So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs,
but on God who has mercy.
– Romans 9:16
The futile race to the top
He sits on a riding lawnmower as he trims the lush green lawn around his house. In this old commercial for a finance company, the owner sports an overdone grin as he recites his many achievements for the camera: a four-bedroom home; wife and kids; a great job; membership in the local country club; a pool.
In the next breath, plastic smile firmly in place, he confesses he can barely pay his finance charges. He begs, “Will somebody please help me?”
The pressure to perform begins early for most of us. The race for the first word, first teeth, and first steps is soon followed by pre-school, dance classes, swimming lessons, and sports. By the time we’ve finished high school, we’re supposed to be well on the way to a successful career.
The incomes have to be better, the homes bigger, the resumes fatter. Keep working. Keep ahead of the competition.
Keep scaling the ladder of success.
We squander the treasure of our youth clawing upward rung by rung, only to make a bitter discovery at the end of our lives: The ladder leads nowhere. In the final years we are left to face the oblivion of old age and death.
Thousands of years ago, a young man was on a similar journey. Sent by his parents back to his ancestral home to find a wife, Jacob travelled alone until dark. Knowing he would have to spend the night under the stars, he found a stone and used it as a makeshift pillow.
That night he had a strange dream. In this dream a ladder was set on the earth. Its top reached into heaven. Angels were using this ladder as a highway from heaven to earth. God stood at the top of the ladder and proclaimed a blessing to Jacob and his descendants. In awe Jacob called this place the house of God and the gate of heaven.
Jacob went on to have a couple of marriages, lots of kids, and more than his share of trouble. God established an entire nation of people through him before he returned to the dust.
The dream lay in obscurity for thousands of years, until it was interpreted one day by a carpenter.
Not just any carpenter, Jesus was a different kind of builder. He worked with wood, but He came to be the ladder to heaven’s gate, spanning the gulf between heaven and earth.
Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
– John 1:50-51
Because we all die, the ladder to success is a one-way trip to oblivion. The only ladder that matters is the one reaching eternity. Religion is the vain effort of man to bridge the gap between him and God. Religion ends in the cry, “Will somebody please help me?”
Only in the person of the God-man Jesus Christ is the void bridged between heaven and earth. His body, offered in sacrifice for our sins, became the holy stairway to heaven for which we long. With Him, we can leave the futility of this world behind. In Him we find the gateway to eternity.
In Him, an old dream becomes hope for a new life.
But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our wrongdoings, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the boundless riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.
– Ephesians 2:4-7