Today we are going to talk about the Kingdom of God, Heaven, or at least one most important aspect of it. How do we get there? What is the path? What is the doorway into the Kingdom of Heaven?
We grow up being told that as Christians, the Kingdom of God is within us already in anticipation of the time when it will become an everlasting reality. Today I want to share about that time when it will become an everlasting reality, that day of days to come, the last day, the Day we may enter fully into the Kingdom of Heaven to dwell in the presence of God for eternity. But to do so, we must first stand before Jesus Himself to tell Him how we have lived our lives and by this, so showing Him that we truly want to be with Him in His kingdom! Why must we first stand before Jesus Christ? The following scripture verses tell us:
For the Father…has given Him the authority to execute judgement because He is the Son of Man. (John 5:27)
When Jesus tells His disciples that He is going to His Father in Heaven. Thomas responds by asking “…how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6). Then Jesus said to them again, “Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.” (John 10:7) “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.”
(John 10:9). So, clearly it is Jesus Christ we will meet at the door into His Kingdom. On that Day Jesus will take with Him into His kingdom all those who by their lives and lifestyles have shown the practical love that Jesus speaks of.
It must be said here that through the centuries until this present time, many Christians who have shown practical love and bore witness to Christ have given their lives in the process. So while our task is a straightforward one, it can come at a price. Sadly, it is also the day that Jesus has to tell those who have not showed practical love to Him in their lives, or honoured Him or cared for Him that they cannot enter into the Kingdom of God. That they must go to live in a place we nowadays refer to as Hell. It is a natural path of those who choose to live their lives apart from God. This is why this Day is called the Last Judgement. Those who want to be with Jesus, will be, because they have lived their lives in a sure hope that by living for Christ, His way, the way of love, they will be with Him for eternity.
Those who do not want to be with our Lord are not going to be forced to. The reality is they will not want to be with Christ in any case! They have already made their choice. The righteous will inherit the kingdom of God because only the righteous will want to.
Personally, in our own lives we all do know that it is a great and warming thing when someone chooses to love us; by both their words and actions. We can’t force this upon people nor do we want to. We want others to be our friends because they like us. True love is freely given.
A comment here concerning those who die before they know Christ. Again, we must look to our Just Judge, Who knows the hearts of all men. Whatever, decision He makes concerning all men, Christians and none Christians, we can know for certainty it is the best decision for that person.
The greatest gift God has given us apart from Himself and the possibility of eternal life with Him, is the gift of free choice. We are free to love God or reject Him from our lives (consider Lazarus and the rich man: Luke 16:20-31).
Now the word Judgement can sound rather harsh. This is because we grow up tending to connect it with something we have done wrong, or accused of doing something wrong. It only has a negative connotation which is inaccurate. Perhaps a better way of speaking of this day would be to refer to it as the day of Divine Justice. Even from an early age we want justice. We do not like it when someone is undeservedly criticised, for example, or on the other hand when someone is unfairly rewarded. We see crimes on the news and bullies in our schools and workplaces that get away with doing wrong. We look at these things and are saddened by the lack of justice. If a person who wasn’t nice towards you and gets away with it, or if someone cheats and still gets the prize, it hurts us to see this happen – because it is unjust. Christ is our Just Judge and He will see justice eventually triumph.
So what encouragement can this day of Divine Justice be to young people, the children?
Consider the scripture:
Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” And He laid His hands on them and departed from there. (Matthew 19:13-15)
Here we see that this same Just Judge, Jesus Christ, whom we will meet on the Day of Divine Justice, tell His disciples, to allow the children to come to Him for of such is the Kingdom of heaven. Children are therefore in a good place to enter the Kingdom of God because the very One Who is the Just Judge is the very One who focused on the children and would not let anyone stop them from coming to Him. (Children do you not see just how much Jesus loves you? In return do you love Him?)
Jesus said, if you love Him, you will keep His commandments:
He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.” (John 14:21)
And what does Jesus command? Jesus said to a lawyer who had asked “…which is the great commandment in the law?” (Matthew 22:26):
‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40)
The Gospel reading of the Feast of the Last Judgement explains what it means to love your neighbour! And we all know a great example of who our neighbour is when Jesus spoke of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37)
Now as to the adults, the grown-ups. What of them?
This day, the Feast of the Day of the Last Judgement, that is, the Day of Divine Justice is a time to reflect on how we are living our lives to make sure we are living them as children of the Light. A monk on Mount Athos, once said to me that the purpose of our lives is to allow the child within us to be set free. He went on to explain that as we grow from childhood into adulthood, we put on masks to hide our true selves. We become selfish, we become proud.
Consider the words of Jesus, responding to a question His disciples asked Him:
Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?
Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’ (Matthew 18:1-4)
The footnote to this passage of scripture, in the Orthodox Study Bible (Thomas Nelson, 1982; p. 1303), puts it this way: Jesus pointed “to a little child as the model of true discipleship. Jesus emphasises the virtues required for entrance into the kingdom of heaven: humility, dependence, lowliness, simplicity, obedience, and a willingness to love and be loved.”
Are we willing to be this way? Are we willing to love our neighbour? IF we say yes! IF we act on that willingness, as a lifestyle, humbling ourselves as a way of life, in obedience to Christ, while living the simple life, we will become as children and we will enter into the kingdom of God. The day of Judgment will then be a time to look forward to, an exciting time, a time of great joy!
Even though the Christian life may not be easy, it seems a more simple task then we sometimes make it out to be. Judgement day isn’t the horrible and painful day we think of by the name, but the great and anticipated day when justice is given by a God that truly loves and is truly just. The road to Heaven is straight and narrow, but it is also clearly signposted. The only way you can get lost is if you willingly step off it.
[Practical Love The Ultimate Witness]
In recent times I have been told by a couple of non-Orthodox Christians, that while Orthodoxy is good and its spirituality obvious it is not relevant in this society. Maybe in Lebanon, Greece and Russia… But not here. I asked myself why should non-Orthodox Christians think this? I then asked myself the question: what would make Orthodoxy relevant in this society, and in fact in any society, irrespective of language, culture or forms of worship? It is nothing less than this practical love that we speak of today.
To conclude, I have a story to tell. It has to do with two Christians in prison because of their faith in Christ. Into their midst one day a political prisoner came. He had no belief, no understanding of God. If asked he would have called himself an atheist.
One of the Christian prisoners, Richard, tells how this political prisoner took very ill and how the other Christian began to care for him, even giving him his own sparse ration of watery soup and bread and generally restoring his health. As he did so he told the political prisoner of Christ.
In time the political prisoner recovered. He was very grateful to the one who loved and cared for him, but said he found it impossible to understand this Jesus he had been told about. He said he had had an atheist background that did not allow for the existence of God, let alone imagining that this God had come to earth and lived amongst people of the earth. He then asked the Christian, almost, it seems, in confusion:
“If this Jesus was here today, what would he be like?
After some little time, the Christian answered thus:
“If Jesus was here with us .....He would be like me.”
The atheist prisoner then responded:
“Now I can believe.”
In conclusion: “All spiritual life is fulfilled in this one parable of Christ [in Matthew 25:31-46], for the heart of it is love, both for God and for man.” (Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent, Chapter 2: Preparation for Lent)