He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 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.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 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. 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.” (Luke 13:22-30, ESV)Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
You’ve heard a lot about how God opens doors. Here Jesus talks about an open door and how it is going to be closed. Not everyone will be inside when it does. The man on the road asks if only a few will be saved? Jesus changes the question to ask “Are you inside?” The door to God kingdom is open today, but someday it will be closed. It will be locked and there will be people who are locked out! Now of all the things we hear in church this is one we wish we didn’t. But Jesus makes it very clear. Not everyone will be saved. There will be a time when God closes the door of his grace. You and I know people who are going to hell, not because of the things they do, but because of what they believe. Faith in Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins is necessary for salvation, nothing else will do. Believe in Jesus Christ alone and be inside, believe in another way of salvation, including the multitude of ways of earning your own salvation, and you’ll be outside when the door is shut. Recently a world wide “Christian” organization stated that Christians needed to reconsider the claims of exclusive salvation in Jesus Christ alone for the sake of “cooperation with other non-Christian religions.” Jesus will have none of that. If you are inclined in that direction, repent of that sin. It is sinful and unloving to mislead people by neglecting to tell them of the only way of salvation in Jesus.
Right now Jesus makes it very clear that the door is still open. It is open wherever Christians speak up and tell people about Jesus and what he has done. But, it is open right now and especially right here where his Word is preached and his Sacraments given according to his command. We can actually see the open door here. We see it and feel it as water together with God’s name washes away our sins and makes us a member of his God’s family. We are pulled through the open door by God’s action, brought where his family is and given his very name. Inside we sit at table with him, in his very presence, and eat the food that we need to grow in faith. We hear his words that are spoken to us to keep our focus on what’s important. And yet there is a danger even here where God so clearly has the door open. There is a danger because the open door will not always be open as it is today, as Jesus tells us. Many of those inside will walk out the door.
Sometime in our future, maybe sooner than any of us know, the door of God’s grace and patience will come slamming shut. Jesus tells us clearly what that moment will be like. The most difficult part is the fact that not everyone will be inside. Jesus makes it very personal, too. He speaks to his hearers, and us, just like we are the ones left outside, wanting to get in. He says, When the master closes the door you will be outside and start knocking… For the people left outside there won’t be anything they can do to change the judgment, but they will try anyway. It is like Jesus is saying, “You will pathetically knock on the locked door, hoping to gain entrance through persistence; Hoping that the door will be opened again so you can escape the judgment that has come. But the door was open before, the there was plenty of opportunity, God’s promises to save were heard everywhere. You have foolishly ignored the chance to come in.” The words are harsh. They reach out and twist our hearts. Jesus means them. But the protest of the condemned will not be heard. It will be spoken by many people who mistakenly think that having their names on the church membership roles, means they should be let in. The protest will even be made by some who spent a great deal of time in church, and gave money to cover their fair share of the budget. Jesus tells us without a doubt; it isn’t spending time with Jesus that makes a difference. “Lord, we ate and drank in your presence! We heard you teaching! We spent time around you! Our families have always belonged to this church.” Those words and that pleading won’t have any meaning for Jesus when the door is closed. “I don’t know you.” He will say from behind the closed door.
It may shock you to think that Jesus is talking to you as if you are outside. Jesus wants you to think about that possibility. He wants you to consider what it means to not be known by him. Jesus says salvation is found in Jesus knowing you. He doesn’t call for us only to spend time with him. Time doesn’t equal a relationship. These days it is very popular to speak of the difference between quality time and quantity time. Jesus doesn’t make a distinction. God does not want meaningless hours from you, and he doesn’t even want meaningful minutes. If the time you spend with God is empty, the length of time you spend is totally irreverent. Empty worship is empty worship. God wants you to hear his Word every time he offers it to you. If you despise his word by failing to worship and failing to study his word you are walking toward the door. You are on your way outside.
You can serve and help other people all you want. But unless your heart is completely focused on them and their needs you’ve missed the boat. We have difficulty even listening to other people without getting distracted and thinking about ourselves. In fact, we most often use people to get what we want. We manipulate people for our own best advantage. That’s the primary sin of living together without being married; wanting the benefits of a relationship with someone else without the commitment. Sex outside of marriage is deeply selfish, and can be no other way. When you pretend that this sin isn’t a sin by ignoring it or participating in it yourself you are walking toward the door, headed outside.
