At the Gates
There were once three men who died and were standing before St. Peter to see whether or not they would be admitted into heaven.
The first was called by name and stood up and approached a high pulpit near the gate where St. Peter stood. Peter began to read from a scroll that told of all the deeds, good or bad, the person had done.
By describing these deeds, those who were present heard what kind of person the other was.
Peter began to describe how this man had sold all he owned and gave it to the poor. He then went and lived with the poor in a place far away from his friends and family. The man took a vow of chastity which he upheld his entire life. He continued and revealed that this man had prayed for people and healed the sick, miraculously mended bones, and cast out evil spirits. He preached the Word with passion and accuracy, and many were saved because of his work.
The second man remained silent, while the third one stood in contempt. This third man was thinking about his own life, his own rebellion and how he really didn’t accomplish much. He smoked a lot of weed, and slept with a lot of girls; (granted he was there to help his mom out when his dad left her) but otherwise pretty much lived for himself. Knowing he had nothing even remotely close to compare with this guy, his bitterness toward God grew as he knew exactly where he was about to go. And there weren't any fluffy clouds in that place.
St. Peter went on, talking about the mans accolades, his few missteps here and there, but his powerful prayer of repentance and action afterwards. As the man grew older, he repented more often and spent much of his time alone in prayer. Peter finally finished and all three men now expected Peter to allow this first one to enter heaven and then bring up the next person. Instead, to everyone’s surprise, Peter asked him a question.
“So why should Jesus let you into heaven?”
Shocked, confused, and a little bit hurt, the first man smiled cautiously and said, “Well, um, Lord, I prophesied for you, I cast out demons in your name, and many other things as you well know.”
St. Peter frowned, looked him and said, “Mmm, no, I’m afraid that’s not enough.”
The first man gasped and suddenly became very worried. He racked his brain trying to think what else he could have done, how he could have better lived his life.
The third man sighed in exasperation and rolled his eyes in unbelief. “If this man can’t get into heaven, who on earth can? God must be pretty lonely up there.”
The first man suddenly spoke, “Repentance! Right? That must be it, I was not repentant enough. Please forgive me now, please let my repentance now for my failure to do so in life satisfy the Almighty.”
St. Peter still frowned and shook his head, “No, that’s not quite it.”
The man fell on his knees in exasperation. “That’s not enough?” he asked.
“No, that’s not quite repentance.”
An angel moved close to Peter and whispered something in his ear.
Peter then said, “Here, The Lord says He will give you time to think about it while I interview the others. He says, ‘listen to their stories, they will share the answer.”
The man stood up again and nodded.
He looked back to the other two and said to himself, “OK, Ok, God is being merciful, I will listen and learn.” Then he stood back by the other two.
The second man was called and he stood in front of Peter while the other two watched. The third man thought to himself, “I can only imagine what this guy will be like since he has the answer. I sure as hell don’t have the answer to heaven.”
St. Peter began to describe the second man’s life. He was married, and the father of three children. He loved them dearly, though often made mistakes and was unnecessarily harsh with them. They all listened as St. Peter described how he made up excuses for his anger because of his work. There were also the times he fought with his wife, and thought about being with other women. But Peter also described the sweet get-aways he planned for his wife, his care for her, and the good care for his children. He talked about how the man attended church, read his bible often, both alone and with his wife and children. The man also talked with co-workers about Jesus, and for different seasons in his life lead a variety of bible studies and such. There were even a few instances where he prayed and God miraculously healed people through him. He also doubted a lot, both the miracle and God’s existence. He wasn't as productive as he could have been, watched too much TV. But, even so, as his life went on, he grew. He became more compassionate, repented and prayed to God much more, and on several occasions begged his children, now adults, to forgive him when he was harsh earlier in life. He worked harder as an older man than a young man, but with love and compassion and treated his wife and children and grandchildren better when he was old than when he was young. As the man grew older, he had more and more joy and spent much time with God and others. One phrase this man said when he was older which St. Peter kept repeating was something along the lines of, “it’s only because of Jesus I am like this.” The third man noticed this repetition but the first did not.
Finally St. Peter finished and asked him, “So, why should Jesus let you into heaven?”
The man gazed up at Peter, but also kept looking for someone else, perhaps just behind him. Tears began to well up in his eyes, and at last he spoke,
“He shouldn’t.” he gasped.
There was a slight pause.
He shrugged and began crying freely and continued, “You know, you’ve seen. God has seen. And you didn’t even begin to describe my thoughts or my deeper sins that I know God knows. There is no reason I should be allowed to even see Jesus, let alone live with him forever.” There was a slight pause from his sobs. “I had only hoped, and still now only hope, that Jesus might vouch for me. I know he shouldn’t and he doesn't have to, but from what I read in the Bible he said he would.”
A man whom none of the three noticed before stood up and made eye contact with this man. Both smiled, and the man ran up, and they hugged. Then this second man was lead into heaven by the other.
St. Peter smiled and looked at them as the one lead the other to heaven, “I know brother. Its the same for me.”
After this second person had stepped through, to the first one’s astonishment and the third’s puzzlement, Peter called that third man forward.
He walked forward, dreading what was to come, but still intrigued by the previous man’s answer and subsequent acceptance. Peter began describing him by what he had done. All his “hanging out” and drinking and partying and other nonsense that didn’t seem so bad now felt terrible. All the people he could have helped, the things he could have done, he noticed much more clearly now. Each girl he had ever slept with was described, as well as his actions toward her. What he had previously thought as just mutual entertainment he saw a bit more clearly now as abuse, as both their hearts only became more broken with each new partner. There were some more sinister crimes as well, and a strong sense of bitterness toward God his whole life. Many times people invited him to church but he refused to go. Most of his life he wasn't even sure what or who he was mad at, for he had long ago stopped believing in God. He wasn’t sure if there was ever a time he believed in God. In truth this whole experience was quite the shock to him.
