Jesus wants His followers to get in the habit of forgiving those who ask for forgiveness that it becomes second nature. There is no limit to how many times we are willing to forgive someone who seeks forgiveness. This is what Jesus was saying.
You should not have to be asked for forgiveness.You can forgive someone to free yourselfwithout being asked.
Joel Ryan June 1, 2021
“Then Peter came up and said to Him, ‘Lord, how many times shall my brother sin against me and I still forgive him? Up to seven times?’Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy-seven times’” (Matthew 18:21-22).
The disciples of Jesus were no strangers to the topic of forgiveness. They had heard Jesus speak about forgiveness on more than one occasion.
In fact, it hadn’t been that long since Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, instructing them to ask their heavenly Father to “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:21). We know this as an essential tenet of the Lord’s Prayer.
The always inquisitive Peter, however, had more questions about the extent and frequency of his forgiveness of others. How many times am I expected to forgive one who’s wronged me, he asked. Once? Twice? Three times? Seven times?
Peter had more than doubled the Jewish practice of pardoning someone three times for an offense (Amos 2:6; Job 33:29), and in this context, seven might seem like a large number.
To this, however, Jesus famously replied, not even seven, but “seventy-seven.” Some translations even say, “seventy times seven.”
The point is not to get fixed on a specific number, checklist, or scorecard as Peter was doing. The phrase “seventy times seven,” which we first encounter in Genesis 4:24, is a certain number used to signal an uncertain, nearly indescribable amount. According to R.C. Sproul, when Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive, Jesus essentially told him, “As many times as it takes” (51).
Jesus wanted His followers, both then and now, to get in the habit of forgiving those who ask for forgiveness and do it so much that it becomes second nature. There is no limit to how many times we are willing to forgive a brother or sister who seeks forgiveness. This is what Jesus was saying.
What Is Biblical Forgiveness Really?
The practice of biblical forgiveness involves not holding someone’s sin against them in a way that the relationship is strained, or enmity is created between individuals.
Of course, we may never forget the way someone has wronged us. People do terrible, evil things. Even fellow believers are capable of hurting us in profound ways.
The point of forgiveness, however, is that we no longer keep a record or tally of those wrongs that we might use against them in the future.
When someone sins against us, if we’ve forgiven them, we don’t bring back previous sin as an added offense. Their debt has been erased, the score has been settled, and they are free from any burden of guilt.
We too are freed from bitterness, anger, and the constant need to seek retribution or demand reparation for their wrongs. It’s not easy. When someone hurts us, we often want to hold onto our resentment and sense of indignation, believing we are justified in seeking retribution or vindication.
The Bible, however, says that we are to “let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:31-32).
Forgiveness brings freedom to both parties, where unforgiveness only breeds bitterness, resentment, and further division. Jesus had addressed this when He addressed the need for believers to correct a brother or sister who has sinned.
When we lovingly confront those who’ve sinned against us, not in malice or vengeance but gentleness and reconciliation, we give them the opportunity to confess, repent, and seek forgiveness. If they do, wonderful. As Jesus says, “you have won your brother” (Matthew 18:15). This, of course, should always be the goal, the restoration of the relationship.
In many ways, this aligns with the heart of God, who exposes the ways we have wronged Him and offers a path to forgiveness and reconciliation where He, “remembers our sin against us no more” (Jeremiah 31:34; Hebrews 8:12).
How Did Jesus Explain Forgiveness in Parables?
Following his call to forgive “seventy times seven” Jesus amplified His message with a parable about a forgiving master and an unmerciful, ungrateful servant.
Nothing about Jesus’ teaching was frivolous or superficial, and He often used short, simple stories, known as parables, to illustrate deeper spiritual concepts to those with a hunger for the truth and “eyes to see and ears to hear” (Matthew 13:9).
Many, unfortunately, had rejected the truth and Jesus altogether. To those who refused to listen, the parables were heard but not understood, as the mysteries of the Kingdom of God were hidden from them.
In the parable of the unmerciful servant, Jesus paints the picture of a wealthy master who was moved to compassion for a servant who could not pay a substantial debt. Instead of throwing the servant in prison, the master mercifully forgave his servant’s debt and sent him on his way.
The servant, however, would later forget completely about His master’s abundant grace and go on to demand payment from another servant who owed him an even lesser sum.
When the master heard of this, he was outraged, saying to the first servant, “you wicked servant, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow servant, in the same way I had had mercy on you?” (Matthew 18:32-33).
The master then threw his servant in prison until he could repay all that he had previously owed. Jesus used this parable to illustrate the extent of God’s mercy and forgiveness towards us.
Like the servant, we too are hamstrung by an insurmountable debt we cannot hope to repay. Jesus, of course, was referring to the consequences of sin. As it is written in the book of Romans, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 3:23).
Only by God’s grace and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross (Isaiah 53:5), could this debt, the debt we owe, be paid and expunged.
Scripture tells us that “if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
To those who confess their sin, repent, and seek forgiveness, God removes all record of their sin against Him. As prophet Isaiah writes, “I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25).
The prophet Micah also put it this way, “Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity and passing over transgression for the remnant of his inheritance? He does not retain his anger forever, because he delights in steadfast love. He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea” (Micah 7:18-19).
Therefore, if we have been forgiven such a debt, how much more should we daily be willing to forgive others and release them from the debt of those wrongs they have committed against us.
This was the point of the parable and Jesus’ message on total forgiveness.
Jesus would go on to provide this stern warning to those who don’t, saying as the master punished the ungrateful servant for his lack of mercy so “my heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:35).
What God has done for us, we are called to do for others. After all, if God is willing to forgive us day after day after day for our sin and repeated offenses, how much more should we be willing to forgive those who’ve wronged us.
In the same way, when we accept the free gift of salvation and step into God’s complete, total forgiveness, we are freed from the shackles of sin and our hearts are transformed to become more like His.
We develop a heart of gratitude and a willingness to forgive because we recognize and appreciate just how much Christ has forgiven us.
And we know that it is far more than seven, seventy, or seventy times seven. It is beyond measure and by far the most magnificent, undeserved gift of grace we could ever receive.
Great character is sometimes forged amid great turmoil. Sabina: Tortured for Christ, the Nazi Years is the story of how God’s love transformed an ambitious, atheistic hedonist into one of the greatest Christian women of the 20th century. The film opens with Sabina Wurmbrand risking her life to show Christ’s love to a trio of Nazi soldiers. Why? Why would a Jewish Christian risk her life to help her enemies – members of the army that killed her entire family? Experience the amazing true story that has redefined the concepts of love and forgiveness for millions around the world.
Prayer is difficult for everyone—no exceptions. When I pray, most of the time I don’t sense that I have gained access. It doesn’t feel as if anyone is listening. Obvious answers to my prayers are few and far between. Even when prayer does seem to make things happen, the cynical thought stands always at the door: Perhaps it would have happened anyway?
What if you could pray with 100 percent certainty—if you could know God will answer all of your prayers, all of the time? In Mark 11:22–25, Jesus says that such confidence in prayer is actually refreshingly simple. It only requires two ingredients: faith and forgiveness.
THE INGREDIENT OF FAITH
And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore, I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:22–24)
At first glance, this might look like “name it and claim it,” “gab it and grab it” theology—that if you believe with absolute certainty, God cannot deny your prayer request. This is not the case. I once heard a story of how three farmers in a time of great drought prayed for rain. Day after day went by, and day after day they prayed. But no rain. A stranger walking by their field one afternoon observed their ritual supplications and inquired what they were doing. When they told him, he said, “I am not sure you expect God to answer. . . . You didn’t bring any umbrellas!” He certainly had a point. How often do we pray without really expecting an answer? But perhaps the stranger’s theology is off. He seems to assume that if they had brought umbrellas into the field, God would have been too embarrassed not to give in to their request. The real question when it comes to their prayer, however, is, How do we know God intends to send rain? And, of course, there is no way of knowing that. Our only recourse at such times is to cry out, “Lord, if it be Your will, send rain upon our thirsty fields.”
I think we all know that. But the real question facing us today is, How do we square such sanctified uncertainty with Jesus’ words in our text? Doesn’t Jesus promise that if you believe that you have received it, it will be yours?
What are we to make of these words?
The key is to remember that faith finds its certainty in the Word of God. Remember the context of Jesus’ teaching. The day before, He verbally cursed a fig tree (Mark 11:12–14). On this day, the disciples are shocked to see that Christ’s word has been fulfilled. In the context of that fulfilled word, Jesus says, “Have faith in God!” In other words, they ought not to have been surprised that what God said, He did. So what Jesus is saying is that if you have a promise from God, no matter how great that promise seems to be, even if the promise speaks of a mountain being lifted up and hurled down, ask God to fulfill His promise, and you can believe with 100 percent confidence that it will be done for you. The key is to remember that faith finds its certainty in the Word of God.
