Let us pray: Dear Savior, today as we get closer to Easter our thoughts turn heavenward. And how we long for that time when we can go home to heaven and be with You, free from sin and its pain! Remind us today that heaven has different rules than our sin-tainted lives on this earth. Remind us that You reveal those rules to us by Your sacrificial life and death. Yes, remind us that heaven is all about love—given and received freely by us from Your gracious hand—and that total satisfaction is the result. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE ONE AND ONLY SAVIOR!
TEXT: Matthew 20: 17-28
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
Two news items captured my attention this week. The first was released by Vatican City and reads: “Pope Benedict XVI is offering plenary indulgences to those who make a pilgrimage to the Mary shrine in Lourdes, France, sometime during the next year. (“Trips to Lourdes to cut time spent in purgatory.” London Telegraph, Dec. 7, 2007). This indulgence allegedly cuts down on the time that a Roman Catholic has to spend in purgatory being purged of his sins and the deal is available until Dec. 8, 2008.” The other article quotes N. T. Wright, the Anglican bishop of Durham, England as saying: “Christians do not go to heaven when they die and but are asleep in God and inactive. In the Bible we are told that you die, and enter an intermediate state. St. Paul is very clear that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead already, but that nobody else has yet.”
Of course, both items are in conflict with clear Scripture. First, there is no “purgatory” or the “waiting room” to heaven. Likewise, humans cannot win full pardon for earthly sins by something they do, including making pilgrimages. To say otherwise diminishes and really negates the work of Christ, Who says in our lesson: “gives his life as a ransom for many.” The second point also negates clear Scripture. What about the thief on the cross to whom Christ says: “Today you will be with Me in paradise?” What about Moses and Elijah appearing bodily with Christ on the Mt. of Transfiguration? What about Rev. 5 where we see the souls of the martyrs worshipping in heaven before the throne of God and wearing white robes? What about when St. Paul writes: “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”?
Obviously, there is a lot of confusion out there as to both how to get to heaven and what that supernatural reality is like. In fact, we see such confusion outlined in our lesson and enunciated by the mother of James and John, and according to Mark’s parallel account, re-enunciated by both those brothers, too. Of course, Christ answers these questions quite well in our lesson where we see that:
HEAVEN = SAVED IN CHRIST
It is a couple of weeks before Christ’s death and His Easter resurrection, about like the time period between the two that we find ourselves in today. And to prepare His disciples for what’s coming, Jesus lays it all out. “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!”
The mother of James and John, Zebedee’s wife, is present. She kneels and asks a favor of the Lord. “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” She wants to insure the places of highest honor at the heavenly banquet table for her two sons. Obviously she has a competitive nature. And love for her sons now shows itself along with that nature. I always find this text both amusing and sad. She doesn’t get it, does she? She doesn’t understand that heaven is a totally different reality than earthly life. In heaven there is no competition and no jealousy, only honor and joy over everyone there and most of all over Christ Who got us there with His suffering and death and not indulgences!
After their mother’s request, Jesus turns to the brothers with a question. “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink? ‘We can,’ they answered. Jesus said to them, ‘You will indeed drink from the cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.”
This is an enlightening section if we carefully dissect it. First, the cup Christ refers to is the cup of His suffering. Note well that Jesus says: “I am going to drink.” He drank all of it. He drained every single drop from that cup by suffering the full weight of human sin on the cross. “He who knew no sin was made to be sin for us.” In the Father’s eyes, Christ became evil itself. All evil was placed on Him and when He died, the power of evil over us, including eternal death also died. Second, when the brother’s ignorantly answer: “We can” Christ says: “You will indeed drink for the cup.” Note the “from.” They cannot and will not drink up all the world’s suffering as Christ did. But, they will taste it. And in their subsequent lives taste it they did, as does every single believer. All Christians suffer persecution in some way, shape, or form in this life. Finally, God the Father already has in mind specific people who will be honored in heaven. Who are they? Well, we don’t really know, but I’ve always thought John the Baptist was a good candidate for one of those special slots. After all, Christ says of him, “Among those born of woman, none is greater than John the Baptist.” But even then, since there is no jealousy in heaven and no ego, everyone will just be happy over other people’s honor. No competition will be found in heaven. And isn’t that a great thing! It means that nothing will detract from our joy when we embrace that future reality which really occurs the moment you die and your soul goes to be with the Lord!
At the conclusion of our lesson the ugly head of human sin rears itself. The other disciples hear of Zebedee’s wife’s question and become indignant. You can almost hear them say to each other: “What are we, chopped liver?” But Christ calls all of them together to shed light on what really matters. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. No so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant (slave), just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
There you have it. Christ came to do it all and He did! He saves us, not indulgences. He wins heaven for us, not indulgences. His work of loving us is perfect, ours is imperfect does nothing to make us right with God. So, the point is: “trust in the Lord and lean not on your own understand.” The point is: Heaven=Saved by and in Christ, alone. Amen