Sunday, September 15, 2019

Sermon -- 14th Sunday after Pentecost (September 15, 2019)

LUKE 13:22-30


In the name + of Jesus.

     As Jesus was making his way to Jerusalem to suffer and die for sinners, “someone said to him, 'Lord, will those who are saved be few?'” (Luke 13:23)  We can only guess at the motive behind this question, but based on Jesus' response, it seems that it was not asked out of concern for others.  Rather, it seems that the man who asked it had an air of superiority over others while he presumed he himself was certainly saved.
     This is not all that unusual for Christians either.  We tend to consider the actions of other people and question whether or not they are really among God's people.  For example, we will question the faith of others based on who they vote for in elections: “A real Christian would not vote for that person.”  Or when we listen to discussions about the social issues of the day, we presume that everyone who holds to one view must be among God's people and that those who hold the opposite view are probably not.  Sometimes we do not even give them the benefit of the “probably.”  Should there be a border wall?  Should all guns be banned?  How do we react to women who say they now identify as men?  I bet we all have answers to those questions, and I bet that we make judgments on those who answer differently.
     Jesus changes the focus on the question.  “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.'” (Luke 13:23-24)  Rather than be concerned about whether others are saved, Jesus urges you to be concerned about yourself.  After all, your opinion of others does nothing to determine whether or not they are saved.  Nor does anyone's opinion of you change God's judgment.  Your enemies cannot produce your damnation, and your friends cannot concoct your salvation.  Not even do the saints in heaven have any pull.  There is only one who will come to judge the living and the dead.  All judgment has been entrusted to Jesus, and salvation is found only in Jesus.  Jesus is the narrow door into the kingdom of God. 
     The door to the kingdom of God is narrow; therefore, only a few will enter it.  Unbelievers will not.  For the Bible states clearly, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16)  The question Jesus was asked, however, came from someone who thought he was a believer, so we will limit our focus to those who call themselves Christians for the remainder of the sermon.  After all, in the warning Jesus issued, those who ended up standing outside the narrow door and pounding on it were convinced they were among God's people.  They call him “Lord;” for they “knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us’” (Luke 13:25)  They claim familiarity with Jesus; for they will 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!’” (Luke 13:26-27)  So, some who do not enter through the narrow door are convinced they will, perhaps like the man who asked the question.
    Jesus is the narrow door into the kingdom of God.  There is no other way in.  But if, in an attempt to make Jesus more attractive, we change who Jesus is, what he does, or what he teaches, we end up losing Jesus.  This has become increasingly popular today, as we see entire church bodies overturning God's word at denominational conventions.  Sadly, this overthrow of God's word is all done in the name of love.  This is deceptive, because we know what the Bible teaches: “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:16)  But a worldly definition of love is that no one should ever feel bad about themselves for anything, ever.  This is why the world despises God's word.  As Jesus said, “It hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.” (John 7:7)
     Just recently, there was a Christian group (I think it was Focus on the Family) who urged Christian children to bring their Bibles to school.  This was met with outrage by some who said they did not want a book which promotes hate to be brought to school.  Sadly, some Christians quickly apologized, assuring the world that Christianity is about the acceptance of all people.  In an effort to be loved and respected by the world, some Christians have confessed a Jesus who would never make anyone feel bad about themselves.  They are ashamed to preach what God has revealed.  They apologize to sinners for God's word and insist, “He didn't mean what it says.”  Understand this: If you want the world to love and respect you, you will have to abandon God's word.
     We also adopt this attitude when we love our family more than we love God.  If our loved ones adopt sinful choices, do we give the impression that it is perfectly acceptable to us?  To avoid our own shame, we may even lash out at those who would expose the sin so that people would repent.  It is true that God is love, but God loves his word.  He gave it to us because it is good.  He does not apologize for it, withdraw it because it hurts people's feelings, or submit it for editing because it is 2019 or some other silly reason.  If we reject God's word, we reject the God who gave it—no matter how much we would appeal to him on the Last Day.  Now, it is true: There are more people on the outside of the narrow door than who will pass through it.  They all invoke the size of the group to prove who is right—“Right side of history” and all that.  But you will find no comfort if you are shut out of the heavenly banquet.  For, “in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Luke 13:28)
     Jesus said, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.  For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” (Luke 13:24)  Jesus is the narrow door into the kingdom of God.  There is no other way in.  Just as rejecting God's word to deny sins will keep you out of the narrow door, so will pride.  The man who asked Jesus the question likely assumed that his place in God's kingdom was set because he was better than others.  So also, we might commend ourselves because we are not like others who have rejected God's word.  We might think, “Of course we are saved.  We are better.”  But no one enters through the narrow door with such a big head.
     Jesus is the narrow door into the kingdom of God.  There is no other way in, because there is no other Savior.  In order to enter through that narrow door, we come with nothing.  We make no boasts.  We offer no excuses.  We have nothing but a Savior who takes away from us all sin and wickedness.  We don't find excuses for our wickedness or reasons that we are not really guilty.  Jesus does not bargain with us about what qualifies as a damnable sin and what does not.  Instead Jesus takes from us all sin and guilt.  He removes from us every trespass, every mark on our record.  He carries it all to the cross with him where he suffered and died for everything.  Jesus died for sins that you feel badly about and sins you don't think of at all.  The Father gave Jesus the cup of his wrath to consume, and Jesus consumed it all. 
     And now Jesus gives you a different cup.  This cup does not contain wrath or judgment, but rather life and blessing.  The cup of the Lord gives you the blood of Jesus which takes away all sin and cleanses you, just as you were cleansed of all guilt in your baptism and clothed in Jesus' righteousness.  All that you need for your salvation is given to you through Jesus and only through Jesus.  He is the narrow door into the kingdom of God.  Only Jesus removes your sin from you.  You and I can't take away our sin by denying what is actually sin.  Jesus did not die for fake sinners, only real ones.  He has taken away all your sin from you.  Only Jesus gives you the righteousness you need to enter the heavenly feast.  You and I can't make ourselves righteous by claiming to be better than others.  Only Jesus gives you the very innocence you need to recline at the heavenly banquet.
     Jesus is the narrow door.  He is the only way into the kingdom of God.  He puts an end to the weeping of frightened sinners.  He ends the gnashing of teeth by converting our minds to recognize that every word of God is good, right, and salutary—to be confessed, protected, and observed in our lives.  And while we pray that those who are saved will be more rather than few, the door into the kingdom of God will never become wider by altering God's word.  Our focus is limited to Jesus and his word.  This alone saves.  It is the only way into God's kingdom.  And even if it is narrow, it is open to you.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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