Sermon from August 25, 2013/ The Narrow Door
August 25th, 2013/ Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Regina SK/ Luke 13:22-30/ "The Narrow Door"/ Vicar James Preus
22 Jesus went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 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.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28 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. 29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
[I thank you all for the opportunity to serve you as your vicar this year. The first sermon as a vicar is a pinnacle moment in the training of a minister; nevertheless, the focus of this sermon is not on me. The focus is God’s Word, which Jesus has given to his Church (that’s you and me) to spiritually feed us and give us eternal life.]
A man asks Jesus a morbid question. “Will those who are saved be few?” Why is this question morbid? The man wants to know if few people will live forever with God in heaven and if many will face eternal death in hell. Yes, this question is a morbid one. But the man does not ask, “Will I be saved?” He doesn’t want to focus the conversation on himself. That would bring into light his own mortality. He just wants to know how hard he has to work to get into the kingdom of heaven. Does he need to make it into the top 25%? ...10%? ...1%? He wants to know, whom he has to exceed to be saved.
But Jesus immediately turns it personal. He proclaims, “Strive to enter the narrow door...all of you!” He then warns, “many will seek to enter and will not be able.” This is a much more terrifying answer than the man had anticipated. Jesus gets even more personal by reciting their excuses when he rejects them from the Kingdom of Heaven, “You will say, ‘But we ate and drank in your presence and you taught in our streets!’” Still, Jesus, the master of the house will answer, “I tell you, I do not know where you come from.” You see, these people are acquainted with Jesus, but they do not yet have a relationship with him. Similarly today many false religions claim to know Jesus, such as the Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, and Muslims, but they do not know Jesus as their savior. Of course, we don’t need to look at other religions to see this sad situation. How often do we hear, “Oh, well my mother or grandparents are members of such and such Lutheran Church.” Or, “My grandpa is a pastor.” Many think that such acquaintances with the Church of Christ makes them Christians and “gets them saved.” But we need a personal relationship with Jesus.
But Jesus’ personal answer terrifies. How can any of us have assurance that we can enter this narrow door? What must we do to enter this narrow door? Jesus’ answer may cause many to doubt that salvation is a gift from God, but rather believe we must strive with good works to obtain it. People are led to such a conclusion, because Jesus uses the word “strive.” The word can also mean to labor or to struggle. And we know what it means to struggle.
When I was in high school I was on the wrestling team. I spent hours every day running countless laps and sprints, doing countless push-ups, and running through endless drills over and over again in preparation for my match against my next opponent. When the match finally came, I wrestled against someone who also ran countless laps and sprints, did countless push-ups, and ran drills over and over again in preparation to wrestle me. Neither of us had any intention of losing, so each of us struggled to beat the other. And that is how we look at the word struggle. We struggle to get the good grade in school. We struggle to do a good job and get the raise or promotion. We work hard. We must do it ourselves. So when Jesus tells us to “struggle” to enter through the narrow door, our natural conclusion is that we must work and work hard to earn our own salvation. But Jesus teaches no such thing.
At the beginning of our lesson Luke the Evangelist tells us that Jesus journeyed toward Jerusalem. Jesus set his eyes on his goal, which would be completed in Jerusalem. Outside Jerusalem, Jesus would take on the sins of the entire world, becoming the worst sinner before his Heavenly Father’s just Law.
Nailed to the cursed tree Justice would strike heavily upon him as he would pay for the guilt of all of our sins. Outside of Jerusalem God would also raise Jesus from the dead, declaring him just. Just, that means righteous, free from all sin and perfect in the eyes of God and his holy Law. When God raised Jesus from the dead and declared him righteous, he opened the door to heaven to all believers- to you and me!
That door, however, is a narrow door. It is not a narrow door, because we still need to do a lot of work to enter it. Jesus already did all the work. It is finished. Our sins have been paid for in full. Jesus took our place on the cross to do that. When God raised Jesus from the dead, declaring him righteous, he won righteousness for everyone. But there is only one way to receive this righteousness. That is why it is a narrow door. The only way to enter this narrow door is to repent. To repent means to turn from your sin, completely reject your works and trust in Jesus. This does not mean that Jesus opens the door for us, but leaves it to us to make our way through it. Jesus sends his Holy Spirit, who enables us to pass through the door. The Holy Spirit works through God’s Word to bring us to repentance. The Holy Spirit creates that faith which trusts in Jesus and his sacrifice. Jesus does not leave us high and dry. He sacrificed himself and was raised from the dead to open the door to heaven. And he sends his Holy Spirit to lead us through this door.
