What Christ & Christians Have to Say . . ./ Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Luke 13:22-30

Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as He made His way to Jerusalem. Someone asked Him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”

He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.

Chances are good that you’ve had to deal with it. Maybe someone has said it to you, or perhaps you’ve only just anticipated it, expecting to hear it if you actually got around to sharing the truth about Jesus Christ.

“It” is the question, or, in some cases, the objection, so, are you saying that, according to what you believe, the only people who are going to be saved are those who believe what you believe about this Jesus of yours? Sometimes the question comes from a true lack of knowledge, the person you’re talking to really has never heard that Jesus Christ is the only Way, the only Truth, the only Life before. He or she is curious as much as anything, looking for clarification, because such an “exclusive” message sounds pretty strange to their ears in this “anything goes” kind of society we live in.

At other times, the question is more of an accusation. It comes from someone who already understands that our message, Christ’s message, the Gospel, is exclusive. He doesn’t like to be told that he’s going to be left out of heaven because of what he believes and does, or she just doesn’t like the idea that anyone would be so, in her mind, judgmental and arrogant, to say that some people are going to be saved, and others aren’t.

It’s a very modern dilemma that the Christian finds himself in, because the whole idea that we might actually possess a spiritual truth whose acceptance or rejection determines whether other people are saved or not goes against the attitudes of our western culture, first, because no one is supposed to be able to define truth for anyone else, when everything’s relative, and second, because it’s so “arrogant” to presume to actually know, with certainty, what’s going to happen to anyone at the end of life. These ideas we’re up against are so common in our society that chances are you’re like me in this respect, you’ve dealt with this question more in anticipating it than you do, you expect it so much it affects your sharing of the Gospel before you ever even open your mouth. And in some cases, it may even keep you from opening your mouth in the first place.

But you know what? As modern as both the objection and the curiosity might be, there’s also nothing new about them. Jesus Himself dealt with the same thing, and because of that, the Bible gives us His example of how to deal with it. That’s what our gospel reading today is. Now sure, we usually look at these verses as a direct invitation from Jesus to leave self-righteousness, any trust in yourself or anything else, behind and believe in Him, and they are, but look at the question that starts it all off: Someone asked Him, Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?

That’s not the question of someone who’s never heard Christ’s message, it’s the question of someone who has heard it and has realized just how different and radical it is. It’s either asking for clarification of this new teaching or making an accusation against Him because of it. And so, there’s a lot we can learn, and apply, from how Jesus answered. He shows us what to say to the critical and to the curious, and gives us a message for the complacent.

And now you’re probably thinking I’m going to give you three different messages. But I can’t. Because Jesus said the same thing to all three types of people. His answer is not only practical, but also universal, it applies to any situation. Christ gave, and gives us to use, the one narrow-minded message of Law and Gospel.

Note what He didn’t do here, He didn’t let Himself get bogged down in the philosophical, logical, or the intense emotional issues that people bring up when they hear that He is the only way to heaven. It wasn’t important for Him to win any intellectual arguments, or reassure someone that the Gospel was exclusive, it wasn’t arrogant or judgmental, His heartfelt concern was, as ours is: saving people’s souls, because people mattered to Him and they matter to us. His objective was to take as many people to heaven as possible.

And so, He stuck to the basics. He used the same tools He’s given us, the only tools that can get anyone to heaven: Law and Gospel, the message of sin and grace.

He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” Jesus is the “narrow door”, and anyone who is trying to enter through any way other than that door, isn’t getting in.

Then Jesus speaks of the end: once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, in other words, once you die or Judgment Day comes, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, `Sir, open the door for us.’ And the owner says I don’t know you. But then you’ll say, wait a second! We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets. That’s what the people of His age would say. People of our age might say, but I grew up in a Christian family! Our society is basically Christian. I tried really hard to live the way I understood You wanted us to live.

But Jesus will have none of it: I don’t know you! We don’t have a relationship. Away from Me, all you evildoers! What’s going to happen to them then? Out there in the street, there will be weeping … and gnashing of teeth,

Our reading from Isaiah makes it even more graphic. And Jesus tells them they will weep, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, meaning that they’ll be on the outside looking in at those who did believe, and they will say, “Why not me?” when they find themselves “thrown out”.

It is a severe preaching of the law, the consequences of unbelief. What a tragedy of unbelief. But what a greater tragedy, because it’s an eternal tragedy, when anyone, a spouse, a child, a parent, a friend, a neighbor, a stranger, an enemy, even a terrorist, when anyone rejects God’s grace and gift of life by rejecting Jesus in unbelief.

We believe in hell. We do. But do we live, do we speak, do we act, as though the unbelievers around us are going to spend eternity in hell?

Because there are many ways to die, and there are many ways to hell, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, materialism, agnosticism, selfishness, etc. but there’s only one way to life, one way to heaven, and that’s through the narrow door that is Jesus Christ. The narrow door, because there’s only one way in, and because you can’t bring anything in with you, none of your own works, none of your own selfish thoughts or ways, nothing. And that narrow door is what makes us Christians “narrow-minded”.

