The All-Access Pass
Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God, our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, in our day to day lives, having access to various places and persons is essential and something we take for granted, but it is different when it comes to access to God's presence now or in eternity. According to the Bible, we can't have access to God's grace and salvation automatically just by being born into the world, or by making a decision to believe in Him, or by just making up happy thoughts about what might or might not happen after we die. God's Word teaches that in order for us to have safe access to Him, He must be the one that chooses to give us that access, by His invitation and on His terms only.
While all humans have access to God's created gifts, by nature all humans don't have access to His gracious presence and eternal life in heaven because of sin. St. Paul writes in Romans that "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," that is, we can't by nature enjoy His presence and grace. Oh, sure, we know that God is present everywhere in the world because omnipresence is one of His attributes, but just because He is present doesn't mean He is there to be gracious to you. God is everywhere, so He also is certainly present in hell, but He is not there with His grace but rather with His wrath, anger, and punishment.
In our Epistle reading, St. Paul gives us the solution to this dire situation we are in because of sin. God so loved the world that He provided a point of access to His grace, forgiveness, and righteousness through faith in Jesus. St. Paul tells us of the blessings of this access in Romans 5:1-2, "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God."
In day to day life, access involves the way you can get somewhere you want to be. Without access roads, you'd have no way of accessing the "on ramp" and then the highway. Without a key or access card, you'd have no way of opening a locked door. In Romans 5, St. Paul says through Jesus was have access to God's grace, and Jesus Himself describes Himself in this way when He says, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me." Jesus is our path, our key, our gateway to God's grace and salvation.
Often gaining access to places involves money. To get into a concert or sporting event, you have to purchase a ticket as your means of access. Sometimes you need not only money but also the right credentials. To get through security at the airport, you need to buy a plane ticket and have a photo ID to pass through the security and eventually get on a plane. Similarly, our access to God's grace wasn't cheap but extremely costly, and it requires the right credentials to receive it. Jesus is the One who paid for our access into heaven. On the cross, His precious blood and innocent sufferings and death paid the debt I owed God for my sins, and so He paid the price for my admittance to God's presence. And when we enter the gates of heaven, the credentials that we will show at the door is Christ's righteousness that gives us access to God's home.
And this access to God's house isn't limited but unlimited and full access, an all-access pass, as it were. We might invite many people into our homes as guests, but we only grant unlimited access to our families, or perhaps to our friends who are so close that we would consider them "adopted" members of our family. Only if you have unlimited access to a house do you feel comfortable raiding the fridge or pantry and putting your feet up on the coffee table. Jesus wants to give us full access to God's house, so He instituted Holy Baptism as the way in which the Holy Spirit makes us children of God so that we have unrestricted access to the Father's house, so that we may be certain of His love for us and so that we may call upon Him in prayer as dear children call upon their dear fathers.
The type of access we guard the most closely is access to ourselves. For my friends and church members and extended family, I have to restrict access to myself somewhat, but to my wife and children, I am much more accessible—they get my full attention whenever they need me. But there is one level of access to me that is even more restrictive. On the most personal level, the only person who has unrestricted physical access to me (beyond handshaking and hugs) is my wife.
Since we are part of Christ's Bride, the Holy Christian Church, Jesus, the Bridegroom, gives us unrestricted access to Himself by uniting us to Himself in Baptism and by saying, "I am with you always, to the very end of the age." By inviting us to pray to God the Father through Him, He promises to give us constant access to His ears when He says, "Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you will glorify Me." And what's even more amazing is that Jesus gives us physical access to Himself in the Lord's Supper. He gives us to eat of His true body and to drink of His true blood so that we have a Communion with Him so deep that we are truly bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh, lifted up with Him into the heavenly sanctuary before God the Father's throne.
Jesus grants us access to God's grace through His Word and Sacraments so that we may stand in that grace continuously, so that it can be our life's foundation, but St. Paul also emphasizes that access to God's grace in Christ is through faith. Yet as sinners, we are tempted to try to get into God's graces by our works, and so in order for us to understand how faith does and doesn't act, we turn to this morning's Gospel reading.
Faith in Christ isn't where the Canaanite woman started out. She wasn't a believing Israelite, but a pagan Gentile, so she had no rightful claim to approach the Christ of Israel, Jesus; she hadn't been invited to have access to Him at all. As a pagan, she was surely a polytheist, a worshiper of multiple false gods, and she was desperate for help, so she kept on the lookout for any person or idol who might help her daughter. She had heard that this Jesus was a mighty prophet of the God of Israel and thought perhaps He could heal her daughter. Asking Him couldn't hurt, right? That's how idolatry always works—call out to as many gods as you can.
