Grateful to have this post up at Deeper Story today!
Presidential candidates are asked, so I’m told, “When you stand before the gates of the kingdom, and God inquires, ‘Why should I let you in?’ what would you say?”
I take this to be a test of one’s faith orientation: “I was a generally good person.” (moralist) “I accepted Jesus into my heart.” (evangelical) “I volunteered in a soup kitchen.” (mainliner) “Sorry, you don’t exist.” (atheist)
While I have no plans to run for President (thank heavens), I wondered how I would respond? Why should God let me in? After a moment of reflection, I had my answer:
I would really mess things up. I’m a lusty, violent hypocrite, filled with greed, malice and envy inside. I’ve hurt people close to me; I’ve hurt people far away. I’m like G. K. Chesterton, who wisely (and humorously) responded to a London essay contest asking “What’s wrong with the world?” with these few simple words:
Dear sirs, I am.
My only hope is that God wants me there.
And here’s the good news of the gospel: he does. The Great Physician loves to heal. The Lamb desires to forgive. The King freely offers citizenship to all who will receive his life-giving reign. Jesus died to reconcile our world to God.
Jesus’ question is not, “Are you good enough to get into my kingdom?” His question is: “Will you let me heal you?”
So I wonder: why do we think of St. Peter as a bouncer trying to keep us outside the city gates? I think of him more as a boy on his bike announcing the news to the neighborhood that Jesus has flung the gates of God’s city open wide.
There’s this interesting picture at the end of Scripture, a contrast of images that’s always struck a chord deep within me: the gates of God’s city are wide open, but sin is not allowed to come inside.
Revelation has a lot of weird images, but this is perhaps the weirdest. If the gates are wide open, how is sin not allowed inside? In the ancient world, a city’s gates were what protected it from hostile invasion. But here, they’re not needed.
I’ve come to believe the image means this: God’s city is not protected by AK-47s, stealth planes and military might.
It is protected by the very presence of God.
The open gates of God’s city speak, on the one hand, to its welcoming posture of embrace. Like the father running out to greet the prodigal, God flings his city gates wide to welcome all who will come. In these last two chapters of Scripture, the nations come streaming into God’s city to be healed, the weak are comforted as he wipes every tear from their eye, the kings bring their glory to lay at his feet, the lost and lonely rejoice as he dwells with us again, creation is flooded with the presence of God as heaven and earth, once torn apart by our sin, are re-united once more.
The Bride rejoices that her King has finally come.
On the other hand, however, our rebellion is kept outside. All those destructive powers that once tore the world apart—sin, death and hell—are kept outside the city. “No longer will they hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.” (Isaiah 11:9) And at the root of the rebellion is this: our desire to separate our world from God, preferring independence to communion, autonomy to worship, enslavement to myself over salvation unto God.
Like the older brother outside the father’s prodigal party, our sin refuses to come inside to the lights and laughter of the kingdom celebration, preferring the self-centered isolation, pride and darkness of the backyard.
God wants us with him. He has sought us in the distant land and flings his city gates wide open. The father comes out to meet us in the backyard and invites us into the party. Jesus beckons to the corners of the earth, calling all, “Come! Be gathered into one reconciled humanity! Let my Life overwhelm your death, my Light flood your darkness, my Love overcome your desolation! Be reconciled unto God!”
God wants us. We’ve got the question backwards. In light of the gospel, we shouldn’t be asking whether God wants to let us in. We should be asking:
Do we want God?
This is a holy, trembling and fearful thing: do we want to be united with the Creator of the Universe? Do we truly want his Life, his Love, his Kingdom to shape and form our lives? Are we willing to let go of our independence, leave our autonomy behind and check our self-rule at the gates of the kingdom?
St. Peter will gladly take our dirty old rags and give us free wedding clothes instead. Because the Groom isn’t asking whether we’ve worked hard enough or jumped high enough to get in. He’s asking,
“Will you let me heal you?”
Yes, please, and Amen.
This was originally posted at Deeper Story (the site is no longer active, so re-posted here in full), and is condensed and adapted from chapter 2, “The Wicked Root,” of my book The Skeletons in God’s Closet: The Mercy of Hell, The Surprise of Judgment, The Hope of Holy War (Thomas Nelson, Oct ’14).