Click play to listen to the audio version of this sermon.
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. This one comes from an anonymous person, a “someone,” who could very easily be any one of us. Before we hear the question and Jesus’ response though, St. Luke wants to remind us that it comes as Jesus is traveling.
I. Vs. 22
“He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and JOURNEYING TOWARD JERUSALEM.”
Back in the 9th chapter of his gospel, St. Luke noted this very significant turning point in Jesus’ ministry, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” (Lk. 9:51).
“Taken up,” is Luke’s shorthand way of saying, “to be crucified, buried, resurrected and ascended into heaven.” “He set his face,” indicates His determination and firm resolve to carry out the mission that He had come into the world to accomplish, which according to the Scriptures, must be accomplished in Jerusalem.
He set His face to repair the break that was opened by our sin that separates God from man and man from God. He set His face to reconcile us to the Father.
He set His face to redeem the world by the holy deposit of His body and blood. He set His face to reclaim what was rightfully His.
He set His face to take our place in the great and final judgment of God against the sin and rebellion of man against his Creator. He set His face to become sinful man, so that sinful men and woman might become holy and righteous before God.
“When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.”
II. Vs. 23
And it is as He is on this journey, that “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 see what he was asking? Would the salvation that Jesus was headed to Jerusalem to accomplish by His death and resurrection and ascension and return again on the last day, would that be for just a few, or for many?
You’ve got to wonder what motivates a question like that one. “Why do you ask?”
If this “someone” happened to be one of the Pharisees or Sadducees or any of the other ‘super-religious’ types, he may be asking just to confirm what he believes to be true, which is, that those who are being saved are ‘a few,’ only the truly deserving, the really good, the sincerely religious.
“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.’ Wouldn’t that just be the worst injustice of all if “those who were being saved were MANY” and included ‘this tax collector?’
‘Lord, will those who are being saved be few?’ Please say ‘yes.’ All of this hard work I’ve put into this has got to count for something.
But there are other motives for asking a question like this one.
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 professes some other faith, or maybe none at all.
Maybe this “someone” had a spouse or parent or a friend in mind,
– one of those who are a part of that great majority of people whom we live and work with, who have never been baptized into Christ and who don’t want to be,
– who never seem to give things like “salvation” much of a thought really,
– and who take offense to the idea that not everyone will be saved, and even more offense to your suggestion that, in fact, no one will be saved apart from faith in the one Savior – Jesus Christ.
And it pains them to think that “those who are being saved might be ‘a 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 reconciled them, and redeemed them, and atoned for their sin with His own body and blood, given and shed for them.
‘Lord, will those who are being saved be few?’ Please say ‘no.’ Let there be some other way than the cross of Jesus Christ by which men may be saved.
Luke doesn’t say which of these two motives lie behind this particular “someone” who asked the question. Based on Jesus’ reply, it sure sounds like it was more the former than that later. But as is the case in so many of these ‘questions’ that are posed to Jesus as He “journey’s to Jerusalem,” Jesus hesitates to give a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Every question presents the opportunity for an important lesson to be taught and hopefully, learned.
Especially “theoretical questions” like this one. I am beginning to think that “theoretical questions” about theology and the will of God are simply ways to appear to be ‘religious,’ but are really just ways to keep God at a safe distance from ME. As long as we can keep this about the “BIG PICTURE,” then it’s not about ME.
We can get pretty fired up about the way that the Church BEHAVES. Or the way that the CHURCH spends its money. Or the Church’s STAND on the issues of the day. And yet strangely never seem to EXAMINE OURSELVES and MY BEHAVIOR, and my STEWARDSHIP, and what am I doing to make this world a better place to live.
So I notice that whenever someone asks Jesus a question about “people” in general and “God’s Will” in general, He refuses to answer, but rather turns the question around to ask, ‘but what about you.’
In the beginning of this same 13th chapter of Luke’s gospel, we read about “SOME” who informed Jesus about the Galileans who were murdered at the Temple by Roman soldiers under orders from Pontius Pilate. Why them? What’s the BIG PICTURE? Was it because they were ‘worse sinners’ than all the other Galileans who did the same thing but who weren’t murdered? 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? What’s the WILL OF GOD? 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).