If you want to pray with such confidence, take yourselves to the Word of God. Ask God to help you obey His commands, plead with God to keep His promises, and you will never bow your knees in vain. The only question with which to wrestle is not will God keep His word but when. Calvin makes the same point in his commentary on the Gospels:
If it be objected, that those prayers are never heard, that mountains should be thrown into the sea, the answer is easy. Christ does not give a loose rein to the wishes of men, that they should desire any thing at their pleasure, when he places prayer after the rule of faith; for in this way the Spirit must of necessity hold all our affections by the bridle of the word of God, and bring them into obedience. Christ demands a firm and undoubting confidence of obtaining an answer; and whence does the human mind obtain that confidence but from the word of God? We now see then that Christ promises nothing to his disciples, unless they keep themselves within the limits of the good pleasure of God.
THE INGREDIENT OF FORGIVENESS
And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses. (Mark 11:25)
Our prayers must not lack faith, and they must not lack a forgiving spirit.
Once again, at first glance, it might seem as if our forgiveness earns both the answer of our prayer and the forgiveness of our sins. But, of course, it does not. The rest of the New Testament makes it clear: we don’t earn forgiveness by showing forgiveness. Rather, we evidence that we have been forgiven our sins when we offer forgiveness for the sins of others (Matt 18:21–25). We are to forgive others with the same liberality with which God has forgiven us (Eph. 5:1). And when such a forgiving spirit is lacking, it calls into question our whole standing before God. When there is no forgiving spirit, it may be an indication that we haven’t actually trusted in Christ. For when God wipes a sinner’s slate clean, that soul is scarred with a merciful disposition toward others for the rest of their earthly lives. And what a beautiful scar that is!
Do you see the connection then? If we pray with a hard, merciless heart, could we ever expect a favorable response from the Father? Such an unforgiving posture in prayer would betray a heart profoundly estranged from God. Such a heart can be confident of only one thing: God will not hear; their prayers are an abomination to Him.
With this in mind, therefore, when you bow to pray, check your soul. Do you have promise on your lips, and do you have mercy in your heart? If you do, take comfort; none of your words shall ever fall to the ground in vain. But you might say, “What if God hasn’t given me a particular promise for this particular need?” Then you can pray with confidence that your heavenly Father knows best: “Lord, You have promised not to withhold any good thing from me. Lord, search this request, my heart, and my life, and if it be good and in accordance with Your will, open Your hand and satisfy the desire of Your servant.”
Dr. Neil C. Stewart is senior pastor of Christ Covenant Church in Greensboro, N.C.
Covering topics including Faith and Repentance, Forgiveness, & Prayer.
“But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.”
Not far from New York City is a cemetery with a grave with just one word on the headstone: FORGIVEN. There is nothing else – no name, no date of birth, no mention of praise for the departed – just, forgiven. And yet, what greater word could be written above our last resting place?
But if I were to add one other, it would be the word forgive. Forgiven and forgive belong together, just as Jesus placed them together when He taught us how to pray, “…and forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” (Matthew 6:12) NLT
Sinning, either in thought or deed, is the sad result of our fallen nature. And when you have been on the receiving end, you know how bad it can hurt. But let me ask you,
Has anyone wronged you as much as you have wronged God?
The forgiveness we extend to another is to be as free and complete as that of God. And when we do, we are the beneficiaries; to forgive releases you and me. It opens wide the prison door of anger and bitterness, allowing us to move forward in complete freedom. It liberates us to love as Jesus loves and models His character to the world.
Christ forgives – past, present, and future – and in love and gratitude to Him, we must go and do likewise.
The victims of child abuse often wrestle with the question of forgiveness. Forgiveness can feel like defeat – another surrender to a predator who has already taken so much from us, including our self-respect.
Strength v. Weakness
But forgiveness is NOT a sign of weakness. Nor is it a warm and cozy feeling.
Forgiveness is a deliberate decision to put the past behind us . That requires enormous strength on the part of victims. Most of us cannot accomplish it until we have first mourned our losses (a fact those urging forgiveness upon us must not overlook).
Emotionally speaking, unforgiveness is akin to the sulfuric acid used in storage batteries.
Battery acid is a dangerous substance. It dissolves the skin, causing chemical burns. Heavy scarring can result. Contact with the eyes will cause blindness. Long-term exposure to fumes is toxic.
Like battery acid, unforgiveness eats us up inside, creating scars that further tie us to the past, exacerbating rather than easing our pain. And the longer our bitterness lasts, the deeper the scars.
Bitterness blinds us to the possibilities before us. Forgiveness, by contrast, opens our eyes. It clears our head, and cleanses our heart. We can once again breathe freely. The past no longer has power over us.
Forgiveness is NOT salt in the wound, NOT an added stripe from the lash, NOT a final humiliation . Nor is it an argument that predators’ horrendous behavior should be excused away at victims’ expense.
Significantly, forgiveness is not inconsistent with criminal prosecution, should victims choose to pursue that. Prosecution may prevent others from being victimized.
Instead, forgiveness implies release for the victim…release from bitterness, from anger, from hatred. From the groundless self-condemnation the abuse to which we were subjected left in its wake .
Victims deserve that.
“But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you…” (Matt. 5: 44).
 This is not to suggest that we were responsible for our abuse. Children, however, blame themselves for the actions of the adults around them. Victims carry that misplaced sense of guilt into adulthood.
FOR MORE OF MY ARTICLES ON POVERTY, POLITICS, AND MATTERS OF CONSCIENCE CHECK OUT MY BLOG A LAWYER’S PRAYERS AT: https://alawyersprayers.com
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
Should someone hurt you in anger, giving the devil a door to work through, fear not! God will keep you and comfort you in your time of need. He will never let you go, for He has forgiven you your sins, as you should so do to them who sin against you.
Should you feel anger against another, wanting to take vengeance for a wrong done to you, repent and forgive them. God knows you and loves you and has forgiven you. Justice is His. Forgive as God forgives.
We look at the Advent Wreath and think how beautiful it is because it reminds us of how wonderful Christmas is with all the beauty, joy and peace of the Season.
Most people don’t really understand the significance of what is represented in our quiet worship of Baby Jesus, and the complex story of the Nativity.
John 3:16-17 (NASB) 16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
There’s a side to the Christmas Story that we usually fail to recognize.
We forget the battle that raged through the ages just to get Jesus here to be our Savior.
Jesus was willing to leave Heaven and step into history to be our Savior and save us from sin and Hell.
He was opposed by demonic forces every step of the way.
Let’s look at history, or more accurate, HIS STORY.
Here’s a scripture we don’t usually associate with Christmas.
Revelation 12:3-4 (NASB) 3 Then another sign appeared in heaven: and behold, a great red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads were seven diadems. 4 And his tail *swept away a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she gave birth he might devour her child.
It’s intensely interesting to read how Satan tried to prevent the birth of Jesus Christ and then after His birth to destroy Him before He could reach the Cross and purchase our Redemption.
Satan had accomplished the Fall of Adam and Eve. (Gen. 3:1-15)
Now Satan found himself under the Curse of God and was told the “Seed of woman” would bruise his head. (Gen. 3:14-15)
This aroused the enmity of Satan.
He was determined to stop the birth of the promised “Seed,” or if he couldn’t stop it he’d destroy the “Seed” after He was born.
Watch Satan’s line of attack trying to stop the “Promised Seed” that would destroy his work.
Abel was born, the “Seed” was to come through him, Satan schemed for his destruction and finally got his brother Cain to kill him. (Gen. 4:8)
Then the “Sons of God” (fallen angels) doubtless at Satan’s instigation, married the “Daughters of men.” (Gen. 6:2)
Their sin and the evil character of their offspring (Nephilim) caused God to send the flood to destroy life on earth.
This fit into Satan’s plan—it would be a victory for him and a defeat for God.
God decided to spare the human race and begin again with His one righteous servant, Noah. (Gen 6:8-9)
God spared Noah and his family.
After the flood, Noah planted a vineyard and got himself drunk on the wine.
The result—the curse of Canaan, the son of Ham. (Gen. 9:18-27)
After the flood the people began to multiply and Satan filled their hearts with pride and presumption.
They built the Tower of Babel causing confusion of tongues breaking up the unity of the race. (Gen. 11:1-9)
God called Abraham and the fight narrowed down to his seed, but Sarah was barren. (Gen. 16:1)
God waited until they were too old to have children.
Sarah was 65 and barren, Abraham was 75 and they had no children.
Satan probably played a role in Sarah’s inability to conceive.
Finally when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90 God caused Sarah to conceive and Isaac was born furthering the “Promised Seed.”
When Isaac was 12, Satan challenged God to test Abraham’s faith by sacrificing Isaac.
Similar to the test Job went through. (Job 1:6-12 and 2:3-6.)
The plan to destroy Isaac failed — God saw Abraham was willing to obey, and God intervened and provided a ram. (Gen. 22:11-13)
Isaac married Rebekah, who was barren. (Gen. 25:20-21)
Finally twins were born.
Satan stirred enmity between the brothers hoping to cause Esau to kill Jacob (like Cain and Abel). (Gen. 27:41)
When the time came for Moses to be born, Satan inspired Pharaoh to kill all the baby boys at birth, hoping to wipe out the male line of descent altogether. (Exodus 2:5-10)
And so it continued until the death of King Jehoshaphat — his son Jehoram killed all his brothers with a sword reducing the “Seed” down to one life. (2 Chron. 21:13)
Jehoram had children.
The Arabians killed all of his children but one, Ahaziah, the youngest. (2 Chron 21:17)
Ahaziah had children (2 Chron 22:1).