So when Jesus came to town, the Canaanite woman pulled out a fake ID to try to get access to His healing power. She knew that Jesus had helped a lot of Israelites, so she tried to fake being a Jew. She attempted to mask the fact that she was a Gentile by addressing Jesus with words that only an Israelite who believed in Jesus as the Messiah would have used; she said, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon." But He did not answer her a word.
Now why would Jesus treat her this way? There is no doubt that the woman's love for her daughter was sincere and her prayer was a good one, asking someone to help her beloved girl, so that wasn't it. The problem was that the woman wasn't approaching Jesus with faith in Him as her Savior from sin and death; she wasn't coming to Jesus with faith that He was God's promised Christ—instead, she was simply trying to get access to His power by using the right words, by passing herself off as an Israelite, pretending to be a child of Abraham who lived by faith in the Lord, the God of Israel. The woman came to Jesus based not on His invitation or based on His Words, but based on the expectations of what she might get out of Him.
To her credit, the woman was persistent, so she kept calling out to Jesus, enough so to drive the disciples batty. Finally they came to Jesus and begged Him, "Send her away, she won't leave us alone." In other words, "Jesus, just heal her daughter so she'll stop pestering us." But Jesus is resolute. He won't accept fake IDs, false pretenses. The only way of approaching Him is at His invitation and with complete dependence on His mercy, so He wipes out the woman's attempts to gain access to His power by passing herself off as an Israelite. He responds to them, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Surely the woman overheard this and recognized that Jesus saw through her scheme. Finally, she gives up all pretenses and simply begs: "Lord, help me," as she kneels before Him.
And then something amazing happens. Jesus finally speaks directly to the woman, and while it seems that He is brushing her off again, in fact, if you listen carefully to His words, He actually throws her a bone. Jesus answered, "It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs." Jesus was saying that He had been sent to serve the believing Israelites and not the outsiders, not the Gentiles. But now we see the woman move from sinful, unbelieving pretenses into a humble, receptive faith in the Word Jesus had spoken: she said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." In other words, she said, "Yes, Lord, I agree that I am a dog and don't deserve to have the children's bread, I don't deserve to have you help me since I am not an Israelite but a dog Gentile. But Lord, the pet dogs in the house get to eat the crumbs that fall from the table, so surely you could drop a crumb to this dog in need of help. Lord, the bread is Yours to give out, and although I surely don't deserve it, it wouldn't hurt the Israelites at all if you helped out this one Gentile."
It seems that the woman's answer takes Jesus' breath away, because He answers her, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly. The woman got access to what she had come for, but now she receives it by faith in Jesus alone and not by trying to work the system. But even better, her daughter's health is not all she has received! Now she also will go home with faith in Jesus Christ as Lord, as Savior, as the One who not only heals the sick but as the One who would overcome death and hell and grant access to eternal life for her and her daughter and to all who believe His Word.
You see, what was great about this woman's faith was that she trusted Jesus' Word. She takes what He said to her and holds Him to it. As St. Paul says, "Faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ," and that is what happened here. First Jesus wiped out the woman's manipulative attempts to access His power, and then He held out a scenario to her in which she could find a little crumb of His mercy in His Words. Her faith was great because she held Him to His Word, the Word of Him who never lies but is always faithful to what He says. Still today, this Jesus loves it when we take Him at His Word, apply it to ourselves, and simply trust it.
We first learn from this woman what happens when we try to gain access to Jesus' power for the wrong reasons, with false pretenses. If we come to Him and try to butter Him up with pious sounding prayers in order to gain access to healing, or prosperity, or any other created good, then we'll be met with silence. If we come without faith in Him as our Savior from sin, death, and hell, then we'll be met with, "I came only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." If we come to Him and try to get Him to help us on the basis of what we think is fair or right, then He replies with, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."
But if we confess our sins and simply kneel at Jesus' feet as beggars and cry out, "Lord, help me," we are answered with His merciful Word in the Gospel. If we listen to His Word in the Gospel and hope in His promises alone, then we receive access to treasures far greater than anything we could ever ask for or imagine: St. Paul calls the gifts of the Gospel "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8), which means that we ain't seen nothin' yet.
While having access to any place in this world only gives us a limited, restricted amount of happiness, having access to God's grace in Christ doesn't include just some gifts, but everything a person could ever hope for: everlasting life in God's Kingdom, eternal happiness with the Triune God and with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, and in the meantime, the privilege of calling God your Father and praying to Him as a beloved child.
And in order to give you complete confidence that the hope of glory is yours, Jesus gives you access to His Holy Gospel and the Sacraments here in the church. In Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion, you receive full access to Jesus and His mercy and gracious presence, and in them He promises to be your all-access pass into the Father's graces today, into the gates of heaven when you die, and into the glory of God forever in the Resurrection. Even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.