SCRIPTURES – Isaiah 66:18-23; Heb. 12:4-24; Luke 13:22-30
Someone said to Him, “Lord, will those being saved be few?” 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.’ ”
You know, there are some amazing things you can discover in the stories in the Bible if you just consider carefully what you are hearing and reading. Today’s story from Luke 13, for instance: it begins with a man asking Jesus, “Lord, will those being saved be few?” Who is this man? Well, modern scholarship – my scholarship – has found out. I mean, just consider him. Obviously, he’s a spiritual person.
- He’s following and listening to Jesus;
- He thinks highly of Jesus and His teaching, for he calls Him ‘Lord;’
- And, he asks Him a very spiritual question.
Spiritual things are on his mind! But, he’s also careful to keep his distance and keep his options open. Notice that his spiritual concern is general (“will those being saved”) and not personal (“Am I being saved?”). It doesn’t commit him to any personal actions or changes. And so, do you recognize him? Do you see who this unnamed man, this spiritual and religiously interested but uncommitted individual, is? He’s a 21st century American Christian! How in the world did this 21st century man, this model of American spirituality, end up in 1st century Israel, talking to Jesus? That’s what I want to know.
A bit fed up, am I, with religion in America, with the faith and commitment of the average Christian? You bet I am! But, not nearly as much as Jesus is fed up! Our English translations of the Bible don’t really catch the intensity of Christ’s reaction to the man and his general question. Jesus is walking with a group of people as the man comes up to Him and politely asks, “Lord, will those being saved be few?” I can see Jesus stopping, turning to the man, and poking His finger in his chest as He says, “You – all of you – strive to enter through the narrow door.” All of you strive: that’s what the Greek text says, what Christ emphasizes.
Do you strive? Or, do you take your salvation for granted, comforting yourself with the thought: “Well, God is nice, after all. And, I’m a pretty good person, generally helpful and caring and law-abiding. And, I’m in church! Surely that counts for something.”
Hah! “Many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able,” warns Jesus. Apparently, in hell – the place of eternal regret, of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” – there will be lots of pretty decent, generally helpful and caring and law-abiding church-goer’s. ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets,’ they will say to Jesus, only to hear Him respond, “I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!” Lord, have mercy! May that not be us.
God is indeed merciful, exceedingly merciful. He does not want you, or anyone, to go to hell, and He has done – and is still doing – so much to make sure that you will be with Him in heaven after you die. I mean, just look: there’s Jesus, the one true God, the holy and mighty Judge of all, walking along dusty roads through small towns and villages in little Israel.
- I remember one time, 15 years ago or so, when Pres. Clinton came to Norwalk. He was brought to Cranbury Park in a helicopter and whisked through town in a motorcade of expensive and heavily armored cars and taken to Martha Stewart’s house. Well, of course. He’s the President! He wasn’t coming to see you or me.
What is God saying by becoming a rather poor and dirty man who is not only walking, but is among the common, and even lowly, people? He’s not concerned with or impressed by who you are or what you have. You don’t earn His concern or help by the things you do. He comes to us because we need Him. And, the more you need Him, the worse off you are, the more He desires to come.
He comes to open to you the door to heaven. There is a door. Jesus speaks of it this morning. You can knock on it all you want. You can want to go in and ask, “Lord, open to us.” If God does not want to open it to you, it will not be opened.
But, look: it is open now! It stands open before you! Did we not begin this worship in the Name of the Triune God? Were we not marked with the cross of Christ? Where God is named, and His mercy in Christ proclaimed, God is truly present. Open your eyes and see that right here, right now, as Hebrews 12 tells us, “you have come to the city of the living God, 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.” We are in the presence of God and His angels and all the company of heaven! Right here and now you have come “to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” That blood was sprinkled upon Evan in his baptism at the beginning of this Divine Service, and Jesus spoke His forgiveness upon him. Jesus is the door to heaven, and as forgiveness in His name is spoken to us the door to heaven is open. Soon we will recline at the table with Jesus, who will offer Himself to us as the meal of heaven, the feast of forgiveness in His body and blood.
See this; believe this; rejoice and be glad that Jesus, the eternal Son of the Father in heaven and heaven’s door and meal, is here and offers Himself to you. For, our Lord tells us that, sadly, “some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Some see what you see and yet are blind to it. Some hear what you hear and are deaf to it.
- There are many Christians who talk to God often – they pray – but make little time to listen to what He says; who say they believe Jesus died for our sins but rarely confess their own sins and seek His forgiveness; who say they hunger for God and would like to be closer to Him, but do not feast upon Christ’s body and blood at His table. They will find themselves last, unknown by Jesus.
Christ’s concern is not whether or not you eat and drink in His presence, or believe that His teachings are great. Does He teach you? Do you gladly eat and drink with Him and feast upon Him for your forgiveness? Only such faith saves you.
“The time is coming to gather all nations and tongues,” God says (Isaiah 66). “People will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God,” declares the Lord. Trust in Jesus, in His death and resurrection for you. Rejoice in Him and receive Him now. You can then look forward to being among that happy and blessed crowd!