These were slain by Athaliah who thought she got them all. (2 Chron. 22:10-12)
God interceded and saved Joash. (2 Chron. 22:11-12 )
During the Captivity Satan tried to destroy the whole Hebrew nation at the hands of Haman — (Esther 3:5-9)
The story’s too long.
God sent prophets to warn people to turn to Him.
The last prophet was Malachi.
God went silent!
For 400 years there was no Word from the Lord, but He was still faithful and knew what was happening to His people.
Sometimes we think God’s silence means He’s deserted us, but trust Him, He’s still aware of your circumstances.
During those 400 years, persecution of the Jewish people continued.
In 168 BC Antiochus Epiphanes invaded Jerusalem and marched into the Temple, set up a statue to Zeus, and sacrificed a pig on the altar of incense.
This sparked the Maccabean revolt as the Jews fought to remove the sacrilege from the Temple.
Under the leadership of the Maccabees, the Jews drove Antiochus and his army out and gained control of their land for about 100 years.
In 63 BC, the Roman General, Pompey, captured the Holy Land and brought it under Roman rule.
At last the “Promised Seed,” Jesus was born.
Satan couldn’t prevent His birth, but he’d destroy Him before He could get to the Cross.
Satan prompted Herod to kill all the male children at Bethlehem under 2 years old in an effort to stop the “Promised Seed.”
God warned Joseph.
God’s always one step ahead of Satan.
When Jesus entered the ministry Satan met Him in the Wilderness and suggested He throw Himself from the Pinnacle of the Temple. (Matt. 4:1-11)
Satan tried to get the townspeople to throw Jesus over a cliff after He’d proclaimed to them who He was. (Luke 4:29)
2 storms on Galilee (don’t rebuke a thing only a person)
Satan tried to use the Priests, Pharisees and Sadducees.
Physical and Spiritual exhaustion in Gethseme………
Arrest, flogging, crucifixion……..
After His death, Jesus spent 3 days in Hell.
Jesus had to experience everything a sinner does in order to fully pay the price of our sin. (He had to bear our sins and our punishment in order to be our Savior).
Psalm 16:10 (KJV) 10 For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
Acts 2:27 (KJV) 27 Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
1. I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth:
2. And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord:
3. Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary:
4. Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell:
5. The third day he rose again from the dead:
6. He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty:
7. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead:
8. I believe in the Holy Ghost:
9. I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints:
10. The forgiveness of sins:
1l. The resurrection of the body:
12. And the life everlasting. Amen.
Jesus didn’t come to do a half-way job! – He came to completely redeem us from sin!
The history of the Church has been one long struggle.
Satan is still trying to defeat God’s purpose, but Satan will fail at every point!
Let’s celebrate the real meaning of Christmas!
Not just the financial hemorrhage that so many people dread……
The Angels told the shepherds: Luke 2:10-11 (KJV) 10 Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
Talk about a wonderful Christmas Present! . – Not just some trinket that will soon be trash, but forgiveness of sin, fellowship . with God Almighty, Eternal Life in Heaven with Jesus!
Today we light the last candle representing LOVE! — GOD’S LOVE!
God’s LOVE that constrained Jesus to leave Heaven, step into the human race knowing full well what He had to do and doing it anyway!
He left the Splendor of Heaven Knowing His destiny Was the lonely hill of Golgotha there to lay down His life for me.
if that isn’t love the ocean is dry there’s no stars in the sky and the sparrow can’t fly if that isn’t love then Heavens a myth there’s no feeling like this if that isn’t love
even in death He remembered the thief hanging by His side He spoke with love and compassion then He took him to Paradise
there’s no feeling like this if that isn’t love.
No wonder we can sing, JOY TO THE WORLD, THE LORD IS COME!
We’ve been talking about Paul’s gospel, the gospel according to Paul, and I confess to you that this is a great challenge for me to try to narrow this down to a few subjects. In all honesty I’m kind of vacillating a little bit, I’m changing my mind, if it’s okay here and there, so you’ll have to bear with me a little. Tonight I want you to open your Bible back to 2 Corinthians and I want to go to chapter 5. We have talked about the glory of the gospel, we have actually talked about the nature of the gospel in our two sessions this morning digging down into the doctrine of justification with the nature of the gospel is that the righteousness of God has to come down, and it is received by faith, and it is a gift of grace, and that’s how salvation takes place. We’ve talked about that.
It is glorious gospel. It is a substitutionary gospel as we saw this morning. We’re going to see a little more about that tonight. But I want you to understand this concept of reconciliation. It is a reconciling gospel. The gospel reconciles the sinner to God. There’s a passage here at the end of chapter 5 that is a critically essential passage in understanding Paul’s gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the gospel of the blessed God, the gospel of peace and grace and salvation, that Paul called my gospel and even our gospel.
I want you to begin by looking with me at verse 18. “Now, all these things are from God who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ as though God were making an appeal through us. We beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Five times in that passage the word reconcile appears. You saw it. Verse 18, “God reconciled us, gave us the ministry of reconciliation,” verse 19, “God in Christ reconciling the world, committing to us the word of reconciliation.” Verse 20, “Be reconciled to God.” This is about reconciliation.
Reconciliation assumes alienation, does it not? It assumes enmity, hostility. It assumes that people are enemies or worse, violent enemies. And reconciliation needs to take place. Now, you will notice that Paul says we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. And we have been given to affect that ministry the Word of reconciliation. Our message is a message of reconciliation, a message of reconciliation. How are we to understand this reconciliation? Well, in this passage, not only in verses 18 through 21, but backing up a little bit, we have, what I think is the essence of an understanding of the message of the gospel as reconciliation. We are given the ministry of reconciliation. We have received the message concerning reconciliation and this constitutes, according to verse 20, the nature of our ambassadorship. An ambassador was a representative of a monarch who was set into an alien culture to represent that monarch. And so it is with us: we represent the King of kings and we are in an alien culture. And our responsibility is to tell the people in this alien culture, who are enemies of God by nature, that they can be reconciled to God. That’s our message. That’s our message.
I have on occasion been flying in an airplane and had people sit next to me and ask me what I do. I remember answering the question on a flight from New York to LA, and I said, “Well, I’m a preacher of the gospel.” And the guy that I was sitting next to who was pierced every way you could be pierced, must have been frightened because he got out of his seat and never came back. And that’s a five-hour flight. So I’ve learned maybe not to just be so blunt. On the other hand, on occasion I say this. “Oh, I have a great job. I tell sinners that they can be reconciled to God. Are you interested?” I mean, that is what’s called cutting to the chase. But that is exactly what I do. That is what we do. Our message is that sinners can be reconciled to God. That God is a reconciling God who has provided a means of reconciliation and a message of reconciliation is the responsibility of every ambassador of Christ. It assumes alienation, hostility, an enemy kind of relationship, but one that can be turned into a full and complete reconciliation.
Now, as we look at this passage, I want to show you several elements to the ministry of reconciliation. Several elements to the reality of reconciliation. And in order to do this, we have to back up to verse 14 and pick up some things that are there. And backing up to verse 14, I want to say the first component of reconciliation is that it is motivated by the love of God. It is motivated by the love of God. I shouldn’t need to deal with that very much because you’re all very familiar with the fact that God so loved the world, right? That He gave. Hearing His love, not that we love God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. While we were enemies, Paul says He loved us. In verse 14 Paul identifies this, “The love of Christ controls us.” That’s a verb that means put pressure on something to create an action. It could even be translated: the love of Christ rules us. I love the word “control” actually in the NAS. Paul is not talking about His love for Christ; he’s talking about Christ’s love for him. What drives him, we saw he understood the glory of the gospel, right? From 2 Corinthians we talked about that. We understood the transcendent glory of the gospel and was motivated by its unparalleled and unequalled grandeur. Well, he also experienced the love of Christ. Christ had laid a saving claim on the life of Paul so that he was so overwhelmed by this saving love that he could never live for anything but the proclamation of the gospel of that saving love.
Christ’s saving love for Paul controlled him, dominated him, motivated him, ruled him. And he didn’t see it in a personal way. He didn’t see it in a selfish way. Didn’t see it in an isolated way, because he says in verse 15, “And He died for all.” What God has done for me through His love, what Christ has done for me through this magnanimous saving, forgiving, gracious love is not just for me. He died for all so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.
What drove him? What compelled him? What motivated him? It was not only the glory of the gospel in a broad sense, but the glory of the gospel was bound up in the fact that the gospel was such a magnanimous expression of divine love toward an unworthy sinner, such as he was who confessed himself to be a blasphemer. And he realized that this love which God had given to him in Christ which had so totally transformed his life was not just for him, but that Christ died for all so that they who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. He died for all.
What do you mean for all? He died for all who believe in Him. All who believe in Him. He died and rose again on their behalf. The end of verse 14 says, “One died for all, therefore all died.” I don’t want to get technical here; He died for all those who died in Him. He died for all those who died in Him. It doesn’t mean that He died for the whole world. If Christ died for the whole world, the whole world would be saved. Do you understand that? If Christ actually paid the penalty in full for the whole world, then the whole world would have to be saved because the penalty was paid. There are people who teach that He died for the whole world and if you teach that He died for the whole world, everybody who has ever lived, then His death was a potential death and not an actual death. It was a potential atonement and not an actual atonement. If you say He died for everybody in general, then He died for nobody in particular.
