“Mr Jensen”, the man behind the counter inquired, “Mr Jensen, your wife’s name is Helen, isn’t it?” It wasn’t so much a question as a statement. I paused, not knowing quite what to say. The answer was yes, but how did he know? Who was he? Had we ever met? What a strange thing for a man to say.
I was leaving Australia for England, and he was the first government official I had to pass. I had handed him my boarding pass and passport, and, after checking all was in order, he had come out with this strange question or comment about my wife.
I muttered a “Yes, how do you know, do you know Helen?” kind of answer, and he looked at me with a mixture of amusement, pity, superiority and certainty. “I know”, he said, “because this is her passport!”
Horror! What was I to do? I asked about my alternatives and he very calmly assured me I only had one. Go home, get my own passport, and get back quickly before the plane doors shut. Without my passport I was not leaving Australia, let alone arriving in England.
I have never travelled in a taxi faster, found more back lanes and side streets, broken more traffic rules, or tipped as generously as that trip home and back to the airport.
I have dined out on this story for many years, but whenever I travel I now triple-check that I have my own passport and not my wife’s.
However, I have also often used this as a gospel illustration. Passports are really important. You can’t enter the kingdom of heaven with the wrong one. You can’t use anybody else’s passport. You have to have your own. It must be current. It must not be a fake or forgery. It must be recognised by the government.
Without the right passport there is no entry into God’s kingdom.
Heaven’s passport is not given because we are religious, moral, wealthy, educated, Protestant, or any other qualification. This passport is given by the grace of God bringing us to birth through the gospel. For Jesus assured us that without this rebirth we will never enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3).
The Government of Australia has given me a passport because I was born in Australia. I did nothing for it; I have it by right of my birth. God has given me my own passport into his kingdom by the death and resurrection of his Son who has poured out his Spirit in regeneration. I did nothing for it; I have it by right of my rebirth.
But as I travel around the world I discover that, while my Australian passport is valuable and respected by other governments, it is my Christian passport that opens the doors, homes and hearts of other people. For the Christian passport is not a document like those issued by governments and nations, but a letter written by our Lord on human hearts. For the kingdom of God is more like a family than a nation, and its members are more like brothers and sisters than citizens and taxpayers.
Our passport is the reality of changed lives under a common Lord and Saviour. We may speak with different accents, and even different languages, but yet the message of our hearts is one. Even when we come from different backgrounds, and hold to strange cultures and church practices in perverse and obstinate ways, our common experience and understanding of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us means we are able to talk to each other’s hearts and share the great truths of God.
The passport of heaven operates now in this world, as all Christians can testify, for we have already been raised up to sit with Christ and each other in the heavenly realms (Eph 2:4-6).
Photo credit: J Aaron Farr