Sermon for Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Aug. 25, 2013
Proper 16, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Luke 13:22-30
Sermon Theme: “Enter Through the Narrow Door!”
(Sources: Brokhof, Series C, Workbook; Emphasis Online Illustrations; original ideas)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Several years ago, people in a town along the Texas Gulf Coast were warned of an approaching hurricane and told to leave their homes and the locality. Most people believed the weather bureau, and, on their advice, left the area. Others, however, refused to heed the warnings and decided to remain. Among those who refused to leave were two groups of people.
One group simply made light of the warnings and prepared a big party with eating, drinking, and entertainment, pretending like nothing was happening. The other group recognized the danger but felt God would protect them if they prayed, so they gathered in their local church to demonstrate their faith in the power of prayer. The hurricane hit the town with a tremendous force and both groups perished!
In our sermon text for today, Jesus exhorts us to have the narrow-door type of faith; otherwise, He doesn’t know where we are coming from. Sometimes our views on faith are distorted. We must realize that our faith can be strengthened by the knowledge and intelligence of others. Yes, the knowledge and intelligence of others.
To be sure, defying common sense, and rejecting the sound advice of others can hardly be called deep faith in God, because He often speaks to us through others. To believe that God is supposed to make a unique exception just for you and so openly ignore the wisdom of people whom He has sent to lead you or at least warn you is, in essence, faithlessness. The Lord’s voice can be heard even through the U. S. Weather Bureau.
Being a Christian unfortunately does not keep us from doing the wrong thing in the wrong manner. Living in a permissive, feel-good society, many people do not like to hear the words of Jesus in today’s text. Also, steeped in the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone, many Lutherans even question the validity of what Jesus says in the text. We need to examine what Jesus says here and clarify the issues.
In the text, when Jesus is asked, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?,” He answers, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then He will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’”
One year at Vacation Bible School, a young boy told me this about his father: “My father pretends to be one thing in church, praying and everything. But at home he drinks and shouts and mistreats mom and us.” Will this boy’s father be allowed through the narrow door to heaven? The problem is that this double life of his calls his faith into question; his actions suggest that he really is not one who believes in Jesus.
To those like that who say they believe in Jesus, the Lord says in the text, “I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!” In that place, hell, where they will go, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Once there was a preacher who was preaching on this, and he warned that those who do not do right and are not in an authentic relationship with Christ, would gnash their teeth. A smart aleck in the congregation, wanting to make fun of the preacher, shouted, “What about those who don’t have their teeth?”
The preacher quickly replied, “Teeth will be provided.”
To be sure, the picture language in the text is pretty clear. Jesus is talking about the narrow door to heaven. Any door can be a means of entrance as well as a way to exclude someone. It matters whether the door is open or closed, whether it is wide enough for all, or narrow to allow only a few. The question asked of Jesus in our text is still being asked in churches today: “Will those who are saved be few?” And in our hearts, we add, “Will I be among the saved?” Jesus makes it clear that not all who think they are going to heaven will get there. Jesus answers in terms of doors.
There are four kinds of doors that a person can face. ONE, the open door; TWO, the narrow door, THREE, the closed door, and FOUR, the glass door. Let’s talk about each of these.
First, the open door. Verse 29 tells us that the door to the Kingdom is open to all regardless of nation or race. Christianity is a universal religion. God desires all people to be saved. The Church needs to remember this so that it does not counter God’s plan.
Second, the narrow door. Although God wants all to be saved, not all will qualify. It is a narrow door of obedience to God’s laws, — we will talk about that more in a minute.
Third, the closed door. According to verses 25-27, Jesus makes it clear that the door is closed to religious people who thought they were going to heaven: “We ate and drank in your presence,” they said. The door is closed to the wicked, “workers of evil,” whether they are in or out of the church. Some will be shut out of heaven by their own evil condition. Don’t think that church membership gives you a free pass.
Fourth, the glass door. Through the door the lost will see who made it inside the Kingdom. Verse 28 says, “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, but you yourselves cast out.” Those who have the door closed in their face will see those who are inside.
In her short stories, famous American author, Flannery O’Connor is no friend of hypocrites. In her story “Revelation,” the central character is Mrs. Turpin, a very large woman who is absolutely sure of her righteousness. She is the very epitome of self-righteousness. Through the use of humor, O’Connor lays bare Mrs. Turpin’s faults as the story proceeds. But of course only the reader sees her faults; Mrs. Turpin has no idea that she has any until, just before the end of the story, she suffers a vision.
While gazing at the sky, Mrs. Turpin suddenly witnesses a vast throng of souls thrashing towards heaven. To her shock, sheer lunatics stream before her. So do poor neighbors, uneducated folks, and people who look like they have just had a bath for the first time in their lives. At the very end of the procession she sees the only group she recognizes.
They alone march in perfect step. Only they sing on key. They move with unimpaired dignity, and yet Mrs. Turpin can see from the stunned expression on their faces, that their self-supposed goodness is being seared away. Just as with the case of the others, only by the grace of God are they in the procession at all.
And that’s exactly the point our sermon text makes! Who will be saved? Not necessarily any one nation or race, says verse 29. Not necessarily church people, says verses 26 and 27. Who then? They who walk through the narrow door of obedience, says verses 24 and 27.
But understand this clear and straight: We are saved by grace through faith alone, and not by good deeds. ‘OK, then,’ you say, ‘Why do we have to walk through the narrow door of obedience?’
Because, the test of true faith is obedience to God’s will. First, we are saved by faith in Christ’s atoning work on the cross, and then the confirmation of our faith is manifested in our obedience. If you say you have faith, yet you make no attempt to obey the Ten Commandments, repeatedly and knowingly violating them, then you are either a liar or you’ve fooled yourself. If you truly have faith, truly believe in Jesus Christ, then you cannot and will not flaunt your disobedience. Sure, as fallen human beings, we will make mistakes, we will sin, but we will want to obey, want to be forgiven, and want to praise Him!
As our Psalmody for today says, “Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol Him, all peoples! For great
is His steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!” Amen.