That’s a problem. He died for all who died in Him. He died and rose again on behalf of all who died in Him, who are made manifest by faith. This is an actual atonement. Christ actually bore our sins in His own body on the cross, actually paid the penalty in full. His death is not a potential, it is an actual death. It doesn’t make salvation possible; it makes salvation inevitable. Christ’s death was the death of His people, His elect who would believe. The penalty for whose sins He paid.
You say, “That sounds like predestination.” Exactly. By the way, I know you want to ask that question. Everybody has that question, so tomorrow I’m going to talk about how Paul’s view of predestination fits into His gospel passion. Okay? We do that in the morning. All right.
Paul understood that this love gift of salvation that had been given to him, that controlled his life, couldn’t be kept by him. Because Christ had died for all who died in Him, who were yet to be born in some cases, yet to hear the message of the gospel, but would hear in the future and believe and be saved. What controls his life was the love that God showed him in Christ to redeem him from his wretchedness and from eternal damnation, and that love took control of his life because he knew he was to be an instrument to take the message of that love to everyone he could possibly reach.
So, his whole life changed. Verse 16, look what he said. “From now on we recognize no one according to the flesh.” Do you understand that? What happened in his life? Well, all of a sudden he didn’t view people as external. He didn’t view people as physical beings. He didn’t just see the outside of it. He wasn’t particularly interested in what they looked like. He wasn’t particularly interested in their external behaviors. That’s not how he viewed people. He says it in verse 16, “From now on, from the moment of his salvation on, we recognize no one according to the flesh.” We don’t judge people by what we can see and experience of their physical life. Then he said, “I did that once, did that to Christ, we’ve known Christ according to the flesh.” There was a time when I knew Christ only according to the flesh. And you know what I determined? He was a blasphemer. He was a fraud. He was a false messiah. He was a problem to Judaism. He deserved to be crucified and his preachers deserved to be killed. Do you remember in the stoning of Stephen who was standing there and had the cloaks of the people who stoned Stephen placed at his feet? Paul. He had made an external evaluation of Christ and it was totally wrong. Yet now, we know him in this way no longer. My entire opinion of Christ has changed since the Damascus Road. I don’t view people anymore externally. The most horrible result of my doing that, which is what Pharisees did and all false religionists, and all the lost people, the most horrible expression of that kind of judgment was the way I judged Christ. Boy, was I wrong. I just see everybody from a spiritual viewpoint now, don’t you? You understand that?
You know, if you have children who don’t know the Lord, they can get all dressed up and look good and walk out of the house and your heart can break. Everything might be coiffed exactly the way it should be, all you care about is the heart, right? You may have a spouse that’s attractive, doesn’t know Christ, you see right past that. We don’t view the world the way the world views itself.
I was in the White House some years ago, talking to the White House staff and I said, “You know, you guys got a problem here.” I said, “And it’s not the kind of problem you think it is.” I said, “You guys are so bent,” this was in the Bush years, “you are so bent on making sure that you attack the Democrats, that you attack your adversaries, that you have turned the mission field into your enemy. You can’t do that. You might not like their politics, but you can’t look at them after the flesh. That’s a mission field.” That’s how Paul viewed the world. That’s how every believer has to view the world. And Paul says this in familiar words in verse 17, “Therefore, I love this, if anyone is in Christ, he is,” what? “A new creation, old things have passed away, new things have come.” And the “anyone” is the operative word here. Anyone, I don’t know who the all are who died in Christ, for whom He actually paid in full for their sins, I don’t know who they are but I do know that anyone who believes fits into that category and anyone who is in Christ is a new creation.
Paul thus is catapulted into the ministry of reconciliation ‘cause he has a personal first-hand experience of the love of God in Christ given to him that brought about the spiritual transformation of his own soul, changed his eternal destiny and granted him the very righteousness of God in the place of damning human righteousness. That became the passion of his life. It is that love of Christ which controlled him and everybody with him, us. You see the pronoun there in verse 14. We’re all controlled by the reality that we have been made new creations by the love of God in Christ and it can’t be limited to us, anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. We don’t see people the same anymore. If you ask Paul, he would say, “In Christ there’s neither male, female, bond, free, Jew, Gentile.” There’s no distinction. He saw everyone as an eternal soul.
I’m sure you experience this. I do. I see myself looking through the person whoever they are, whether I know them or don’t know them. When I’m exposed to people, it’s their soul that captivates my thinking. It’s their soul. We don’t know people any longer, purely on the superficial level. We live in a world of lost souls. They’re all around us. You might not like their politics, might not like their behavior, might not like their social status, might not like their personality, you’ve got to see past it, because for some of those people, Christ died and paid the penalty for their sin in full and you may be, if available, the instrument that He uses to bring them to the point of the salvation plan for them before the foundation of the world. We have been given the ministry of reconciliation. That’s the heart and soul of our responsibility as believers and that was the way Paul viewed his life. Our ministry is to reconcile men to God, to reconcile women to God, to preach the good news that the relationship of enmity, hostility, hatred, alienation between God and men can be totally changed. And part of that, of course, is defining the fact that there is alienation between men and God. That’s the good news. It is possible for sinners to be reconciled to Almighty God.
I always think about this. You may have heard me say this somewhere on a tape or something. I was riding on an airplane, Southwest Airlines to El Paso, sitting in the dreaded middle seat. I’m squeezed in there and I was preparing for a men’s conference in the El Paso Civic Center. And just got my little New Testament open and was making some notes of what I was going to talk about, and there was sitting next to me an Arabic man, clearly I could tell. And I’m looking at my New Testament and we’re just barely up in the air and after a few minutes go by, he looks over at me and he says, “Excuse me, sir. Is that a Bible?” I said, “Yes, it is a Bible.” He said, “May I ask you a question?” I said, “Of course you can ask me a question.” He said, “Well, I’m from Iran, I’m new in America. I’m in the process of immigrating and I don’t understand American religion. I don’t understand. In My country everyone is a Muslim, everyone. But I don’t understand American religion.” He said, “Could you, sir,” and this is exactly what he said, “tell me the difference please between a Catholic, a Protestant, and a Baptist.” A Catholic, a Protestant and a Baptist, so he had been exposed to at least those three categories. So I said to him, I said, “Yeah, I can tell you the difference.” And I just gave him a simple way to understand Catholicism as a sacramental form of ceremony, et cetera, et cetera. And Protestantism is a protest against that, and a regripping of a personal relationship with God through Christ, and we went through that. And I put the Baptist in the Protestant category where they belong.
So, he said, “Thank you, thank you very much, thank you very much.” I said, “Can I ask you a question, sir?” He said, “Of course, of course.” And I knew the answers but I wanted to hear them from him. So I said, “Do Muslims have sins?” And I knew the answer but I wanted to hear him say it. He said, “Oh, do we have sins? We have so many sins; I don’t even know all the sins.” I said, “Well, do you do them?” “All the time.” Then he said this. “I’m flying to El Paso to do some sins.” “You are?” This is a pretty honest guy. Flying to El Paso, “Yes,” he said, “I met a girl when I was immigrating, that’s an immigration point, and we will meet and do some sins.” “Oh,” this is more information than I really require. I said, “Well, can I ask you another question?” “Of course.” I said, “How does Allah feel about your sins?” “Oh, very bad. Very, very bad. I could go to hell.” I said, “Well, why don’t you stop doing them?” “I can’t, I can’t.” I said, “So you keep doing sins that could send you to hell, everlasting hell?” And then he said this, “I hope the God will forgive me. I hope Allah will forgive me.” And then I said something that afterwards I know, I didn’t think about it. I said, “Well, I know Him personally, and I can tell you He won’t.”
He looked at me, He looked at me and said, you know, in his mind he was saying, “How could you know God personally and wind up in the middle seat on Southwest?” That doesn’t make sense. I said, “I do know Him personally and He will not.” He said, “Well, I hope He will.” I said, “I have some good news for you. I know how You can be fully reconciled to God, how You can be completely forgiven and become a friend of God and a son of God, and receive all that God possesses as a gift from Him to you.” He had never heard anything like that in his life. There is no redemption in Islam. And I went on to give him the gospel. He did not respond to Christ, but I think I messed up his weekend. Some girl got very confused. I’m sure she didn’t know what happened. I gave him a bunch of material, sent him much stuff, told him where to go to church in the place he was living, but I never have gotten any follow up. But that’s the truth, isn’t it? Isn’t that what we do? Don’t we tell people they can reconciled to God?
Go back to chapter 5 here, He’s committed to us the Word of reconciliation, literally placed in us the logos as opposed to the mythos. Logos is the word that is true, mythosis the word that is not truth. He has placed in us the logos of reconciliation. We’ve been called then to preach the ministry of reconciliation, to tell sinners they can be reconciled to God. And it assumes that we have to help them to understand that they are currently alienated from God. In other words, you can’t tell people they can be reconciled until you’ve made it clear that they need to be reconciled, ‘cause you don’t want to be the enemy of holy God.
