Luke 13:22-30 (13th Sunday after Pentecost—Series C)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
August 22, 2010
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the our Gospel lesson from Luke 13:
He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
The date is April 15, 1912. You are a passenger aboard the RMS Titanic. In a few short hours this great ship will be sitting at the bottom of the North Atlantic. Thousands of lives will be claimed by the sea. What would you do if you knew that your life would be ending in just a few hours? Would you be one to hit the bar and drink yourself into oblivion? Would you find a way to indulge in the pleasures of the flesh? Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die! You want to “go out with a bang,” go out in a blaze of glory? Like an unsuspecting passenger aboard the Titanic, not one of us knows when the door of life will slam shut. Not one of us knows when Jesus Christ “will come again to judge both the living and the dead.” The question for us raised by our text is, “How will we use the time we have been given before the door to God’s Kingdom is shut and locked?”
As He continued His journey to Jerusalem—the journey to the cross and the open tomb—Jesus is asked, “Lord, will those who are saved by few?” Perhaps the thought behind the question was something like, “Lord, if those who are saved are relatively few, how can I have confidence that I am one of the few?” Jesus directs His followers’ attention toward an honest self-appraisal and spiritual housecleaning.
Self-appraisal can be a painful proposition. Taking a good, honest, hard look at yourself—body, mind, soul—can dig up some things you and I don’t ever want to have dug up. We are asked take off the rose-colored glasses that see ourselves as better than we really are. We are asked to remove the blinders and to actually see what we have done and said and thought. Some of those things aren’t so bad; but others are completely horrible, wicked, evil, disgusting, and humiliating—the thoughts and words and deeds of which we are ashamed.
Are we the sort of people who deserve anything from God after we have acted so? Should we even consider entrance into God’s Kingdom a possibility given our track record? No wonder those who are saved are few—who can be good enough? Jesus says, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” There’s a two-fold meaning here. The word “be able” also has the meaning of “be strong enough.” Many will seek to enter God’s Kingdom and will not be strong enough; many will seek to enter God’s Kingdom and will not be able to because the door will have been closed and locked.
Left to ourselves we are not spiritually strong enough to enter the Kingdom under our own power or abilities. Luther writes in the Explanation to the Third Article, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him.” No matter how hard we try, we will never meet the standard of perfection for entrance into the Kingdom. And if we don’t get into the Kingdom now, before death or before the return of the Lord, there will be no getting in then because the master of the house, Jesus Christ, will have shut the door and locked it and those who refused to confess Him by faith and word and action in this life will be denied by the Lord in the world to come: “I do not know where you come from.”
So what are we left with? We are left with a spiritual condition that prevents us from entering God’s Kingdom on our own. We are left with limited time to gain entrance into the Kingdom before it is too late. Yet we return to the fact that we can’t gain entrance by ourselves because of our sinful condition and so round and round we go, walking the same small path over and over again, getting nowhere.
“Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Those who are saved. . . are rescued! We have to be rescued from our sinful condition and given entrance into the Kingdom! Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation—to our rescue! All other hopes, whether placed in ourselves or in some other form of spirituality or religion, are totally misplaced. Jesus Christ alone is the One who does the saving, the rescuing! Only He is the door to the Kingdom!
In John 10, we hear about Jesus the Good Shepherd. But He also calls Himself something else. Listen to what our Lord Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:7-9) We enter the Kingdom through Jesus Christ because He has saved us. Through Christ we will go in and out and find pasture in the Kingdom of God because Jesus is the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, saved us lost sheep by suffering and dying on the cross for all our sins. It was at the cross that all our sins of thought, word, and deed, those which we know and those that are unknown to us, were all crucified and died with Christ and buried with Him in the tomb. Jesus shed His blood, cleansing us from all our sins which He took upon Himself, rescuing us from them and from the power of death and the devil.
It is through the precious waters of Holy Baptism that we personally receive this rescue and the faith to trust solely in Jesus Christ as our Savior. Baptism works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare. Baptism indicates that the Old Adam in us (the corrupt and evil nature that we inherit because of Adam’s fall into sin), should by daily sorrow for sin and repentance with faith in Jesus be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new person should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. This is where the striving that Jesus mentions comes into play.
“Strive to enter through the narrow door.” Jesus is that door. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The only way that we come to the Father and His Kingdom is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus who has saved us through the forgiveness of sins and rescue from death and the devil. The struggle through which we enter is repentance, a work of God in our hearts through the Gospel. The struggle happens when the Word of God calls us to repent and trust in Christ, but the sinful human nature wars against God. St. Paul writes in Romans 7, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:19-25a)
Now, then, is the time for repentance and faith before we are called from this life. Now is the time for repentance and faith before Christ comes again. Now is the time to struggle with our old sinful nature and to overcome it by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel of our Savior Jesus. Now is the time to enter through Jesus Christ into God’s Kingdom because Christ has done the work of saving us on the cross and, through the Holy Spirit, the work of recreating us through Baptism to be the new people of faith and hope who are members of God’s Kingdom now.
Thank God, there is a door to the Kingdom through which we are given access: Jesus Christ. Thank God, Jesus is the doorkeeper, too—the very Jesus who in our text is on His way to Jerusalem to suffer and die and be raised again for our salvation. Thank God, our salvation depends upon His rescuing us and not our having to rescue ourselves from our sin. And thank God, there is a table in the Kingdom of God at which we, by grace, may be privileged to eat with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the people of faith in Jesus Christ from north, south, east, and west, even as today we receive a preview of this banquet in Holy Communion where, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, we gather in holy celebration of the ultimate heavenly feast prepared by Christ Himself. Amen.