In other words, Jesus is not very interested in doing “theology in general” or discussing things like, ‘why God saves some and not others.’ He’s interested in YOU. Jesus Christ has come into the world to save ‘sinners,’ that is most certainly true. But let’s not debate who that might include and who that might exclude. Let’s talk about you, the sinner that you are.
St. Paul’s advise to the Corinthians is good advise for us all. “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).
III. Vs. 24
“Jesus said to THEM…” What follows is not directed just to that “SOMEONE” who asked the question but to “THEM,” that is, everyone who has the same question. “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 pure joy and bliss and love as moving through a door. But a “door” is just a ‘figure of speech.’ It’s a symbol that stands for something else.
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).
He describes this door as being “narrow.” And it’s the narrowness of this door that distinguishes it from all other doors. Only the “narrow” door opens to salvation and ETERNAL LIFE. All other doors, no matter what you read or what you hear or what everyone else says, no matter what you want to believe, all other doors lead to ETERNAL DEATH.
Jesus says, “I am THE way, not ‘a’ way.” “I am THE truth, not ‘a’ truth.” “I am THE life, not ‘a’ life.” No one comes to the Father except by me.” (John 14:6). That ‘narrows it down.’
A ‘narrow’ door is not nearly so easy to pass through as a ‘wide’ door. When the door is ‘wide,’ you can walk through it without having to let go of anything. You can carry all of your baggage, and your good works and all of your ‘theoretical questions’ and ‘big picture’ debates, through that door with you and don’t have to let go of any of it.
But a ‘narrow’ door means that you’re going to have to let go of some things in order to fit through it. And this particular door that we’re talking about here, “I am the door,” is so ‘narrow,’ that you’re going to have to
• Let go of ALL of the baggage that you’ve been holding onto;
• and leave behind ALL of your good works; they were only ever meant to benefit your neighbor, not you;
• ALL of your ‘theoretical questions’ and all of your ‘arguments with God,’ like “we ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets,’ all of that business of trying to tell God why He should save you, it’s all got to go.
• You’re going to have to leave behind ALL of the false gods that you put your trust in and
• ALL of the wealth and the houses and cars and toys that have stored up for yourself in this world, you really should have been much more generous with it while you had the chance because none of it goes with you.
• None of it fits through a ‘narrow’ door.
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 is what ‘repentance’ is all about. And ‘repentance’ is never easy. Boasting about ourselves is easy. Thinking that we’re someone special is easy. It comes naturally. Humbling ourselves is hard. It’s unnatural.
And so Jesus says, “strive” to enter through the narrow door. The word is “agonidzesthai.” “Agonize.”
• “Agonize” to let go of the sin that so easily entangles you even as your Savior ‘agonized’ to take onto Himself that very same sin.
• “In your struggle, in your agony, against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Heb. 12:4). But your Savior, has struggled, agonized, against your sin, to the point of shedding His blood FOR YOU.
It might be helpful to make just one more point about a ‘narrow’ door verses a ‘wide’ door. “Wide doors” are made for lots of people to pass through together. “Narrow doors” are made for just a few people to pass through at a time. And in the case of this ‘narrow door,’ “I am the door,” only one at a time.
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, all of your sinful baggage was stripped off of you. All of the false gods that you cling to and that cling to you were pried from your hands.
And in the same sacramental water, the Holy Spirit washed away all of your boasting in yourself and all of your ‘theoretical questions’ that you try to hide behind. And the same Holy Spirit clothed you with Jesus and only Jesus.
The point here is that even this “repentance,” this stripping off of your sin so that you may pass through the “narrow door,” even this is not your work. It’s been done to you, by grace alone, for Christ’s sake alone, by the power of the Holy Spirit alone.
So, “strive,” “struggle,” “agonize,” to remain in your baptism. Don’t try to ‘add’ something to it. It won’t fit through the ‘door.’ You have Jesus. He is all that you can have. He is everything that you need.