130825 Luke 13:22-30

Last Updated on Monday, 26 August 2013 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Luke 13:22-30
Theme: Are Only A Few People Going To Be Saved?

"Are only a few people going to be saved?" That's the question that introduces our text for today. Even though the question is thousands of years old, it hasn't gotten old. In fact, variations of the same question are still popular today.

And when people ask the question, there is usually an agenda behind it, as if the person who is asking thinks he/she already knows the answer. What gives Christians the right to say that Christianity is the only true religion? How can a loving God send people to hell? Of the billions of people on earth do you honestly believe that only a select few will be saved?

Those are tough questions, and a book I am currently reading with our Board of Outreach sets out to provide some answers. The Reason For God is a New York Times bestseller written by a conservative Presbyterian pastor named Timothy Keller. As the title implies Keller relies on reason to make the case for Christianity.

But before he does that, in the first half of the book Keller addresses some of the most common criticisms of the Christian faith. And on the first page of the first chapter this is what he says: "During my nearly two decades in New York City, I've had numerous opportunities to ask people, 'What is your biggest problem with Christianity? What troubles you the most about its beliefs or how it is practiced?' One of the most frequent answers I have heard over the years can be summed up in one word: exclusivity."

Keller was confronted with the same question, and many people have found his answers to be compelling. Books like his (this genre is called Christian apologetics) are a blessing. They are a good resource for a Christian's library, and they can be helpful especially when some of those difficult questions are put to us.

But wouldn't it be nice if instead of relying on these resources we could go back to the original source? Wouldn't it be even better if we could see how Jesus answered these questions? Well, we can and today we will. In Luke 13 the Lord gives us his answer to a question which is ancient and yet relevant...

ARE ONLY A FEW PEOPLE GOING TO BE SAVED?

Jesus' earthly ministry was coming to a close. He had his sights set on Jerusalem where he would eventually suffer and die for the sins of the world. But instead of making a straight line for the holy city Jesus stopped to teach in many of the towns and villages along the way.

In one of those unnamed places an unnamed person raised his/her voice above the crowd and asked: "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved" (23)? It was a simple "yes or no" question, but Jesus didn't treat it that way. Instead of giving a one-word response, instead of addressing the original question, Jesus' answer forced the people to ask themselves a different question: "How can I be sure that I am going to be saved?"

Jesus 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" (24). Jesus' words don't sound very Lutheran, do they? It sounds like Jesus is saying that salvation takes effort. It sounds like Jesus is saying that if we want to get to heaven, we have to strive and strain and force our way through the narrow opening that leads there.

And that goes against everything confessional Lutherans believe. The very idea contradicts at least two of the three "solas" ("by grace alone" and "by faith alone"), not to mention a handful of Bible passages that describe salvation as a gift (Romans 3:20-28, Ephesians 2:8,9, Titus 3:3-7 to name a few).

So if Jesus isn't promoting an alternative path to heaven (which he isn't), then what is he saying? What is Jesus telling us when he urges us to "make every effort to enter through the narrow door?"

He gives us a hint when in the next breath he says that many will try and fail. The truth is people have been unsuccessfully trying to please and appease the gods for thousands of years. Some of them slit their wrists. Others sacrificed their children. Today people are more sophisticated about it, but the end result is the same. We try to be "good," good neighbors, good citizens, good people who contribute to good causes. But nothing a person does, no amount of good things we do can make us good in the eyes of God.

Before sinful people can please God we must acknowledge that we can't please God. Before sinners can walk through the narrow door that leads to heaven we need to understand the only way we can pass through that doorway is on our knees.

Martin Luther had come to an understanding of that biblical truth when he nailed a collection of spiritual statements to another door, the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The first of his ninety-five theses reads: "When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, "Repent," he called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance."

If you think that your good deeds or your good looks will be enough on Judgment Day, you won't fit through the door. If you think that your sins don't amount to much, at least not when you compare yourself to certain people, you won't fit through the door. If you have bought into the idea that God is a God of love and he couldn't possibly leave anyone out in the cold, you won't fit through the door.

Only people who are have been stripped of their self-righteousness, only people who have shed their burden of sin and guilt will be able to get through. And the only way to do that is through repentance.

Sounds pretty simple, doesn't it? You don't have to earn a certain amount of points to gain admittance into heaven. You don't have to earn God's favor to get a pass. You don't have to do anything but trust in Jesus for forgiveness, and God even gives you the faith to believe.

