Sermon – Pentecost 11 – August 25, 2019
Luke 13:22-30 ‘The Narrow Door’
CT: The narrow door of salvation is that of repentance; God’s work in us where grace alone saves.
Intro: I can remember Dr. Mayan, a president of Lutheran Church Canada, addressing a group of candidates as they were about to be placed. And he told them the first thing they needed to do as they received their first call was to repent. Repent! I thought to myself: “these men had been accredited by the seminary, approved by the church, and called by a congregation. What did he mean, “Repent?” Since that time I’ve come to realize how important that is. But it’s not easy; it takes us out of our comfort zone much like a husband admitting to his wife he took the wrong turn. Repentance is a thread that is woven through all of Scripture and is crucial to understanding our Gospel reading today.
The Question: As Jesus journeyed toward Jerusalem, someone asked him, “Lord will those who are saved be few?” It’s like an exam in which most of the students think they’ve failed, and one asks the professor: “Did only a few pass?” The question he’s really asking is, “Did I pass the test?” And the man is asking Jesus, “Am I among those being saved?” Jesus’ answered: “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” Jesus directs our generic questions about others where they belong; start by examining yourself! Not so unlike Dr. Mayan’s advice to that group of Sem graduates. Repentance takes away any sense of ruling over others, and leads to serving others out of a humbling grip on how much God has forgiven me.
The Struggle: Luke chapter 13 begins with people telling Jesus about a recent tragedy, where we might say innocent lives were lost. And Jesus’ responded by saying, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Jesus began His ministry with, “Repent and believe in the Gospel!” (Mark 1:15)
We like to make repentance all about what we do. Like the joke about the man who won a contract to paint the church only to find out that his margins were a bit thin. So he devised a plan and thinned out the paint with water. “No one will notice,” he said. He painted one whole side of the church and things looked like they were going well, when suddenly a large black cloud appeared a poured rain against the side of that church, washing away all the fresh paint. Then there came a voice from above, “Repaint and thin no more!” You see, repentance is just something more for us to do…or is it?
Repentance is the striving Jesus calls for, “Strive to enter through the narrow door,” and it’s not a call to up your game or increase your moral effort. Jesus had just healed a crippled woman on the Sabbath and was called out on it by the synagogue ruler for working on the Sabbath. But Jesus pointed out his hypocrisy: “Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for 18 years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?” Now if the moral efforts of these strict followers of the Law failed them, how then will I enter through this narrow door? You can see the person’s concern; if it depends on me, what hope do I have?
Well there is hope because it’s not about my moral efforts, my skill at making me look good before others; there is hope because of God’s work for you and in you. The struggle by which one enters is repentance, which is the outcome of God’s work in you. It’s a struggle that begins when the God’s Word and the water of your Baptism make you alive in Christ to strive against your sinful nature. And it’s a struggle because your sinful nature is at war against God’s Word—as an enemy; a war that’s as old as Adam and Eve. It’s the struggle every Christian faces. St. Paul wrote about in Romans 7:“I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing … Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (cf Romans 7:19-25)
Repentance: Repentance is not about being sorry because you were caught, nor is it about coming clean before God in the hope that you can cut a better deal out of fear of punishment. And repentance is not simply turning away from doing what is wrong; it’s turning toward our God in whom there is forgiveness through the blood of Christ. Repentance is the life of the Christian, where you live out your Baptism, daily dying to sin and rising to newness of life. As Martin Luther said, “We exert ourselves to the utmost to enter the kingdom by true repentance. This is the opposite of indifference, being careless, or living in false security.” Faith in who Jesus is and what He has done for me, and what He has prepared for those who love Him brings us to repent. Any outward actions begin with faith’s work inside. As you strive to enter through the narrow door, you will bear witness to your struggle with sin to all those around you. It’s not how good you are that bears witness to God’s saving work; it’s in your ongoing struggle with sin; it’s in how much He has forgiven you that speaks God’s Good News to others. Repent and believe the glad news of God.
Urgency: Yet, simply by knowing a Christian or dropping Jesus’ name will not get a person through the narrow door. There is urgency in Jesus’ words today. This is the time of God’s favour; His Word is in your ears today bringing people by faith through the narrow door. And the door is open as long as a person lives or until Jesus returns, but then it is closed forever. There are no do-overs or retries. Jesus’ words contradict the ‘All is Well’ spirituality in the wind today; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. The last verse of Isaiah 66 says: “Their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” Hell is a real and frightening absence of God.
Yet by grace you are striving to pass through the narrow door. Living your Baptism is your new life in Christ, in which repentance will not allow you to be complacent about sin or lukewarm toward forgiveness. In the midst of your struggle with sin you have Jesus’ assurance that the great banquet at the end of the ages will be filled, for “people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.” Yes, the door is narrow, but the miracle is that Jesus is the open door for you; His suffering, death, and resurrection are for you. And by grace alone, through faith alone, you repent, trusting solely in our God who richly and daily forgives your sins for Jesus’ sake.
You know this; you live this; you confess this that others too will live in the confidence of their salvation in Jesus Christ alone. I’ve seen God at work in you. So yes, never tire of the hard work of repentance, for this is God at work in you, “both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” (cf Philippians 2:13)