Stairway to Heaven

May 5, 2013

When I was
a teen if you gave a kid a guitar eventually they would learn to play Stairway
to Heaven.  Not always well, but it was
like the chopsticks of the guitar. That and Smoke on the Water and Cat Scratch
Fever.  I’m not sure that either the
stairway or the heaven that inspired Led Zepplin has anything to do with us
today. 
However
when I began to read through 2 Peter and came to the scripture that was read to
us earlier the immediate thought that came to my mind was: it’s like a stairway
to heaven.   We’ve spoken before of the
journey of Christianity, the voyage, the trip. 
That Christianity is not a static religion, it does not start and end at
the same place.  And it’s not a matter of
it starting here and finishing here, you need to move to a higher plane on the
journey and not just move from point A. to point B. but actually become a
better person on the journey. 
Paul talks
about our Christian life being a race, with a starting point and a finishing
point.  John speaks of us walking in the
light, Christ tells us to follow him and Peter speaks of each facet of the
Christian life leading to the next.  And while
most of us would acknowledge the journey metaphor, sometimes we become focused
on the destination, heaven, and miss out on the journey.  If’n God only saved you so you could go to
heaven you would think it would be easier if he just took you to heaven when
you became a Christians.  But he left us
here for a time and presumably he knew what he was doing.
William Golding puts it this way, “Consider a man
riding a bicycle. Whoever he is, we can say three things about him. We know he
got on the bicycle and started to move. We know that at some point he will stop
and get off. Most important of all, we know that if at any point between the
beginning and the end of his journey he stops moving and does not get off the
bicycle he will fall off it. That is a metaphor for the journey through life of
any living thing, and I think of any society of living things.” I don’t
think it would do injustice to William Golding or the scriptures to say that
his metaphor applies as well to our Christian walk. 
Have you
ever become so caught up in reaching your destination that you miss the
excitement and joy of the journey itself? 
 A number of year ago when I was
writing freelance I was given an assignment of doing a story on Chester Race
week.  It was beautiful weather and so I
thought; cool I’ll take my motorcycle down on the old road, it’ll be a gorgeous
trip. 
Well. . .,
first I underestimated the extra time the old road would take, then I
underestimated the number of old people who would be driving under the speed
limit, the amount of construction that might be happening and the possibility
of a garbage trucks picking up trash. 
Now if you know me at all you realize that I’m just a little anal about
time and suddenly my nice relaxing trip disappeared as I focused on when I was
actually going to make it to Chester.  The journey was no longer a consideration
only arriving mattered and I missed the trip I was looking forward to.
I know that
heaven is going to be a wonderful place, I believe that it has been promised to
me, I am looking forward to walking those streets of gold, of seeing my Lord
and meeting my God.  I’m thrilled at the
thought of no more sorrows and tears and no more aches and pains, but I want to
enjoy the trip this side of eternity as well. 
And Peter’s
second letter gives us some instructions for enjoying the journey and making
the most of it.  The Peter who wrote this
letter was of course Simon Peter, one of the 12 apostles and one of Christ’s
closest friends.  The letter was written
to believers scattered across the Roman province of Asia which is now modern
Turkey.
The letter
was written to warn believers about false teachers.  And as a part of his instruction we discover
the eight verses that were read for us earlier. 
And this is how it begins. 
2 Peter 1:3-4 By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for
living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the
one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.
And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us great and precious
promises. These are the promises that enable you to share his divine nature and
escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.
There is the promise.  Did you catch it?  That is God’s promise for our Christian
walk.  Right now, today, May 5th,
2013.  Let’s hear it again.  2 Peter
1:3-4
By his divine power, God has given us
everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by
coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous
glory and excellence. And because of his glory and excellence, he has given us
great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share
his divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.
Did you
catch it?  Let me speak slowly and break
it down into three components.  1. By His
divine Power.  2. God gives us everything
we need for living a godly life. 1. Through his great and precious
promises 
Now if that
don’t light your fire your wood is wet?   Think about it, isn’t it wonderful to know
that everything we need to live a godly life has been provided for us through
Jesus’ divine power, not our power but Jesus’ power?
And that he
doesn’t give us half or three quarters of what we need and expect us to come up
with the rest but he gives us everything. 
And then Peter goes on to tells us that we will be able to escape the corruption
all around us through that same power and then he gives us the road map so we
can discover where we are to go to obtain that promise. 
And so
after the promise that Jesus through his divine power will give us what we need
to live a godly life, Peter then spells out what that will look like, and he
begins by telling us
2
Peter 1:5
In view of all this, make every
effort to respond to God’s promises.   In
view of all what?  In view of the two
verses that came before that, in view of the promise that God has given us all
that we need.  But it is a two way
street, Peter is telling us that because we have the promise we need to make
every effort to respond to those promises. 
