Pentecost 11C

Text: Luke 13:22-30

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon is the Gospel, which was read earlier.

When you move outside the Lutheran circle into other denominations, especially evangelical denominations, you’ll often hear a variant of the following question: when were you saved? Or you’ll hear, “Are you saved?” You might give a positive answer or you might get irritated about it and give some sarcastic answer to try to turn the person asking the question off. But at the heart of the matter, there are more questions that are attached to the simple question, “Are you saved?”

As Jesus was going about from town after town, village after village, He had amassed a following of people who for one reason or another, had decided to follow Him. Wherever Jesus went, He was bound to do one thing: teach. In every town and village, Jesus was almost always teaching something to someone. As we find Him in today’s Gospel account, this was no different. As Jesus went about His work, a question was raised which prompted Him to speak the warning and the encouragement in this text: “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Who raised this question? He was a nameless someone. He asked whether there would be few who would be saved. It was a rather strange question. It showed concern for how many would be saved rather than how they would be saved. But this man with his strange question went to the right person.

Let me get this clear right now: to ask who will be saved is not wrong. In fact, St. Paul records for us, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” God desires that all of creation would be saved, hence why He makes such a promise of a Savior to Adam and Eve immediately after the fall into sin.

As this man takes his question to Jesus, Jesus is the only one qualified to answer such a question because when it comes to salvation, Jesus is the only answer. Jesus tells the man, and all those who are listening, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” The word “strive” here can better be translated as “struggle in opposition.” The command to “strive” or “struggle” does not mean that moral effort is necessary in order to enter the kingdom, nor does it mean entrance is gained by exercising human responsibility. In other words, the work is not on man’s part. Rather, the struggle through which one enters is repentance, which is a work of God in the human heart. The struggle is produced when the Word of God – such as the teaching of Jesus here – calls one to repent and trust in Christ, but sinful human nature wars against God’s Word. The struggle is resolved as the old Adam is put to death by the Law and the person of faith is raised to new life with Christ by the power of the Gospel.

So how is it that many will seek to enter the narrow door and will not be able to? The many will try the various entrances to the narrow door which the world says will allow them to gain access. These are all things which you, the individual, must do in order to gain access to heaven, eternity, that “better place,” or whatever you would call it. The emphasis again lies on the person doing the work. You become the means of salvation. If you get to heaven, you did it yourself. You are the means of your salvation. Give yourself a pat on the back.

We cannot do the work. Try as we might, whatever attempts we make at earning our own salvation will fail. They can only fail because of our sin. Regardless of what we do to earn our salvation, we fall short of what God demands: perfection. We are not able to keep one iota of God’s law, let alone keep it all and keep it perfectly. The prophet Isaiah tells us, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Whatever good we seek to accomplish, whatever means we try to gain access to the narrow door will, in the end, prove to be futile.

As for the man’s question, the answer to whether those being saved are few is a resounding yes, because not everyone has come to faith in our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. But you, the hearer, need not despair or exhaust yourself attempting to “struggle” through the door by your own efforts. Luke, throughout his gospel, provides examples of those who pass through the door, not by their own merits, but solely by the grace of God. We ask the question, “What should we do?” The answer is nothing, for there is nothing we can do. Rather, the answer is what Jesus has done for you. Christ has lived the sinless life you were meant to live. Christ has kept the Law of God perfectly that you were supposed to keep. Christ has died the death that you were never meant to die. And because of that death, heaven’s doors have been opened to you and everlasting life has been earned for you, but not by you.

The warning that Jesus provides of the master shutting the door is a grave warning indeed. There will be many who will be standing outside trying to gain entrance to the Master’s house, but God will deny them because they have denied Him. Because they refused to repent and recognize Jesus as the One who forgives and grants everlasting life, they now stand on the outside. The door is narrow because there is only one way to God. Again, Jesus Himself said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” Our culture tries to tell us that there are many doors into the Kingdom of God, but Jesus tells us that He is the only way. He offers Himself as the door into the Kingdom of God.

The saddest part of the parable in today’s gospel is that there are many who wait outside the door and even ignore it. They follow the example of the people in Noah’s day. As the door of the ark closed and the water started collecting around their ankles, they suddenly realized to their terror that they needed to be inside the ark, but it was too late. So also, the people waiting at the door to the kingdom watch the door close and suddenly realize they need to be inside the kingdom. In terror they pound on the door, but the master will not let them in. Their fate is sealed. Can you imagine the terror of the people in Noah’s day as they pounded on the outside of the ark until the water rose and lifted them off their feet and swept them away to a certain death? How much more is the terror of these people standing outside the narrow door as they realize that they are doomed to an eternity in hell?

Those people who “strive to enter through the narrow door” are those who became convicted of their sins through the power of the Holy Spirit and struggled in repentance over those sins through the power of that same Holy Spirit. These are the people who had their sins washed away by the blood of the Lamb and were brought to saving faith in Jesus Christ who is our door into the kingdom of God. These are the people who did not rely on their own works to save them, but, by the power of the Holy Spirit, placed all their trust in that same Jesus Christ. These are the people who recline at table in the kingdom of God.

We do not desire to find ourselves on the outside of the Master’s heavenly door, yet there will be those that will find themselves there. “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” because souls will find themselves in the eternal fires of hell rather than the eternal loving arms of the Father. Thanks be to the Father who gives us the kingdom. Thanks be to Christ who strove for us on the cross and opened the door through which we enter the kingdom. Thanks be to the Holy Spirit who enlightens and sanctifies us so we can “strive to enter through the narrow door.” In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.