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The Gate Of Heaven

Scripture: Genesis 28:16-22; Text: Genesis 28:17

"And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." (Genesis 28:17).

In the preceding verses of this chapter we are told of an unusual event that took place as Jacob journeyed to Haran. During the night he had a vision in which he saw a ladder that stood on the earth and reached to heaven. Angels were ascending and descending upon it. When he awoke he realized that the presence of God was in that place and spoke the words of our text.

He was in the presence of the great Jehovah, the Creator of heaven and earth (Genesis 1:1). Because he felt so strongly the presence of the God, Jacob called that place "the house of God" and "the gate of heaven." Apparently, both the expressions described how he felt about that special place where God came to him. He made a vow to God and planned to return again some day. Before leaving, he set up a stone to mark the spot, where he would later reverence the house of God.

In our present day terminology, many refer to the house of God as the church or church building but in the scriptures the "church" has primary reference to a body of believers (the people). Since the "church" most often meets in a house of worship; God's house has become a sacred place to the hearts of many. Therefore, it shall be the objective of this sermon to view the house of God as the gate of heaven; endeavoring to understand why Jacob linked them together.

So, why did Jacob describe the house of God as the "gate" of heaven? At first I was somewhat confused. Then I thought, Jacob lived a very long time ago and he was most likely familiar with gates in walled cities. Many of the larger cities were enclosed with high walls to protect them from their enemies. When there was no danger, the gates were opened to allow people to enter and exit the city. Although, Jacob apparently had not been mysteriously transported to such an earthly city, it may have been the reason he thought of gates. Neither could I imagine that Jacob had been miraculously taken into that glorious and eternal abode of God, which we call heaven. He was lying on the ground asleep and the dream was in his mind. So, why did Jacob use such terminology?

As I pondered the concept of gates in ancient cities, I began to realize what Jacob was saying when he called the house of God, the gate of heaven. In his dream, it was as though the gates of the heavenly city were opened and the angelic host that resided there, entered and left at will. With the gates open, there was a special awareness of the presence of God, which no doubt stirred his very soul. When the dream ended, the gates were closed. The idea that the house of God is the gate of heaven, is to communicate to us that heaven is often opened as a "gate" and saints assembled in the house of God in worship, can experience a wonderful sense of His holy presence.

Strange as it may seem, the Bible does speak of heaven being opened. As I began to search the scriptures, I rejoiced to find four such references in the New Testament. It is more than coincidence that those who experienced and witnessed the opening of heaven, also experienced similar feelings to that of Jacob. They seem to experience a special awareness of the presence of God. The four who witnessed the opening of heaven were: Jesus, Stephen, Peter and John. I want us to examine those events as they are recorded in the Bible. Then, we shall make an application of them, to our times of worship in the house of God, and hopefully, be able to see and understand what Jacob meant when he declared the house of God to be the gate of heaven.

The first reference to heaven being opened, was at the baptism of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. The Bible says, "And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water; and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: and lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased" (Matthew 3:16-17). At that time when the heavens were open, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove. Jacob must have had a similar experience because angels were ascending and descending from heaven and the presence of God was real on the earth. Remember, Jacob said, "Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not" (Genesis 28:16). What greater manifestation of the presence of God could there possibly be, than for all three persons of the Holy Trinity to be manifestly present at once? The Son of God stood in the baptismal water, the Holy Spirit descended and rested upon Him, and the Father gave His approval from heaven. Indeed, when heaven was opened, the presence of the Lord was manifestly there.

Such has been the experience of saints throughout the ages. The house of God has been a place where God met with His people. At the first house of God, the Tabernacle; we read, "Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the Lord filled the Tabernacle" (Exodus 40:34). It is evident that the presence of the Lord was there. I believe that it could have been said by those who witnessed that event, that heaven was opened. Much later, as our Lord Jesus began His public ministry and built His church, those who met in worship also experienced God's presence through the Holy Spirit. The Bible says in Acts 4:31, "And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness." Even today, we have the promise of God's presence. Jesus said, "For where two or three are met together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20).

During times too numerous to mention, saints have assembled to worship in the house of God and have felt a special sense of His presence. Hearts have been blessed, lives have been enriched, people have been changed, hungry souls have been fed; as the heavens were opened and the Spirit of God came manifestly to bless faithful saints in the house of God. No wonder the house of God may be called the gate of heaven, for here we have often felt His presence, as the gate is opened again and again.

The second reference to the heavens being opened, was at the death of a Christian martyr named Stephen. Acts 7:55-56 says, "But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God." The violent, angry mob sought his death and thus stoned him. Seriously injured by those who despised Jesus, Stephen was blessed to have the gate of heaven opened to him for a little while. He was permitted to see the glory of God and Jesus standing, awaiting his coming. Such an experience would certainly be a blessing for anyone, but especially for a child of God who was shortly to die. In a short time he would pass from the scenes of this life, into the glorious presence of God. Stephen was able to leave this life of sin and sorrow, with his eyes fixed upon his destination. The heavens were opened wide and he was able to rejoice as he gazed upon his Saviour in the glory of heaven.

