Fitted For Heaven

I was always in the Christmas play at our church when I was a kid, so after the cast was selected for this traditional and familiar dramatization, we took our assigned roles as wise men, shepherds, angels or the holy family. More often than not, I was in the shepherd group and donned the standard bathrobe-esque costume and followed the other staff-carrying first and second graders down the aisle of First Lutheran Church of Lexington as the more mature fourth-grade narrator read from the 2nd chapter of Luke. The highlight of my role usually came as one member of a small, squeaky-voiced chorus as we led the congregation in singing Away in a Manger.

Now as adult and mother looking back, I imagine that it must have been something of a heroic feat for the teachers to get us to memorize all three verses of that traditional Christmas carol. (Because at our small-town church, we always sang all the verses of every hymn!)

Away in a manger, no crib for a bed
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head;
The stars in the sky looked down where he lay
The little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay

The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes
But little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes
I love Thee, Lord Jesus, look down from the sky
And stay by my cradle ’til morning is nigh

Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care
And fit us for heaven to live with Thee there

As the years have passed, the simplistic lyrics of that song have faded into a sweet part of my childhood. The content is more nostalgic than deep or challenging. Except that is for the last line of the third verse.

“And fit us for heaven to live with Thee there.”

A nice sentiment … except when you really consider what is really required to be ‘fit for heaven.’

When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden, sin corrupted the whole human race. Adam’s legacy of spiritual death was passed on to all of his descendants. (Rom. 5:12) Since then, all people are born with a corrupt, sinful nature and cannot please God. Ephesians 2:1 clearly describes our dire condition as “dead in transgressions and sins.” It also means that no person in their own efforts is ever fit for heaven. Not one. (Rom. 3:23)

That’s where God stepped in. Seeing our desperate condition, Ephesians 2:13 announces the glorious news that “In Christ Jesus you who were once far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.”

But this offer didn’t come on a quiet night ‘away in a manger.’ It came on a lonely and desolate hill 33 years later, where the perfect Savior of the world died a cruel and undeserved death on behalf of rebels who spurned the love of God. As Isaiah prophesied over 700 years earlier… “Surely he (Christ) took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

The suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus defeated the power of sin and death (Rom 6:9; 1 Pet 2:24; Rom. 5:12-17), but the work He accomplished didn’t stop there. In exchange for our sinfulness, He also offers us His righteousness. (2 Cor. 5:21) When we accept the work of Christ on our behalf, we made completely clean and whole. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool,” Isaiah writes. (Is 1:18)

It may be a little basic, but sometimes I like to look up the actual definition of a word when pondering its meanings and implications. ‘Fit’ means “of a suitable quality, standard, or type to meet the required purpose.” Isn’t that a wonder? Isn’t it astounding that the work of our Savior was powerful enough to change us… you and me… to actually make us of “suitable quality” for heaven? That alone is enough to make us rise to or feet (or fall on our knees) and sing with the angels, “Glory to God in the highest!”


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