Imagine that an extended family has planned a Caribbean cruise. They have looked at brochures and talked animatedly for months about ports on their itinerary. There are 31 people involved. Even the younger children have caught the excitement.
The family gathers at the port in Tampa two hours before the ship is set to sail. Imagine that one grandson is coming separately by air and his flight has been delayed. When he arrives everyone has boarded without incident and family members are either settling in their quarters or watching with concern for his arrival from the rail high on the ship.
He is the last of the family to arrive and present his papers to the boarding officer. After some searching and head scratching, the official notifies the grandson that his name is not on the manifest and there are no spare accommodations because the ship is completely booked.
Word of his plight is sent to the family on board. The ship is about to move. Disconsolately, the grandson watches this majestic ship slip its moorings and glide quietly into deeper waters. Soon the family members are little more than dots at the rails and he stands alone at the vacant quay.
It’s hard to imagine a deeper disappointment: large dreams shattered in a moment of time; cavernous loneliness suddenly collecting. But that separation would be temporary. Rationality would tell those on board and the one left behind that in time the ship will return to dock and the family will be together again.
It’s just a story. Life’s disappointments come in all shapes and sizes. We usually recover from them. But there’s one disappointment we are warned of that cannot be matched for seriousness. Jesus spoke of it in graphic language.
In his own words he said: Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me you evil doers!’ (Matthew 7: 21-23).
The kingdom of heaven stands for God’s unchallenged Domain, both here and hereafter. Jesus is its Lord. The kingdom is where Jesus is. The persons in our Lord’s illustration entreat for entrance, professing that they have done all sorts of wonderful things in his name — they’ve prophesied, performed miracles, driven out demons. But their names are nevertheless not on the manifest of heaven.
What have they missed? Why is their entrance not scheduled and why instead are they turned away? Their deficiency is clear: They have never surrendered to God the Father in utter and complete obedience. That’s where kingdom entrance begins and in spite of all their wondrous miracles their hearts are not yielded. Jesus says they are without the key to this kingdom. Such a moment can turn out to be life’s greatest disappointment.
In our preoccupation with the dazzlements of this life we risk ignoring preparations for the world to come with its two vastly different destinations — the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, Heaven and Hell.
Jesus speaks of life’s greatest disappointment when he utters his warning. It’s not a disappointment over a missed family cruise on the Caribbean that he has in mind.
But he refers to a possible eternal disappointment arising from neglect of membership in his kingdom. That membership comes from yielding our wills to the Father’s will and from following his Son with a whole heart. It involves avoiding Adam’s mistake — a colossal refusal to obey.
So, whenever we want to do a check-up on the reality of our faith we start with the question: Am I living in obedience to the Father’s will? Is that yieldedness a settled issue of the heart?
Photo credit: Sid Mosdell (via flickr.com)