Did Mickey Mantle Go to Heaven? Why I Believe in the Forgiveness of Sin
November 12, 1995
Like many others of my generation, Mickey Mantle was a household name when I grew up. Back then, in the late fifties and early sixties, he was one of the most famous sports figures in America. Schoolboys by the millions imitated his swing and dreamed of the day when they could make it to the big leagues and play baseball like “the Mick.” Sports Illustrated called him “the last great player on the last great team.”
Most of you know that Mickey Mantle died in August from deadly cancer that spread throughout his body. By his own admission, Mickey abused his body through years of hard living and hard drinking. In the months before his death he liked to joke that when he got to the gates of heaven, the Lord would say, “Mickey, I can’t let you in after the way you lived.” As Mickey told the story, just as he turned to leave, the Lord would say, “But while you’re here would mind signing six dozen balls for me?”
It’s against that backdrop that I raise the question, Did Mickey Mantle go to heaven? He was clearly thinking about heaven a lot in his last few days. By his own admission, he didn’t deserve to go and in fact, he expected the Lord would turn him away.
Perhaps you saw some footage from his funeral service in Dallas. Bob Costas, the NBC sportscaster, got most of the press with his moving eulogy. But former teammate Bobby Richardson gave the most important message when he told a packed sanctuary at the Lovers Lane Methodist Church in Dallas how Mickey had called him and asked for prayer two days before he died. When he went to see him in the hospital that same day, Mickey brought the subject up. “I want you to know that I’ve accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior.” Bobby Richardson wanted to make sure, so he shared the gospel anyway and explained what it meant to trust Christ as Savior. When he finished, Mickey Mantle said, “That’s exactly what I did.” The next day, knowing that his death was near, he said with a smile on his face, “I’m ready to go now. Let’s get on with it.” He died within a few hours
Did Mickey Mantle go to heaven? To us the question may seem academic, but it was the great question on his mind during those last few days in Dallas.
This sermon is not about heaven in general or even about salvation in general, but about the heart of salvation–the forgiveness of sin. This is the central truth of the Christian gospel because no one can go to heaven unless their sins are forgiven.
“I Believe in the Forgiveness of Sins”
At the heart of the gospel is the message of forgiveness.
If you grew up in a liturgical church you probably recited the Apostles Creed every Sunday. It begins with the words, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth” and goes on to cover all the major Christian doctrines. Most scholars believe it goes back to the second century after Christ, meaning that it is perhaps the earliest surviving Christian creed. It’s not very long, only two sentences that contain a number of short phrases. The second sentence goes like this: “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”
Did you notice it? Tucked away in that list is the phrase “the forgiveness of sins.” That strikes me as important because this ancient creed lists everything the early Christians considered essential to the Christian faith.
That’s one reason I believe in the forgiveness of sins: Because the earliest Christians believed in it too. They understood that at the heart of the gospel is the message of forgiveness.
I. The Need For Forgiveness
Why do we need forgiveness? Because we are lost. The Bible says, “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned each one to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). Our problem is sin and it is a problem that affects each of us. Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” We are all sinners by nature, by birth and by choice.
We need forgiveness because we are lost and we are lost because we are sinners who have strayed away from God.
Talk Show Trash
Can anyone deny that America has strayed from God? If you doubt that, watch those daytime talk shows. They’ve gotten so bad that even the leaders in Washington think we need to do something about it. Not along ago noted author William Bennett and several senators called for a voluntary curb on the smut being produced on TV talk shows. If you don’t believe me, here are some recent topics: husbands who cheated on their honeymoons, teenagers who murder their parents, men who date prostitutes, women who pursue the same man, mothers of jilted daughters, people who have had one-night stands, gay teenagers, teens who object to their mothers’ lovers, and neighbors who can’t stand each other.
We Love This Stuff
Now before you say anything, ask yourself why this garbage is on TV. It’s there because someone watches it. Ratings are the god of television. We wouldn’t have shows like this if people didn’t want to see it.
Let’s face it. As a nation, as a people, we love this stuff. We eat it up, we watch it by the hour. We get vicarious pleasure out of watching these people parade their sin in front of a national audience. It allows us to get a kick out of things we would never do ourselves.
What do you think the major problem of America is? It’s not the debt limit or the budget crisis in Washington. It’s not the race for the White House. In fact, the major problem of America has nothing whatsoever to do with politics.
Our problem is spiritual. America is sick because we as a people are sick. We are truly like the lost sheep Isaiah talks about. Having gone astray from God, we have trapped ourselves in the slimepit of moral degradation.
We’re trapped and we don’t know it.
We’re lost and we don’t realize it.
We’re blind and we don’t know why we keep falling as a nation.
We need forgiveness but we don’t know where to look.
Our sins have separated us from God. He is on one side and we are on the other and there is a great divide between us. We stand on one side and cry out, “Help, we need a bridge across the great divide.” a bridge? Who will build it for us?
