Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16C)
August 25, 2019
Text: Luke 13:22-30
“Lord, will those who are saved be few?” (Luke 13:23; ESV). So asks an unnamed disciple in response to Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom. And it is our question as well, particularly when we are concerned with a loved one, whether they will be included in our Lord’s salvation. Perhaps it’s a family member, maybe children or grandchildren who have stopped attending Church or even denied the faith of Jesus. Perhaps it’s a friend or co-worker or neighbor with whom we’ve struggled to share the faith and clearly confess Christ and His Word. Maybe we’re even worried about ourselves. There is this false comfort in the idea that the broader the road to salvation, the better my chances of getting in. But if only a few are saved, then what happens to me, and what about those I love who I can’t be sure are Christians? It’s a painful question posed to our Lord this morning. A terrifying question. And we’re hanging on every word of His answer.
But He doesn’t answer directly. What does He say? He doesn’t tell you about everyone else. He tells you and all of His disciples: “Strive to enter through the narrow door” (v. 24). It’s a jarring reminder that you are not the Savior of all those others. Not even your children. Jesus is. It is not your job to make your friends and loved ones into Christians. You can’t convert them to the faith. You cannot save them. That is God’s job. In one way, that is a little frustrating. But when you get right down to it, it is extraordinarily comforting, because it means that God, who loves your loved ones even more than you do, who sent His Son Jesus for your loved one… Jesus, who suffered all hell and gave Himself into death for your loved one, to reconcile your loved one to the Father… It’s His job to save your loved one and bring your loved one to faith in Jesus. So the pressure is off you. You let God be God, and you do what you are called to do. And in this text, you are called to strive to enter through the narrow door.
Oh boy, that sounds like salvation by works. To strive, after all, is to work. What are we to do with this? Before we talk about what it means to “strive,” let’s first identify the “narrow door.” The Narrow Door is Jesus. That is to say, you only enter salvation through Jesus. In another place, Jesus says of Himself, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved” (John 10:9). So the point is, the narrow door is not the ability to carefully observe the rules of Christianity, or even obey the holy Commandments of God. The Narrow Door is Jesus. And He’s not narrow because He is difficult or unwilling to save you, or because you have to pass some test or meet some qualification for Him to accept you. No, quite the opposite. His salvation is absolutely free and available to all, and it does not depend on anything you do or leave undone, anything you are or are not. It is all dependent on His sin-atoning death and life-giving resurrection, given to you in His holy Word and Sacraments, received by faith which He Himself gives you by His Holy Spirit through these means. He is narrow because He is the only way. The way that leads to death and damnation is broad. It is anything and everything that is not Christ. But the way of life and salvation is narrow, because that way is only Christ. Which is simply to say, you are saved by faith alone in Christ alone, by grace alone.
When we know that, we know what it means to strive to enter through the Narrow Door that is Jesus. The command to strive is just another way of saying, “Repent.” Repent of every other way you’ve gone in search of life and salvation, every other savior or fulfiller or life-giver you’ve made into an idol by seeking from it your every good. Repent of those sins you won’t give up because you think they give a better salvation or a more fulfilled life than Jesus gives. Repent of all that has kept you from taking up your cross and following Jesus. Strive not to go those ways, after those things. And the reason you strive, the reason you repent, is not to fulfill a condition so Christ will accept you. It is not to earn your salvation. It is because you already have that salvation, in Christ, the Narrow Door.
Which is to say, with justification… God’s declaration that you are righteous on account of Christ… comes regeneration… renewal, sanctification, the putting to death in you all that is not Christ (repentance) and the striving to walk in His Word and in His ways (your new life as a new creation in Christ). All of this is God’s work in you as the Spirit applies Jesus and His gifts to you in the Word and Sacraments. The word “strive” does not put the onus of your salvation on you. Rather, you are saved and renewed apart from your striving, so that you can now strive. It’s a matter of rightly dividing Law and Gospel. It’s getting the order of salvation right. First comes salvation, then comes striving. If you aren’t Jesus’ disciple, you will indeed strive for many things including salvation, but you’ll never, ever strive to enter through the Narrow Door that is Jesus. You only do that because you’re already in Jesus. You repent and you believe in the forgiveness and life you only have in Him.
Jesus tells us many people will be surprised when they don’t make it in on the Last Day. They’ll be surprised because they strove… but they didn’t enter the right door! The door will be shut and locked up tight, and many will be on the outside knocking and calling to Jesus that He’s made a mistake. We ate and drank with you. You taught in our streets. We went to Communion and listened to sermons. We were good people. We did the right things. We said the right words. We took up the right causes. We gave an offering. … That may all be well and good, but see, even non-Christians can do those outward things. Even unbelievers can live outwardly righteous and good lives. But that’s still part of the broad way. There is only one way into the Kingdom of God, and it is the Narrow Door. It is Jesus only. Not your good works and Jesus. Not your being “basically a good person.” It is Jesus only. And so, on that Day, He will say to those who cry to Him from the outside, “I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!” (Luke 13:27). And they will be consigned to the place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, which is to say, hell.
And they’ll be surprised who is in the Kingdom of God. There are the saints, of course, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the Prophets. But so also, those from east and west, north and south, Gentiles, sinners forgiven of their sins, tax collectors and prostitutes and Lutheran pastors. And even you. It will be a surprise only to those who do not know Jesus. For these unlikely members of the royal court will have entered, not by their works or their own righteousness (they have none), but because of Jesus. Simply and freely, by faith in Jesus. There they are, and there you are, in the safety and security of your Father’s Kingdom, reclining at Table, feasting on the richest of foods, the choicest of meats, the very best wine, as God’s own child. And that is already your reality. Baptized into Christ, you really do eat and drink with Him. You eat and drink Him, His true body and blood, for your forgiveness, life, and salvation, here at His altar, a foretaste of the eternal feast to come. You are here by grace, and grace alone, not because you strive, but in order to go out there and strive, to work as God’s own, as Christ’s own.
And one of the most important things you’re given to do as you’re out there striving is tell your loved ones about Jesus. Not bring them to faith. That’s not your job. That’s God’s job. But just tell them about Jesus. Confess the faith. Witness. Invite them to Church. Make sure you bring your kids to Church. Every Sunday. Bring your grandkids if your kids won’t and you can. Bring your friends and neighbors. Be here yourself. Be fed. Receive Jesus. That’s what you are to be concerned with. Will those who are saved be few? None of your business. Strive to enter through the Narrow Door. Repent of your sins, and know that Jesus alone is your salvation. His righteousness is your righteousness. His life is your life. He brings you into the Kingdom and gives you that very Kingdom as a gift. It is all by grace. By His blood. By His death. By His resurrection life. You belong to Him. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.