S. Pentecost 11.19 “Heaven’s Gate” Is. 66, Luke 13:22-30
So… what does Heaven look like? It’s a question of eternal interest. In our Old Testament reading today, Isaiah gives the most concrete picture of Heaven we get anywhere in the Bible. It’s brief, but powerful, and shocking, actually, in some of its details. The editors of the lectionary cheated you, I have to say, by cutting some important verses before the one they started with and eliminating the crucial last verse (last verse of the entire book of Isaiah, the Ending). I restored verse 24, and we’ll review those earlier verses they skipped. You’re welcome!
The 18th verse of Is. 66 that they start you with in our OT reading: “For I know their works and their thoughts…” doesn’t give you any idea who “they” are! Well, if you look at verse 17 that precedes, it tells us “they” are the “those who sanctify themselves and purify themselves to go to the gardens after an idol int he midst, eating swine’s flesh and the abomination and the mouse…” who “shall be consumed together” says the Lord. (And there will be a powerful lot of consuming!) Is 66:14-16 says the faithful will “rejoice and our bones will flourish like grass” when we see the Final Judgment of the Lord on His enemies, when the Lord comes with “fire and with His chariots, like a whirlwind, to render His rebuke with flames of fire. For by fire and by His sword the Lord will judge all flesh; and the slain of the Lord shall be many…” (!!!)
It is not popular in modern Christendom to talk much about the anger and wrath of God. We like a gentle, happy, peaceful Jesus who just luuuuuvs everyone and rewards everyone. An angry and judgmental God who has chariots of fire, armies, whirlwinds, swords, and a whole heap ‘a burnin’ love—well; is not to the modern taste, exactly. Those parts of the Bible get edited out of our readings (as you’re now aware). Most like the 8 pound 6 ounce baby Jesus better 🙂
There’s a meme I like. Jesus is pictured with a whip, Indiana Jones-style, driving the hedge fund managers out of the Temple and the caption says “Whenever someone asks “What Would Jesus Do?” remind them that freaking out, flipping over tables, and chasing people with a whip is a viable option.”
Isaiah says this will be the world’s First Look at Jesus, Last Day: it’ll be Him, leading angel armies with chariots of fire, with hurricane force, burning, slaying, consuming those who thought we could worship God any old way that strikes our fancy—and surprising those who thought liturgical and theological traditionalists are just a bunch of silly old fuss-budgets. If I’ve learned one thing from reading the Bible about 30 times straight through, it’s that Creative Worship is probably the most dangerous thing in the world. It really makes that vein in Jesus’ forehead bulge. Makes Him reach for His whip—which is never that far from hand. The traditional Western Mass and accompanying daily offices: Setting 3, Matins, Evening Prayer—honestly: everything that’s not a version of that is literally playing with fire…(!)
Isaiah continues with more shocking details of the Last Day and the beginning of the New Age of Heaven: God will gather all nations and tongues (Himself, by His Power, not ours) and they shall all come and behold His glory. He will set a sign among them (think: what is the sign around which Christians always worship and gather? Right! The Crucifix! The Body of the Crucified and Risen King!). The sad sacks of the pagan nations who escape the initial onslaught, God will let go to the nations and their fear, their flight: “Jesus is coming and is He ever ticked!” will declare His glory among the pagan peoples. Then… God will make those louts carry the Faithful (scattered abroad) in chariots and sedan chairs—like kings and queens!—to the holy mountain, Jerusalem, as royal priests and Levites, for the offering of God.
And in that Heavenly City all flesh will worship the Triune God His Way not our way…(!) Those who behold the Lord’s judgments of mercy and wrath with equal satisfaction will find perfect joy and peace in His worship…
And here comes the real shocker. When you stroll out of the Heavenly Sanctuary, there is apparently smoking and you have a view of…Hell! That’s right! You see a lake of fire in which the damned are dying, drowning, fleeing (unsuccessfully!) from flesh eating worms.
WHAAAAT? You’re saying I’ll see hell from Heaven! No way! But, yes! Way! Bible says so! And says (even more shockingly!) that we will look at all this and go (with a wry smile) “Oh! Look! My freshman year sociology prof is right next to Hitler! Glad it’s not me! There but for the grace of God…” But still, a little bit shocking, right? How can Heaven afford a view of hell? Who builds a royal palace with a view of the city garbage dump? Well… King David for one!
If you go to Jerusalem, you’ll notice the City of David is built right at the base of the Temple Mount and has a view of… the Kidron Valley (the ancient dump where garbage was perpetually burned)! And David’s City is the best preview of Heaven we have, according to Scripture! (The view from the City of David today over Palestinian slums is still pretty dumpy, I have to say).
But… why? And how can the Faithful look on the biggest dumpster fire ever with satisfaction? Well, the Faithful view all God’s judgments with satisfaction—with a hearty “Yea! and Amen!” Jesus laments over Jerusalem that He longs to gather all his chicks under His wing, but they were unwilling—and not only unwilling to be forgiven and saved. They were intent on lying, murdering, pillaging the Faithful as they did Christ Himself. They are murderers who came into the Kingdom not to Feast but only to flay…(!)
What Father would not mete out swift, summary judgment on kidnappers, abusers, murderers of His little children?!!!? Is not even human justice swift and severe against such? How could a just God’s judgment on heinous, totally remorseless criminals not be even more swift? Who misses Jeffrey Epstein? Can a Kingdom of Peace let serial killers roam free? And remember: clemency and mercy, forgiveness and peace on account of Christ’s bearing the sins of the world was proclaimed unconditionally to all the world. Those who swim the lake of fire with flesh eating worms do so not because of God’s will but, finally: because of their own perverted wills…
Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem, teaching, journeying. Someone asks “Lord, are there few who are saved?” Great question! Jesus goes, “Uhm… strive to enter the narrow gate, for many I say to you, will seek to enter and not be able.” Why not? Well… because the Lord does not know them. They protest: “We know all about You! Jesus!” But the King will say “I don’t know you, where you are from! Depart from Me workers of iniquity”. It’s not our knowledge of Christ that saves, but His knowing us.
Because… He does not know those who come into His Kingdom only to pillage. His Table is a safe place for the weak, weary, heavy laden.
So… how could this narrow Gate of Heaven ever open for me? Well; Jesus says in the words of institution for His Supper: “Do this into My remembrance” That’s literally how you get into His head so He knows you—you eat and drink Christ’s Body and Blood not to get information in your head about Him, but to get into His head, His Kingdom,as His very own. Just so, only so: by Word and Sacrament, through Faith alone, the Gate of Heaven opens today, for you. C’mon in. The Word, the Water, the Wine is just fine. And Peace surpassing understanding guards your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.