Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (C—Proper 16)
August 21, 2016
Text: Luke 13:22-30
“For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2; ESV). I pray that is as true for me here, in this place, as it was for St. Paul in Corinth. For that is how you should evaluate a preacher. If he preaches Christ crucified for sinners, Christ crucified for you, for the forgiveness of sins, and Christ risen for you, for your eternal life, then well and good. If he has decided to know other things than that among you, to proclaim other things, then run. Flee the preaching. Christ crucified is the narrow door by whom you must enter salvation. There is no other door to eternal life, as Jesus says in another place, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved” (John 10:9), and again, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). There is one thing, and one thing only you require from a preacher: That is Christ crucified for your sins.
As Jesus is on His way through the towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem (Luke 13:22), journeying toward His suffering and death on the cross, someone asked Him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Our Lord does not directly answer the question. Instead he bids the enquirer, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (v. 23). So, what is the answer? The door is narrow. That means it isn’t the obvious door to enter. It looks insignificant. It looks hard. You would not, by nature, choose that door when there are doors wide and plentiful to choose from, all claiming to lead to the Kingdom, doors that look like Kingdom doors, the doors to which the great crowds of people are drawn. If you are to enter the narrow door, someone has to tell you about it. Someone has to preach. Someone has to let you in on the mystery: That door is the one that leads to the Kingdom. That door, and that door only. And they may even have to take you by the hand and lead you there through that door. Everybody else will be entering through some other sort of door. There are the doors of other religions, other gods who are not our God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There are the doors of rugged individualism and self-made success, where everyone is damned but hard workers like you. There are velvet doors of acceptance and affirmation where no one is damned because god loves you just as you are and there is no such thing as sin or hell. There are doors of wisdom, doors of knowledge, doors of pleasure, doors of pain. “Retro” is in, and the doors of good, old-fashioned paganism are popular again. What is unpopular is to say that every one of these broad, attractive, Kingdom-looking doors lead to the same place, and it isn’t heaven. It is hell. It is eternal separation from God. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (v. 28). Preaching the exclusivity of Jesus Christ isn’t popular. But it’s true. There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other Name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). Only the narrow door, Christ crucified, saves you.
What is really unpopular, even among good, Missouri Synod Lutherans, is to point out that many of these big, broad doors are labeled with the brand-name “Christian.” But they lead just as surely to hell as blatant Satanism. I can’t believe I’m telling you to do this, but flip on the old television set this afternoon and tune in to one of the Christians channels. Listen for a minute to the preaching. Now, don’t listen for whether the things he or she is saying happen to be true, or even whether you happen to agree with them. You may agree with 90% of what the preacher is saying (I’m being charitable). But listen for this: Is the preacher preaching Christ crucified for the forgiveness of your sins? Or is he preaching how you can be a better you? How you can earn God’s favor or make God smile? Perhaps he’s preaching about how to manage your marriage or your family or your money faithfully, biblically. Maybe he’s quoting all kinds of Bible verses. That’s all well and good. I can do that, too. I have great tips for your marriage. I can tell you what the Bible says to fathers and mothers and children. I can help you balance your budget and even be generous with your money. All good stuff. But that’s not the Gospel. That won’t save you. If a preacher isn’t preaching Christ crucified for your sins, he’s a robber and a wolf! Run him out of the sheep-fold. And if you can’t run him out, you flee. There are many people who say Christian sounding things and do Christian looking things, but the things they say and do have nothing to do with Christ crucified for the forgiveness of your sins. These actually happen to be Pharisees. And insofar as this is you, repent. When the door is shut, these often sincere and pious people will begin to say to Jesus, “Lord, we’re Christians! We ate and drank in your presence. We went to Communion. We did our duty. You taught in our streets. We heard sermons and went to Sunday School. We turned on the Christian channel every Sunday afternoon like Pastor told us to.” And He will say, “It tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil” (Luke 13:27).
What will surprise everyone in the end is just who it is who will enter through that narrow door and recline at Table in the Kingdom of God. It won’t be good Jews, pious Pharisees, or morally upright Church-going citizens. It will be a multitude from east and west, north and south, Gentiles, tax-collectors, prostitutes, and sinners, drug-addicts and murderers, liars and politicians… Whoever enters not by a righteousness of their own, but solely by the righteousness of Jesus Christ, His sin-atoning death and life-giving resurrection, dispensed right here in preaching and Sacrament to those who could never be worthy in and of themselves. By God’s grace, it will even be you. The last will be first, and the first will be last. Those we thought were rock star Christians may not shine as brightly as we expected. And those we counted out as sinners unworthy of the name “Christian” will be honored above all because they only looked to Christ and His mercy for their salvation. Dr. Rod Rosenbladt, a theology professor at Concordia, Irvine, California, famously said: “Christianity is not about turning an individual from vice to virtue; it is about turning a person from ‘imagined virtue’ to Christ.” Christianity is about showing a person the narrow door carved by nail and spear in the flesh of Christ, by which alone you gain entrance to the eternal joy of your Father’s Kingdom.
The Christian pastor is one who is always pointing to, talking about, shouting about, pulling you toward, dragging you kicking and screaming through… the narrow door. The Christian pastor has one focus in his ministry: Christ crucified for the forgiveness of your sins. And his goal is to make this same Lord Jesus your focus, that we fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2). Fix your eyes on Jesus. Look at Him there on the cross, bearing your sin and putting it to death forever. Look at Him with your ears as He speaks this reality into you. He draws you to Himself. He draws you through the door, the narrow one, His flesh, His wounds, to His Kingdom, His Table.
The Kingdom of God, Jesus says, is a Table at which you recline for a Feast. What is the Kingdom of God? Is it heaven? Oh, yes, it certainly is that. Is it the Resurrection? Absolutely. Remember, the fullness of the salvation Jesus won for us isn’t just heaven, where our spirit goes when we die. It is the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come. But the Kingdom is even more than this. The Kingdom is Jesus Himself. And that means something surprising and absolutely wonderful. The Kingdom has arrived! It’s hidden, yet. It isn’t any more obvious than the narrow door. But it is here. Oh, it is here. Because He is here. Jesus, the Crucified, the Risen One, your Savior. It is He who is speaking to you. I am just His mouthpiece. He is speaking. He is present. He’s here as surely as you are. In His risen body! Even more really present than you are. And what has He done? He has set a Table and He bids you come and recline. Come and rest a spell. Gather around with the rest of the family. Eat and drink and be merry. Feast on His Body and Blood and sing praise. Your sins are forgiven. You are a son, a daughter of God. Join the festal throng with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. Join your brothers and sisters in heaven and on earth, from every nation and tribe and language and people. Even from Idaho.
How do you evaluate a preacher, whether it be the one concluding his ministry among you or the new guy coming in, or for that matter, those who fill the pulpit in between? You don’t ask whether what he’s preaching is true or whether you find it agreeable. You ask whether he’s preaching Christ crucified for the forgiveness of your sins. He may not live up to all your personal expectations. His voice may be annoying. His personality may rub you the wrong way. Maybe he has a face only a mother could love. He will sin against you. But if he preaches Christ crucified, if he gives you Jesus, if he forgives your sins and gathers you around the Table, he’s the guy you need.
I’ll see you again, beloved. If not here, then in heaven. And in the meantime, I’ll meet you at the altar. Every Sunday. I love you. You are family. Thank you for the last ten years. Thank you for everything. I have to go for now, but Jesus isn’t going anywhere. Thank God, He’s right here, where He promised to be, for you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.