As I write this, a group of church members is gathering outside, prepared to leave for a missions trip to Romania. There is excited chatter, brief hugs, and trusting prayers. Luggage is packed, spirits are high, and the van has a full tank of gas. Of course, the van is only taking them to the airport, where they will have to find the right departure gate and board the flight to their destination.
As I write this, my heart is still heavy. Yesterday, we celebrated a departure of a different kind: my friend and faithful volunteer Tom departed this earthly life a few days ago. His remains were planted in the rain-soaked earth yesterday, after a tearful gathering just a few feet from where the Romania crowd waits.
Hundreds of years ago, Bill Shakespeare put these words in Juliet’s mouth to express her angst at Romeo’s departure: “Parting is such sweet sorrow, That I shall say good night till it be morrow.” She wished her beloved could stay, but took comfort in knowing that they would be together again. Thousands of years ago, when his infant son died, King David said, “I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23). When a loved one departs, we hope that we will see him or her again.
There is one journey that all must take, whether rich or poor, nomad or bedridden, young or old, Jew or Gentile, and that’s the final journey, the Green Mile, shuffling off this mortal coil, checking out of this roach motel. We all must die. It is the only trip that is certain, yet the only one we neither plan nor postpone. However, there is one facet of this trip that we can control: the destination.
The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, teaches that there are only two destinations on this final trip: Heaven and Hell (Daniel 12:2; Matthew 25:46). There is no spiritual sightseeing service, astrological AAA, reincarnation railroad, or metaphysical MapQuest with hundreds of routes to choose from. Once that portal to eternity opens, there is no turning back, no cancellation, no upgrading. Although the choices are few, the reservation is up to you.
Jesus illuminated the two destinations when he said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (MATTHEW 7:13, 14, NKJV). Christ was pointing out that, since we all are going to make this journey, we need to be sure that we arrive at the correct departure gate. It all depends on where we want to end up.
The selections are so astronomically diverse that it shouldn’t be hard to choose the correct one. It’s like opening the menu of a restaurant and seeing two choices: rat poison or filet mignon. It would be foolish to choose the rat poison, even if it labels one as being cool or a nonconformist or a freethinker. The experience of others, rats and people, would be enough to make the choice clear.
Jesus used this principle to define the choice for us. He told the story of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar—a foolish man and a righteous man—who, in contrast to their outward appearances and fortunes, were taken by death to surprising places. “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side” (Luke 16:22, 23). His listeners were surprised that the rich man would go to “that place,” while the poor, worthless bum would be welcomed to Heaven. However, they chose their destinations ahead of time: the rich man by ignoring God in his life, thereby reserving the place where God ignores people forever, and Lazarus, by a righteous life, finding the narrow way.
How does one find this narrow way, and how much is the ticket? We don’t need money, luggage, or gas, and the ticket has been purchased. Once we find the gate, the ticket is waiting for us. The directions to the narrow gate are very clear: “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6). Any belief system that attempts to circumnavigate Jesus Christ as the way to everlasting life simply leads the crowds down the broad way to destruction. It may be a fun path, a happy path, a yellow brick road through a garden of earthly delights, but it’s a short street to a dead end.
Tom’s arrival at the gate was sudden and unexpected. But, he made arrangements years ago, welcoming Christ as his Lord and Savior, receiving forgiveness of sins and his reservation at Gate 713: “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb's book of life” (Revelation 21:27).
The Romania team is departing to point others to the narrow gate, and we expect to see them again. Thousands of people enter the gates every day, most never expecting to. Have you found Gate 713? For those who have found it, there is sweet sorrow in saying goodbye, for we shall meet again.
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