The fall back position of mankind, going all the way back to when Adam and Eve first sinned, is to rely on our own righteousness. That is why Jesus says, “Struggle to enter the narrow door.” While your faith relies only on Jesus to enter the door, your sinful nature despises the narrow door. Because your human nature is corrupted with selfish sin you would rather present to Jesus a great big heap of your own works of righteousness than meekly pass through that narrow door of repentance. But faith tells you to completely give up on your own works. Leave them at the door. Turn from your sins and do not present God with your deeds, which are riddled with your own sins anyway. But enter the narrow door naked of your own sins and works and receive the robe of Jesus’ righteousness. Our best falls short. But Jesus is truly righteous and he gives us the credit for his righteousness.
According to our human nature we are sinners. That means that every work we do according to our own strength is not good. Our intentions are selfish. We only seek to give God glory if it glorifies us in the process.
God declares to us through the Psalmist, “I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. For every beast of the forest is mine.” [Psalm 50:9-10] In other words, God doesn’t need anything from you. Instead God says, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”[vs. 15] Your flesh tells you to offer the best you have to God. God says, “Enter the narrow door by calling to me for help. I will take you through this door, which I have opened for you.” This is the Good News!
The door is narrow, but it is open. Jesus opened it. But there will be a time when the door will be closed and God’s judgment will be at hand. Those who are then rejected chose not to enter the narrow door that Jesus opened, when he died on the cross outside Jerusalem. They chose not to repent of their sins, but looked for another entrance. These people will stand before the closed door, baffled that there was no majestic gate prepared for them to march in with their cargo of good works. Instead Jesus calls them “workers of unrighteousness.” ...Unrighteousness, because they rejected the only true righteousness, which comes from Jesus.
That Day of Judgment will be a day of terror for those, who reject Jesus’ forgiveness and righteousness earned on the cross. They will be thrown out where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. However, you who despise your sins and your works, who repent of your wicked thoughts, words, and deeds, and trust in the righteousness Jesus won for you, Jesus truly ushers you through that narrow door.
On that Day of Judgment, God’s angels will gather you, wherever you are ...east, west, north or south. God will place you at his table to eat and drink with him. You will enjoy the celebration of the wedding between Christ and his Church, between our Savior and us, who have been led through the narrow door for Christ’s sake. We get a taste of this feast to come when we come today to the Lord’s Table to receive Jesus’ true body and blood. Through faith this wonderful gift forgives our sins. Our sins are nailed to the cross on which this same body we eat was hanged. And we leave with Jesus’ peace and his own holiness. With our Savior close to us we live the Baptismal life, where we are constantly led to repentance, but also constantly receive Jesus’ forgiveness and righteousness as we are ushered through that narrow door.
We had a baptism today. God made little Tonny his child. Although it may have seemed like a cute ceremony where the pastor poured water on an adorable little child at the front of the church, it was much more than that. Tony died today. God drowned his Old Adam, who wants to seek another door. And God raised a New Adam, who rejects his Old Adam and all his works and meekly passes through that narrow door to God’s salvation. As Luther’s Small Catechism teaches us, “the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.”
Tonny’s Old Adam will not stay dead. He will continue to rise day after day and try to force Tonny to seek a way to heaven that will only lead to destruction. His spiritual journey is just beginning as his New Adam will struggle against his old Adam day after day. But through the Baptism God has granted Tonny, Jesus fights for Tonny. Through God’s Word, Tonny will be brought back to the promise of his Baptism. God has made Tonny his child, and he will draw him through that narrow door. That is why Tony will need God’s Word every day. He will need forgiveness and the righteousness that can only come from Jesus Christ. He will need to be in church to receive God’s gifts throughout his life. Through God’s Word Tonny receives Jesus. Tonny’s struggle will end, because Jesus wins the victory for Tonny.
Spiritually, you and I are quite the same as Tonny. Our Old Adam rises every day and tries to deceive our New Adam. Like Tonny, we desperately need Jesus. We need him to remove our sins and to place his righteousness on us. Baptism draws us to daily repent of our sins and trust in Jesus. In Baptism Jesus takes away our sins and places his holiness on us. To live a life of repentance is nothing else than to return daily to our Baptism. Tonny passes through that narrow door today when he is baptized and God will lead him again and again through that same narrow door when Tony returns to his Baptism, by repenting of his sins and receiving Jesus’ forgiveness and righteousness. You too passed through that narrow door when God baptized you. Although the pastor won’t pour water on your head again, you nevertheless return to the waters of your Baptism when you reject yourself... your thoughts, hatreds, works...everything and rest on what Jesus has already done for you. Jesus leads you through this narrow door throughout your life.
When the pastor forgives your sins in the stead and by the command of Christ that is Jesus ushering you through that narrow door. One day, your struggle will end. Your Old Adam will be gone forever. Jesus will gather you and me with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the blest to sit at the Feast of Salvation. Because of Jesus, you will rest there with your Savior forever.
Let us pray: O God, let us hear when our Shepherd shall call in accents persuasive and tender, that while there is time we make haste, one and all, and find him, our mighty defender. Have mercy upon us, O Jesus!