Welcome to the Pearly-Gated Community
Welcome to the Pearly-Gated Community
In the first sermon in our series, I talked about the primary person we will get to see in heaven: Jesus, face to face. Now I want to talk about some of the other people we will meet in heaven—specifically, who will be our neighbors?
When you hunt for a new home, one of the biggest factors is location. Location isn't just about the proximity of your home to schools, banks, or shopping centers. Location is also about the quality of the neighborhood. You may not want to live next door to someone who has their RV on blocks in the front yard, next to the old sofa and washing machine. You may not want to live in a neighborhood where thieves have stolen the "Neighborhood Watch" signs. You may not want to live next to guy who repairs tubas 24 hours a day. In the second apartment my wife and I lived in, we lived across the hall from a single guy who loved to cook out with his friends … at midnight … and the people in the apartment above us tap danced non-stop.
It's important to know who your neighbors are. Who will live next door to you in heaven? Who will be your neighbors in the pearly-gated community?
In Matthew 7, Jesus gave a very unexpected answer to this question. This passage comes at the end of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus described the nature of his coming Kingdom. He qualifies exactly who will enter this Kingdom and how they will get there. You may think you already know all the people who will live on your street in eternity, but Jesus issues three very serious warnings that determine who will spend eternity with him and who will not.
Enter through the narrow gate.
Jesus first warns to find the narrow door. Matthew 7:13-14 reads, "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." Jesus compares two different paths with two different gates. On the one hand, there is a broad road and big gate. This is the way of the majority; it's the easy way; it's the default direction. Jesus is speaking of the religion and requirements of the Pharisees—a system that most of the people of Israel had bought into. The Pharisees believed that fulfilling religious requirements led to salvation, when, in fact, it was a sure road to ruin.
On the other hand, Jesus says the way of life is small and narrow. It's the way of Jesus. Jesus said in John 10:9, "I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved," and in John 14:6, "I am the way, the truth, and the life …." Some have accused Jesus of being "narrow-minded," and when it came to salvation he was. There is only one way to enter the Kingdom of God: faith in Jesus Christ. I have told my son Grant that he really has to pay attention in math, because math is one of the few disciplines where there is only one right answer and billions of wrong ones. "Approximate" answers in math are wrong answers.
I think most people are counting on an "approximate" Gospel—"I've heard of Jesus … I live in Christian country … I own a Bible … I've lived a pretty good life … I even go to church most Sundays. Generally speaking, I think the odds are good that I'll go to heaven." But Jesus said the way was much narrower than that. There is no "approximate" gospel; there is only one way: Jesus Christ.
I think Jesus used the picture of a narrow doorway because you can't come through it with anything other than him. You have to drop the baggage of your accomplishments, successes, good looks, and material goods—they won't fit through the threshold. It's only by faith in Jesus that a person can enter in, and because it's narrow and small "few will find it" (Matthew 7:14). Let me translate: There will be far more people in hell than in heaven. So it is imperative: Find the narrow door.
Beware of religious deception.
Jesus' second warning is to beware of religious deception. As you seek the narrow door, Jesus cautions you against that which can deceive:
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them (Matthew 7:15-20).
Be on guard against false prophets and teachers who suggest other ways into the Kingdom. Jesus calls them wolves in sheep's clothing—they appear harmless, but end up doing harm. In the broadest interpretation, Jesus might have been speaking against cults today—groups that claim to be Christian but deny the divinity of Jesus and salvation by faith in him. Even more dangerous to those seeking the way are pseudo-Christian groups within the church. Jesus said you should know these bad seeds by the fruit they produce. Still, many people will be attracted them and miss the way into the Kingdom. Jesus' words are strong:
Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' (Matthew 7:21-23).
Do you know what Jesus is saying here? There will be a lot of surprises in heaven. For some attempting to enter into the Kingdom of heaven, it will be like dining at an expensive restaurant, trying to pay with your Discover card, and the waiter saying, "I'm sorry, sir, but we don't take Discover." You've got nothing else with you—no other means by which to pay.
Many people pay lip service to God. Perhaps they grew up with a denominational loyalty, served at a food pantry for Thanksgiving each year, put their hands on the television during the primetime revival, wrote a check to feed the hungry, but did not know Jesus Christ, and Jesus did not know them. Equally surprising are the folks that many don't think will enter heaven who do. How about the young man who commits suicide? How about the murderous felon who claims to meet God? How about the old woman who has rejected God all her life and goes through a deathbed conversion?
I want to share a poem from Jill Briscoe:
I dreamt death came the other night
And heaven's gates swung wide
An angel with a halo bright
Ushered me inside
And, there to my astonishment
Stood folks I judged and labeled
As quite unfit … of little worth
And spiritually disabled
Indignant words rose to my lips
But never were set free
For every face showed stunned surprise
No one expected me
We may be surprised at our neighbors in the pearly-gated community, but God won't be. The litmus test will be the same for all: Did he know Christ? Did she know Christ? God's will is that people trust in Christ—the only way of salvation—and you must beware of religious deception that offers any other way.
Make a firm decision.
Jesus thirdly warns people to make a firm decision. In Matthew 7:24-27 he calls to people,
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.
His warning reminds me of the words of James 1:22: "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." You can hear the challenge to trust Christ and act on that trust, or you can simply hear the truth and do nothing. You might think the message is a bit sensationalistic; you want to put the decision off until you get a little older; you think that the pastor is talking about "all those other people"; you convince yourself that none of it applies to you; you want to hedge your bets. James calls all these excuses self-deception. Jesus warns that it's like building your house on sand—when the storm comes, there is no foundation.
As Jesus admonished, make a firm decision today; build on the strong, immovable rock of Jesus. Place your faith in Christ for your salvation. The only way you can know your neighbors in heaven is if you're there!
Jesus said that the neighborhood of the pearly-gated community will be determined by one first move—a firm decision to reject religious deception and walk through the narrow door. It begins with faith in Christ who is the only way. Everything else in life and after life will follow suit. And when our moving van pulls up to the curb of heaven, we'll know we're in the right place, living forever with all those who have trusted Christ.
David Daniels is the lead pastor of Central Bible Church in Fort Worth, Texas.