“Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door” is a line from the 1970s that transcends time. The imagery created by Bob Dylan when he wrote this song as a soundtrack for the movie “Patt Garrett and Billy the Kid” is powerful. The imaginary is powerful regarding death’s presence and the question of what happens after we die.
Late Show host Steven Colbert occasionally asks his guest fifteen questions that he claims will help his guest be fully known. The last question is, “What happens when we die?” The host receives a wide range of answers, including a few that leave viewers in deep reflection.
The truth is that none of us know for sure, although a few of us claim to know the answer in vivid detail. And while Jesus talked about the Kingdom of Heaven, He used the Kingdom of God interchangeably. Moreover, this Kingdom was, at the same time, both present and futuristic.
The Lord’s Prayer speaks about heaven on earth as a goal. So it’s not completely clear where life ends and heaven begins.
As we come to the end of our series Together, we find a perplexing illustration. Jesus first says that a narrow door sits between the Kingdom of God and us. A door that creates a barrier for a lot of us.
Entering this Kingdom where a little yeast makes fantastic bread and a tiny mustard seed grows into safe harbor isn’t easy. At least for most of us. But the problem is spiritual. The problems begin when we realize that we can’t take stuff with us. And it’s tough to let go of something we’re convinced we can’t live without.
It also turns out that our ideas about how things ought to work are among the stuff that doesn’t fit through heaven’s door. And one idea that doesn’t fit through the door is our tendency to make judgments about the fitness of others to fit through.
While it’s true that Jesus said that “many will try to enter but will fail,” it’s clear that our judgment has no bearing on the entrance exam (Luke 13:24). At least not for the other person. Instead, judging others makes it more challenging to enter. Jesus also said, “Do not judge others, so that God will not judge you” (Matthew 7:1).
The reversals that we can anticipate in God’s Kingdom are mind-blowing. Where else are the first put at the end of the line? And how can a narrow door also be an open door? Does this mean it’s still hard to get through even when the door is open?
This week’s message is a “companion piece” to last week’s conversation about hypocrisy. And the meaning of the narrow door may be one way of testing our hypocrisy. Just how narrow is the door? And if the door is narrow, is it possible to squeeze through?
Although the problem is spiritual, in Matthew Jesus said that those of us who are spiritually poor are blessed (Matthew 5:3). Doesn’t this mean that the spiritually poor still get through the door? Luke’s version of this blessing tells us that the economic poor are blessed? (Luke 6:20).
Work hard to enter the narrow door to God’s Kingdom, for many will try to enter but will fail.
Does this mean that the well-off aren’t blessed? Can the well-off get through the door somehow? After all, Jesus said, “It is much harder for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle” (Luke 18:25).
The problems are insurmountable. The truth is that the door is just too narrow for any of us to get through. Unless we know the doorman. When we know Jesus Christ and trust in His grace, we pass through the door into this Kingdom of safety and abundance.
What happens when we die? It all depends on whether or not we trust Jesus Christ with the answer.
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Content for this series is based in part on:
Candace Simpson. Who Can We Be Together? A Biblical Exploration of Luke 13. New York: United Methodist Women, 2022.
Robert Dylan. “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” © Ram’s Horn Music, Universal Tunes, 2022.