Monday, August 23, 2010

Proper 16 of Series C (Luke 13:22-30)

“And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Dear friends in Christ, what is it that teachers say- ‘There are no stupid questions’? I think that little saying makes a lot of sense, because usually the only way to find out information is to ask questions. A lot of you know that I have been spending most of my first month here asking questions, then listening to and learning from your answers. The answer to most of those questions is probably obvious and easy to those of you who have been a part of these two congregations for a long time, but for a newbie like me, I have no clue unless I ask. In our text for today, Jesus is chugging around Israel, and someone stops Him to ask a question. Now, keep in mind what Jesus has been talking about lately. In Luke chapter twelve we have plenty of fire and brimstone, judgment and warnings, and we heard a bit of that last week. In response to these teachings, an unnamed ‘someone’ comes up to Jesus and says: “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” It’s as if he walked up to Jesus, gave Him a friendly pat on the back and said, “Whoa, Jesus, that’s pretty intense, all that fire and judgment and stuff. Whew! Probably not many of these people out here are gonna make it, right?”

Jesus doesn’t dislike questions, but He usually has something to say when a person examines others without examining himself. The questioner wants to talk about all those ‘other people’ out there, but Jesus wants to make it much more personal. He wants to turn the question around- the questioner asks, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” but Jesus wants him to ask, “Will I be saved?” To do this, Jesus, like a good carpenter, speaks about doors: “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” What kind of door is this? We learn all about it in Revelation. When Jesus speaks to the church in Philadelphia in Revelation chapter three, He says, “Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut.” Here we have a door hanging wide open, that no human could shut, even if they wanted to. And that door is open for those who are in Christ. What is behind this door? Well, we’re in luck, because in Revelation chapter four John goes through it. “After this I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’” Behind that door John sees the throne of heaven, he sees God Himself on the throne and the Lamb, Jesus Christ, enthroned with Him. The door that Jesus speaks about is the door to heavenly glory, to the very throne of God! But while the door was open to all those in Christ, it will not remain open forever. Jesus says, "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.'"

The narrow door is shut, and many, many people are left outside. Now there is a crowd that doesn’t even know that there was a door in the first place, or if they did, they ignored it during their life and they aren’t going to change now. There are plenty who put their trust in other gods or no god at all. But much closer to that door is a group who is loudly banging on it and crying for entry. You might recognize some of that group. There are plenty of God’s chosen people there, the nation of Israel, those who brought the messianic line to completion in the womb of Mary. The Gospel first came to them. A large contingent is those who followed Jesus around Palestine for the three years of His ministry. Jesus actually taught amongst them. Many were born into strong Christian families, and their names remained in a church directory throughout their life. We can see some that sat in the pew at church each and every Sunday, constantly surrounded by God’s. There are even more than a few pastors and church leaders, those who had the privilege of proclaiming God’s Word. They all have a common objection to voice. “Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’” Wait a minute, Jesus! I was in your house each and every week. Sure, I never paid attention, and didn’t really believe much of it then, but I was there! I was born into a strong Christian family! I never came to church, but my name’s on the membership list- doesn’t that count for something? I preached your word and administered your sacraments for decades. I let my own faith wither and die, but I served you for too long to sit outside the door! Isn’t that just another form of works-righteousness, trusting in our deeds to bring us to heaven? If we think that our birth, church membership, or worship attendance alone can bring us through that door, then we are sadly and tragically mistaken.

Jesus here destroys any self-confidence that we may have in our own ability to waltz through that door ourselves and attain heavenly glory. Jesus has some pretty harsh words of warning for those who trust in themselves: "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." Where can we turn, then, for salvation? We cannot trust our own ability, but instead must place our trust in another. How do we pass through the narrow door? Jesus doesn’t give us detailed instructions on how to gain entry, but instead He goes forth to achieve entry for us.

For Jesus Christ Himself is the door that He spoke of in our text. He teaches us this in John chapter ten. “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” He is the one through whom we find entry into heaven, He is the one who provides access to the Father, He alone is the narrow door, the only pathway to eternal life. He is all these things only because He traveled to Jerusalem. Luke told us at the beginning of our text: “He went on His way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem.” This is not some idle comment by St. Luke, but a reminder of what Jesus is doing throughout the latter part of the Gospel. Jesus has set His face to go to Jerusalem, and He is determined to go there despite all that He may face in that city. He goes to provide access to the Father, to bring us through Himself to heaven by demolishing the barrier between God and man. Before Jesus went to the cross, there wasn’t a narrow door at all, in fact every pathway to God was barred by our sin. All humanity stood outside the walls, doomed to spend eternity separated from their Creator. But Jesus came to change all that. He came to create a door, a door that would provide access to God for all people. And He forged this door in His own blood.

Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem to shed His blood there, to give up His life for you, for me, and for all people. His blood poured out there reconciled you to your heavenly Father, it provided access to heaven, the open door that Jesus told the church in Philadelphia about. Jesus said in the final verse of our text. “And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Jesus was the firstborn of all creation, God’s only and beloved Son. But on the cross God’s firstborn became last, for He placed you, me, and all people before Himself by submitting to death on our behalf. On the cross, the exalted One was humbled, and He choose to be humbled because of His great love for you. Jesus did all of that, He gave up His very life into death to open up a door to heaven, a door to the heavenly banquet. The way to heaven now lies open, and it goes through Jesus Christ.

With His resurrection from the dead on the third day, Jesus then works to bring us through the open door and into the feast. He says, “And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” You might recognize some of this group. It will include some of the lowliest members of humanity, those who had little else to depend on rather than Christ. There will be Gentiles at the feast, those from every nation, tribe, and language, those called by the Lord Jesus Christ through His Word. It will include all those who cling to their baptism in God-given faith, struggling in a sinful world to hold onto the promises of Jesus. But their weak and faltering grip on Christ is overpowered by His strong grip on them, for He knows that without His aid, none of us could stand. That is what it means to “strive to enter through the narrow door.” It means the struggle of the life of repentance, worked by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God. This crowd is harassed by Satan, it is scorned by the world, but it belongs to Jesus, and He preserves them through His gifts, His Word and His Holy Sacraments. He says about them, “And behold, some are last who will be first.” And it will include you and me, those who have nothing of our own to offer Christ but our sins, and He takes them upon Himself and then carries us through the door to the heavenly banquet. That is why we come to this place, not to earn something before God, but instead to receive His great gifts, the forgiveness we need and the strength we require to strive and struggle in this sinful world.

We do so knowing that because of Christ we are destined for the reality described in our Epistle lesson: “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” That is what lies behind the open door- thanks be to God that Jesus will bring us through it! In His name, Amen.

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