 And so It Starts with God’s Promise and our Responsibility
 
God’s word tells us that God
will do his part if we are willing to do our part.  Too often we want God to do it all, we want
him to take away our desire to sin and rebel, we want him to make us have
self-control that he should make us want to desire to pray more and spend more
time reading our bibles.  And if he did
that then was would never grow or mature. 
And he wouldn’t be God he would simply be the great enabler.
When our kids are little there
comes a time when it’s not enough that we can tie their shoes, they need to
learn to tie their shoes, it’s not enough that we can read to them, they need
to learn to read.  We would do our
children no favours if we carried them everywhere they needed to go and never
allowed them to learn to walk.
So in light of the fact that God loves us and cares for us
and promises to give us what we need he expects us to respond to that.  He isn’t going to simply zap us to heaven,
but neither is he going to leave us to our own devices as we endeavour to get
there.  Instead he expects us to use the resources
that he gives us to get there.
God provides the stairs we provide the energy and
determination.  Without the stairs the
journey would be difficult if not impossible. 
But they are stairs not an escalator. 
When our kids were little whenever we were on an escalator I
would tell them “I don’t like escalators, once I was on one and it broke down
and I had to wait three hours for the repairman before I could get off”  and they would groan and say “Oh Dad, you are
so lame.”  And then one day I had Deborah
and several of her friends over to Mic Mac and before they ditched me completely
I heard Deborah say as they got on the escalator  “I don’t like escalators, once I was on one
and it broke down . . .” And it was then that I knew my job as a father was
complete.
So let’s start at the
beginning, because the beginning is usually a good place to start.  
2
Peter 1:5
In view of all this, make every
effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a generous
provision of moral excellence, . . .
Our Journey Begins at the Bottom of the Stairs  On any journey you have to start at the
beginning.  If you are planning on
running in the Blue Nose Marathon then you will need to start at the starting
line, see I wouldn’t mind running a Marathon if I could start thirty or forty
feet from the finish line, but that’s not the way it works. 
This is where you start, you
can’t jump to the top, you have to begin at the beginning, and it’s the same
for everyone.   Some people try, they
want to start halfway up or at the top but you can’t.
And so the starting place in
our Christian walk is Faith, the faith to believe that Jesus is the Son of God,
the faith to believe he has the power to forgive our sins, the faith to believe
that he can make us a new creation.   The
word of God tells us in  Hebrews 11:6 And it is
impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must
believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him. That
is landing at the bottom of the stairs that is where your journey has to
begin,  by believing.  Paul tells us in the book of Ephesians 2:8 God saved
you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a
gift from God.  The New
International Version says it this way Ephesians 2:8
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from
yourselves, it is the gift of God.
But faith doesn’t exempt us
from having to do our part.  It is by
faith that we start the journey, but if all we have is faith and we don’t
exercise it or use it we will stay on the bottom landing. 
William Barclay wrote in the Daily Study Bible “In the
Christian life the supreme effort of man must cooperate with the grace of God.”
  It is the grace of God that
allows us to begin the journey of being a Christian.  Without our faith and God’s grace we could
never get to that part, and he promises to be with us on the journey, but we
have to take the first step.
That passage goes on to say 2 Peter 1:5 In view of all
this, make every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith
with a generous provision of moral excellence. . .  The phrase moral excellence is interesting,
it has been translated as virtue, goodness or courage.  Once commentator says that the word would be
used to indicate that ground was fertile and good for planting.  Others say that it is the courage to do the
right thing, in this case the right thing is to grow and a mature as a
Christian. 
And it will take courage in
your Christian walk, the courage to do the right thing, the courage to say the
right thing the courage to say I am a Christ Follower and the courage to follow
Christ.
In the movie 42, the story of Jackie Robinson we are told that Branch Rickey, the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers needed someone who could turn the other cheek, as well as turn a double play.
In the movie Jackie Robinson states the challenge in blunt terms. “You want a man,” Robinson asks, “who doesn’t have the guts to fight back?”   Rickey replies: “I want a man who has the guts NOT to fight back.”  Jackie Robinson had Moral Excellence. 

And so the landing that the
stairway begins on is the declaration of faith that you are going to follow
Jesus, the faith to believe that he has forgiven your sins and made you a new
creation, the faith to believe and accept the grace that Jesus has to
offer.  And with that faith comes the
desire to move forward, to actually begin the exercise of following Jesus.  I have met people who have taken the step of
faith, but they can never seem to move on. 
They like the concept that they have been forgiven, but they don’t want
to give anything back.  They are quite
happy to stay at the bottom of the stairs, occasionally casting longing glances
upward but not willing to take the first step. 
