Gatekeepers

One of the most fascinating stories in all of scripture is the story of Jacob’s night at Bethel which he experienced when he was on the run from his brother Esau, whom he had swindled on several ocassions. We are told, “Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.

 

There above it stood the Lord, and he said: ‘I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven’” (Gen.28:10-17).

 

Two millennia later, John told us in his gospel, “When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, ‘Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.’ ‘How do you know me?’ Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, ‘I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Then Nathanael declared, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.’ Jesus said, ‘You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.’ He then added, ‘I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”’ (Jn. 1:47-51).

 

Nathaniel was stunned that Jesus had known his thoughts. We can surmise that Nathaniel had been sitting under a tree meditating on the word of God – specifically this story and all the ways in which Jacob had defrauded his brother Esau. Jacob was an Israelite in whom there had been a great deal of deception so Jesus contrasted Nathaniel with Jacob. He then characterized himself as the ladder in Jacob’s dream.

 

In essence, the gospel of John reveals that Jacob’s dream was a prophetic picture of Jesus who would bridge the gap between heaven and earth. Not only that but, through him, the household of God would become a gateway to heaven. The idea of the church being a doorway to heaven is both encouraging and challenging. We know that ultimately Jesus is the way to heaven but the church presents him to the world. Jesus is the ladder that spans the gap but we open the door for others to know and experience Jesus. In that sense we can open the door or close the door to heaven by our representation of Jesus. That is both a privilege and a sobering responsibility.

 

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for being poor gatekeepers to the kingdom of heaven. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to” (Mt.23:13). These “paragons of virtue” kept men from entering the kingdom because of their legalism and arrogance. They made “rule keeping” the cornerstone of their faith and piled on so many rules that everyone felt the impossibility of “being good enough” from the start. Many gave up before they even started and many felt the condemnation of the Pharisees who considered themselves righteous as they judged all others as those who would not truly make the cut. Pharisees would not even walk on the same side of the street as “sinners” so how could they ever lead a sinner to the kingdom and who would want to go with them anyway?

 

The Pharisees operated under the Law but some have done the same with the gospel of grace by turning the faith into a list of rules and expectations rather than a relationship based on our immense need for grace because none of us, by our own efforts, can make the cut. Many have felt judged and condemned by those in the church so that the gateway to heaven seemed cold and harsh rather than warm and inviting.

 

There is also a side to grace that is sometimes abused as well. Sometimes we make grace into a blanket policy that suggests that everyone and everything is acceptable in the kingdom of God and no one really goes to hell after all. God’s love is immense but so is his righteousness. Repentance is a prerequisite to entering the kingdom. If everyone gets in the door, there is no need for membership. The difference in legalism and grace is not the absence of standards under grace, but the basis for meeting those standards.

 

Under law, you must live up to kingdom standards by your own strength and efforts. Under grace, Jesus has lived up to those standards for us. We are credited with his efforts as long as we have faith in what he has done and a heart that wants to honor him with righteous living although we will have a number of miscues along the way. The kingdom offers salvation wherever we are in life, but calls us to something better, something cleaner, something healthier, and something greater than the world can offer. But it must be offered on the basis of love, grace and humility rather than with judgment and spiritual pride.

 

The truth is that each of us in a gatekeeper in the kingdom of God. In the eyes of those considering that gate, our lives and our attitudes reflect what is on the other side. If we are judgmental and arrogant, those outside the gate will expect to find a God on the other side who will make them cringe and crawl with fear. If we suggest that there is really no difference between the world inside and outside the gate, other than a “Get out of jail free” card, they will have the sense that nothing for them or their children will improve in this world so they may choose to look for another source of relief for their current pain.

 

As gatekeepers we must display the character of the kingdom. At the top is faith, hope, and love based on a relationship with a loving God whose grace and Spirit will make life significantly better on this side of heaven and that will make heaven a warm, inviting place for those in Christ rather than a frightening place of judgment and rejection. We are the house of God and the gate of heaven as Jacob put it. Let’s decide today to be amazing and inviting gate keepers for Jesus.

 

 

 

 

 

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