Now, as we think about this ministry of reconciliation, I want to give you just a few things that will help you understand the nature of this great truth, okay? Number one, reconciliation, this is so important, is by the will of God. Reconciliation is by the will of God. Please go back to verse 18; let’s pick up our original text. “Now all these things are from God who reconciled us to Himself through Christ.” All what things? All the things that He’s been talking about from verse 14. Salvation, the provision in the death of Christ, being made a new creation, having the old pass away and the new come. This is speaking not about justification but about regeneration. This is by the will of God. All these things are from God. Verse 19, “It is God in Christ reconciling us.” Verse 20, “It is God making an appeal through us.” Reconciliation is by the will of God. That is the foundational reality. We cannot decide to be reconciled to God. We have no power to satisfy God’s anger. We have no ability to set aside His justice, to achieve His righteousness. We’re the offenders. We have been banished from His presence forever. Any change in our relationship with God has to come from Him. Any reconciliation has to be by His design. And this is at the heart of the gospel.
God loves sinners and seeks to reconcile them. He designed a means to reconcile with sinners, to make sinners into sons. It is God who reconciled us to Himself. It is God who is the reconciler. That is just such a profound point. If you go back and study the religions of the world, you will not find, as we said the other night, you will not find a reconciling deity in the history of religion. You will not find a God who is by nature a reconciler. First Timothy 4:10 says, “God is the Savior of all men, especially those who believe.” What does that mean? What do you mean He’s a Savior of all men? Especially those who believe?”
Well, there is a sense in which He’s the Savior of all men. In a very generic, a very comprehensive, a very wide sense, He’s the Savior of all men. What do we mean by that? Physically and temporally, physically and temporally. The Bible says, “The wages of sin is,” what? “Death.” The Bible says, “The soul that sins, it shall die.” The Bible says, “Violate one law and the full weight of the Law will fall upon you.” The Bible says that, “In sin, my mother conceived me; I have been a sinner from conception.” Why am I alive? Why am I here? Because God is by nature a Savior, and every sinner who takes another breath is living proof that God is by nature a Savior. And it is, as Romans 2 says, the forbearance and patience of God with sinners that is intended to demonstrate that He’s the Savior and lead them to repentance.
The very fact that we experience as sinners come in grace, smell the coffee, kiss the one we love, have children, enjoy a sunset, eat a wonderful meal, take a beautiful vacation, have success, appreciate music. Sinners do that. And everyone who ever does any of that, who takes another breath, gives testimony to the fact that God is by nature a Savior, and if He wasn’t, He would destroy sinners before they took another breath.
So, the good news is you don’t have to try to convince God to save; you just need to convince the sinner to receive. One of the things that irritates me about Roman Catholicism, a lot of things do, but one of the most irritating things, one of the most God-dishonoring things, one of the most blasphemous elements of Roman Catholicism is this: look, if you want God to come and rescue you out of your plight, if you want God to deliver you, if you want God to pay attention to you, don’t go to God. He’s really busy. And He’s really holy. He’s holy, holy, holy. And He hasn’t got time for you and He’s hard and harsh. You don’t want to go to God. You don’t want to cry out to God.
Now, you could go to Christ. You could go to Christ because Christ having been a man, and having experienced all the things that humans experience, being in all points tempted like as we are, He’s liable to be a little more sympathetic, but, you know, He’s pretty tough, too. He’s pretty harsh. So if you really have a problem and you really have a need, go to Mary. Go to Mary. Why you go to Mary? Because Jesus can’t resist Mary. He can resist you, He can’t resist His mother. Go to Mary. That is a blasphemy against the nature of God who is a reconciling, loving God waiting for the sinner to come into His presence and ask His forgiveness. You don’t need to go to Mary. Mary never has heard a prayer from any human being since she arrived in heaven. And neither has anybody else in heaven except the Trinity. God is by nature a reconciling God. You say, “Well, look at the Old Testament, how can you say that God is, how can you say He’s a loving reconciling God when some young guys say, “Hey, O Baldy, Baldy, Baldy,” to a prophet, and God sends bears out of the woods and rips them to shreds, what kind of a God does that? What kind of a God sends bears out of the woods to shred a bunch of young men who are yelling, “Baldy, Baldy” at a prophet?
That’s not the question. You say, “What kind of a God opens up the ground and swallows some guys?” That’s really not the question. What kind of God brings down the house on the Philistines? What kind of a God does that? What kind of a God instructs the Israelites to kill the Canaanites? What kind of a God is that? That is not the question. The question is not: why did God take the life of sinners in the Old Testament in those cataclysmic ways? The question is why did He allow most sinners to go on living? That’s the question. The wages of sin is death, death is what they deserve. You know, in Luke 13 they came to Jesus and they said, “You know, we don’t understand, we don’t understand. Some Galileans came into the temple, they were in there worshiping and Pilate’s guys came in, took some knives and sliced them up and killed them all. Why did that happen?
You know, the question is: they’re worshipers. They’re in there doing what they’re supposed to do. How can God let that happen? And Jesus’ answer was, “You’re going to perish, too.” And then they asked a second one, they read in the Jerusalem Gazette that a tower fell over and crushed a bunch of people and killed them. What kind of a God lets that happen?” That’s not the question. Periodically through human history, it all points in times through cataclysms and events like that, God gives testimony to what all sinners deserve that the mass of sinners who go on living and enjoying all the benefits of common grace give evidence to the fact that God is by nature a saving God. He puts His compassion and His mercy on behalf of sinners on display through common grace as a warning to sinners to repent. He is in that sense a Savior of all men, but He is especially the Savior of those who believe because He saves them not physically and temporally, but spiritually and eternally. God is the source of reconciliation. I’m so glad I don’t have to talk God into being willing to accept a sinner.
You know, when Jesus died on the cross, there was a veil, wasn’t there, in the temple that separated God from everybody, or the symbol of God’s presence. God ripped it from top to bottom and threw it wide open. And all sinners who will come have access to one who is by nature a reconciling God. Back to the text. It is God who reconciles us to Himself. It is God in Christ reconciling the world. It is God begging, appealing. Never are you more in line with the will of God than when you preach the word of reconciliation.
Reconciliation, then, is, first of all, by the will of God. Secondly, it is by the act of forgiveness. It is by the act of forgiveness. How in the world can God do this? Well, it comes in verse 19. The only way that God can reconcile with sinners, here it comes, verse 19, is by not counting their trespasses against them. That’s the only way. How is reconciliation possible? How can He reconcile the world? That means all people from all nations who will be reconciled. How can He reconcile them? By not counting their trespasses against them. That’s the issue. He has to set their sins aside.
Now, we already know, don’t we, we talked about it. Micah 7, “Who is a pardoning God like You?” Exodus chapter 33, “God is by nature compassionate, merciful. He is a forgiving God.” The Old Testament is full of that. The New Testament is full of that. God is an eager forgiver of penitent sinners, not counting their trespasses against them. It is the thing that we need to say to sinners. Here’s the question. You can be reconciled to God. God will forgive you all your sins forever. Are you interested? That’s the issue. When people evangelize often, they say, “Do you want to have purpose in your life?” “Do you want to have a better marriage?” “You want to straighten out your slice on the golf course?” “You want to score more touchdowns?” You know. What are you looking for in life? Happiness, contentment, sense of well-being? That is not it. Do you want to die in your sins and go to hell forever? Or, are you interested in full and complete and eternal forgiveness? That’s the message.
Psalm 32:2, “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity.” That’s what’s behind this verse. Paul probably thought about it here because he said it, actually, in Romans 4:8, “Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.” That’s a paraphrase of Psalm 32. God is willing to erase the sin. In fact, the Old Testament says He’ll remove it as far as the east is from the west. He’ll bury it in the depths of the deepest sea and remember it no more. Colossians 2:13 says that it is God who has forgiven us all our transgressions. And, friends, as we’re faithful to the gospel and faithful to the gospel that Paul proclaimed, what we’re telling sinners is about the forgiveness of their individual sins. This is the good news, that God will forgive all your sins. This is the message of reconciliation. Let’s get past all the superficiality, get past all the prosperity garbage, that Jesus wants you healthy, wealthy, and rich, successful. What He offers is none of that. You may be sicker after you’re saved then you’ve ever been. You may be poorer after you’re saved then you’ve ever been. But you are in the care of the sovereign God who is determined that that is for your good and His glory. But what you will be able to count on, is that you are on the way to heaven because He does not credit your sins any longer to your account.
In fact, I love the language of Colossians which says He blots out the transgression that was written against us. Taking it out of the way, removing it. It’s a reconciliation Paul knows because He’s personally experienced it. It is by the will of God, by the act of forgiveness. Thirdly, it is by the obedience of faith. Now, we talked about this. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on this. It is by the obedience of faith. That’s implied in verse 20. To make this happen, the sinner must respond, so here we go. We’re ambassadors for Christ. We’re the representatives of the great King who wants to be reconciled with His alienated subjects. We gave good news to tell them. God will be reconciled to you. God will not impute your sins to you, He will forgive you. Please accept this gift. That’s what verse 20 is saying. It is as if God, through us, is making an appeal. We are begging you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
Now, that doesn’t sound very Calvinistic, does it? You don’t think we go around begging people, please be reconciled, repent, believe, confess your sin, turn from your sin, embrace Christ. Oh, you know, we’re Calvinists. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. Really? Listen, not only should we be begging sinners to be reconciled to God as an act of faith, but listen, it is God making the appeal through us. He might conclude that God isn’t even a very good Calvinist. What? God begging sinners to be reconciled? That sounds absolutely Arminian. What do you mean? That’s what it says. We’re going to look at that dilemma tomorrow.
