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Pentecost 14C

Luke 13:22-30

Rev. Alan Taylor

Pentecost 14, Proper 16, series C
St. John Lutheran Church  
Galveston, Texas

Sun, Aug 21, 2016 

+ In the Name of Jesus +

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The message this morning is based on the gospel reading from Luke 13.  A man asked Jesus if there would be only a few who were saved.  His question, of course, was very general.  He wanted to talk about how the Gospel related to the masses, the great hoard of humanity, rather than how it related to him.  The Gospel though isn’t about the masses, some faceless and nameless body of people.  No, it’s personal and specific.  It’s about you and me.  It’s about the narrow door, repentance and forgiveness.  It’s about the one who is least and the lowest being called up to a seat of honor, while the one who is highly esteemed is brought low. 

Do you ever wonder who all is ultimately going to be saved?  How many people are gonna end up in heaven and how many are gonna end up in hell?  And, what about all those people who never have a chance to hear the gospel?  You know, like the people in Borneo or Papua New Guinea, or, some other remote part of the world.  Will they be in heaven, or, will they be in hell?  If they go to hell, how is that fair?  What kind of a God would send anybody to hell, anyway?  If that’s the God of the Bible, then I don’t want to believe in him.” Do you see where these sorts of questions lead?

We move from a seemingly curious question about salvation to the point of questioning the intent and the motives of God.  The truth is, we have within us this tendency to want to decide in our own minds if God is fair, or, not.  We want to put God on trial.  And if we don’t like the answers to our questions, then we feel we can reject the message, reject the Bible, reject the church and yes, reject God.  In some ways, this is our way of keeping the message of repentance and faith at arm’s length, so as to not let it get too close to home.

Jesus was faced with just this sort of a question in our text today.  He was traveling from town to town, “teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem.” And on one occasion, somebody asked him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Again, it’s a nice abstract question, isn’t it?  Let’s ask this religious teacher a question about religion, shall we?  We’ll keep it hypothetical though.  Not too personal.  Let’s talk about those people out there.  That way we can keep the discussion at arm’s length.

You know, there was another incident in Jesus’ life and ministry that was somewhat similar to this one before us this morning.  In Matthew 16, we’re told that Jesus asked the disciples a question.  First, He asked, “who do the people say that I am?” Again, it was a bit of a general question.  Certainly there were all sorts of opinions floating around about Jesus.  Some thought He was Elijah.  Some thought He was John the baptist who had returned from the dead.  Still, others thought He was one of the prophets.

Having heard all the various opinions expressed about Him, Jesus then asked, “but, who do YOU say that I am?” You see, there it is again.  The preaching of the Word, the Gospel, is never about the masses, a bunch of nameless, faceless people.  Rather, it’s about the individual.  It’s about you and me.  It’s about repentance and forgiveness.  While the man in this morning’s Gospel reading was concerned about generalities, Jesus says to him, but what about YOU?

The passage takes us right to the significance of the Gospel in our own lives, particularly as it relates to the Day of Judgment.  That Day is coming you know.  The masses may or my not be ready.  But, what about YOU?  Are YOU ready for that Day when Jesus comes to “judge both the living and the dead?” “Strive to enter (Jesus says) 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, t‘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, tI do not know where you come from.  Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’”

Those are chilling words, aren’t they?  They’re chilling because they leave no doubt that there will be some who will closed out of heaven on the Day of Judgment.  The Bible, you see, knows nothing of a universal salvation, even though it is filled with universal grace that flows so freely from the universal atonement of the cross.  Truly, “God would have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

Some, however, will never come to know Jesus.  They will strive to enter heaven through the wide door, that is, through the door of works righteousness and self-promotion.  Like the sinner of the “tax collector and sinner fame,” they’ll look at their neighbor and then look at God and say, “I thank you Lord that I’m not like these other people.  ”

I suspect though that the passage sounds a bit troubling too because, in our lower moments, we are inclined to wonder if we might be one of those who thought we knew Jesus but didn’t.  These are the times when the objective nature of the Gospel is so comforting.  In the end, you see, your salvation depends on Christ and not on you.  In holy baptism you were bought with a price, not with gold or silver, but with Jesus’ holy and precious blood.  In that flow of water, He bought you with a price and He named you.  The gospel, remember, is always personal.  He called you by name and, more than that, He made you His dearly beloved child.

He clothed you with His very own righteousness and He created in you a new heart, a heart that longs to enter heaven by the narrow door, that is, by Jesus and Him crucified.  The striving of which Jesus speaks this morning, isn’t then a struggle to win heaven’s prize, or, even a struggle for faith.  Rather, it is an earnest desire to be found in Jesus, holy, righteous and beloved by God.  It is the cry of faith that calls out “Lord, have mercy.” It is the anticipation and expectation of salvation coming from outside of oneself.

In baptism you were marked with the sign of the cross, both upon your forehead and upon your heart.  That cross marked you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.  In that moment, God effected a monumental change in your life.  Not so much a change in you as it was a change in your relationship to Him.  The least became the greatest.  That is, the sinner became holy.  This because, in time, the greatest, that is, Christ, became the least, bearing in His body the sins of the whole world.

The Gospel is always personal, but in it’s richest comfort, it’s also always objective too.  It doesn’t spring up from your heart.  Rather, it is declared to you from on high.  It’s always God coming to you. 

Luther wrote extensively about this objective nature of the Gospel in relation to the Lord’s Supper.  On bended knee you receive the body and blood of Jesus, which were given and shed for YOU.  He says, these words, namely, “given and shed for YOU,” are the most important part of the sacrament.  Jesus shed His blood for the sins of the world.  This is most certainly true!  But, most importantly, He shed His blood for YOU! 

Will there be many, or, few who are saved?  I don’t know.  The Scriptures really don’t deal with salvation in such an abstract manner.  Jesus always comes to you personally, by water and the word, and by bread and wine.  Through such marvelous gifts you enter heaven through the narrow door, for you are God’s dear child, named in the water of holy baptism and marked with the sign of the cross. 

“Now let all the heaven’s adore Thee,

Let saints and angels sing before Thee

With harp and cymbals clearest tone.

Of one pearl each shining portal,

Where, joining with the choir immortal,

We gather round Thy radiant throne.

No eye has seen the light,

No ear has heard the might

Of Thy glory;

Therefore will we Eternally

Sing hymns of praise and joy to Thee!”

In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting.  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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