“Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.” (Luke 3:4-6)
Exclusions May Apply
I’m not a huge fan of shopping. But with three kids, shopping for clothing is a necessity. So typically, at back-to-school time, I take my family to a local department store that offers great discounts and coupons. We buy what we need and try not to break the budget.
Unfortunately, I’ve noticed a new trend lately. More and more brands have become a part of the “exclusions may apply” category of my receipt. A pair of shorts that I thought would be 30% off end up being full price because they’re a brand name. I didn’t end up using one of my $10 off a $50 purchase coupon because some items I bought were excluded from the deal. Like many of you, I get frustrated by the tiny print that makes me spend more money than I want.
Beyond the Register
This trend isn’t localized to the cash register at the department store. You hear the fast-talking spokespeople tell you about the exclusions that impact a sale on cars. Smart consumers read the fine print on contracts to make sure they understand the agreements they sign. And, unfortunately, it doesn’t even stop at purchases.
Socially and politically, groups of people have been subject to exclusions in their rights for thousands of years. In the United States, for instance, groups have fought for the right to vote for over 200 years. With the passing of the 15th Amendment in 1870, all men were supposed to be able to vote regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude”. However, it wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that it became illegal for municipalities to use exclusionary practices such as literacy tests to determine voter eligibility.1 It took until 1920 with the ratification of the 19th Amendment for women to have the right to vote.2 Despite these laws, African-Americans and women still struggle for equal rights and access to education. “The Land of the Free” isn’t free for everyone… yet.
Free at Last
Rights of children, women, and those of other races were much more restricted in Rome at the time of Jesus’ life than they are now. But through his message of love and his Resurrection, Jesus started a movement of change for these groups of people. “Jesus and the apostles did not promote or organize a woman’s movement. Yet Jesus’ message of repentance and salvation had revolutionary effects on the lives of women.” The majority of early Christians were women, despite the political norm of the time that women were second-class citizens.3
But Jesus didn’t come to create a political movement or to bring earthly peace. He came to save humanity. For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people (Titus 2:11). Jesus’ death and resurrection assures all people a place in God’s kingdom for eternity. Because of Jesus, we are free from sin and death.
Those who believe in Christ, whose names are written in the Book of Life, will go to Heaven because of Jesus’ sacrifice. But not everyone is going to Heaven. One group of people will be excluded.
Revelation, the final book of the Bible, makes it very clear what will happen on Judgment Day: And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books (Revelation 20:12). This judgment will not go favorably for unbelievers. Even those selfless, philanthropic people who dedicated their lives to serving others will not be declared righteous according to their own deeds. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24) Those who do not believe in Christ will not go to Heaven, because no one but Jesus can live up to God’s perfect standards.
Jesus is for all people. Not just the ones who look like us, not just the ones we decide are “good enough” to come to church with us. All people. Through Jesus, every one of us is a redeemed child of God. We don’t get to decide who goes to Heaven. That’s the job of the Holy Spirit.
In fact, in the book of Romans, Paul warns his audience (including us) against making decision about who is “good enough” for God. You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things (Romans 2:1).
In a society where people are treated differently based on the color of their skin, their gender, or their countries of origin, Christians need to share Jesus by loving their neighbors. We need to teach our children through our actions and the conversations we have with them that, because of Jesus, all people deserve God’s love. The Gospel is for all people … no exclusions.
1 History.com Editors. (7 June 2019). 15th amendment. History. Accessed from https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/fifteenth-amendment
2 History.com Editors. (6 June 2019). 19th amendment. History. Accessed from https://www.history.com/topics/womens-history/19th-amendment-1
3 Limmer, B. (12 May 2019). How Jesus changed the world view of you. Changed sermon series. Retrieved from https://victoryofthelamb.com/sermons/how-jesus-changed-the-world-view-of-you/