II. The Provision For Forgiveness
God’s answer to our need is wrapped up in a person. His name is Jesus. Acts 10:43 says, “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Someone may hear that and say, “Good! I believe in Jesus.” But it’s not enough to believe that Jesus existed or that he was a good man. It’s not enough to believe about Jesus, the Bible says you must believe in Jesus in order to be saved.
On the Back of a Crucified Man
To be specific, you must trust in Jesus so much that if Jesus can’t take you to heaven, you won’t go there at all. Have you ever heard someone say, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” That may be good advice when it comes to investing your money, but it’s terrible advice for investing your soul. It’s okay to put all your eggs in one basket if the basket is labeled “Jesus.”
Some years ago Josh McDowell debated a well-known Muslim in South Africa. At one point the Muslim tried to ridicule the Christian faith by saying that Christians are riding on the back of a crucified man. Josh answered back by saying, “You’re right. We’re riding on the back of a crucified man and he is going to take us all the way to heaven.”
I John 1:7 says, “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from every sin.” Jesus is the way to heaven. His blood is the price of admission. When he died on the cross, he cried out, “It is finished!” which really means “Paid in full.”
Take Me to the Cross
During one of his sermons in the Global Mission last March, Billy Graham told the following story. There was a patrolman on night duty in a town in northern Britain. As he walked the streets, he heard a quivering sob. Shining his flashlight into the darkness, he saw a little boy in the shadows sitting on a doorstep and tears were running down his cheek. The child said, “I’m lost. Please take me home.” And the policeman began naming street after street, trying to help the boy remember where he lived. He named the shops and the hotels in the area but the little boy could give him no clue.
Then he remembered that at the center of the town there was a church with a large white cross and that cross towered high above the rest of the city. The policeman pointed to the cross and said, “Do you live anywhere near that place?” The little boy’s face immediately brightened up. He said, “Yes, sir. Take me to the cross and I can find my way home.”
The cross is God’s provision for man’s sin. If you go to the cross, you will find your way home to God. Many people are lost and confused and the cross of Christ beckons you to come, repent of your sin and receive Christ.
III. The Result of Forgiveness
This week I discovered that there are four important words for forgiveness in the Bible–three Hebrew words and one Greek word. The first Hebrew word is kipper, which means “to cover” as using a rug to cover the dirt on your floor. Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, comes from this word. The second word is nasa, which means to lift and take away as when you remove a stain from a carpet. The third word is salah, which means to pardon or to wipe the record clean. The principal Greek word is aphesis, which means to “let go” or to “send away” as when you release a prisoner from jail.
When you put these words together, you get a graphic picture of forgiveness. God covers our sin, he removes the inner stain, he wipes our personal record clean and then he releases us from the guilt so that we are set free.
The Bible uses a number of word pictures to help us grasp the concept of forgiveness. “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered” (Psalm 32:1). “As far as the east is the from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12). One of the most beautiful promises is found in Isaiah 43:25, “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and remembers yours sins no more.”
My Friend Dennis
I’ve never forgotten a police officer I met in my first church in California. Dennis had been a cop’s cop. He was tough with a capital “T”. He had seen the underside of life and it had left him jaded and skeptical. Before he was a cop he had served in Vietnam and seen some horrible things. I think that’s what made him live “on the edge.”
Dennis lived right across the street from our church and his children occasionally came to Sunday School—and he and Carol would sometimes show up for a worship service. Over the months we struck up a friendship—mostly because he told the most incredible stories I had ever heard in my life. He was what you would call a “seeker.” For a long time, he just plied me with one question after another about the Bible and Jesus Christ, not hostile or negative but sincerely looking for the truth.
One day we went to eat at a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican place where they made the best tacos in town. He said, “Let me tell you what happened to me.” And he proceeded to tell me that after thinking about it for a long time, he had recently given his heart to Jesus Christ. I believe he said something like, “As I was reading the Bible, suddenly it hit me, ‘This stuff is true!’” Then he told me how he had asked Christ to become his Savior and Lord. I will never forget his description of that moment: “It felt like a thousand pounds had been lifted off my shoulders.”
That’s what it means to have peace with God. The weight of sin is lifted off your shoulders. The guilt is gone because your sins have been forgiven.
IV. The Cost of Forgiveness
To speak of the cost of forgiveness may sound strange to those who understand the doctrine of the grace of God. Does the Bible not speak of salvation as a free gift? Indeed it does: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). In fact that text clearly states that salvation comes to us as a gift precisely so that we might not boast that we did anything to earn it.
As we have already seen, it is the blood of Christ that provides the ground of our forgiveness. If Jesus really did pay it all, how then can there be any cost to us? Is forgiveness free or is it not free? The answer is, it depends on how you look it.
