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LSB Proper 16C Sermon – Luke 13:22-30

August 24, 2016

August 21, 2016 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

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

Jesus gives a stern instruction and warning to His audience in the villages of Jesus: “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.’” This isn’t what they wanted to hear from His mouth. And rightly so, because there is no sort of pleasure to see this promise of Jesus fulfilled. That is something to remember as we think about His teaching that was read this morning. As much as what Jesus says is true, it doesn’t meant that it’s His total joy to have it be that way.  

Yet, Jesus’ words that He tells His followers and all who would listen must be said. It even needs to be spoken in public, even in mixed company. For what we heard from Jesus is for mankind’s  salvation. He reveals the truth for our good, despite its unpleasant nature. No one wants to hear about “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” But it is much worse never to have heard about it, and then be left to face an eternal future of tears and regret.

And so, we wrestle with Jesus’ words. We hear His instruction to us: “Strive to enter through the narrow door.” His teaching gets our full attention. When we hear it, we should ask: “What is the narrow door? Where can it be found? How do we enter it?” Those are the questions that Jesus wants us to think about. But He doesn’t want us to just ask them. He wants to supply us the answer, so that we are completely familiar with what He’s talking about. For when that is so, salvation can be ours.

In this case, Jesus wants His audience to know first and foremost that He and His way of life are the narrow door. When Jesus speaks about access to salvation, He is revealing the truth about His identity and His work. He is saying to the people who listen: “I am the narrow door. I am how you will enter life everlasting. It is not through what you do that you have eternal hope. Neither can anyone else provide you with the path to salvation.” That much we know quite well. That teaching of Jesus isn’t limited to what we heard in this morning’s Gospel Reading. There are plenty of other places and times where Jesus gave the same message.

But Jesus reveals more than His self-identification as the “narrow door.” He gives a warning just as stern as His instruction: “For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” In many ways, this is the truly unpleasant part of Jesus’ teaching. Not only does He speak about people not being able to enter, Jesus also tells a parable to reinforce His point: “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!’”

This most certainly is not what we want to hear from Jesus’ mouth. Yet, He says it will be spoken to some. And the worst part about it is that it won’t be said to people who were complete strangers to Jesus, people who never knew anything about Him. No, Jesus’ words describe people who were quite familiar with Him receiving that cold response on the Last Day. They call Jesus “Lord,” but He says: “I do not know where you come from.” They speak about dining with Jesus and hearing Jesus teach, but Jesus calls them evildoers.

Just who are these people? We can think of the people in the Gospels such as the Pharisees who had Jesus as a dinner guest. Or the citizens of Nazareth who had Jesus preach in their synagogue. Or maybe we might remember the crowds who came to Jesus for the miracles He performed. Or some people who had even been labeled followers of Jesus or His disciples. They were descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, ones who had the prophets’ words. But they are rejected by Jesus. Such rejection is not because He didn’t do enough to provide for their salvation. Rather, it stems from their failure to “enter through the narrow door.” Things had gotten in the way. Some didn’t care for the door. Other ways of entry were tried. The path to salvation was abandoned by them. And on the Last Day, the gates to everlasting life are closed shut to them: “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.”

But what Jesus mentions continued after His death and resurrection. The group He speaks of includes the same 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.” These are men and women who had heard the Gospel, began to follow Jesus and His ways, but then turned to other concerns—be it false religions or a way of life prohibited by Divine Law. Either way, the birthright that should have been theirs is lost: the doors are locked, and there is no way to reopen them.

So through this Gospel Reading, Jesus continues to instruct and warn those who have begun to follow Him. He desires all of them “to enter through the narrow door.” It is a call for you to continue, to keep walking the narrow path of discipleship. Your Lord exhorts you: “Stay with Me. Travel the way I have set before you. Remain faithful. Continue to receive the benefits and gifts I have for you. For it is that way you shall endure to life everlasting.”

This teaching of Jesus is a call to faithfulness, a reminder of where your trust should be and how your lives ought to be shaped. Though it is stern, His words need to be heard. For all of Jesus’ disciples are tempted to do the opposite of His exhortation: “Strive to enter through the narrow door.” Instead, they may travel the broad road and pass through the wide gate to hell. The people who have the door shut to them in Jesus’ parable really are no different than any of you gathered here. It’s not as if you have something innate in your DNA that differentiates you from them. No, the only thing that divides the two groups is whether an individual is continuing in the way of life that Jesus provides.

But even in the midst of all this hard teaching and the unpleasant reality that Jesus openly and honestly describes, there is something joyous and grand. Jesus doesn’t end His teaching with gloom. Instead, He says: “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, to people from all parts of the world. There will be people enjoying the eternal banquet that Christ has prepared for them.

And who are these? They are those who do “enter through the narrow gate.” They are all who claim Jesus as the source of their salvation. Those who participate in the life-giving acts that He has instituted. People who hear His teaching and have their lives guided by it. Listeners who receive His gospel from preachers as if it were Jesus Himself speaking. Disciples who forsake the things of the world that run contrary to Jesus. Those who confess Jesus before men and hold onto Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. The ones who “lift their drooping hands, strengthen their weak knees, and make straight paths for their feet.”

Such are the characteristics of those chosen and elected by the LORD to receive what He desires to give—namely, life everlasting. It is what He has wrought in you who have been called to belief, yet not only called to faith but kept in it. So it is for you who have first been brought through the narrow gate by Holy Baptism. As you live in the newness of life as Jesus’ disciples, you are constantly brought back to His safety, even as you are tempted to sin and to wander from the way of life He has set before you.

For you who have been chosen, you are guided back to that narrow door that Jesus spoke of. You are led to enter the kingdom of God through it. You enter through your absolution, your reception of Christ’s body and blood, your learning everything that Jesus has commanded us, and your being motivated to live that out in your experience as His disciples. So Jesus calls and leads you, even from the nations and the coastlands far away. Confessing Jesus to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life, you are numbered among the many who “from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.

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

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