Keys to the Kingdom of Heaven

“But who do you say that I am?” Jesus asked his Apostles. Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  Jesus answered, “Blessed are you, Simon bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.  I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it! I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  (Matthew 16:15-19)

There’s a lot packed into the words of Jesus above. For now, let’s focus on the “keys” that Jesus said he would give the Apostle Peter.  What is Jesus talking about here?  We all know the tradition that Peter is the gatekeeper of heaven and when we die we must get permission from him to enter into heaven through the Pearly Gates.  There’s been many a joke told with that as the premise.  Or, the Catholic Church has used this as a proof text to say Peter was the first Pope, and what the Pope says goes.

St Peter Pearly Gates

Let me offer an alternative view. I believe Jesus’ words provide a near-term but very far-reaching perspective on the keys he promised Peter.  Go with me to Acts 2.  It’s the day of Pentecost as the disciples wait, just as Jesus instructed, until he sends his Spirit.  The Spirit arrives like a rushing wind, and speaking in a tongue that all can understand on this festival day Peter preaches the first resurrection sermon.  When he is done telling them what has happened to Jesus, who Jesus really is, they cry out, “What must we do?”  And Peter provides the key, telling them “Repent and be baptized ever one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”  He thus opened the door of salvation for all these Jews gathered at this Jewish festival.

Fast forward with me to Acts 10. Peter has been focused on his fellow Jews, most likely holding onto his prejudice against the Gentiles (non-Jews).  He is in Joppa (not by accident where Jonah fled his mission to the Gentiles) and in a vision comes to understand that God has made clean what was formally considered unclean.  Cornelius, a Gentile centurion (Roman soldier) lives in Caesarea and has a vision of his own. He’s told to send for Simon who is called Peter.  He does.  Peter goes and realizes that God has granted salvation by faith to the Gentiles, saying, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality.”  Peter preaches the gospel to those in Cornelius’ house and God’s Spirit impacts them as it did the disciples on Pentecost. Peter provides the key, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?”  And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Baptism

The door of salvation is now open to all; both Jew and Gentile! Peter used the keys Jesus gave him, and what is bound on earth is bound in heaven, what is loosed on earth is loosed in heaven.  In other words, to be loosed from your sins, respond in faith, repentance, and baptism, becoming a disciple of Jesus!  For those who do, the door to God’s Kingdom swings open, as do the gates of heaven.                                                                  

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The Devil’s Schemes

Thoughts from the devil’s perspective…

Television. Ah, even the word is music to my ears.  A human once said when seeing an early version of this tool, “This is a device that can teach people.”  We got a big kick out of that one.  Oh, it can teach alright!  We use it most effectively.  Much of the secularization of the American culture has come as we gradually encourage those in Hollywood to introduce anti-biblical concepts through the stories told on television.  Slowly but surely this modem of secular morals brings more violence, more sex, more vulgar language, more un-Christian thought into the minds of those who set passively and soak it in.  What was once unthinkable, becomes thinkable, even acceptable.  Must say, we are very proud of the results.

Our adversary must be frustrated with our success. He has gone to great lengths to provide written instruction, a book of sorts, to his followers, with stories that illustrate the catastrophes caused by rejecting him, stories that direct these followers to key elements of right relationship, stories that demonstrate his love for these abhorrent creatures, his forgiveness, but also his requirements.  We have actually encouraged the publication of these instructions, all neatly bound in an attractive book with footnotes, introductions, references, etc.  At the same time, we’ve encouraged busyness to the extent that this book lays dormant on shelves.  Busyness, laziness, no matter.  Few really read this stuff, or even go to their so-called places of worship to hear the “preacher” talk about it.  Many of those who do go, allow habit to close their ears.  Kudos to my demon friends for the extent of this success.

HolyBible_on_shelf

Along similar lines, I am very pleased with how we’ve largely removed this “book” as the guidance for cultural issues like homosexuality and sex outside of marriage for straight couples. By successfully making this an emotional issue based on feel-good and selfish thinking, it has become a subjective topic that has created a wave of support for us, even among his followers.  Hey, when the rule book lies dormant on the shelf, or when feelings overcome an objective reading of the guidelines, our battle is almost won!  Pairing love with obedience, faith with faithfulness, commitment with sacrifice (as truth in a sinful world is pursued), such common-sense things lose their weight when these humans become convinced that it’s all about selfish indulgence in this world, little thought of the next.  Well done, I say!

More victories come our way when we allow attention around holidays (a play on the words Holy Day), to become more about traditional tomfoolery. The virgin birth of their hero becomes a side show for Santa Claus and an excuse for drunken parties.  The resurrection (I shudder to say that word) becomes some vague imagery with a rabbit, of all things.  All Hallows (Saints) Day was intended to recall those who set an example for these “followers,” but we have turned it on its head with Hallows Eve (Halloween) and a sugar filled quest for candy amidst ghouls and goblins.  Our strategies have been so very successful, I think you must agree.  These are just a few examples of many victories.

