Text: Luke 13:22-30
Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
Listen to the sermon here.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I was recently at an airport awaiting a flight. As I sat at my gate awaiting the call to board the aeroplane, I heard an announcement over the PA system. “This is the final boarding call for the flight with service to Milwaukee. Will the following persons please report to Gate 24. The plane is full and is ready to depart. Once the doors are closed, they will not be opened again.” Then, a few moments later, their names were announced again. “If you want to go to Milwaukee, you must come to Gate 24 now. The door is about to close, and you will not be allowed to board.” A confirmed seat is no good if you don’t board the plane on time.
As I read through the Gospel reading for this morning, I was reminded of that situation at the airport. Jesus offers a similar story while he is on his way toward Jerusalem. Jesus wants to remind us that the door of salvation will not remain open forever. If we think about what Jesus is saying, we’ll recognize that this warning is just as vital for us today as it was for those who first heard it.
I. The Door Won’t Always Be Open
Someone asks Jesus, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” and Jesus redirects the question. He refuses to answer the question directly. Our Lord will not give statistics and figures to satisfy our curiosity. Rather than talk about others, Jesus wants to talk about you. Instead of discussing whether a few will be saved, Jesus would like to discuss whether you will be saved. “Whether there are few or many doesn’t matter. Are you going to be saved? Or are you dallying about and in danger of losing it all? Forget about everybody else. Worry about yourself!” Can you sense Jesus’s tone? He’s urgent. He’s emphatic. He’s serious. Why?
Jesus compares salvation to entering a narrow door. The Lord warns that we are in a personal struggle which requires effort because there is much opposition from the devil, the world, and our sinful desires. We don’t need to push open the door; it is open already. Nothing should hinder us from entering through that door while it is open. But the door won’t always be open. Do not let anything keep you from entering while it is open. The idea is that we will be excluded forever unless we get into the kingdom while we can. The window of opportunity is short. The door shuts at your death or the day of Jesus’ appearing. It is also closed when the patience of God comes to an end with unrepentant sinners. The door is shut when God takes the Gospel from those who have despised it. God is patient, but he will not be patient forever. There is only one narrow path and door, and it will not remain open forever. Salvation is offered to you today, and you have no guarantee about tomorrow.
The smart money says, “Don’t delay when it comes to Jesus.” There will be those who find themselves on the wrong side of that narrow door, who bang on it and plead, who argue that they are entitled to be let in. Outward contact with Jesus counts for nothing. The latecomers claim that since they have listened to him, the latecomers say they have even eaten with him, and they should be let in. Simply being in the presence of Jesus or hearing his teaching does not mean one is in a relationship with him that will result in salvation. The fact remains that they did not actually take the opportunity to go in through his narrow door when it was open before them.
We can be so close to the promise of God and yet miss it. People in the Church can assume that they are automatically saved just because they have been born into a Christian family. Like the Jews who thought it was mostly a matter of cultural heritage, some call themselves Christian, not because they personally trust in Jesus, but because of their family connection, because they’re part of a particular congregation, or they have some contact with Christianity. Being close to the Gospel all your life doesn’t make you automatically saved. Salvation doesn’t work by osmosis. Salvation is not a privilege you inherit. Association with a church or being part of a strong Christian family is not enough. It can certainly help. But, the question is not, “Is your family going to be saved?” It’s, “Are you going to be saved?” God doesn’t save us by proxy or through heredity. Once the door is closed, there is no other chance—time’s up. There will be no way of sneaking in, no windows to crawl through, nobody to wake up to unlock the door for you. You will be either in or out. The Lord says to us, “You’d better hurry.” The night is coming when no man can work. Today is the day of salvation. Christ is coming on a day, and hour no man knows. So we had better hurry to enter the kingdom.
But Jesus’ warning can also apply to those who think salvation works automatically. Holy Baptism is much like that airline ticket. You have a confirmed seat on the plane to everlasting life. The ticket was purchased for you by the blood of Jesus. But the door to the aeroplane will not stay open forever. The ticket does you no good at all if you don’t get on board the plane on time. Just because you’ve heard or read the Word doesn’t mean you’ve entered the narrow door. Just because you come to church sometimes doesn’t mean you’ve entered the narrow door. The Word and Sacraments deliver salvation to you, this is true, but they are not magic. Your own personal faith in Jesus is still required. Christ, our Lord, wants us to audit our lives, so we will be sure to take the narrow way. He wants us to take a moment and examine where we stand with God. He wants you to ask yourself: Am I going to be saved? Don’t let your religion or your family deceive you into thinking that you don’t need to personally appropriate salvation. The result of trusting in family is a closed door. Assuming that you’re saved just because you’ve spent your life near Jesus is the ticket to a place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
II. We Enter Through Christ
Jesus doesn’t want you to be a passing acquaintance, a friend of a friend. The central issue is knowing Jesus, not just having casual contact with him. You may think, “Well then, how can I be saved?” And the temptation is to look at yourself. To be “saved” is to be rescued, and to know Jesus means to trust him to rescue you. He has rescued you from sin, death, and the devil’s power. He has given you a life that makes him a part of day-to-day living.
Many seek other ways to get through that narrow door to heaven. They refuse to accept Jesus Christ and try to enter heaven by their own efforts. They may even put forth what seems like a good struggle. But all of these efforts are in vain. Knowing Jesus means giving up on our own efforts and privileges and instead trusting in Jesus’ work for us. Salvation is all God’s work for us in Christ, entirely apart from us. Attempts to get through on one’s own are useless. The striving Jesus is talking about is only possible because of God. God’s Word demands many things of us, but it also gives what it requires. The striving comes when the Word of God calls us to repent and trust in Christ!
Jesus is calling you to trust in Him. Jesus is the narrow door. He is the way to the heavenly feast. There is only one narrow door to heaven, and today this door is open wide! The door is open right now. We have this invitation: come in through the door! God created you. He sees you. Despite your unrighteousness apart from him, God still loves you. He forgives you. He makes you righteous, opens the door to you, and welcomes you to his table. Christ, the everlasting Son of the Father, made upon the Cross a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for your sins. By his death on the Cross, now the way for us sinners has been opened up. It is as open as the empty tomb with the stone rolled away. Christ has overcome the sharpness of death and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. We enter through this open door by trusting in Jesus completely. The empty tomb gives you a glimpse at what is in store for you through faith in him. Life. Resurrection life. Eternal life. Trust in him, trust his promises, and you will be saved. Don’t just be around Jesus. Reach out! Take hold of him by faith! “Faith clings to Jesus’ Cross alone and rests in him unceasing.” (LSB 555.9)
The door will be closed, but we don’t know when. Nothing is more tragic than being close to God’s blessings and missing out. Many think they’re saved because they have heard the Word in a church which teaches the truth. Others assume that since they were members of a Christian family, they’re in automatically. But don’t assume that you’re automatically in just because you’ve been around the church and Jesus all your life. Instead, trust in Jesus. Today the door of salvation is open, and it is open wide. Enter in. There is a sumptuous feast waiting for you there. And you will be joining many. Those who enter get to recline at the wedding feast of the Lamb in his kingdom, which has no end–with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and a whole multitude. Will you be there, seated with them at the feast of salvation? Trust in Jesus, and you will be saved.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.