Our message isn’t a message of arrogance or elitism. It’s not pride or prejudice. It’s grace, which is an amazing and miraculous thing, that doesn’t fit the world’s way of thinking any more than the message of the law does. But grace is God’s way of thinking, and that’s really the only one that matters, isn’t it? And what is that way of thinking?

You can put it into words, you know. Maybe you’ll use John 3:16, God’s way of thinking was that He so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son…. Or maybe you’re not going to stick with something memorized and you’re just going to put it into your own words: you know what? We were scum. We are scum. We’re sinners and we’ve been sinners since before we were even born, and we keep on sinning every day and in every way. And yet, when God looked down at you and me, He still loved us. Even though everything we ever did was thumbing our noses at Him, He loved us. So, what did He do? Something amazing, something incredible, He took His one and only Son and He sent Him down to earth, and He said, You go and live a perfect life, because they can’t. You obey all the laws that they keep on breaking. You do it for them. And because I’m still a just God as well as a loving God, and because there’s still a payment that has to be made for their sins, a payment of blood, a payment of death, You, Son, You go to the cross and die for them, too. That was God’s way of thinking. It was Christ’s way of thinking, and that’s why He did it, why He came, and why He died.

See? I didn’t just say anything you didn’t know. You could have said that, too. That was Jesus’ response, He gave them the gospel just as we do. That’s the message. And it’s an amazing message of grace.

If a friend of yours says, yeah, I understand. You’re a Christian. It’s good for you, what you believe. But how can you be so arrogant as to tell me that I’m not going to heaven because I don’t believe what you believe? Well, you don’t have to get into that argument. You can say, because we’re all sinners, I’m a sinner, and you’re a sinner. So, I’m not saying I’m any better than you. And you know what? Here’s the wonderful thing: that even though we’re sinners, Jesus Christ came died on the cross to save us all. So, you can be saved too, you don’t have to be left out.

And when you’re talking to someone at work, and he says, so you’re telling me that this Christian message that I’ve heard about, means only the people who trust in Jesus are going to be saved? You can say, well, yeah, that’s true, but let me tell you how it works. You see, anyone who trusts in himself, he’s going to end up on the outside looking in. But when you trust in Jesus, when you look to Him for your salvation, BAM! He saves you, all of us! Isn’t that great? It’s not so hard.

Of course, what about the person who says, well, whether it’s few or many going to heaven, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be one of them. Because, you know, I went to church pretty much most of my life. I was raised in a Christian family. I was confirmed. Yeah, I’m pretty sure I’ll be one of the saved.

Well, Jesus also has a message for those people, the same message we have for them: make every effort to enter through the narrow door. Because saying, we ate and drank with you, or saying I went to church, won’t be enough unless you placed, and kept your trust in, and only in, Jesus Christ.

Imagine a new resident on one of the barrier islands off the Florida coast. And imagine that this is an island that has one road and one bridge on and off the island. And they call for evacuation. Imagine that man calling the long-time residents “narrow-minded” or “arrogant” when they tell him, hey, there’s only one way off the island, and you’d better get off! You’d better hurry! He’d say, phooey, narrow-minded fools! And can you imagine him calling the police names, when they point out to him, hey, there’s only one way to safety? And of course, you can then imagine him later blaming the government and society for failing him when the hurricane wipes him out.

Or what about the person who is so afraid of the Covid or Monkey Pox that going outside is considered a death sentence, watches the NEWS, is terrified and won’t socialize with anyone. Even decides, I’ll even watch ten minutes of the worship service and go back to living in the manmade cave of my house.

Now, if you’re the one hearing such comments, you’re not going to let yourself get bogged down debating the finer points of whether you’re being “narrow-minded”, or “elitist”, or “over-excited”. You’re not going to be distracted or slowed down, because you recognize the danger, that hurricane is coming, and you also know the way to safety, there’s a road and a bridge right over there. And so, what you’re going to do as you talk to these people, whether you’re a long-time resident or police officer or whatever, is keep that message straight and clear, because it’s the only thing that matters. Go over there! Get on that road! Cross that bridge to safety! You want to get as many people to safety as you can, and you recognize that it isn’t going to be your brilliantly logical arguments, your charismatic personality, or your physical strength that’s going to save anyone. The only thing that’s going to save anyone will be listening to and trusting your message. That’s where your focus and your efforts will be, even if you end up having to repeat yourself a hundred times. That’s the way to get people to safety.

So, if someone asks you, so, are you saying that only a few, only certain people, only those who believe what you do, only they are going to be saved? You have an answer, the only answer, really. I certainly hope it’s not going to be just a few who are saved. That’s not what anyone wants. But whether it’s few or many, I want you to be one of them. I want you to take your place with me at the feast in the kingdom of God. I want you to be saved. So please, accept the invitation, trust in Jesus. He is your one and only Savior. Please, enter through the narrow door. Believe in Him. Amen.