Sure, there are those diehards we can’t get to.  Those who actually do rely on “the book” and work together to reinforce what our adversary desires.  But their numbers are diminishing.  Thank the devil!  Oh, shall I boast, since that is me?

“Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” (The Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian church: Eph. 6:11)

Living in the Wreckage of Eden

Oh, what a sight it was. As he looked out over the landscape, he couldn’t help but think this was something amazing.  Animals gently grazing, fruit trees with luscious food, a stream running smoothly over rocks that seemed to be placed just so, with tender care.  It’s been called Eden, thought Adam.  Adam’s wife Eve was preparing a meal, smiling, beckoning for Adam to come and be playful again.  Things were just so perfect.  But then Eve remembered.  There was another person, with the voice of an angel, but eyes that seemed to contradict the voice.  He was not like them, yet he was like them.  He made Eve think of the slithering creature they had seen down by the orchard one night, almost serpent like.  He wanted to see her, tonight.  Should she go?  There was a certain intrigue about him.  Maybe…

You know the story. And you know the biblical proportions of the damage that was done once both Eve and Adam gave into to the temptations presented to them.  That damage has compounded due to each one of us participating in defiance of our Maker.  You have felt it, and I have too.  The unexpected death of a loved one.  The diagnosis of cancer.  The loneliness and impact of divorce.   Abuse & selfish arguments that defy the good relationship we truly want with the other person.  There are food shortages in much of the world.  Even recently we’ve seen earthquakes and hurricanes and volcanoes erupt.  Wars, rumors of wars. Then there is our society that seems to have gone mad.  People hating other people because of their politics, wanting gun control (but be sure to shoot those who don’t before you put the guns away).  It’s all wrapped up in a word.  We don’t like it much, but we know it.  Sin.

And so, we live in the wreckage of Eden. God placed his angel at the entry, flaming sword in hand, and would not allow sinful man to return to his perfect environment, no fruit from the tree of life.  We’ve been struggling to make sense of things and right the wrongs ever since.  We take one step forward, and two back.  And that’s the nature of things.  Unless.  Unless we can find a way to have a new creation.

cherubim-flaming-sword

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come; The old is gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor. 5:17) It was promised in Isaiah, “See, I will create a new heaven and a new earth, the former things will not be remembered.” (Isaiah 65:17) And it will be fulfilled with Jesus’ return, “But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.”  (2 Peter 3:13) And again, from John the Apostle, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and earth had passed away.” (Revelation 21:1).

Is this world messed up? Indeed.  Has your life been messed up at times, maybe even now?  Indeed, I would expect you to say.  But God has not left us to wander aimlessly in the dark.  Through Jesus he has provided forgiveness of sins, a renewed relationship with the Lord, and a pathway back to the wonders and joy of Eden.  The wrongs will be made right, every tear will be wiped away.  Health restored, vigor renewed.  Maybe not tomorrow, but soon, very soon.  It’s what you’ve been longing for.  Me too.

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the lamb. And on each side of the river stood the tree of life…yielding its fruit.” (Rev. 22)

The Answer

God created all things good. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:1, 31).

But then sin entered the picture, and things were not so good. “she took of the tree’s (forbidden) fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened.” (Genesis 3:6, 7). Sin disrupts and separates humans spiritually from a perfect God.

“I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalms 119:11)

This is not something we view from the outside, we are all participants in sin, choosing The Answerto do things that fail to honor God and his commands. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). As a result, we all are touched by sin’s impact, both directly and indirectly. At times we suffer for bad choices we have made. Other times we suffer as a result of bad choices others have made. Because sin has messed up life on earth, bad things happen to good people. Accidents happen. Things are not fair. Sickness and disease happens. It’s a consequence of the fallen world we live in.

  • A young boy has lived through a nightmare of being abused for years while growing up, due to the immoral approach of an uncle. He is scarred. He needs therapy to deal with it. He struggles with relationships because of it.
  • A young girl has become addicted to heroin because of friends who have provided bad influence and exposed her to a night life environment that has many temptations. She has tried to come clean, but the battle is a tough one.
  • Kids must grapple with the instability of their parent’s divorce, a divorce that has caused changes in their life that they could have avoided if the family had been stable and mom and dad had stayed together.
  • A middle aged lady has become caught up in the values of Hollywood, even though she grew up going to church. But church was not supported with a complimentary lifestyle she saw at home, and her escape was the movies. Whatever those “stars” believed had appeal to her.
  • An older couple have lived a great life. Their parents weren’t Christian, but they were stable and provided a strong family life. The couple both went to college, got degrees, then had fulfilling careers. A nice house in the suburbs, two cars, trips to exotic places. Living the American Dream. Now they are growing older and wonder about death, but have no place for God.

Sin has touched every one of those illustrated above. It’s tempting to admire the last couple, but such a life, in-light of eternity, is very short, and goes by so quickly. And then? Truth is, that couple may be the most in danger, because life has not caused them to see their need for God. It’s not fair the way it all occurs, but in the end, even for those who live a good life, death comes. That is sin’s final result. Don’t neglect the answer God has provided through Jesus, the Messiah. He came to defeat sin and death. Through him we can have purpose, no matter our circumstances; eventually life eternal in a place where fulfillment is beyond our imagination. That’s not fair either; praise the Lord!

