Sunday, August 22, 2010

Pentecost 13 Sermon -- Luke 13:22-30 (LSB Proper 16C)

August 22, 2010 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran ChurchMechanicsburg, PA

And Jesus said to them: “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”

The Evangelist writes: “[Jesus] went on His way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem.” But His teaching is not always a word of comfort; often Jesus speaks blunt truth that hurts. As you heard this morning, Jesus gives a stern warning to His audience in the Judean villages. It isn’t what they might normally expect. It certainly isn’t what they want to hear from His mouth. And rightly so, for it shouldn’t be any sort of pleasure to see this promise of Christ come to fruition: “Many will seek to enter [the kingdom] and will not be able.” That is something to remember as you consider His words that were read this morning. Jesus’ teaching is true, but it does not mean that it is His total joy to have it be that way.

Yet, the words must be said. What Jesus tells His followers and all who would listen must be spoken, even in public, even in mixed company. For what is heard from Christ is essential for the salvation of His audience, even necessary for you. His teaching is for your good, despite its unpleasant nature. No one wants to hear about the exclusivity of the Christ’s way. No one wants to hear about “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” No one wants to hear about people being left out. But it is much worse never to have heard about it, and then to face an eternal future of tears and regret.

So the Judean villagers and you wrestle with Jesus’ words. You hear His exhortation: “Strive to enter through the narrow door.” His teaching gets the hearers’ full attention. It should spark inquiries in the heart and mind: “What is this narrow door? Where can it be found? How do I enter it?” These are the questions that Jesus wants His hearers to consider. But He doesn’t want people only to ask such questions; He wants His hearers to know the answers, to be familiar with what He’s talking about. For those who know and believe Jesus’ teaching will have the salvation that He offers.

In this case, Jesus wants His hearers to know that He is “the narrow door.” When Jesus teaches about access to salvation, He is speaking about Himself. He is talking about the way of life that He brings to sinners who need forgiveness, life, and salvation. Jesus is saying to the people who listen: “I am the narrow door. I am how you will enter life everlasting. You won’t find eternal hope in what you do. No one else can provide you with the path to salvation.” This forms the heart of Jesus’ teaching—and not only on that day in Judea. In many and various ways, in many and various places, Christ gave the same message.

Alongside that confession about Himself, His self-identification as the “narrow door,” Jesus reveals the corresponding truth: “Many will try to enter and will not be able.” This severe warning that Jesus gives to His hearers is the truly unpleasant part of His teaching. But so the people will fully understand His statement of law and judgment, Jesus gives an illustration that they will comprehend: “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!’”

Certainly no one wants to hear that from Jesus. Yet, He says it will be said to some. And the worst part about it is that it such people will not be strangers to Jesus, people who never knew Him who will hear it. No, we see from Jesus’ words that there will be people quite familiar with Him who will receive such a response at the Last Day. They call Christ “Lord,” yet He does not recognize them. They say they have dined with Him and heard Him teach, yet Jesus sends them away, calling them sinners.

Just who are these people? Unfortunately, they are people who had been familiar with Jesus, perhaps even called themselves disciples. Yet, they are people rejected by Christ. Not because He didn’t do enough to provide for their salvation, but because they failed to “enter through the narrow door.” Instead, things had gotten in the way. Other doors were tried. The path to salvation was abandoned by them. And on the Last Day, the doors to everlasting life are closed shut to them.

What is even more amazing is that many of these left out people were familiar with the Old Testament. Note Jesus’ words: “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.” There will be people who know all about the patriarchs, all about Moses and the prophets, but who do not enter the kingdom of God. They will be rejected by Jesus, because they reject who Jesus is. They do not confess that He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, the One whom the patriarchs looked for and the prophets foretold. Denial that Jesus is the Christ, the Promised Messiah, leads to exclusion from the kingdom of God. True confession about Christ’s identity is essential to entering through “the narrow door.”

But the left out people are not just a group from the past; Jesus’ warning is also for people of the present day. This includes people that the author of Hebrews wrote about: “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.” Both Jesus and the Epistle Writer describe the same people: men and women who had heard the Gospel, who began to follow Jesus and His ways, but who later turned to other concerns—be it false religions or the way of life that is prohibited by divine law. Either way, what had once been theirs is lost. Without obtaining it again, the doors will be locked to them when the Last Day comes, and there will be no way to reopen them.

So Jesus even warns you who have been following Him for many years or have just begun to follow Him. He exhorts you “to enter through the narrow door,” reminding you of where your trust should be and how your lives ought to be shaped. Though it is unpleasant and troubling to hear about people excluded from everlasting life, it is a necessary reminder. The Lord has always spoken such words to His people. Remember that even the Israelites were told: “Gather to Me My faithful ones, who made a covenant with Me by sacrifice! . . . Hear, O My people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God.” Christ’s disciples are tempted to think that they don’t need such a message, but inclusion or exclusion from the kingdom of God is determined only by whether one is “striv[ing] to enter through the narrow door.” So the Lord provides His discipline to ensure that it will be so: “[He] disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

But even in the midst of all this hard teaching, the unpleasant reality that Jesus honestly describes, is something joyous and grand. Jesus says that there will be people in His kingdom. He echoes Isaiah’s prophecy of old: “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.” Not all will be shut out. In fact, the doors will be opened wide to many. People of every nation, language, and race will enjoy the eternal banquet that Christ has prepared for them.

Who are these people? They are those who “enter through the narrow door.” They are all who believe that Christ is the source of their salvation; those who participate in the life-giving acts that He has instituted; those who hear His teaching and have their lives guided by it; those who forsake the things of the world that run contrary to Christ and hold onto Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength; “those who lift their drooping hands, strengthen their weak knees, and make straight paths for their feet.”

Such are the characteristics of the people chosen and elected by the Lord to receive the treasure that He desires to give. It is what He has wrought in you who have been called to belief, and not only called to faith but kept in it. You have first been brought through “the narrow door” by Holy Baptism. In your lives, you are constantly led through that “narrow door” that grants entry into the kingdom of God. You enter it again through your absolution, your reception of Christ’s body and blood, your learning everything that Jesus has commanded, and your being motivated to live that out in your experience as His disciples.

This is what you have been set apart to receive because Christ has opened “the narrow door” of life for you: “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Christ has made you part of the many who will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” So hear the exhortation to follow the way that Christ has established. “Be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe.” And may it be fulfilled as the Lord has chosen and elected for you.

T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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