There is no salvation apart from faith. There is no salvation apart from the willingness of the sinner. What does it say in John 1:12? “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name.” And yet, “They’re not born of blood, nor the will of the flesh, nor the will of man, but of God.” We know it’s a work of God but still it’s not apart from the sinner. It’s through the sinner’s expression of will. God is a beggar pleading with sinners.
Look at Jesus, “You will not come to Me that you might have life. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem. How often I would have gathered you as a hen gathers her brood, but you would not. Your house is left to you desolate. And He wept.” You remember that? He wept. Jeremiah weeps the tears of God in his prophecy. “My eye will run down with tears ‘cause you will not believe.” God Himself is pleading through you with sinners. We are the representatives of a pleading God, a begging God, crying out to sinners, asking them to please believe, and be saved, and be reconciled to Him.
So, the ministry of reconciliation, the work of reconciliation is by the will of God through forgiveness, by the means of faith. That takes us to the fourth and final point, and this is going to capture what we’ve been saying all day. It is by the work of substitution, by the work of substitution. ‘Cause the question then comes immediately: how in the world can God just decide not to impute our sins to us?
To borrow the language of Romans 4:5, how can He justify the ungodly? That frankly, that statement that God justifies the ungodly would be the most, the most unacceptable sentence that Paul could utter in a Jewish context. God determines that the ungodly are righteous? God justifies the ungodly? That is an absolute outrage. How can He do it? As we said today, you know, if a judge sitting at the bench and a criminal came in and he had been accused of multiple murders and he said, “I did it all. I killed all those people, you know, I killed them, and then I dismembered them, and I buried them all over the place. Yeah, I did all that. I feel really bad about it. I’m so sorry for the family. And judge, I’m so sorry, I really am sorry, and would you please forgive me and let me go?” And the judge said, “You know, because you’ve asked, I forgive you, you’re free to go.” You wouldn’t be a judge anymore ‘cause he’s not upholding the Law. It would be an outrage. Is that what God did? Did God just say, “Oh yeah, sure, on your way?”
No, He didn’t. His justice had to be satisfied, and that’s verse 21. That’s the work of substitution. This will wrap up what we’ve been hearing about that really all day. It was BB Warfield who said, “Substitution is the heart of the heart of the gospel.” Let me help you understand verse 21. 15 Greek words. The most condensed, clear, comprehensive statement of the meaning of substitutionary atonement on the pages of the New Testament, verse 21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” If He is not going to impute our trespasses to us, but rather is going to impute righteousness to us, how can He do that and still be just? Here’s how. “He,” that’s God, “made Him who knew no sin.” Who’s that? Very short list. Right? The only one with no sin. “He made Him who knew no sin, sin.” Oh, what did he mean by that? What do you mean He made Him who knew no sin, sin? Well, Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Hagen, the Word of Faith people tell us, and I’ve heard them say it many times with their own lips that on the cross Jesus became a sinner, He became a sinner, and He had to go to hell and suffer for His sins for three days. And then the Lord let Him be raised from the dead because He had pay for His sins.
That is blasphemy. He was a Lamb without blemish and without spot. He was as sinless hanging on the cross as He ever is eternally. That is why He said, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” If He’s a sinner, there’s no “why”. On the cross, Jesus did not become a sinner. In what sense was, did He become sin? In this sense and this sense alone. God treated Him as if He were a sinner though He was not.
Now, follow carefully. On the cross God treated Christ as if He had committed personally every sin ever committed by every person who would ever believe, though in fact He committed none of them. Did you get that? On the cross, God treated Christ as if He personally committed every sin ever committed by every believer who ever lives and though He committed none of them. Let me say it in a more personal way. On the cross, God treated Jesus as if He lived your life. He didn’t, but God treated Him as if He did. He treated Christ as if He lived my life. He poured out the full fury of His wrath against our sin as if Christ was the guilty one. Isn’t that what’s pictured in the sacrificial system, going back to Leviticus chapter 1 verses 1 to 9?
So, we say it this way: on the cross God treated Jesus as if He was a sinner though He was not a sinner. Why did He do that? On our behalf, for us. Because His justice had to be satisfied. And I told you this morning that in three hours of darkness He was able to bear the infinite punishment, the eternal punishment of all the collected people who will ever believe, because He is an infinite person with an infinite capacity, and His capacity to bear the punishment had no boundaries.
That’s only the first part of it. God treated Him as if He committed every sin ever committed by every person who would ever believe, and then the flipside of the doctrine of substitution, at the end of verse 21, “So that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. So that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Now, listen to this, this must be understood or you don’t get the full picture in this great verse. Are you righteous? Before God you stand righteous, but are you righteous? If you’re having any question about it, just ask the person sitting next to you, you’ll get an honest answer. Are you righteous? No. Paul said at the height of his spiritual maturity, “I am the chief of,” what? “Righteous people?” No. No. “I’m the chief of sinners.” You’re not righteous. What does this mean? It means that God treats you as if you were righteous. Let me go a step further. On the cross, God treats His Son as if He lived your life so that He could treat you as if you lived His Son’s life. That’s how God sees you. He looks at the cross and sees you; He looks at you and sees His Son. That’s why there’s no condemnation.
Now, you know, somebody might say, “Oh well if I were God, I think I would have designed this deal differently. Why does Jesus have to be here for 33 years for and go through all that hassle? I mean, why didn’t the Father just go to Him and say, “Can I use you for a weekend down on earth? You go down on a Friday, they’ll kill You. You rise from the dead on Sunday, be back by late Sunday evening after a few appearances. Redemption will be accomplished. I just need you for the weekend.” What’s the 30 years about? What’s that for? Scripture tells us what that’s for. He was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without what? Sin. At all points means chronologically, from birth. At all points without sin. He lived a complete life without sin. Infancy, childhood, teenage years, young adult, mature adult, full life, He fulfilled all righteousness. Why? Because that life would be credited to your account. That is the active righteousness of Christ that we talked about.
So, on the cross God treats Jesus as if He lived your life, and now He treats you as if you lived His. That’s pretty generous, isn’t it? He looks at the cross and sees you. He looks at you and sees His Son. That’s good news to the sinner. Paul says, “I can’t view anybody any other way than as a spiritual entity, desperately in need of the message of reconciliation. We have been given this ministry, we’ve been given this message, we are here as ambassadors in an alien world. We can’t look at people externally, we have to see them for what they really are, eternal souls who will spend that eternity either in heaven or hell and the message that we must deliver to them is a message of reconciliation that God loves them so much, He is such an eager forgiver, that He is willing to remove their sins from them and replace them with His own righteousness as demonstrated and manifested in the perfect life of His Son. He judged His Son as if He lived your life, so that He could reward you as if you lived His life. This is the glory of the gospel.
Father, we thank You for Your truth. These are just almost beyond our comprehension, these wonders. We are so insignificant, so utterly sinful and unworthy and undeserving. And yet You have granted us this great salvation. May we be like Paul, ruled by such love, realizing that You didn’t just do this for us, but You died for all. And may we give our lives relentlessly and eagerly to the ministry of reconciliation to tell sinners they can be reconciled to a loving, forgiving God who will treat them as if they were as righteous as His perfect Son. This is available through faith in the name of Christ. Thank You for a wonderful evening of fellowship. Thank You for the privilege of worshiping You. We know that You want us to worship You in spirit. We’ve done that as we’ve sung, but also in truth. And now that we’re more enriched with the truth, fill our hearts with joy as we continue to worship You in the name of Your Son. Amen.
Have you ever had your love rejected? It hurts when someone rejects your love, whether you are 13, 23, or 73 years old. Oh, the pain of rejected love!
In today’s passage, I want you to see how Jesus’ love is often unwelcomed and rejected. But before we read our text, let me review the context and setting. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem to be crucified (v. 22). The opposition against Him was growing stronger and more vocal. The common people loved Him and heard Him gladly, but the religious crowd hated Him because He exposed their hypocrisy and wickedness. Let’s pick up with Luke 13:31-35:
At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to Him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill You.”
He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see Me again until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”
In these words, you can almost feel the depth of love and compassion Jesus had for His people. That’s the same kind of love He has for you today. Let’s learn three important things about Jesus’ love:
1. Jesus is a fearless lover
The Pharisees warned Jesus that Herod was out to kill Him, so He had better leave town by sundown. He was no friend of the Pharisees, so this warning was probably a scare tactic intended to spook Jesus.
Herod Antipas was a powerful governor who had the authority to execute anyone he desired. A few months earlier, he had beheaded John the Baptist at the request of his cunning stepdaughter, who was also his niece. Herod had nightmares that Jesus was actually John come back from the dead.
Jesus’ reply is priceless. He makes a joke of Herod. He says, “You tell that fox…” (v. 32). That’s an example of Hebrew humor. He was offering a caricature of Herod as a sneaky, cunning, predatory animal—actually pretty funny if you knew anything about Herod! He was more animal-like in his passions than human.