After a while he stopped listening as Peter continued on, he was more intrigued by the second man’s answer. Something was changing deep inside him. During his life, he often didn’t think his choices were wrong, and scoffed at the idea of a God judging him. He hadn’t murdered anyone, and he had decided if a god was going to be so judgmental, he didn’t want anything to do with him anyways.
Now, he suddenly saw his actions and thoughts were harmful, to himself and others. He had never thought that before. He was trying to figure out why this was when he realized it first happened before Peter even began to speak about his life. It was when he was looking at the face of that mysterious man who lead that second man to heaven just moments before. There was something he saw in that strange man’s eyes, that person, whoever he was, really did love and care for this second guy.
The third man suddenly spoke, “Stop.”
Peter looked down at him, surprised.
“We both know I’m not getting into heaven. I just want to know, who is that person back there? I want to hang out with him.”
Peter smiled, “His name is Jesus.”
Jesus returned and looked at the third man and said, “I’ve been waiting a long time for you to say that. Thankfully, we still have a long time ahead of us to get to know one another.”
Amazed at his mercy and quick willingness to take him, a sinner, into heaven this third man broke down and began to repent for the first time in his life, confessing his sins, as actual bad things, to Jesus. He spoke about how he regretted taking advantage of and abusing God’s daughters, how he regretted wasting his life on selfish endeavors, and how he continually resisted God at every point in his life. He didn’t say this or begin weeping for show, or to get his way into heaven, or even to impress Jesus. He didn’t know why he was saying this, he just felt it needed to be said and that it was true.
Jesus knelt down to where the man was now sitting, crying, and whispered, “I forgive you.” And he picked him up, and lead this third man, much to his surprise, to heaven.
Peter, still smiling, now looked over to the first man.
“Is this clear to you now?” he asked.
The third man was utterly perplexed and did not know what to think.
“Clear? How can this be clear? How can Jesus let that man go with him to paradise? I mean the one before I can see, (though still a bit of a surprise, to be honest,) but this last one? That man admitted to wasting his life, rebelling against God, and never accepted Jesus while he was alive!”
Peter responded, a bit surprised at this man’s outburst, “But don’t you see? This man repented, and so he was forgiven.”
“But,” the first man began again, “what about following Jesus? What about picking up his cross? That man never did all those things as I have done. I mean, I know I’m not perfect, but I followed! He did not.”
“Those are all good, but you yourself know that to be saved all one must do is repent and believe in Jesus Christ as their savior. This man did that, just now.”
“What!?” the man cried out, “Ok ok, so Jesus is all one needs to get into heaven?”
“Yes.” Peter replied.
“Alright, fine. I believe in Jesus, I’ve prayed to him and served him the last 70 years of my life. I repent and believe.”
And the man began walking toward heaven.
“No!” Peter abruptly shouted.
Angels appeared from no where with flaming swords and barred the man's entrance. He jumped back, terrified.
Peter continued, “You have not put your faith in Jesus. Jesus is not a free ticket to heaven.”
The man, still staring in fear at the angels took a few steps back and then redirected his gaze toward Peter. “What?” he asked, “Of course he is, I mean apparently, for you only just let that man through a moment ago.”
“No. That man repented and believed, you have not.”
The man was utterly exasperated now, “How can this be?
“He began to see his own devastation in light of Jesus’ glory. You have not.”
The man stood in silence for a moment and thought about what was just said.
“This is insane.” The man began, “If Jesus picks and chooses who he forgives I don’t even want to be with him! I would rather spend eternity in hell than be with this Jesus who doesn’t give me what I deserve!”
“That, “ Peter began, slowly, now sorrowful, “choice is open to you. For heaven is to be with Jesus, and Hell is to be without him, there’s no other choice.”
The man shook his head fuming.
“But consider, “ said a new voice suddenly.
The man looked up, it was Jesus who had returned and was looking intently at him.
Jesus continued, “both you and these other two men have prayed prayers of repentance, but there is a significant difference between them and yourself. You have trusted in your repentance to justify you and to save you, whereas the others trusted me, and me alone which is true repentance. For this true repentance is acknowledging you cannot save yourself. It is inescapably linked to asking me to save you. All these good works you have done cannot cancel out the bad, nor do they compare to what I have done. You’ve known about me, spent time with me, worked for me, but you’ve never declared that you needed me.” Jesus paused and sighed, “So, you see, you have not repented and you have not believed in me.”
The man replied, now suddenly snarling and angry, “I don’t need you, look at what I did! How can you judge me?!”
In shock at what he himself said, the man took a few steps back. He was still in utter amazement, not sure whether to be angry or happy to know he could not justify himself before a holy God.
He looked up at Jesus, and Jesus began slowly, “Because, you don’t love me.”
There was another long pause as the man thought about what he had just said, and what Jesus had said, and what the greatest commandment was.
After a while Jesus looked at the man and loved him saying, “The choice is yours, you can admit you need me because I am good and you are not, or convince yourself you don’t because you are good and I am not. Now go, awake and decide.”
And suddenly the man awoke in his hospital bed, not sure how he had gotten there. The heart monitor began to beep as memories returned to him. However, the only thing he was thinking about was this dream and all its details.