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The Gospel According To Jesus

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It is always a good time for us to think about what comes after this life is finished.1 And who better to tell us than Jesus? After all, He not only raised the dead;2 He rose from the dead Himself.3

The First Thing Jesus Wants Us To Know Is That Everyone Isn’t Going To Heaven.

13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:12-14).

Jesus’ words here should prompt us to give this matter of where we go when we die serious thought. Just what is it that will get us into heaven, and what is it that won’t? Jesus clearly tells us the way to heaven, and also the things that won’t get us there. Let’s start with what Jesus says won’t get a person into heaven.

What Won’t Get Us To Heaven

It was commonly assumed that godly people could be identified by how much money they had. It was likewise assumed that the rich could be assured of attaining eternal life in heaven.4 Jesus told this story in Luke chapter 16, in order to make it clear that having money won’t get you to heaven.

“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. 20 “And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, 21 and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. 22 “Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. 23 “In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom (Luke 16:19-23).

These words of Jesus were shocking to those who heard them. A poor man made it to heaven, but the rich man did not. Being financially comfortable gives no assurance that a person is going to heaven. Jesus went even farther, when He said that wealth may very well hinder one from getting into heaven:

And Jesus said to His disciples, “Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 “Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, “Then who can be saved?” (Matthew 19:23-25)

Being Religious Won’t Get You To Heaven, Either.

“For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

The scribes and the Pharisees were the most religious people of Jesus’ day, and yet Jesus declared that one would have to be more righteous than these folks to get into heaven. This is also clear in the words Jesus spoke to Nicodemus, one of the most prominent Bible teachers of his day:5

3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’” (John 3:3-7).6

Simply put, being religious is not the way to get to heaven.

So How Does One Get To Heaven?

Jesus has told us that neither wealth, nor good works, nor being religious is the way one gets to heaven. How, then, can we be assured of going to heaven? We find the answer in a in a most unexpected place and time – at the time when Jesus was hanging on the cross, between two thieves.

Earlier, both thieves had mocked Jesus, and dared Him to come down from His cross, to save Himself, and them. Now, we are told that one of those thieves has had a change of mind, and of heart:

One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!” 40 But the other answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 “And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!” 43 And He said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43).

How Could Jesus Promise This Guilty Sinner Eternal Life?

Who could possibly be more unworthy of heaven than this fellow? He was a condemned man, in the midst of his own execution. He had just mocked Jesus, like his fellow criminal. He couldn’t claim good works as the basis for his salvation, nor could he promise that he would do better from now on. He was, by his own admission, a sinner deserving death.

But you see, this is actually the first necessary requirement of the gospel. Like this criminal, we must acknowledge that we, too, are sinners in God’s sight, worthy of death.

The second necessary requirement is that we must come to fear God, and to acknowledge that Jesus Christ is innocent, sinless. If Jesus were a guilty sinner, like these two thieves, then He could save no one. But because He is righteous, He can die in the sinner’s place, and bear his or her punishment.

The third necessary requirement is that we must believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, how could He enter into His kingdom, and how could He bring anyone else into His kingdom with Him? No, Jesus must rise from the dead, and this criminal knew it, and believed it would happen.

To sum it up, this criminal recognized his sin, and his unworthiness to get into heaven. He now acknowledged Jesus to be sinless, and his only means of getting into heaven. And he was assured of this because the resurrection of Jesus was also the basis for his resurrection, when he died.

This is what gave that thief assurance that he would, that day, enter into our Lord's kingdom, to spend eternity with Him. This is because his salvation was not based up on his goodness, his wealth, or his works - it was based upon who Jesus was, and is, and what He has done to save sinners like us. And because of this, he could be assured that his salvation would last forever, because it rested on who Jesus is, and what He did to save sinners.

No wonder the gospel is called “good news!” What news could possibly be better than this. If you have not yet come to trust in Jesus as this criminal did, I urge you to do it today. That is the gospel. That is the way to heaven.

1 See Ecclesiastes 7:1-2.

2 See Matthew 11:2-6; Luke 7:12-18; John 11:1-45.

3 See Matthew 16:21; Luke 24:1-48.

4 This was even the view of the disciples, until Jesus corrected it. See Matthew 19:23-25.

5 See John 3:10.

6 We should note that Nicodemus will eventually come to be born again. See John 19:39-40.

Related Topics: Basics for Christians, Christian Education, Christian Life, Evangelism, Introduction to Theology, Soteriology (Salvation)

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