“Got your ticket?”

This week’s devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Fedderson:

Isaiah 66:18-23
Hebrews 12:18-24
Luke 13:22-30

While their perspectives are quite different, the common thread through all three of Sunday’s lessons is that the kingdom of God is what God, and not what any individual or group, makes it. In the first lesson, God probably surprised some of the exiled Jews by saying that they had brothers in other nations, and that He looked for all mankind to come and bow down before Him. This was not a new element of the covenant — the Old Covenant was designed to bless the covenant people to be a blessing to others. But it was the people’s most frequently forgotten, neglected or ignored element.

The Second Lesson identifies God as Judge of all. In the Gospel, Jesus’ redirection of someone’s question leads to His teaching that the entry to the kingdom is narrow. But the Gospel message is clear and simple — the gate is open. As a matter of fact, some who assume it is open to them and not to others will find they had it backwards.

The Gospel begins with Jesus continuing His journey toward Jerusalem, teaching those He meets along the way. Someone in the crowd asks, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” The exact motive of the questioner is unknown. One thing that does seem clear is that the questioner considers himself to be one of the saved. Someone once observed that Jesus answered the question, “What about them?” with: “Let’s talk about you.”

Immediately after He finished speaking, Pharisees warned Jesus that Herod was after Him. He responded that it just wouldn’t be right for a prophet to die anywhere but in Jerusalem. We are reminded of the cost of the open gate. To get a ticket to a St. Louis Cardinal baseball game between now and when Big Mac hits 60, 61 and 62, you’d better have a very fat wallet, because only scalpers have any left. You cannot even buy an illegal ticket to enter the “narrow door” into the kingdom. That “ticket” cannot be bought, begged, borrowed, earned or even stolen. The price is the blood of Christ and He paid it for you. In other words, there is no ticket. The door is open and we enter it by faith.

We all need to strive to enter the narrow gate lest it be shut and we stand outside and knock and weep and gnash our teeth, watching others there instead of ourselves. With that understanding, Jesus is putting a new wrinkle into the denominational jokes about the “Quiet Zones” in heaven for all the groups who think they are the only ones there. Jesus is not only suggesting that others might be there in addition to us, He is suggesting that we might not be there! Now, that’s a little eye-opener we could all use on occasion when the “We — They Syndrome” attacks us.

Feddersen’s Fables (an imaginary collection of things I’ve read, heard or made up) has a great story about this setting. On Judgment Day, people were thronging to the gate of the kingdom in great numbers. Some were slowly plodding along in line; some were hurrying, fearful that the gate may close soon; some were even pushing and shoving to get to the front of the line. Others were showing the way, helping the lame, the blind, the lost, and the young to make their way to Paradise. Among these were a few who ventured even into the darkest places to shine a light so that others could come.

As evening came and the huge gate began to slowly close, the last of the helpers looked around and saw one more wandering through the darkness. He ran down the path with his light and found a woman who might have thought Methuselah was a youngster. She was bent way over with the years; her hand wobbled on top of the cane as she tried to steady herself. She said, “You better go on ahead — the gate is closing. I had to make sure that others found the way, and now I’ve just delayed too long. But that doesn’t matter — just so you are not closed out as well.” The helper was a helper to the end. He refused to go on without her, and chose to hold the light and steady her as they went together. They arrived just as the final inches of opening disappeared, and the huge latch closed with
a resounding “Clank!”

Suddenly, another appeared in the darkness; His form was that of a man, but His face could be seen as though it had its own light. That one reached out and touched the old woman. Her cane fell to the ground, and she suddenly stood erect; the helper was startled at her appearance because, in the light of the stranger’s face there was no aged, leathery and wrinkled appearance, only a marvelous warmth and beauty. From inside the gate, someone yelled out, “It’s the Lord!” Surely, He will open the gate and let them in. Jesus walked toward the gate, and as He went the street began to illuminate as though it were made of gold; behind the helper and the woman more light began to unwrap the most marvelous vision eyes could behold. From the other side of the gate, someone yelled again, “How did heaven get over there?” Opening the gate again, so that those who had found the lost and helped the last could enter, Jesus said, “And so it is that the last shall be first and first shall be last.”

The story is neither true nor theologically correct, but it illustrates the futility of pushing others out of the way so that we can get close to God. It also shows the necessity of showing others the way and helping them to get into the kingdom. Jesus’ mission to those who will come from the east and west and north and south is our mission. Many are lost and don’t even know it. Most are trying to enter the kingdom the wrong way, through something other than faith in Christ. We must tell them about Him!

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