The problem is that sinful people are better at rebelling than repenting. The problem is that the ancient serpent is a master when it comes to convincing people they can make it on their own. The problem is that the world is tempting us 24/7 to trade eternal glory for temporary gratification. That is why Jesus' admonition is necessary. And that is why he follows it up with a strong warning.

Jesus continues: "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'" (25).

If it feels like you have heard this story before it's because you probably have. Jesus spoke about a door and people who were left on the outside looking in in the Parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13). While the details of these two accounts vary the point is the same: The Lord is patient, but even his patience has limits. If you reject God, if you forget about God, if you put other things in your life ahead of God, the time will come when your time of grace will run out. And then it will be too late.

"Then you will say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' But he will reply, 'I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers'" 26,27). If doesn't matter if you are related to Jesus by blood. It doesn't matter if you have known about Jesus from birth. God doesn't care if your great grandfather laid the foundation of this church. He won't recognize anyone who refuses to repent. And he won't hesitate to banish those "evildoers" from his presence forever.

Those are some pretty strong words. Jesus gave the people a strong warning, but he wasn't finished yet. He continued: "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" (28).

What began as the simple question of one person turned into a stinging indictment of an entire people. Jesus' threats exposed them. Jesus' warnings implicated all of them. And I am guessing that Jesus' talk about weeping and gnashing of teeth made them feel more than a little uncomfortable.

The Lord didn't enjoy speaking this way. So why did he do it? Why did he come on so strong? Why did he come down so hard? Because he wanted them (and us) to appreciate what's at stake. Because he wanted them (and us) to understand that our relationship with God is not a game. Souls are at stake. Our eternal destiny is hanging in the balance. And our Lord doesn't want us to be on the wrong side of the door when it is slammed shut.

So will we make it? Can anyone make it? Do we have any reason to have any hope about the future? The answer is "Yes," but you don't have to take my word for it. Instead listen to Jesus' promise: "People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God" (29).

The believers in that crowd could appreciate those words, but probably not as much as the believers who are gathered here today. Jewish believers can take comfort in those words, but not as much as Gentile Christians like you and me. Jesus' promise wasn't just written for us. It was a prophecy about us.
Many Christians, the vast majority of Christians, are not Jewish. We come from all over the world, from north and south and east and west. We speak different languages. We wear different clothes. We eat different foods. But we have the same Savior. We worship the same triune God, and that makes every believer (Jew or Gentile) a child of Abraham.

As a result you and I will not be party crashers at the feast God has prepared in heaven. God has invited you to be his guest, to celebrate with him, to worship him, to thank and praise him. You don't need to make a reservation because God has prepared a special place just for you. You don't have to do anything because Jesus has done everything. He lived a perfect life for you. He died on the cross for you. He rose from the dead and ascended into heaven and now he is eagerly waiting for the day when you will take your place at the eternal banquet in heaven.

The text concludes: "Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last" (30). Luther called those words "enough to frighten the greatest saints." If you think you are standing firm, if you think you have everything under control, be careful so that you don't fall (I Corinthians 10:12). That's an admonition, or even stronger, a warning that demands the attention of everyone who claims to be a follower of Jesus.

But as scary as that statement can be, behind the threat lies an amazing promise for those were last. That promise is for us because we were last. We were enemies of God. We were separated from God. But Jesus didn't close the door on us. Instead he has shown us that there is a way through that narrow door. He says: "I am the way..." (John 14:6).

On Wednesday we officially began a new school year at St. Matthew's, and on Tuesday I will teach the first day of 7th and 8th grade catechism. Because the class meets early in the morning, because some kids might still be in summer vacation mode, there is a chance that a few young minds might be tempted to wander.

In the past whenever I caught students not paying attention, I would ask them a question to get them back on track. And when I did that a couple startled students tried this approach: "I don't know the answer. I didn't even hear the question, but if I say "Jesus" I will have a pretty good chance of being right."

That doesn't always work in catechism class, but it works today. Not everyone is aware of this. Not everyone you know will agree with this. But by the grace of God you and I know. And when we are asked those tough spiritual questions, questions like "How can you be so sure that there is only one way to be saved?" or more important, "How can you be so sure that you are going to be saved?" we know the answer. Jesus is the answer. Amen.

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