Who Gets To Go To Heaven?
The sermon this week is entitled "Tickets" and deals with the difficult question: "Who gets to go to Heaven?" I have to say that this is a straight up three point sermon. I'm kicking it old school here. But it's not three points and a poem. It's three points and some statistics, some scripture an illustration or two and some wisdom. I couldn't find a poem.
First the statistics...
According to a recent ABC News poll, lots of people get to go to Heaven.
75% of Americans believe they are going to Heaven.
A scant 21% think only Christians go to Heaven.
60% of Americans believe that both Christians and non-Christians go to Heaven.
80% of American women believe they are going to Heaven.
70% of American men believe they are going to Heaven.
About those last two statistics. I would like to say I am surprised by this, but I am not. Women just naturally think they are more awesome than men. They might be on to something.
Now these stats are interesting, but we need to dig a little deeper into the American psyche if we are going to learn what people really think about all of this. The Barna Research Group conducted a study of both Christians and nonChristians, asking them what they thought the criteria was for getting your "ticket" to Heaven.
6% of them said that "God loves everybody," and so everybody gets in.
15% of them said that "good" people get to go to Heaven.
15% of them said that if you keep the 10 Commandments you get in.
43% of them said that if you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, you go to Heaven.
The rest of those polled either didn't believe in Heaven, or weren't sure.
At this point some Christian-y people reading this are nodding and perhaps saying "Amen!" because they like the idea that the majority of people in the aforementioned poll agree with what they believe---that you have to confess Jesus to get your Heavenly ticket.
The Barna folks discovered something very interesting when they conducted their research. Regardless of what they might say Christians are all over the map when it comes to what they believe about who gets into Heaven. George Barna writes, "Many committed Christians believe that people have multiple options for gaining entry to Heaven..."
In addition, many of these committed Christians self-identified as having a higher level of education and income than the average Christian polled. What this showed is that for the most part, Christians with higher levels of education and a more comfortable manner of living are less likely to embrace biblical views on the afterlife.
In other words, they seem to be saying:
"I'm pretty sure I have my ticket [translate: belief in Jesus]. But if you don't have one---I'm pretty sure you still get in."
When I worked at Epcot Center Tickets at Walt Disney World, we would often have people try to enter the park with counterfeit or improper tickets. After turning them away we had a little tag line that we would say to one another as they trudged back to the ticket booth: "No tickey...No Mickey."
Admittedly, it wasn't the nicest thing in the world to say... but it was true. This is the way that life works, right? You have to have what is necessary in order to gain admittance to the things that you want to experience---things like movies, concerts and yes Walt Disney World.
So why is it that Christians will say that you need to confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior in order to get into Heaven---to have your "ticket"---and then just toss that out the window when push comes to shove?
Listen, Jesus was clear in his teaching: The way to God and to Heaven is "through" Him. God saves through Jesus. Period.
So how does that work? What do we know about the saving grace of God through Jesus? Let's take a look at the words of Jesus himself.
From Luke 13:1-5:
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans way? this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”First, let's address Pilate's atrocity here. What happened to these Galileans was the equivalent of someone walking into a church, pulling out a gun and opening fire. While they were at worship, the Romans came and killed these Jewish Galileans. Jesus asks his disciples, "What made them 'worthy' of this horrible death?" The people listening to this would have normally automatically assumed that the Galilean's terrible demise was judgment for some sin they may have committed.
But before they get the chance to reply to Jesus' question, he exclaims, "I tell you no! But you need to repent or you will perish, too!"
This must have freaked out the people listening to him.
Then Jesus goes on to talk about an accident that must have happened in Jerusalem with a tower that collapsed near Siloam, which was a reservoir inside the city. In the Greek Jesus asks the disciples, "Were those people 'worse debtors' or 'more guilty' than anyone else?
Before they can answer, he shouts out, "I tell you no! But if you don't repent, you will perish, too!"
