The text for the sermon is the gospel reading that we just heard. It’s the record of one of the many questions that are posed to Jesus while He is on His journey to Jerusalem.
I. Vs. 22-23
“He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and JOURNEYING TOWARD JERUSALEM.”
And as He is “journeying,” “SOMEONE,” an anonymous “SOMEONE,” “SOMEONE” who seems as though he has at least some understanding of what Jesus was headed to Jerusalem to accomplish, “SOMEONE said to him, ‘Lord, will those who are being saved be few?’”
You’ve got to wonder what motivates a question like that one. “Why do you ask?”
If this “someone” was one of the Pharisees or any of the other ‘super-religious’ types who survey the crowds of people and who knows that there are not many who truly measure up to the high standards that are required to be saved – the standards that he himself strives to live by…
“The Pharisee prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’
“Someone” wants to know if God is ‘FAIR.’ Will he reward with ‘salvation’ those who have diligently strived to live a ‘godly life’? And is he willin to exclude those from ‘salvation’ who have not?
“Will those who are being saved be few?”
Heard in this way, here is a question that is begging Jesus to say “YES, those who are being saved are FEW.”
But there are other motives for asking a question like this one aren't there?
Maybe this “someone” was thinking of a son or daughter who has wandered from the faith that was given them in their baptism and who now professes some other faith, or maybe none at all.
Maybe this “someone” has a dear friend in mind,
who is a part of that great majority of people with whom we live and work who have never been baptized into Christ and who don’t much care to be,
who never to give things like “salvation” and “eternal life” much of a thought at all,
who flatly refuse your best efforts to witness to them.
And it pains them to think that those who are being saved might be ‘few,’ and that these loved ones and friends will be lost, not only to themselves but to the eternal love and life of the God who created them, and atoned for their sin with His own body and blood, given and shed for them.
And so maybe “Someone” wants to know if God is ‘MERCIFUL.’ Will he really deny ‘salvation’ to all those who have do not confess “Jesus Christ as Lord”? Will He exclude those from ‘salvation’ who are not Christian? Is there another way to be saved?
“Will those who are being saved be few?”
Heard in this way, here is a question that is begging Jesus to say “NO, those who are being saved will be MANY.”
As is the case in so many of these ‘questions’ that are posed to Jesus, He doesn't give a straightforward ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Every question presents the opportunity for an important lesson to be taught and hopefully, learned.
And it seems especially true of questions like this one that are focused on how God will deal with ‘others.’ I am beginning to think that these kinds of ‘theological questions’ about the will of God towards others are simply ways to keep God at a safe distance from ME. As long as we can keep this about the “BIG PICTURE,” about 'FEW' or 'MANY' then it’s not about ME.
So I notice that whenever someone asks Jesus a question about “people” in general and “God’s Will” towards “people in general,” He refuses to answer, but rather turns the question around to ask, ‘but what about you.’
In the beginning of this chapter of Luke’s gospel, we read about “SOME” who came to Jesus and wanted to know if those Galileans whose blood Pilate mixed with the sacrifices were greater sinners than others. And Jesus replied, “No, but unless YOU repent, YOU will all likewise perish.”
And what about those eighteen who were killed when that tower in Siloam fell on them? Was it because they were worse sinners than all the others who were not killed? And Jesus replies, “No, I tell, but unless YOU repent, YOU will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5).
St. Paul writes to the Corinthians saying, “Examine YOURSELVES, to see whether you are in the faith. Test YOURSELVES.” (2 Cor. 13:5). “Let a person examine HIMSELF and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” (1 Cor. 11:28).
In other words, Jesus is not very interested in doing “theology in general” or discussing things like, ‘why God saves some and not others’ or ‘how many will be saved – a few or many?’ Jesus Christ has come into the world to save ‘sinners.’ This is most certainly true. But let’s not debate who is a sinner and who isn’t. Let’s talk about YOU, the sinner that YOU are.
II. Vs. 24
“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.”
