"The Door Is Open…for Now"
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
St. Luke 13:22-30
August 26, 2007
St. John Lutheran Church, N. Tonawanda, N.Y.
IN NOMINE JESU
In the early-to-medieval days of the Church, the Church began the scriptural practice of closed communion. The early Church's method of practicing closed communion we might consider radical or even offensive. The Divine Service, the Gottesdienst, was divided into two parts: the Mass of the Catechumens and the Mass of the Faithful. The first part, the Mass of the Catechumens, we know as the Service of the Word. The Mass of the Faithful we know as the Service of the Sacrament. In the Mass of the Catechumens, everyone was welcome to worship the Lord as He came to them in His Word. The Scriptures would be read, usually chapters at a time because a congregation only had a scroll of a particular book of the Bible for a few weeks. The people were well exposed to the Word through such readings and through their singing of the Psalms. Following the public reading of the Word, the people would then receive instruction in it as the sermon was preached for the edification of all the worshipers, baptized and unbaptized alike.
At the conclusion of the Mass of the Catechumens, all of the unbaptized, those who had not yet made public confirmation of the faith, would be ushered out of the church building, be it a house church or a cathedral, and the doors would be locked behind them. They were barred from even watching the Mass of the Faithful, the Service of the Sacrament, because the Church was concerned about keeping the celebration of the Lord's Supper pure, to the point of eliminating the possibility of someone receiving the Lord's body and blood unworthily and to his or her own condemnation. The Church knew that this sacramental meal was [and is] not to be taken lightly and not to be given to just anybody but to those who have publicly confessed the faith confessed at that altar. Not everyone is to be admitted. However, those who underwent the thorough and intense period of catechesis and subsequently made the good confession, reciting the Creed and the Lord's Prayer, would be initiated into full membership of the Church through the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, and they would then gain admission to the Lord's Supper and were welcomed to participate in the Mass of the Faithful. The Church was well aware of her need to close the door to some and open it to others.
The door to this holy meal on earth is a narrow one. Even more so is the door to the heavenly banquet narrow. Not everyone will gain entry into heaven. Not everyone will pass through the door into eternal life. Only those who believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord may pass through into heaven. The door is narrow for precisely this reason. There is no room for unbelievers and for those who try to get in with the baggage of their works. Not everyone, unfortunately, will be saved. In our text the Lord did not answer the question that someone posed to Him: "Lord, are there few who are saved?" (v. 23). The Lord did not answer this question because that person asked the wrong question. The questions we should ask are the ones the Lord has answered in His holy Word. The Lord answered the question that should have been asked: "How can I be saved?" The Lord instructs us: "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able" (v. 24). In other words, we are to live lives of repentance, for the Greek word for strive is also translated as struggle. We are to struggle—to struggle with our sins, to confess our sins, and trust in our Lord's all-atoning sacrifice on the cross, where our forgiveness has been won. We are to, in our struggle against sin, pray that the Holy Spirit will enable us to turn our backs on our sins, for the word repent literally means "to turn around." The Lord is telling us that we need to live lives of repentance and faith so that we will be able to enter into eternal life through the narrow door.
The time until the Lord locks the door shut—the Last Day—is limited, now more so than ever before. The time will soon come when He comes again, ushering the faithful into heaven and locking out the unbelievers, who will cry out, "Lord, Lord, open for us," and He will say, "I do not know you." Those whom the Lord does not know will not be saved. The unfaithful will become desperate and will plead some sort of external fellowship they think they have with Him. "We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets" (v. 26). They will falsely claim they were people of the Word and Sacraments. They will falsely claim they were in table fellowship with the Lord; yet their hearts were not right with God. Instead of eating and drinking with the Lord, they gorged themselves. Saint Paul wrote to the church at Corinth regarding the Lord's Supper:
"Now in giving these instructions I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. For first of all, when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you. Therefore when you come together in one place, it is not to eat the Lord's Supper. For in eating, each one takes his own supper ahead of others; and one is hungry and another is drunk. What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and shame those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I praise you in this? I do not praise you" (1 Cor. 11:17-22).
