September 18, 2019
Pastor Gunnar Ledermann
22 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”
He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’
“But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’
26 “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’
27 “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’
28 “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”Luke 13:22-30
You always know when there is a party going on in your neighborhood. You can tell because the sides of the streets fill up with cars, there is music, the top of the bounce house is sticking up over the fence, and people are hanging out in the backyard. You always know when a party is going on too because you can smell the food, especially the grill or the smoker. When your neighbor has a party and you are not invited, then it really becomes clear that your relationship is not as good as you thought, and you are missing out on something great. In our gospel reading from Luke 13, Jesus said that there will be a feast in the kingdom of God, and to make every effort to enter through the narrow door.
While Jesus was making his way to Jerusalem teaching from town to town, 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” The question gave Jesus an opportunity to set the people straight in their thinking about who goes to heaven. Jesus quickly moved the conversation to a look into the future and what it will look like for all people at the end of their life when they face judgment. He answered the questions all people need to be asking themselves, “What happens when I die,” “What comes next,” and “How do I avoid the bad place and end up in the good place?” These are the questions the person would have been better off asking Jesus, which is why Jesus answered those questions for the person who asked him and everyone listening that day, and everyone like us who would hear these words in the future. Jesus used this person’s question to address someone who might say, “It’s not fair that so few get into heaven.” And, teach us to say, “Jesus, thank you for showing me that you are the narrow door to the feast in the kingdom of God.”
As Jesus went on to respond to the question he had been asked, he explained to the people that heaven is the place you want to go when you die. First, Jesus explained what it will be like if you are not in heaven, saying, 28 “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth.” For those outside of heaven, they will face eternity empty of any joy or peace. They will be alive, in a real place, but will be separated from the blessings of God. Regret will consume them as they look on those who will be in heaven, as Jesus said, 28… “when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.” Those who will be in heaven are the ones who trusted in God’s promise to send a Savior. God gave this promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and the prophets. They shared what God had spoken to them, and for all those who believed, they would be taken to heaven for all eternity. So, Jesus’ answer to the question, 23 “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” was make every effort to be one of those few who held on to the promise of the Savior.
The simple answer that Jesus gave is hard to put into practice. Jesus made it clear that the answer to getting into heaven is a narrow door. This term referred to himself; Jesus is the narrow door. He used this image to describe himself because most people would rather walk through life picturing a big airplane hangar sized door at the end of life with a Jesus standing there welcoming them into a paradise of all the things they enjoyed doing or always hoped to do in this life applauding their good life and best effort at sticking to what they felt was right in their hearts, but that is not the picture Jesus paints for us. Instead, he said that many will reach the end of their life expecting good things, but when they knock on heaven’s door, Jesus will answer, 25… “I don’t know you or where you come from.” 26 “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’ This will be Jesus’ response to those who do not believe in him.
For those who do not make every effort to enter the narrow door, who do not see Jesus as their greatest treasure, the reason for turning away from sinful things and the one to hold on to during suffering, they will face the full terror of God. In our reading from Hebrews 12, the mountain where God gave the law to the Israelites is mentioned as 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” This mountain is cited as a warning to us that the law is still in effect. God’s law still holds punishment for those who do evil and do not believe. It is mentioned for you and me, so that we fight, struggle, compete and make every effort to enter heaven free from the law with faith in Jesus. Holding on to Jesus means we will come to the other mountain mentioned in Hebrews 12, 22 “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” These descriptions of heaven all give us a clear picture of what lies beyond the narrow door. Through Jesus, the law of God that revealed our sins and struck terror in our hearts was put to death on the cross. Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant, the one who stands between you and God to say that you are forgiven, perfect and welcome into heaven because Jesus bought you back from death by shedding his own blood and your name is now written in heaven.
Jesus is your only way into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” The command Jesus gives you translated as “make every effort,” comes from the Greek word ἀγωνίζομαι, meaning fight, struggle or engage in a contest. The word was used for those who compete in athletic competitions like the original Olympic Games. Jesus’ point to you is to not grow so comfortable in your faith that if given the chance to ask Jesus a question, you would not ask, “Are only a few people going to be saved?” Instead, if given the chance to ask Jesus a question, you would ask him, “Jesus, why did you save me?” The difference between the questions is a heart that does not understand how much it needs Jesus and a heart that trusts Jesus to be the narrow door. Or, as Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus wants you to know that the time to be sure Jesus will recognize you is now because once the one and only door to heaven is closed, it will not be open again.
Jesus will recognize you as his own when he sees you trust in him to be the narrow door. Faith in what Jesus has done for you is the battle you face. Faith was the battle that Gideon fought in our reading from Judges 7. At first, it seems like the battle Gideon faced was an actual battle. Afterall, he was leading Israel into battle against Midian, but his true battle was faith. As Israel prepared to go into battle against Midian, 2 The Lord said to Gideon, “You have too many men. I cannot deliver Midian into their hands, or Israel would boast against me, ‘My own strength has saved me.’ God wanted Gideon to see that he would be the one fighting for Israel, so he asked Gideon to tell all the soldiers who were afraid to go home. Then, he had Gideon take the army to get a drink and the ones who drank a certain way were to stay. After the two rounds, Gideon was left with only three hundred men to go into battle against the Midianites. Gideon’s faith in God was put to the test, but 7 The Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred men that lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hands. Let all the others go home.” And, the Lord did give the Midianites into Gideon’s hand and Gideon saw that God keeps his promise to save his people, even if the way he does it stretches faith to its limit.
Faith in Jesus will never disappoint because Jesus power to save us has no limit. Through Jesus you will enter into the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said, 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. You are included in those Jesus talked about. He also went on to say, 30 “Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.” Many who saw Jesus and heard him speak rejected him, but you like Gideon know God fights for you. You are thousands of years removed from when he was here and you may feel like that door to heaven is far away, but you know the King of Heaven. You are going to enter heaven through the narrow door because the one who created all things and made every effort to save you has prepared a place for you at his feast in heaven.
You always know when there is a party going on in your neighborhood. You can also tell when we are not invited because you are not inside. Jesus described a feast in the kingdom of God. He said that many will try to enter and not be able to. You know that the way to heaven is Jesus because he sacrificed his life to forgive you for all your sins, rose from the dead to assure you of your own resurrection and he returned to heaven to prepare a place for you there. You do not have to be afraid, instead be thankful as you make every effort to enter through the narrow door. Amen.