Jesus pictures the move from this temporal life of sin and sorrow and death, into the eternal life as moving through a DOOR.
It’s in St. John’s gospel where we read that Jesus identifies Himself as that ‘door.’ “Truly, truly I say to you… I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:7-9).
Jesus describes this door as being “narrow.” When the door is ‘wide,’ you can pass through it easily, without having to let go of anything. You can carry all of your baggage, and your good works and all of your ‘theological questions and debates’ and it all fits.
But a ‘narrow’ door means that you have to let go of these things in order to fit through it. And the “door” through which we must pass to enter into ‘salvation’ is so ‘narrow,’ that you’re going to have to
Let go of ALL of the baggage that you’ve been holding onto.
And all of those ‘good works’ that you thought would help to get you through the door but won’t.
And all of those ‘treasures on earth’ that you’ve stored up for yourself as though you could take it all with you but can’t.
And all of those ridiculous claims like, “we ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets” that do you no good.
And every single false god that you put your trust in, because none of it fits through the ‘narrow door.’
In fact, this ‘door’ is so ‘narrow’ that the only way to pass through it is completely naked;
just like in the beginning when they were both naked and were not ashamed;
everything must be stripped away so that all that is left is Jesus Christ FOR YOU.
“Nothing in my hands I bring; simply to thy cross I cling. Naked, come to Thee for dress; helpless look to Thee for grace.” (LSB #761:3).
This ‘stripping off’ of everything except a naked trust in Jesus Christ alone is what ‘repentance’ is all about. And ‘repentance’ is never easy for us sinful and fallen creatures. And so Jesus says, “strive” to enter through the narrow door. The word is “agonidzesthai.” “Agonize.”
It’s ‘agonizing’ to let go of the sin that so easily entangles us but that you cannot take through that door into heaven.
It’s ‘agonizing’ to let go of your ‘self-confidence’ and put your entire hope in your Lord.
But “strive to enter through the narrow door.”
“Wide doors” are made for crowds to pass through together – as in a football or baseball stadium.
“Narrow doors” are made for just a few people to pass through at a time. And in the case of this ‘narrow door,’ only one at a time.
So, even on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit blew His life into three thousand souls, each one entered into the Kingdom of Heaven, one at a time, through Holy Baptism. “Repent and be baptized, every one of you for the forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 2:38)
In Holy Baptism, the Holy Spirit did for you what you cannot do for yourself, what Olivia could not do for herself. As you entered the water, you were stripped naked of every sin and every false god and every false hope that you cling to and that clings to you – not by your courage or power but by the sure and certain word and promise of God.
You were stripped clean of “every weight and sin that clings so closely,” not by your ‘striving’ but by your Lord’s ‘agonizing’ even to the shedding of His blood unto death, even death on a cross that you may enter through the “narrow door.”
And you emerged from the same water, clothed in the righteousness and holiness of your Lord, Jesus Christ – in whom you have salvation – NOW. You have ALREADY died with Christ and have ALREADY been raised with Christ. You have ALREADY entered through the “narrow door.” Whether the number who “are saved” is few or many, you are one of them, EVEN NOW.
If only we could get it through into our thick head and firmly anchored in our hard heart that in our baptism, we have already entered through the “narrow door” and “are saved.”
Just think about how that would change our entire perspective and outlook on this life of faith. No more striving and agonizing to live according to God’s Word SO THAT we may enter through the “narrow door,” always wondering if we’ve done enough, always comparing ourselves to others.
But if we both knew and firmly believed that in our baptism, we have ALREADY passed through the “narrow door,” how gladly and joyfully we would strive and agonize to live according to God’s Word as grateful children who want only to thank and praise our gracious God for His mercy and grace towards ME.
Why, set free from worrying about ourselves and our salvation, we might have the both the desire and energy to ‘strive’ to pray for and reach out to those who have forgotten who they are in Christ and who still don’t know who they are in Christ.
“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.”