Getting into places is getting more difficult these days. At the footy you have to go through bag searches and body scans which takes such a long time. If you drive there you have even more difficulty with all the bollards that have been placed around areas to prevent the latest terrorist attacks of driving vehicles into crowds. Airports are a security nightmare because of the concerns of terrorism also. But it’s not just the issue of terrorism causing entrance headaches. We have the incredible situation happening currently in our parliament with ministers being removed or under investigation for being dual citizens. It’s a worry that if these earthly places are so difficult to enter, what about heaven? Do you ever wonder about whether or not you’re going to be eligible to enter into heaven? What is the eligibility? Is there a minimum ENTER score you have to achieve to get in? Do your good deeds have to outweigh your sins? That was a question that vexed Martin Luther as he struggled to find a loving God who appreciated all the good things he was doing for him. It just seemed to Luther that the more he did, the harder he tried to assure himself of entry into heaven the further away it seemed for him.
He called God a tyrant and spoke about how he at times hated God for the way he made him feel. Jesus today teaches about entry into heaven and he teaches that entry can be understood quite easily. He explains that it is one’s relationship with him [Jesus] that is our assurance of entry into heaven. He begins by asking his disciples what everyone else is believing about him – who are they saying that I am? Their answers sound okay but they are so way off: “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Those answers are of no help in getting into heaven. Each of them were themselves looking for the coming promise of God so it couldn’t be them. They were looking and waiting for the Promised Messiah or Christ. And so he asks those who have been with him – those who are his dearest and closest companions. Who do YOU say that I am? Peter, as spokesman for the disciples answers on their behalf: You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God. And for that answer Jesus reveals the key to eternal life in heaven:
On this rock – believing that Jesus Christ is the Son of God – I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
The keys of heaven have been given to the church and those keys are used by forgiving the sin that had prevented entry into heaven. Sin is what prevents entry into heaven. Luther discovered that sin was not dealt with by balancing it away with good works but by coming before God and receiving his forgiveness. And therefore there was no uncertainty over whether he had done enough good things or not. God wiped away his sins by forgiveness through Jesus Christ. So what does that mean for us – as Luther would always ask when explaining something about God? He would always ask: What does this mean? Does it mean that it makes no difference how we live our lives because at the end God is simply going to forgive us? Certainly not! That’s NOT what it means. Forgiveness of our sins is not like paying off your credit card where you can simply fill it up again and pay it off and the end of the week. No, it doesn’t mean that at all. Jesus asks us – who do YOU say that I am – it’s a personal question that asks for a personal response. St Paul answers that question in our 2nd reading when he says: “I appeal to you by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. If Jesus is our Lord – if we truly believe that Jesus is the Son of God who died for MY sins – then we should be living our lives in such a way. Sin should be as abhorrent to us as it is to God because it is sin that prevented our entry into heaven and necessitated Jesus’ suffering and death in our stead.
Forgiveness is given by God because we are not perfect in living out our Christian lives not so we can do whatever we want. Not at all – and again St Paul explains what that means for us: He says: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God– what is good and acceptable and perfect”. So whereas entry into heaven might be easy it is not that easy to live the life that God calls us to live.
Holy and Perfect. And that’s where our concerns and doubts arise wondering whether we are good enough. And that’s the same dilemma Luther faced and he realised he needed to look outside of himself and to what God has given to him. And that’s where he discovered his Baptism was a great comfort to assure him that despite his failings that he was still a child of God. So instead of referring to all the good things he had done he would reply “I am Baptised”.
The good works weren’t irrelevant except if we are using them to try and convince God as to why we should enter heaven.
Our baptism is given to us by God so that we can look outside of ourselves for assurance of forgiveness and entry into heaven. Sadly many use baptism like a gym membership. A gym membership won’t get you fit and losing weight.
A gym membership gives you access to the premises to help us. Likewise Baptism gives us access to God’s grace to help us in our weakness. So we call Baptism a means of grace. The same is said for Holy Communion. Holy Communion is a means of grace by which we receive Jesus’ body and blood that gives and assures us of forgiveness. And, as Jesus says, whatever is forgiven on earth is without a doubt forgiven in heaven.
So entry into heaven is not about what WE do – it is about what God HAS done. What God HAS done, not will do.
So we can have that assurance now and not wait till the end of time wondering if we will get into heaven. St Paul so beautifully puts it in his letter to the Philippians (3:20): We are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Saviour.
We ARE citizens of heaven and that is a citizenship that we do not want to renounce.