This response reveals Jesus’ courage. He is a fearless lover. He indicated He was going to keep on doing what He had been doing and Herod would not slow Him down. He had a job to do and He had a goal to accomplish. In verse 32, Jesus said, “I WILL reach my goal.” His goal was to redeem sinful mankind—and He knew He would have to die as the sacrificial Lamb to provide forgiveness. Nothing would cause Him to detour from the destination of the cross. Jesus was not afraid of Herod because He knew He already had a date with death and it wouldn’t be at the hands of Herod. Jesus did not die some martyr’s death over which He had no control. They did not execute Him; He willingly laid down His life. He makes that clear by what He said in John 10:17-18: “The reason My Father loves Me is that I lay down My life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord.” Revelation 13:8 says Jesus is the Lamb of God who was “slain from the creation of the world.” The cross was not an afterthought of God. It was not “Plan B” because Adam and Eve sinned. It was not a contingency plan—it was always God’s plan.
In a few days, Jesus was going to carry a literal cross from Pilate’s fort to a hill outside Jerusalem. But Jesus was already carrying that cross in His mind and heart. At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus knew He would die and rise again. He said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up again” (John 2:19). That’s why He was a fearless lover.
Human nature always wants to “detour from the difficult” instead of staying the course. Human nature says, “Get out of that bad marriage” or “Don’t submit to that difficult boss.” But there is a cross for all of us who would follow Jesus and we must be fearless in carrying it.
Jesus laughed and said, “You tell that fox…” On the surface, it seems as if Herod was the old fox who was being laughed at, but on a different level, I think Jesus was also laughing at the fox of death, the death Herod had the power to inflict. Jesus laughed at death.
Here’s the personal application for each of us: when we belong to God, we don’t have to fear any fox! When we are carrying the cross of Jesus, we have already died to self. You can’t scare a dead man. When we’re carrying the cross, it’s a liberating experience because we don’t have to be afraid of anybody or anything.
When the ship captain delivered the first missionaries to the wild jungle, he said, “I don’t know why you are going to those savages because they will kill you.” The missionary replied, “They can’t kill us because we have already died.”
The Bible says, “Perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18). That’s why Jesus wasn’t afraid. He possessed a perfect love for us. Jesus laughed in the face of the fear of death. You and I don’t have to be afraid either. When we are carrying the cross of Christ, we can laugh at any threat. I love the comment about the “Proverbs 31 woman.” The Bible says a godly woman is able to “laugh at the days to come” (Prov. 31:25). When you are carrying the cross, you can face any threat of the future and laugh at it. That’s what Jesus did – He made a joke about Herod and his deathly threat.
What are you afraid of today? Death? Financial ruin? Terrorist attack? Disease? When you truly belong to God there is nothing in this life that can rob you of your joy and your promise of eternal life. Some people go through this life whining and complaining and moaning and groaning that life isn’t fair. Hey, this life isn’t fair, but this life isn’t all there is! So get over it and get under the cross! Start living a life under the cross where you can laugh at the things that ought to scare you. Jesus is a fearless lover and what a lesson for all of us!
2. Jesus is a protective lover
This passage could be called Animal Planet because Jesus makes references to two different animals. He compared Herod and death to a fox, and He compared Himself to a mother hen. Look at verse 34 again. Jesus says, “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” Can you hear the depth of passion and heartache in that cry? There are many pictures in the Bible that describe God’s nature and character: He is a rock, the door, a shepherd, the light… and there are many others. God’s character is so multi-faceted that none of these images fully communicate the richness of His nature. Each one gives us a small insight into how He wants to relate to us.
Have you ever thought of God as a mother hen? Jesus was standing over Jerusalem with His arms of love outstretched, but the Jews were unwilling to accept His love. Jerusalem will never have peace until they acknowledge the Prince of Peace. Now, I must admit, I have never raised chickens, and maybe some of you have, so you may know more about chickens than I do. But we can learn something about God by understanding a mother hen.
A hen constantly calls her chicks. Maybe you have been around a chicken yard and heard them clucking, and thought they were clucking just to hear themselves cluck. But each hen has a distinctive cluck and clucks constantly, so her chicks can find her. Her chicks recognize her call. Jesus is constantly calling us to Himself as well. He says, “Come to Me all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). If we are wise, we will recognize and respond to the call of Jesus.
A hen calls them to feed. In every chicken yard there is a clearly established “pecking order.” The most dominant chickens get the first chance at food. As you can imagine, little chicks are pretty far down the pecking order. That’s why we are told to “stay right in the center” of God’s love. Like those little chicks Jesus spoke of, we should stay under the protective wings of God. We should be like a little child running to a parent with our arms outstretched and open—and get into the zone of His blessing and grace. Some of you are Christians and God loves you, but you have left the shelter of His love. Today, you can come back to Him and get back into the center of His love.
3. Jesus is a rejected lover
Verse 34 contains five of the saddest words in the Universe. Jesus said, “but you were not willing.” Jesus loves us so much He died for our sins. There is a heaven and a hell, and if a person lives their entire life rejecting His love, they will spend eternity in hell. I suspect He will say to each person who goes to hell, “I wanted to protect you and shelter you like a hen protects her chicks… but you were not willing.”
I can understand how Jesus’ heart was broken because His Jewish brothers and sisters rejected Him. The Bible says, “He came to that which was His own, but his own did not receive Him” (John 1:11). When I was in the eighth grade, there was a girl who rejected my love—and the result was only a minor broken heart. But the consequences of rejecting Jesus’ love are much more severe. Any person who rejects God’s love will experience spiritual desolation. When I think of the word “desolate,” I imagine a dry, barren desert where there is no shade and no water. I’ve known people, and perhaps you are one of them, who are experiencing spiritual desolation. There are no springs of living water bubbling up in their personalities. There is no fruit, no joy, no peace—only barrenness and desolation. Are you there?
The most amazing thing Jesus said in this passage is that we have the power to choose. Those last four words in verse 34 are some of the most powerful words in the universe. Jesus says to us, “I will love you and shelter you like a mother hen protects her chicks if you are willing.” You have the power to choose. When you choose to change the direction of your life, that’s called repentance. Have you ever repented and accepted Jesus’ love?
Today, Jesus invites you to run under His wings of safety and warmth. Some of you are Christians who left the circle of His love. He never stopped loving you, but you have vacated that zone of blessing. Will you move back to a position of obedience, so He can bless you? Others of you need to accept His love for the first time. Will you do that? If you choose not to receive His offer of love, for you He is still Jesus, the unwelcomed lover.
This is a message that will tell you how you can go to heaven when you die.
There are two doors after death: destruction or delight, and we choose which door we will pass through while we are alive; either the narrow door to heaven or the wide door to hell. Many of you are already believers and know you are going to heaven, so you may wonder why I’m speaking on this topic. The Bible makes it clear that many people think they are going to heaven, but they are mistaken. So it’s good to occasionally clear our minds of all of our preconceived notions and consider how a person can go to heaven. Heaven can only be entered through a narrow door. Have you found heaven’s narrow door? Let’s read about it in Luke 13:22-30.
Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as He made His way to Jerusalem. Someone asked Him, “Lord are only a few people going to be saved?” He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But He will answer, “I don’t know you or where you come from.’ Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!” There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the Kingdom of God. Indeed, there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”
If we want to enter heaven, there are four important truths we need to understand:
1. There is Only One Door to Heaven and it is Narrow
These words of Jesus are not politically correct in our age of religious pluralism. If Jesus came to America preaching this message today, He would be labeled a radical and would probably be arrested. In fact, that’s exactly why the Jews arrested Him and executed Him 2,000 years ago.
To say there is only one way to heaven is an unpopular stance today. Most people think there are many ways to get to heaven. They think it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are “sincere.” Well, those Palestinian suicide bombers are sincere in their beliefs, and they are wrong. You can be sincere – and be sincerely wrong.
A man told me he thought getting to heaven was like flying in an airplane. I could fly American Airlines, he could fly Delta, and somebody else could fly Northwest airlines, but we’d all get to the same destination. “Doesn’t that sound logical?” he asked.
I told him it sounded logical, but when you get on an airliner, you could never be 100% certain it would arrive at the intended destination; it could be diverted by weather, hijacked, have mechanical problems, or even crash. I told him I am booked to fly on Jesus Airlines and it’s the only one in the universe with a 100% on time arrival record! For Jesus (or any of us) to insist there is just one way to heaven seems too narrow-minded in this age of enlightenment. But look at His words again in verse 24: “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” Jesus didn’t speak of different doors or different airliners. He didn’t say “enter through one of the narrow doors.” He spoke of the narrow door.
Other Scriptures confirm there is only one way to heaven. In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” Now, let me misquote this verse the way most folks believe. They think Jesus said, “I am one of the ways, part of the truth, and one kind of life. No one comes to the Father unless they are religious, good, kind, and sincere in whatever it is they believe.” But Jesus didn’t say He was one of the ways or even the best way; He said He is the only way.