Again, the level of freak-out by the people listening must have gone up a notch or two. "What," they must have been thinking "does my repentance have to do with any of this?"
What Jesus is pointing out here is the fragility of life.
Sometimes you can be minding your own business in worship and some Romans can come execute you. Sometimes you can be minding your own business at the Pool of Siloam and a tower gives way and crushes you to death.
Here's how I interpret that, and this brings me to the first of my really big three points for this three point sermon:
LIFE IS SHORT, LIFE IS FRAGILE. ARE YOU READY FOR ETERNITY?
The point that Jesus was trying to make here wasn't that bad thing happen to good people (although that point could be made) it was that if you are not careful, you will wait too long to make your peace with the Almighty and find yourself buried under a tower before you get the chance.
So Jesus establishes a sense of urgency to this whole getting ready for Heaven thing...
Then there's this from Matthew 7:21-23
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
This is one of the more popular sayings of Jesus, as you can imagine.
As is evidenced by the poll that we referred to earlier, lots of people "accept" Jesus as a good teacher. But the central component of his teaching isn't to "do the best that you can..."
The center of his teaching is WHO he really is.
There' no loophole. The way in is simple.
What Jesus is saying here that is really hard for some of us to absorb is this: It's not about doing religious things and going through the motions...
In keeping with what Jesus told the people in the earlier passage, repentance---true repentance---needs to happen first. And then a relationship with Jesus needs to be pursued, cultivated and maintained---not a bunch of religious practices.
Which brings us to point number two...
HEAVEN WILL BE FULL OF REPENTANT NOT RELIGIOUS PEOPLE.
The very sad thing is that the people Jesus is describing in this passage thought that they had their tickets. They thought that by virtue of the family that had given them birth, their status, their religious practice, their... "goodness" that they were getting in to Heaven.
Jesus declares otherwise.
Let's recap before we move into the all-important third point.
First, Life is short... Is Jesus Lord of your life? Have you truly repented of the ways that you have sought to live life on your own terms? If not, you may want to do just that.
Second, when it comes to getting into Heaven, according to Jesus, it's not about being religious, it's about a relationship with Him. Being a "good" person is awesome. But being a "good" person is not good enough. Jesus himself said, "There is none good, but God."
Read this passage from Luke 13:6-9, a story that Jesus tells after relating the Galilean and Siloam disasters:
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”
The fig tree in this story was using up nutrients and producing nothing. But when the gardner wanted to get rid of it, the owner gave it a stay of execution.
Jesus is demonstrating that God is a God of second chances... but even in this moment of grace, there is a deadline.
So here's the third point as promised...
GOD IS GRACE-FILLED & PATIENT, BUT THE CLOCK IS TICKING...
No matter how we try, we cannot stop the clock from ticking can we? God is patient, and God is full of grace... but time is fleeting.
What would you rather have be as your last words? These?
“Nothing matters...nothing matters...” Louis B. Mayer, film producer
“I should have never switched from scotch to martinis”Humphrey Bogart, actor
“The earth is suffocating... Swear to make them cut me open, so that I won’t be buried alive.”Frederic Chopin, composer
“All my possessions for a moment of time...” Elizabeth 1, Queen of England
“@#$& it! Don’t you dare ask God to help me.”Joan Crawford, actress
“Does nobody understand?”James Joyce, writer
Or would you rather have your last words be something like this:
“Jesus, I love you. Jesus, I love you.” Mother Theresa
Why would you take a chance on eternal joy? Why would you roll the dice on eternal peace? Why would you guess on any of this?
I know that lots of Christians want to believe that no one really needs to make a conscious decision to repent and embrace Christ. They want to believe that there is no sense of urgency. They want to believe this, because in their heart of hearts they know that there is something missing from the lives.
And that something is an authentic, sold-out, wild-abandon kind of love for Jesus that can't be mistaken for religiosity.
Maybe it's time to truly make this real, my friend.