Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The Only Two Ways to Get to Heaven

Life of Christ 107

          Following the Feast of Tabernacles in October of the year before He dies, Jesus spent some time preaching through Judea, the Jewish region around Jerusalem. In an unnamed obscure Judean village, a local lawyer (an expert in Jewish canon law, the civil codes contained in the Torah) entered into a give and take conversation with Christ (Luke 10.25-37). After addressing Jesus respectfully, one expert to another, he proffers the following: 'what shall I do to inherit eternal life?' (Luke 10.25).
          We have already seen that the average Jew thought they were already qualified to enter Heaven simply because of their ethnicity. God had made some promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that were perpetuated through time, and, voila, 'the merits of the fathers' ensured each Jew of a place in Heaven. This lawyer was obviously thinking deeper than this surface position, and wanted to make certain sure he gained entrance, and in order to do that he wanted to know which specific laws of the 613 codified in the Torah had to be perfectly followed to ensure that this happened.
          Jesus' initial response is to ask him what he himself thinks. 'What is written in the law? how readest thou?' (Luke 10.26). The lawyer's response is to sum up the entire law with one passage. 'And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself' (Luke 10.27).
With this answer the lawyer reveals a depth of understanding of the Torah that not many in his own day had. In fact, Jesus elsewhere would say the exact same thing (Matthew 22.36-40). Thus, Jesus' responds to the lawyer by telling him that he is correct. 'Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live' (Luke 10.28).
          Now, before we go any further, let us pause to examine the larger context and meaning of this answer. We must, for the careless student of Jesus takes this answer the wrong way i.e. 'All we have to do to get to Heaven is to love God and love other people.' Of course, such a trite answer leaves them lots of room to sin with impunity and delight and still claim to be just fine.
          Jesus is most assuredly here not saying that all one has to do in order to get to Heaven is just to claim to love God and love other people. No, Jesus is saying that the lawyer is essentially correct. A person would need to fulfill perfectly every single aspect of the Law, the entirety of which hung from those two thoughts, in order to get to Heaven. 'On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets' (Matthew 22.40).
          You do realize there are actually two ways to get to Heaven, don't you? The first is to repent of my sin, and place my simple faith and trust in the claims of Jesus Christ to be my God and Saviour. This faith allows me access to the mercy and grace of God which forgives my sin based on the atoning sacrificial death of Christ on the cross for me. The scriptures call this getting saved or born again.
          But is Jesus in Heaven? Yes. Did He ever get saved or born again? No. Then how did He get in? I do not mean because He lived there. I mean, as a human being who walked this earth, and who never repented of sin and got saved, how in the world did He get into Heaven?
By virtue of the fact that He kept the entirety of the Law with absolute perfection: 'Which of you convinceth me of sin?' (John 8.46); 'who knew no sin' (II Corinthians 5.21); 'in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin' (Hebrews 4.15); 'For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners' (Hebrews 7.26); 'Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth' (I Peter 2.22). The second way to get to Heaven is to keep the entirety of the Law, perfectly, without any mistake, disobedience, flaw, or shortcoming. That is precisely what Jesus did.
To review, then, the lawyer asks Jesus how to get eternal life. Jesus asks the lawyer what he thinks. The lawyer chooses the one passage that sums up the entirety of the Law. Jesus tells him he is correct; he must keep the entirety of the Law perfectly in order to inherit eternal life.
Why did Jesus tell the lawyer to keep the Law perfectly instead of telling him to repent of his sins and put his faith in Himself? Because Jesus, as He did so well, was putting His finger smack dab on exactly what the man in front of Him needed to hear and see, namely, his own utter inability to keep the Law perfectly.
This lawyer had an inflated sense of his own goodness. He thought he was in good shape as a knowledgeable and obedient son of the Law. Jesus' way of pointing out to the lawyer that he actually wasn't in good shape was to tell the lawyer that he had to obey the entirety of the Law completely. This couldn't help but force the lawyer to admit that this was an impossible task to do, and it was this alone which would drive him from faith in himself to the place of throwing himself at Jesus' feet in humility to plead for mercy and grace.
Sometimes the best way to deal with an arrogant person is to send them to do precisely that which they are boasting they can so easily accomplish. Let us say, for a moment, that I have a young man who, in his pride and athleticism, insists he can jump over a bus. I can engage in a fruitless argument with him about the impossibility of such a task, or I can walk him over to a bus and say, 'Okay, buddy, let's see it.'
When you examine the concept of the whole point or purpose of the Law you quickly see that it was never intended or designed to make you and I perfect. No, only the grace of God can get past my deep-seated sin and bring me to sanctification. The Law was given as a standard for me to stack up against my own life so that I might see, not how good I think I am, but how bad I really am (Romans 3.20, Galatians 3.24).
Jesus knew that this lawyer, a certified expert in the Law, had an inflated sense of his own level of legal obedience so Jesus set before him the impossible task of complete obedience. He did this in order to reveal to him the actual sad state of his sinful condition. The lawyer, throughout the entirety of the conversation, was 'willing to justify himself' (Luke 10.29). In other words, he thought he was in good shape, spiritually speaking. Jesus had to find a way to get him to realize he was in lousy shape, and so He set him to do an impossible task. Jesus knew that failure was just a matter of time, and the corresponding humility and knowledge of his own sinful condition was the vital pre-requisite for obtaining eternal life.
The whole context of the famous story of the Good Samaritan reveals that Jesus gave it, not simply to tell us to be good to people we don't like, but to tell us that we aren't actually good at all. None of us loves our neighbor perfectly, let alone loves God perfectly. None of us keeps the Law perfectly. Jesus pointed the lawyer toward an obedience he would rapidly find himself utterly unable to accomplish, that of being the perfect neighbor. Thus, when he found himself unable to jump over the bus he would finally, in humility, admit he was incapable, and turn, in repentance, to Jesus as his only hope.
In my lifetime I've spoken to thousands and thousands of people, individually, about their need for Christ. The hardest part is to get past their inflated sense of their own goodness. They think they are going to go to Heaven because they think they are basically good. This was just as true in Jesus' day as it is in our day, and the answer is still the same as well. We must show them that they aren't as good as they think they are by stacking their life up against the entirety of God's commands, and then we must point them to Christ as the only possible solution left.
Beloved, you and I can't be good enough to get to Heaven. The only hope we have is Christ. The only hope our family has is Christ. The only hope our neighbors have is Christ. The only hope our coworkers have is Christ. The only hope our friends have is Christ. The only hope our city has is Christ. The only hope our world has is Christ.

If you haven't thrown yourself, in humility and repentance, at His feet alone for salvation do it today. If you already have then make it clear and plain to those around you. The only hope for eternal life that any of us have is Jesus Christ. 

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