April 3, 2022

The Tower and The Ladder

Passage: Genesis 11:1-9; 28:10-22

I was talking to a fellow who uses a backhoe in his business. A priest asked him how much it would cost to dig a grave in a historic cemetery in Mission. The fellow said that he didn't want to get rich at the church's expense, but if he gave them a break, would he be able to get a free pass through the pearly gates into heaven?

How can we reach heaven? The question of how to have fellowship with God has always perplexed the human race. After Noah's flood, the people said, (Genesis 11:4) "Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens." To confuse them, (Genesis 11:7-8) the Lord changed their one language into many, and scattered them over the face of the whole earth. Their project to reach heaven by the tower of Babel didn't succeed. The problem is that such human efforts never succeed in gaining a relationship of love with God. We can try everything we like, and it won't work.

Many years later, (Genesis 28:12-13) Abraham's grandson "Jacob had a dream in which he saw a stairway (or a ladder) resting on the earth. Its top reached to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord." Jacob was able to connect with God, because God let the ladder down from heaven. It was the angels that were ascending and descending on it, not human beings climbing up to God. Jesus had something more to say about this ladder in John 1:51: "You shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." In other words, the ladder is Jesus Himself. Christians refer to Him as the Mediator, the One Who goes between man and God. He bridged the gap between us and God. The gap exists because of our sin. We are not worthy to have a relationship with God. But God loved us so much, that He sent His Son Jesus to earth. He was born as a human baby, though He was completely God. He lived a perfect life without sin. The religious authorities hated Him because He upset their system and they felt threatened. So they put Him to death on a cross. But what they didn't know was that He was dying there to pay the penalty of death that God demands as payment for our sin -- He paid it for us! That's why the celebration of the Lord's Supper is so joyous, as we remember what He did for us. He broke down the dividing wall of sin that separates us from God, and brought us together. On the third day after He died, He rose again on Easter. Fifty days later, He sent his living Holy Spirit to earth, to live within all those who will receive Him.

John 1:12 - To all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
When we receive Him into our lives, we are in Christ -- the ladder -- the staircase -- the escalator -- that raises us into the presence of God. In John 14:6, Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

But even that ladder, as wonderful as it is, can be misinterpreted. There is an old African-American spiritual that goes, "We are climbing Jacob's ladder … every rung goes higher, higher." There are lots of Christian people who try to please God by reading their Bible regularly, praying frequently, attending church faithfully, making certain sacrifices, following a list of do's and don'ts, becoming spiritually-minded, and generally living a good life. What this amounts to is a Tower of Babel based on good works.

Ephesians 2:8-9 - For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.

The Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:5 that it is quite possible to be "having the form of religion but denying the power of it."

I remember talking with a fellow who was visiting sick people in the hospital for his church. I
met him in the stairwell, and we talked. He said that he also did volunteer work in the church cemetery.
He spent hours mowing the grass, weeding the flowerbeds, and weed-whacking around the gravestones.
"But," he said, "I never know if I have done enough." He was trying to gain God's favour and earn his
way to heaven through good works. It wasn't working. It gave him no peace. He was a prisoner of his
desire to gain entrance into heaven by being good enough. No-one is good enough -- only Christ is
sinless, and the way to God is only through Him.

At some funerals, we hear people talk about the person who has died as if he can hear them in
heaven. They talk about how good he was, and how he is in a better place now, even though he never
went to church. But when you ask them if they would go to heaven when they died, they admit that
they're really not sure. So what do they really believe about going to heaven?

I remember asking a lady whether she would go to heaven if she died. She said that she was
pretty sure that she would. Her method was that if she did something wrong, she always tried to make up
for it by doing something else good to make up for it. It was pretty disconcerting to her when I asked
what she did to make up for the good that she should have been doing while she was doing good to
make up for the bad that she had done. In effect, she would never be able to catch up. She was a slave of
sin, a prisoner in a treadmill of good works that she could never escape from.

The good news is that Jesus can set us free from the trap of good works religion. In John 8:34
and 36, Jesus said, "Everyone who sins is a slave to sin. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed." When we ask Jesus to come into our hearts and forgive our sins, He does exactly that. In
Revelation 3:20, Jesus says that He is standing at our heart's door and knocking. He says, "If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in." It's that simple.

I can remember struggling with that, and listening to Christians who were so sure that they would go to heaven if they died. I thought, "How can anyone think that they are good enough to go to
heaven?" After I sorted it out that we depend on the righteousness of Christ, not our own flawed life, I realized that we have God's promise of eternal life -- a relationship with God that will go on forever:
1 John 5:13 - I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.
It doesn't say "think" or "guess" or "hope". It says that you may know that you have eternal life. In other words, when we receive Christ into our hearts as our Saviour and Lord, our entrance into
heaven is guaranteed. We get a free pass at the pearly gates into heaven. After we realize that, we read our Bibles and pray and attend church to worship and praise and thank God for the salvation He has already given us, not to win a place in heaven. And because God is pure and holy, with Christ in us, we have a deep desire to be pure and holy like Him. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are changed and transformed into the pure and holy likeness of Christ.

Let us pray. Father God, thank You for reaching down to us in the person of our Lord Jesus.
Thank you that by His Holy Spirit, He can enter into our receptive hearts and lift us into your presence in a relationship of love and joy that will last forever. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.