2
Peter 1:11
Then God will give you a grand
entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.   Our
Journey Finishes at the Top of the Stairs 
I like to  have a destination,
not just to be going somewhere but to know where I am going.  I’m sure it’s a personality flaw but just
going for a drive seems senseless to me. 
When I had my motorcycle I would talk to other bikers who would tell me
of going for a 200 km drive, just a drive. 
When we had the speed boat folks would say “It must be nice to just take
the boat out for a spin.”  Why?  What is the sense in that? 
But I digress, If the journey
begins with a single step of faith we are told that it finishes with a grand
entrance into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  That’s a fancy way of saying: heaven.  And the bible talks a lot about heaven and
eternal rewards.  We are told what there
will be and what they won’t be.  And we
can no more comprehend what that life will be then an unborn child would be
able to understand what this life would be like.  Imagine trying to describe rainbows and
sunsets to the preborn, and giraffes, and arms that would hold and hug.
But we do know that it will be
different than our life is now and that it will be better than our life is now,
and it will be eternal.  And the bible
describes in as having things we can understand, streets of gold, gates of
pearls, wall of jewels; you understand that what is valuable for us here is
simply building materials in God’s economy. 
And it describes heaven in terms of what won’t be there, there will be
no more suffering, no more tears, no more pain and nothing evil. 
And that is our ultimate
destination as Christians.  But, again if
that was the sole reason for Jesus coming and dying on a cross to save us, then
the moment we accepted the grace and forgiveness that Jesus had to offer we would
go to heaven.  But that isn’t the only
reason that Jesus came and died and it’s not the only reason that we accept
that grace and forgiveness that Jesus has to offer.
I’ve said it before, when you
look at a grave stone it’s easy to focus on the numbers, you know what I
mean.  It will  list the person’s name and then it will have
two dates, perhaps it might say 1914-1998. 
And it’s easy to look and say “Wow, they were born the year that World
War 1 began.”  Or to say “If they had of
lived for another two years they would have made it to the new Millennium”  But that wasn’t their life, when it started
and when it ended those are just dates. 
The important thing here is the dash, that represents the life they
lived.  It’s in that dash that the story
lies.
And sometimes as Christians we
fixate on the date that we became a Christ follower, the bottom of the stairs
and that’s important, there needs to be a beginning.  Or we will think about heaven and the
rewards, the top of the stairs.  And that
is awesome, especially for someone like me who needs a destination to make the
trip worthwhile.  But what is really
important is the dash, the steps that go from the bottom of the landing to the
top of the stairs, the life we live as a Christian and the difference that we
make in this life. 
At this end of this letter
Peter closes with these words,  2 Peter 3:18 Rather, you
must grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. All
glory to him, both now and forever! Amen.  Did you catch the key word there?  Grow. 
We don’t start our Christians walk as mature Christians.  We don’t start our journey at the end, there
is a progression, there is a beginning and an end and a life that comes in
between.
So our journey begins at the
bottom of the stairs and our journey finishes at the top of the stairs, but for
most of us There are the Steps in
Between 
If you have read through the
New Testament you have discovered there are many lists, lists of things we
should do and lists of things we shouldn’t do. 
The reason of course is that books were rare and there were important
things for Christians to learn, things that they should do and things that they
shouldn’t do.  And those things couldn’t
be carried around in an I-pad or a Playbook, as a matter of fact they couldn’t
be carried around in a book.   They had
to be carried around in a person’s head and so they were put into a form that
was easier to remember. 
And that brings us back to
where we started:  2 Peter 1:5-7 In view of all this, make
every effort to respond to God’s promises. Supplement your faith with a
generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge,
and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient endurance, and
patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and
brotherly affection with love for everyone.  You don’t start with it all, you don’t
become a Christ follower and you are immediately bestowed with knowledge, self-control, patient endurance, godliness,
brotherly affection and love for everyone. 
By the way if that list sounds familiar listen to the description
of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives:
love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and
self-control. There is no law against these things!
And I suppose that I could spend an entire series explaining
these things, but seriously how much explanation do they need?   Let’s read it again together, but let’s
personalize it
 2 Peter 1:5-7 In view of
all this, I will make every effort to respond to God’s promises. I will supplement
my faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence
with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with patient
endurance, and patient endurance with godliness, and godliness with brotherly
affection, and brotherly affection with love for everyone.  
And the result? 
Listen to the next sentence that Peter writes: 2 Peter 1:8 The more you
grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of
our Lord Jesus Christ.
And that is the dash in our
Christian life, to be more productive and useful in our knowledge of our Lord
Jesus Christ.    But remember from the
very beginning we are told that it will require effort.  I don’t know where you are on the stairway to
heaven?  But you do, and you know what
the next step needs to be.  Maybe it’s
the first step, the step of faith or maybe it is taking next step to be more
like Jesus and to be faithful in following him.