Now, if we go back a few verses, Jesus says in:
Matthew 5:17 (NIV)
17“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
The key here is “to fulfill them”.
So, how does Jesus fulfill the law? Jesus becomes the Sin offering for all mankind, for past, current and future. The Sin offering before the Sin was ever committed. Before we even knew we were going to sin, Jesus has been sacrificed for our Sin. Also the fulfillment of the law and prophets is love. God’s love. Love is the centerpiece of fulfillment of God’s plan. The sacrifice was done in love. That is……… the bigger story behind the sacrifice.
In Matthew 19:22 (NIV) Jesus says:
Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.
So, now we have Jesus telling people that if they have money, they can’t get into heaven. So we have been told you have to be more righteousness than the Pharisees and you can’t have too much money. But it’s not about the money. It’s about the love of money that gets people into trouble. Their attention is on the wrong thing and it is a false “security blanket” for this life only. Money doesn’t get you anything more than “Stuff.” That sure does not make it easy for us to earn our way, work our way, or pay our way to get into heaven, now does it?
When the disciples heard what Jesus said about being rich and getting into heaven, they reacted.
Matthew 19:25-26 (NIV)
25When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?”
26Jesus looked at them and said, “With human beings this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Ahhhh, a little good news, ……well maybe, kinda. For you it is impossible, but it is possible with God.
So, what can you do? Can you do anything?
In John 1: 17 (NIV) it says
17For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
Grace, so what does Grace have to do with us getting into Heaven? Through Jesus’ fulfillment of the law, in his sacrifice for our Sin, God’s Grace of his own sacrifice, through himself as Jesus, we are made righteous in God’s eyes. Now that we are righteous, we can go to Heaven. How do we know that after we die, we live? Jesus defeated death and he promises us that we will. If we cannot believe God, who can you believe?
We often recite what you can do to get into Heaven. The question is, do you really believe, truly believe what you recite. Not with your brain, but with the heart?
Below are a few of the key statements that deal with what we need to do, to get into Heaven.
I believe in God, the Father, almighty,
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
Was crucified, dead and was buried;
The third day he rose again from the dead.
The forgiveness of sins,
The resurrection of the body,
And the life everlasting.
It’s an all or nothing proposition. You either believe all the promises that God makes, or you don’t . Sometimes that is a hard pill for some to swallow. Just ask Pr. Ben when he teaches confirmation.
Can it really be that easy? Can it now? We have been told, if it is to good to be true, then it must not be true. Nothing is life is free.
Both statements seem to be correct, until you read it the way that Jesus tells his parables. Remember, many of the really important things Jesus said were in parables. First are the last, last are the first. Tear this temple down and I will rebuild it in three days. The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
Yes, we have to do one thing and one thing only. God gives us his faith, and his Grace so that we can believe. That is it, believe, believe and believe.
There is a great article that illustrates the concept of grace written by Charles Stanley. “One of my more memorable seminary professors had a practical way of illustrating to his students the concept of grace.
At the end of his evangelism course he would distribute the exam with the caution to read it all the way through before beginning to answer it.
This caution was written on the exam as well. As we read the test, it became unquestionably clear to each of us that we had not studied nearly enough.
The further we read, the worse it became. About halfway through, audible groans could be heard through out the lecture hall.
On the last page, however, was a note that read, "You have a choice. You can either complete the exam as given or sign your name at the bottom and in so doing receive an A for this assignment." Wow? We sat there stunned. "Was he serious? Just sign it and get an A?" Slowly, the point dawned on us, and one by one we turned in our tests and silently filed out of the room.
When I talked with the professor about it afterward, he shared some of the reactions he had received through the years. Some students began to take the exam without reading it all the way through, and they would sweat it out for the entire two hours of class time before reaching the last page.
Others read the first two pages, became angry, turned the test in blank, and stormed out of the room without signing it. They never realized what was available, and as a result, they lost out totally.
One fellow, however, read the entire test, including the note at the end, but decided to take the exam anyway. He did not want any gifts; he wanted to earn his grade. And he did. He made a C+, but he could easily have had an A.
This story illustrates many people’s reaction to God’s solution to sin. Some people look at God’s standard--moral and ethical perfection--and throw their hands up in surrender. Why even try? They tell themselves. I could never live up to all that stuff. Others are like the student who read the test through and was aware of the professor’s offer but took the test anyway.
Unwilling to simply receive God’s gift of forgiveness, they set about to rack up enough points with God to earn it. But God’s grace truly is like the professor’s offer. It may seem unbelievable, but if we accept it, then, like the stunned students who accepted the professor’s offer, we, too, will discover that, Yes, God’s grace truly is free. All we have to do is accept it.
Christians can be grateful their Master treats them differently. He doesn’t order us out of the kingdom if we have a bad day. God won’t fire us if we have a record of ten wins over temptations but three defeats. He won’t thumb us to the sidelines and out of the church when we run into a spiritual dry spell. And he will never disgustedly call for our resignation if we just can’t get a handle on a temptation, however zealously we try. With grace at work in our lives, Christ’s unique life compensates for our failures. He pays the difference between the little we can afford to pay and what heaven costs to enter.
Remember this—God’s promise not mine:
John 3:16-18 (NIV)
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.
The Holy Bible : Today's New International Version. 2005 (Mt 5:20). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
The Holy Bible : Today's New International Version. 2005 (Mt 5:17). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
The Holy Bible : Today's New International Version. 2005 (Mt 19:24). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
The Holy Bible : Today's New International Version. 2005 (Mt 19:25-26). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
The Holy Bible : Today's New International Version. 2005 (Jn 1:17). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
The Holy Bible : Today's New International Version. 2005 (Jn 3:16-18). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.