From God’s side, salvation is provided for you and me free of charge because Jesus paid the price at the cross. We couldn’t pay enough to atone for even one of our sins. As the little chorus puts it: “He paid a debt He did not owe, I owed a debt I could not pay, I needed someone to wash my sins away.” That Someone was Jesus.
Between the Sinner and God
The sinner always thinks he is better than he really is.
But from our side, the picture is quite different. What will it cost you to have your sins forgiven? John Gerstner, the Presbyterian theologian, said that the only thing standing between the sinner and God is the sinner’s virtue. The sinner always thinks he is better than he really is and that he’s not as bad as he really is. He’s got it wrong both ways. In God’s eyes the sinner is not so hot after all and even his presumed righteousness is as filthy rags in God’s eyes (Isaiah 64:6).
But that’s why many people will never be saved. They think they are better than they really are. And because they won’t give up that false notion of their own goodness, they can never be forgiven.
You Need 1000 Points!
To be saved, you must first realize that you can’t save yourself.
The story is told of a very good man who one day died and appeared at the pearly gates. He had lived such a good life that he presumed that the gates would automatically swing open for him and he would soon be relaxing in his heavenly mansion. When he rang the buzzer, St. Peter came to meet him. When the man said he wanted to enter heaven, St. Peter said, “Very well, but you need 1000 points to enter heaven.” The man smiled, knowing that his good works would certainly surpass that total. “During my life I volunteered for the Red Cross, the Community Chest and I gave to every charitable organization in my town.” “Excellent,” said St. Peter, “You get one point.” Somewhat taken aback, the man continued, “I was a faithful family man–married to the same woman for forty years. I loved my four children whom we sent to the finest school.” “Oh my,” St. Peter replied, “We don’t get many like you up here. That’s another point.” Now sweating profusely, the man said, “I was a scout leader, I attended church every Sunday, I served on the board, I sang in the choir, I taught Sunday School.” “Commendable in every way. What a credit you were to the community. That’s another point. Let’s see now. Your total is three points.” Falling on his knees, the man cried out in desperation, “But for the grace of God, no one could get in here.” To which St. Peter replied, “You have just received 1000 points.”
To be saved, you must first realize that you can’t save yourself. As long as you hold on to your self-righteousness, you cannot be forgiven. One of our old hymns puts it this way: “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” That image of the empty hand is appropriate because it pictures exactly how we must come to God. We come with empty hands or we don’t come at all.
“Why Should I Let You Into My Heaven?”
With that we return to our original question. Did Mickey Mantle go to heaven? In spite of his fame and fortune, at the end his hands were empty. All those home runs and all those amazing catches and even that wonderful Oklahoma smile couldn’t forgive even one of his sins. And by his own admission, he came to the end of his life with many sins that needed forgiveness.
Bobby Richardson and his wife went back to visit Mickey Mantle again the day before he died. Mrs. Richardson asked Mickey a very pointed question: “If you were to stand before God and he said to you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven? He immediately replied, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
That’s the right answer. Did Mickey Mantle go to heaven? I believe the answer is yes. He reached out with the empty hands of faith and took hold of Jesus Christ. The blood of Jesus Christ cleansed him from all his sins.
Do you remember the story I just told you about the man who needed 1000 points to get to heaven? It’s a good story, but it’s partly untrue. Once you die, it’s too late to receive forgiveness. No one will get a “second chance” at the gates of heaven. Mickey Mantle almost waited too late.
So let me ask a very personal question. Have you ever come to Jesus Christ and had your sins forgiven? Has there ever been a definite moment when you repented of your sin and asked Jesus Christ to be your Savior?
Standing at the Crossroads
This morning you once again stand at the crossroads. You have another chance to make a choice for Jesus or against him. If this were a Billy Graham crusade, I would ask you come forward and stand at the front while all of us were singing. But I’m not going to do that.
I’m going to lead us in a prayer of commitment to Christ right now and if this is the prayer of your heart, pray it along with me. “Dear Lord Jesus, I know I’m a sinner. Thank you for dying on the cross for me. Here and now, I repent of my sin and I trust you as my Lord and Savior. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus. Make me a new person I pray. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
In just a moment I’m going to ask you to do something that many others have done before you. If you prayed that prayer and sincerely invited Jesus Christ into your heart, I’m going to ask you to stand up. By standing where you are, you’ll be publicly and openly committing your heart to Jesus Christ. You’re saying, “Today, I want Christ in my heart. I want to know He’s forgiven my sin. I want the peace and the joy in my heart. I want a new life. I want to walk a new road. I want to know that Christ is in my heart.”
That’s what being a Christian means. You’ve come to Christ. You’ve come by faith to the cross and He’s the one that will come into your heart and forgive your sin and change your way of life. You come by faith. “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His Name.” It’s so simple.
It’s not complicated.
(Note to reader: When I gave the above invitation, 15 people stood up, making a public commitment of their lives to Jesus Christ.)