You can give very large amounts of money to very important church activities. But God despises self serving gifts. Unless your heart is in the right place, giving gifts so that you look good to others or so you can get your name recognized is sinful. When you let pride guide your giving to the church instead of thankfulness for God’s gifts to you, when the primary purpose you want more people in church isn’t because they need God’s word, but rather to help pay expenses, you are walking toward the door to the outside.
One thing that’s also common among us is the comparisons we make between ourselves and other people. In this church, in this community, we value people by their class status. This sin is stronger in our community and church than many other places I’ve lived. Things get done in church and the community only when certain people want them done. Good ideas presented by the wrong people might as well be forgotten. We judge where only God is allowed to judge, and we fail to judge where we should be judging. Like Jesus story of the tax collector and the Pharisee. You know the story Jesus told. The tax collector prayed, “Oh God I’m a sinful person. I don’t deserve anything you would give.” While the Pharisee says, “Thank God I’m not like him.” The tax collector was inside. The Pharisee was out. We look at the Pharisee and say, “Thank God, I’m not like him. I’m not like them. I go to church. I pay my fair share of the budget. I’m better than they are. I deserve to be inside. I think they should be outside.” But our actions betray our motives. We are much more like the Pharisee. You can’t put someone else in the middle of sin. The word is even spelled that way. S-I-N. “I” am in the middle of sin. Sin has a hold on me and you that we can’t break. “I am sinful in thought world and deed, by what I have done and by what I have left undone.” Jesus gives us his word today so that we know for sure, that we should be outside. Our sin makes it so. So much of what we do sets us heading toward the door to the outside. We don’t deserve to be inside. The moment we think we do, the moment we try to do anything to make ourselves fit inside, the second we try to earn our own way in, we headed for the door.
Scripture is full of examples of Jesus commending people who were inside and condemning those who are outside. Like the woman who came to Jesus with perfume in hand, knelt down to wash his feet by wetting them with her tears and drying them with her hair. Jesus condemns the owner of the house, the one who invited Jesus to eat with him at his house. He is condemned because he ignores Jesus. He doesn’t even the basic courtesies that a host would offer. He doesn’t really know why Jesus has come. To him Jesus is just one more traveling preacher. He is using Jesus to boost his own status in the community. Even though he spends time listening to Jesus he doesn’t know Jesus. He doesn’t think that he needs anything that Jesus has to give. He certainly doesn’t think he needs forgiveness. He has no relationship to Jesus. Jesus doesn’t know him. He doesn’t know Jesus. He’s outside. The woman is different. She clearly knows who Jesus is and why he has come. She demonstrates it by her actions. She cries tears of joy on Jesus feet, and uses her hair as a towel. She comes to Jesus with her sins in her hands and she places them at Jesus feet. She comes to Jesus asking for forgiveness. Her action is the purest form of worship, not because of her actions, not because she washes Jesus feet, but because she comes to Jesus for forgiveness. She knows she is helpless without him. There is nothing she can do about her sin. She knows Jesus can and will forgive her. Her worship is true worship because she knows where to go to receive God’s free gift of forgiveness. She knows who Jesus is and why he has come. That’s why Jesus says to her, “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you.” Jesus says he knows who she is she has a right relationship to him. She is inside.
Inside or outside, that’s what it is all about. Thousands of Christians before us have come to God for the forgiveness of sins he offers. They have done it in the same way we do. From beginning to end, we worship God inside this place, through Jesus Christ, by confessing our faith just like that woman did.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-9, ESV)
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:17, ESV)
When Jesus says “Strive to enter…” he’s not talking about you doing anything, except dropping all our own self confidence. He’s not talking about showing him our good works, our calculated time in worship, our monthly tax statement as proof that we deserve entry. None of that will do, it is covered and corrupted by our sin. The prophet Isaiah reminds us that
We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64:6, ESV)
The Peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.