“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” (Hebrews 13:14)

Is Baptism Necessary?

I wish this wasn’t an issue. It shouldn’t be for Bible believing people. But when it comes to baptism, the various stances of churches and teachers over the years has made it an issue. So, the question becomes: In the process of understanding who Jesus is, that he died for my sins, rose from the dead, and thus conquered death on my behalf; deciding I will become a disciple of Jesus, must I be baptized?

The best source for resolving that issue is the book of Acts. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John tell us of the life of Jesus, describe his death and resurrection. The letters written by the apostles or their apprentice instruct Christians, admonish, provide encouragement. Only the book of Acts truly focuses on people becoming Christian, then forming churches. What do we find there on baptism? Let’s look.Is Baptism Necessary Pic

Acts 2 – Peter preaches on Pentecost, telling the crowd, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you.”

Acts 8 – We are told the Samaritans believed and they were baptized; then we see that when the Ethiopian Eunuch was told of Jesus he said, “Here is water, what prevents me from being baptized?”

Acts 9 – Saul/Paul is converted, and we see he arose and was baptized. When he retells the story in Acts 22 we find Ananias telling him, “And now why do you delay, rise and be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on the name of the Lord.”

Acts 10 – Cornelius, the first Gentile convert, Peter commands him to be baptized in the name of Jesus. Acts 16 – Lydia is converted, the Lord opened her heart to pay attention we’re told, then she was baptized. Same chapter we find the Jailer believes, and he was baptized. Acts 18 – Crispus, we are told, believed and was baptized.

Acts 19 – disciples of John the Baptist – knew of John’s baptism, but when the need based on the connection to Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection is explained, they are baptized in name of Jesus.

There are a couple of other accounts in Acts of people “believing” with no mention of baptism, but to the Jew of the 1st Century, believing without following through with the necessary action was nonsense. To truly believe, you followed through. We can easily assume they did so.

Join the above examples from Acts with the strait-forward instruction of Jesus and his apostles and it is pretty compelling. Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19). The Apostle Paul provides the explanation for what baptism accomplishes, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried with him by baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3, 4) We also find that through baptism we are clothed with Christ, hiding our sins while allowing God to see us through the righteousness of Jesus (Galatians 3: 26, 27).

There’s nothing magical about being dunked in water in itself, but when predicated by genuine faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, it is a step of that faith we must not neglect.

…having been buried with him (Jesus) in baptism in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11,12)

To the Closed Heart

I am not better than you, whoever you are. And I’m not the nut “Christian” that you saw on the news doing something political or strange. I am not your judge. I do not have all the answers. But I do have a few questions that I’d like you to consider:

What do you believe? You’ve closed your heart to Christian faith, I’m not sure why, but surely you believe in something. Is it really God you have rejected, or just an inaccurate portrayal of him? If we are honest, even though we don’t think about it much, we know that we face death one day. On what basis do you have hope beyond the grave? If you take the time to really read the Bible, about how God revealed himself in Jesus Christ, how through Jesus he died for our sins, and how through the resurrection of Jesus we can have hope for resurrection one day, that’s a pretty amazing thing. Is that what you’ve rejected? Take a closer look, please.

Are you an atheist? That would seem odd to me. Most people don’t define themselves by what they do not believe. I don’t call myself an “a-Buddhist” or an “a-Muslim” (“a” in front of the word means you are not what follows). Yet some call themselves a-theists. They do not believe in God, and that’s how they define themselves. But I don’t know you: how do you define yourself?

In spite of a huge amount of evidence to support creation and the Bible and the historical person of Jesus and his resurrection, there are tough questions that arise; but tell me, must all of your questions be answered before you believe? In the realm of science, for example, there are many unanswered questions, many mistakes they make, do you fail to believe in science as a result?to-the-closed-heart-pic

Maybe a church or an individual in a church, maybe even a priest or pastor, has let you down in a major way. If that is the case, I am sorry. Really. Too many people suffer from such things. Maybe the person who hurt you wasn’t in fact a Christian at all, many wear the name who do not sincerely swear allegiance to Christ. Others who are truly Christian still make mistakes as they grow and mature in their Christian walk. Please try to understand, that gives further evidence of the sin problem Christ dealt with. It is not a reason to reject him, but a reason to run to him.

If you read one of the gospel accounts (I might recommend Mark, a short, fast paced account of the life of Jesus), I bet you’ll be surprised by the frustration Jesus himself expressed for religious leaders and the people who claimed what they did not live. Yet crowds flocked to Jesus, those who honestly faced their sin and wanted a solution to it. When the Apostle Peter preached the first resurrection message (in Acts 2) people who were convicted cried out, “What must we do?” And Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins…” Many (3,000) responded.

That was just the beginning. Such can be the beginning for you too. Please open your heart back up and consider the true message of Jesus.