The Lord taught in their streets and in the synagogues and in people's homes, but the faithless did not hear Him, for they were not of God. The Lord says, "He who is of God hears God's words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God" (Jn. 8:47). Again, our Lord says, "If anyone hears my words and does not believe, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world. He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day" (Jn. 12:47-48). Our Lord also says, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your Name, cast out demons in Your Name, and done many wonders in Your Name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Mt. 7:21-23).
Just because someone utters the words Word and Sacrament, that does not necessarily mean that a person is Lutheran. Likewise, just because a person invokes the Name of the Lord and claims to be Christian, that does not necessarily mean that person is a Christian. We are members of St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church, but this does not guarantee us a place in heaven, entry through the narrow door. What matters is not whether our names are listed in the congregational records, but whether our names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life. The Lord warns us in our text, "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 and yourselves thrust out" (v. 28). We claim our Lutheran heritage; yet we forget our Christian faith. We defend our membership; yet we denounce the Messiah. We try to sneak in through the back door, even as we sneak out the back door of the church; yet the one true door is narrow and is closing. The Lord says, "I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved" (Jn. 10:9a), and again, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except though Me" (Jn. 14:6). And as the writer to the Hebrews says to us today in our Epistle, "See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven" (Heb. 12:25), who speaks today from His read and proclaimed Word.
While the door is closing, while the Day is surely drawing near, there is still some time left for us to hear the Word of God and keep it. How do we know there is still time? We know, for our Lord has come to us today in His Word. You have heard Him speak to you as His word was read from the lectern a few moments ago and as it is proclaimed from the pulpit now in your hearing. The Lord is still calling His people to repentance and faith, "For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it" (Is. 55:10-11), says the Lord. "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:3-4). Our Lord continues to come to you in His Word so that you would be saved! He continues to come to you with the message of repentance and forgiveness so that you may turn from your sins and enter through the narrow door, the door that leads to eternal life.
How is it possible that we may enter through the narrow door? Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ opened the door for us because our heavenly Father closed the door to Him on Good Friday for our sake. On the Last Day those who do not believe will knock at the door, saying, "Lord, Lord, open for us!" On Good Friday our Lord hung from the cross and cried, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Mk. 15:34). He, to whom heaven was closed for our sake, overcame death and the grave and by His glorious resurrection opened to us the way of everlasting life. When He had overcome the sharpness of death, He opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. Our Lord has opened heaven's door to us by His death and resurrection. He has sent us His Holy Spirit that He may lead us through the narrow door into heaven.
Our Lord gives us a foretaste of the heavenly Feast as He comes through heaven's door, down to earth, and brings all of heaven with Him as He comes to us in His Supper. We get to eat His body and drink His blood in His presence as He Himself is present in His body and blood. Yes, we still practice closed communion in accordance with the Scriptures, but we do so in the hope that those who may not partake of the Lord's Supper now will desire to be catechized and make the good confession, that they too may have the joy of tasting and seeing that the Lord is good, that they too may enter heaven through the narrow door.
That we may be at the marriage Feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end, our Lord desires that we be dressed appropriately, that we wear banquet clothes. That we may be presentable for passing through the door and dining at the Banquet, our Lord makes us presentable. He makes us presentable by making us clean. He cleans us as He has washed us in the holy, living waters of Holy Baptism. He continues to wash us each day, forgiving our sins as we by His grace live in repentance and faith. He gives us our banquet clothes by robing us in His righteousness, which makes us pure and whiter than snow. Our Lord readies us to pass through the narrow door to the eternal Feast.
In our sinfulness we knock on the door, begging the Lord to open to us. By His grace He opens the door to us, and He leads us through the door into heaven, to eternal bliss. Kyrie eleison: Lord, have mercy upon us. That is to say, Lord, be our Atonement Cover for us, and cover our sins with Your blood. God grant this in Jesus' Name and for His sake.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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