"Barring something extraordinary, odds are most people will end up in Heaven. Nothing to get worked up about."Let's key off of Mark Lussier's comment from the last post: Of course we musn't forget about John 3:16 ;), Mark wrote. Indeed, not; so let's take a closer look: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." So if "whoever believes in" Jesus does "not perish, but [has] eternal life," what does that say about those who do not believe in Jesus? Clearly, they do perish, and they do not have eternal life.
That, then, must be the default setting of man, according to the Gospel: bereft of eternal life, and headed surely for perdition. After all, no one is born believing in Jesus. To enter that state would require a change, a shift; it is a shift that is necessary for a change of destiny. Minus that change, the destiny is death and perdition. Something extraordinary must happen, to change our fate.
Exegetically it is difficult to tell whether John presents this verse as Jesus' words or his own thoughts. There is, however, no such question about Matthew 5-7, the famed Sermon on the Mount. In a recent post, we had a drive-by commenter give the Sermon a careless glance, and he pronounced it unremarkable. That's a bit like glancing up in a particular structure in Italy and pronouncing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel "a bit busy."
Regardless, Jesus approaches a critical, confrontive, red-hot climax to His sermon with these words:
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few" (Matthew 7:13-14).What is Jesus saying? He is saying that the easiest, broadest, and most popular way is that which leads to destruction. For that reason, it is the most well-traveled; "many" take that path.
By contrast, the path to life is narrow, it is a hard way, and those traveling by it are relatively "few." So something extraordinary must happen for one to get off the majority's path, and onto the minority's.
Jesus tells His questioner that he will have to "strive," he will have to focus and struggle and give effort — because "life" is not his default-setting. It is ordinary for him to miss the door. It would take something extraordinary for him to find it.
It was similar with those who may have been getting out their what-if and how-about game pieces when a bunch of Galileans were killed by Pilate, and some others had a tower fall on them. Ooh, juicy stuff — what theological debates can we get into over that?
None, Jesus responded; none, except one: "unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. ...unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (cf. Luke 13:1-5). Two stories, one moral.
In fact, this takes us all the way back to Jesus' first recorded sermon in Matthew — not the Sermon on the Mount, but this: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17).
Repent, Jesus says. Repent: plunge yourself into a fundamental paradigm shift towards God and the world. Something extraordinary must happen in your heart and life. Change! Transform!
So we return to our opening thought. I daresay that most people would agree with what Jesus didn't say. That is, most would agree that, barring something extraordinary, they're headed for Heaven. I mean, if they turned into some kind of Hitler or Dahmer or Pol Pot, then they'd be in peril. Otherwise? Relax. Don't sweat it. Nothing to get "het up" about.
Don't you see, Jesus' thinking is the exact opposite? The default setting of man is death and doom. Unless something extraordinary happens — unless he repents, unless he finds the narrow door, unless he is miraculously born again — he is heading towards the wrath of God without a plea, a hope, or even a prayer.
Do the math, dear reader, as we head for the year's close. This means that the odds are that you and I both are headed for damnation — barring something extraordinary. It is not that we must have an extraordinary reason to believe that someone (including ourselves!) is doomed; it is that we must have an extraordinary reason to believe that someone is saved.
The Gospel alone provides that reason, in and through and because of Christ alone..
I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!" (Luke 12:4-5).Given what we've been looking at, that makes perfect sense. It makes sense of the generations and generations and generations of Christians who have died for their faith, embraced torture and death rather than renounce the faith, sometimes with songs of praise on their lips.
But emerg*s, academics, liberals, tough-talking self-promoters? What would they die for? About what are they urgent? They play around with eternal truths, and eternal souls, as if it were all just a great gay game, just a grand faculty tea social. They give interviews to unbelievers, and write articles and present speeches and sermons, and spend the time whacking on Biblically-faithful Christians and puffing themselves up, leaving their hearers confirmed in their contempt for the Gospel.
It isn't like anything Jesus would say.
And I can't imagine He'd think much of it.