by Joanie Butman
Recently my brother was expecting one of those frustrating deliveries where the arrival window spanned the entire day. He asked if I could cover him for an hour or so while he left for another appointment. He handed me the keys, and I felt like I was holding the keys to the kingdom. You have to understand--getting into his condo complex is harder than entering paradise,though admittedly his place is probably as close to paradise as you’ll get without dying. Regardless, I pulled up to the first sentry and gave my name. The guard then requested photo ID. Jokingly, I asked him if he thought I'd lie about a name like that. I continued despite his dead-pan face, “If I were going to choose an alias, believe me, it would be something less conspicuous than BUTMAN.” No reaction. He obviously didn’t appreciate my sense of humor.
I felt a surge of power as I opened each keyed entrance. Not only that, I now had the authority to choose who I was going to approve for entry when the guard called to announce visitors. HA! Aren’t we all tempted to want the same authority when it comes to deciding who gets into Heaven. I can think of a few people I’d rather not meet there, and I’m sure they feel the same about me. Luckily the shipment didn’t arrive on my watch, and I was happy to be relieved of that responsibility. If it’s difficult to gain entry in a passenger vehicle, you can imagine the guard’s reaction to an 18-wheeler. I’m surprised they didn’t call out the bomb-sniffing dogs!
In much the same way I was happy to relinquish the keys and responsibility back to my brother, I’m also relieved to know that other people’s entrance into Heaven doesn’t depend on me. I know too many people who carry the burden of that responsibility with them – especially for their families. Jesus is the only one who has the power to shoulder that role. The keys to the Kingdom are His alone. Yes, we are called to love others, plant seeds, live by example, point people towards Christ, and pray for them, but the choice to accept Jesus’ gift of salvation rests solely on the individual. As I remind my own family, “You can’t get in by proxy!” I don’t know if you can see contestant one’s answer in the cartoon, but in response to the query “Why should you get into Heaven?” he answered, “Because my mom was in the choir!” Trust me, the only coattails we can ride into Heaven on are Christ’s.
When we arrive at the true gates of Paradise, we aren’t going to need picture ID. God knew us before we were formed in the womb. (Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. Jeremiah 1:5a) Nor will we have the option to use an alias of someone we might be tempted to think is more worthy – a strategy I’ve playfully employed when attending fund-raising events. I’d wear my friend’s nametag who was a much larger donor in order to receive the royal treatment. I wasn’t fooling anyone of course, any more than I could present myself to God as anything other than who I am. Blessedly, my identity is rooted in Jesus and that’s the only identification and justification I’ll ever need. That truth alone guarantees the royal treatment when I reach the Pearly Gates. I’m sure we’ll all be surprised at whom we meet there because no one is beyond the redemptive power of Christ’s sacrificial love and mercy.
Immediately following writing this blog I went to bid farewell to a dear friend who lost a long battle with cancer. One of the hymns at the funeral embodied my message beautifully. Having always shared a deep, spiritual connection, I wasn’t surprised. I believe it was her way of saying goodbye and assuring me she was finally home.
In Memory of
Shirley A. Sapione
June 24, 1947
April 16, 2018