For five decades, Billy Graham had been filling stadiums around the world preaching Jesus is the only way to heaven. He always had a banner with John 14:6 placed in a prominent place. Many people thought his position was too narrow-minded. Several years ago, after he conducted a crusade in Australia, a woman wrote a letter of complaint to the newspaper. Her words are typical of many who do not appreciate our insistence that Jesus is the only way to heaven. She wrote, “After hearing Billy Graham on the air and viewing him on television, I am heartily sick of the type of religion that insists my soul (and everyone else’s) needs saving–whatever that means. I have never felt that I was lost. Nor do I feel that I wallow in the mire of sin, although his preaching insists I do. Give me practical religion that teaches gentleness and kindness and acknowledges no barriers of color or creed, that remembers the aged and teaches children about goodness and not about sin. If, in order to save my soul, I must accept such a philosophy as I have recently heard preached, I prefer to remain forever damned.”
Sadly, Jesus confirmed that millions of people share her attitude. He pointed out that only a small percentage of the entire population are going to be saved and He was dogmatic about it!
What’s wrong with being dogmatic about some things? If you go in for surgery, you wouldn’t want your surgeon to say to you the night before the surgery, “I don’t want to be dogmatic about the way to do this surgery. I think I’ll try a different approach this time. I may try going in from the other side for a change. After all, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.” You’d say, “But I’m not a cat and I don’t want to be skinned! Do the surgery the way you were taught to do it!” How far do you think the surgeon would get if he did it the wrong way?
We can’t bend God’s rules either. The people in this passage were at the door; they were even knocking on the door. But almost getting into the door won’t get us into heaven. When it comes to our eternal salvation there is only one door. What is it?
2. Heaven’s Door is Knowing God by Knowing Jesus
A few years ago, I conducted a survey. One of the questions on the survey was: “In your personal opinion, what do you understand it takes for a person to go to heaven?” As you can imagine, I got a variety of interesting answers. Everybody has an opinion. The most common incorrect answer to the question of how to get into heaven was: “Do good or be good.” Wrong. Access to eternal life in heaven can only be gained when we have a personal relationship with God.
In verse 25, Jesus describes people who will be pounding on heaven’s door after it is shut. They will be hollering, “Let me in! Open the door! I went to church; I even went to Sunday School! I gave my money to the church. I even worked for You! Hey, let me in!” Notice the reply of the Master of the house. He says, “I don’t know you.” It’s all about knowing God. Do you know Jesus Christ? Does He know you? He said in John 10:27, “My sheep hear My voice; I know them and they follow Me.” Do you recognize God’s voice when you hear it? Do you know Jesus and does He know you?
All of us in this room know about President Obama. Maybe you’ve met him or shaken his hand, but do you really know him? Have you visited with him enough that you are known by him? The same can be said about Jesus. Everyone here knows about Jesus, but some of you might have had casual contact with Him. Others of us have met Him and we know Him intimately because we talk with Him regularly (by the way, it’s easier to gain access to Jesus than it is to President Obama, so feel free to get to know Him).
Eternal life is knowing Jesus. Let me call your attention to the verse that best defines what eternal life is: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent” (John 17:3). Eternal life is knowing God. That’s the door to heaven and it is the only way to get into heaven.
I love to read fables because they are like the parables of Jesus. Many of them teach practical lessons that can be applied to spiritual truth. There’s an old Russian fable about a cat and a fox. The fox bragged to the cat about how clever he was. He claimed he had hundreds of ways of escaping from the hunters who chased him. He could hide in a hole, or backtrack in a creek, or lie flat in tall grass. He was proud of his big bag of tricks. The cat replied she only had one way of escape, but that seemed to work.
At that moment, they heard the sounds of the hounds coming toward them. The cat scampered up the tree and hid herself among the leaves. She said to the fox, “This is my plan. What are you going to do?” The fox first thought of one plan, then of another. While he was debating the best plan the hounds came closer. At last, in his confusion, the fox was caught by the hounds and soon killed by the hunters. The cat witnessed the whole scene and provides the moral of the story: “Better to have one safe way than a hundred by which you cannot be sure.”
God is Spirit and no man can see Him without dying. That’s why Jesus came to this planet. God took on human flesh and became one of us, so we can relate to Him. Jesus said, “I am the door; whoever enters through Me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture” (John 10:9). The narrow door into heaven is Jesus Himself. There is no other way to get to heaven than by trusting in Jesus as your Savior and Lord.
Maybe you have heard of the name, “Ivan the Terrible.” He was crowned the first Czar or Caesar of Russia in 1547. He was cruel and ruthless. He gouged out the eyes of the architects who built the beautiful St. Basil’s Cathedral, so they would never be able to build anything more beautiful. He had seven wives and abused them all. He even killed his own son in a fit of anger. There were many reasons why people called him “terrible.”
When he died in 1584 the leaders of the church followed his strange instructions. They shaved his head and dressed him in a Monk’s robe. Ivan the Terrible knew he was such a wicked man that he was hoping God would mistake him for a monk and let him into heaven. But you can’t get into heaven by disguising yourself as someone and hoping God will mistake you for him or her. There is only one door and that door is Jesus.
3. There are Only Two Doors Leading to Eternity – Choose Your Door
Each of us faces these doors. Behind one is eternal life and delight. Behind the other is death and destruction. There is no mystery involved in these doors. The doors are clearly marked and Jesus tells us what is behind each door. Beginning in verse 28, Jesus describes the fate of those who don’t enter through the narrow door. He says there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” That means there will be hopeless sorrow and unending pain. It makes me shiver in revulsion just thinking about it. Jesus said these people will “see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the prophets.” One of the worst parts of hell is the ability to realize others are in heaven and you aren’t. What a terrible place hell will be. In his epic, Inferno, Dante described hell as having different levels and circles of torment. He created minute details you never find in Scripture, but he got it right in one respect. He inscribed over the gate to hell these words: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”
Then Jesus contrasts that awful scene with the delightful glories of heaven. People from all four points of the compass, from all over the planet will gather for a feast! The Kingdom of God is like a feast, not a funeral. So, how do you get to enjoy the party and miss the pain? Choose the right door. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus lets us know there are actually two doors that lead to two totally different destinies. He said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
Consider the two doors. The one leading to destruction and hell is wide, and easy to find. Jesus said most of the world is on the pathway that leads to that door. But the door that leads to the delight of eternal life is narrow and only a few find it. God loves us so much He has made a way for us to know Him and to spend eternity with Him. But He also loves us so much that He has honored us by giving us the capacity to choose.
4. Heaven’s Door is Open Now, But Someday it Will be Shut
I can tell you on this very day, God’s door of grace is still wide open. But in verse 25, Jesus says one day the Master of the house will get up and close the door: “Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.” The door could close for you today. You could die today and that would close the door. Or, Jesus could return today and that would close the door of grace as well. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know things are heating up to a new level in Israel. All of that is a clear indication we are in the season of the return of Christ. So, if you haven’t trusted Jesus yet, do it today. Christian, if there is someone you know and love who hasn’t walked through God’s narrow door yet, don’t let another day pass by without lovingly urging them to trust Jesus alone for their salvation.
You can choose to enter heaven’s door today. Jesus said it’s a narrow door. Think about that for a minute. It’s so narrow only one person can walk through it at one time. In other words, you can’t walk through heaven’s door holding someone else’s hand. I thank God my parents raised me in church and sent me to Christian school, but when it came time for me to give my life to Jesus, I walked through that door all by myself. Some of you think because your grandfather was a preacher or your mother was a godly saint that you can walk through the door with them, but you can’t. The narrow door to heaven says, “One person at a time.”
Do you know what else it means because it’s a narrow door? It’s so narrow you can’t bring a bunch of excess baggage with you. In fact, you’ve got to unload all your “stuff” before you walk through it. I read once about a hiker who got trapped in a cave. He found a small opening to escape, but he couldn’t squeeze through with his backpack. So, he removed his backpack, and then his canteen, and then his jacket before he could slip through the opening. When you walk through the narrow door of heaven, you’ve got to leave your backpack of sinful habits and sinful attitudes behind. As the old song says, “Nothing in my hand I bring, Only to your cross I cling.”
Have you discovered heaven’s narrow door? Jesus is inviting you to come to Him today. Is there a need in your life? Does there seem to be an unquenchable thirst in your soul you haven’t been able to satisfy by anything this world offers? On the last page of the Bible, God extends an invitation to all of us. He says, “Is anyone thirsty? Come! All who will, come and drink. Drink freely of the Water of Life!” (Revelation 22:17).
The Bible speaks about another kind of door: it’s the door to your heart. And the way you walk through heaven’s door is by asking Jesus to come into the door of your heart. The most famous painting of the 19th century is by English artist Holman Hunt and is called “The Light of the World.” It’s a dark picture because it is night, symbolizing that the night has come and the day of salvation is almost over. Jesus is wearing a crown of thorns and standing at a door with a lantern in His hand. He is knocking on the door and His message is hard to miss. Jesus says, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with Me” (Revelation 3:20). Art critics looked at the painting and pointed out that Holman Hunt made a mistake–there was no latch on the door. His reply silenced the critics. He said the door of our heart only has a doorknob on the inside. We are the only ones who can open our hearts to Jesus.
Right now, Jesus is standing at the door of your heart. He’s knocking. Do you hear His voice? Will you open your heart to Him? When you do that, you will have found Heaven’s narrow door.