Has heaven ever been opened in a similar way to other saints? I believe it has, though perhaps not in such a dramatic way. I believe that many saints, have by faith been able to see their eternal destination through the preached word. In the house of God we are often reminded that heaven is a real place and by His grace we will dwell there, world without end. Preaching the gospel in Godís house has also revealed how we will get to heaven. The Bible tells that God chose us in Christ, before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). We were also predestinated to be adopted by Christ (Ephesians 1:5), all to the praise and glory of Christ (Ephesians 1:6), Who redeemed us through His shed blood and the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1:7). Sinners who have no hope in their frail efforts, are blessed to hear the sweet gospel message "by grace ye are saved" (Ephesians 2:5). When souls have been quickened into divine life by the Holy Spirit, then the gospel enables them to see the glory of God and Christ their Lord. Even in our day and time, the preached word gives us a sweet hope of heaven and glory, through Jesus Christ. I have often felt that heaven was opened, as saints assembled to worship in Godís house. Thanks be to God, we can rejoice in the house of God, the gate of heaven.

The third reference to heaven having been opened, is found in Acts 10:11. In a trance, Peter "saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth." It was during the experience that God taught Peter a very important lesson. The first commission Jesus gave to His disciples, excluded Gentiles. He said, "Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 10:5-6). After the gospel had first been preached to the Jews and they refused it, then it was sent to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46). But this change would not be an easy one and so God taught Peter through this dramatic experience, that "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common" (Acts 10:15). After God repeated this experience three times, Peter declared, "of a truth I perceive that God is no respector of persons" (Acts 10:34). He then willingly went to the house of Cornelius and preached the gospel of Christ to his household. When heaven was opened, God made His will known to Peter.

I think in this regard, we may say in our day, that heaven has been opened to us. Often God has made His will known to us, in His house of worship. The Bible not only tells us about God's grace and goodness through His Son Jesus Christ, but it also instructs and teaches us God's way for us to live. Paul said, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished into all good works" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). By means of the word of God, heaven has been opened as God made His will known to saints throughout the ages. As in the past, God still gives His laws in a precise manner and commanded us not to deviate from them in any direction (Deuteronomy 5:32). The scriptures are to be our rule for faith and practice. Therefore James wrote, "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves" (James 1:22). When we refuse to obey God, we have sinned (James 4:17); so, whatever Jesus commands of us, we are to obey (John 2:5). Throughout the ages, as God makes His will known through the preaching of biblical teaching, heaven has been opened again and again for the house of God continues to be the gate of heaven.

The fourth and final reference to the gate of heaven, is found in Revelation 19:11. John said, "And I saw heaven opened and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war." As heaven was opened to John, he saw Jesus. Frankly, I believe that Jacob saw Jesus through the symbol of a ladder that spanned the distance from earth to heaven. Jesus is the Mediator between God and men (1 Timothy 2:5) and by the sacrifice of Himself, Jesus saved us from our sins (Ephesians 5:2), and shall one glorious day carry us home to heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). In the Gospel of John the connection between Jesus and the ladder of Jacob becomes clear. Jesus said, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man" (John 1:51). Jesus is the Son of man (His humanity) and the Son of God (His deity). A close comparison between the scriptures of Genesis and John reveal that the ladder represented Jesus, because angels are ascending and descending on both the ladder and Jesus.

The gospel is preached so that we may see Jesus more clearly. Jesus said, "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me" (John 5:39). When ministers of God stand in the pulpit to proclaim the inspired word of God, they must of necessity, preach the living, incarnate Word, Jesus. He is the heart of the Bible, which includes both the Old and New Testaments. The ancient laws of God were fulfilled by Him (Matthew 5:17) and all the sacrifices and offerings were foreshadowing Jesus (Hebrews 10:1). As Philip preached to the Ethiopian Eunuch he used an ancient passage from Isaiah 53:7-8. Acts 8:35 tell us "then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scriptures, and preached unto him Jesus." Not only does the teachings of the Old Testament refer to Jesus in prophecy, but the doctrines of the New Testament are built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 3:11). Therefore Jesus is preached as the only way to heaven (John 14:6) and the only Saviour of sinners. Peter said, "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Therefore, when the gospel of Jesus Christ is preached, hearts are filled with hope through Him. Until the return of Jesus, when He is preached in the house of God, truly the gate of heaven will be opened wide for us.

I thank God that I can believe His house is the gate of heaven. We do not enter heaven by this house, but some of heaven has often entered into His house of worship. It is a sacred place where God communes with us and communicates to us His truth. I have found His house to be a place where lives are blessed and hearts are warmed by the presence of God. Through the gate of heaven, the saved have seen heavenly things and heavenís joys have been poured upon them. If you have found the house of God to be the gate of heaven, then no doubt you love and appreciate it too. If for some reason you have shown little or no interest in the house of worship, let me encourage you to take another look at the house of God. Faithfully attend and fervently pray; and perhaps one day while you are there, the gates of heavens will be opened to you. Hopefully, you will be blessed to discover that the house of God is the gate of heaven. It is now and ever shall be, for God has declared it in His word.

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This page last updated on June 7, 2014