Faith Strives

Sermon with Hymn of the Day following: Henry V. Gerike, Guest Organist
LSB 510 – A Multitude Comes from the East and the West

Text: Luke 13:22-30
Date: Pentecost XIV (Proper 16) + 8/25/13

Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Or so say some of us…a few of us? “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” A good Jewish question proposed by a good Jewish resident of a town through which Jesus was teaching and journeying. When we quote the crowds of Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes,” we are emphasizing the Lord’s goal, purpose and destiny, which is why St. Luke reminds us today saying that Jesus was “journeying toward Jerusalem.” Only if we keep that goal and destination in mind as we journey with Jesus will we be able to ask the right questions. Our good Jewish man’s question, “will those who are saved be few?” is the wrong question. So Jesus doesn’t talk speak directly about how many or how few will be saved, but he speaks to the man about the master of the house answering “YOU,” saying, “I do not know where YOU come from.” “Then YOU will say….” “Then he will say, “I tell YOU, I do not know where YOU come from.” In other words the only important question has nothing to do with the synodically required statistical report of active and inactive members of your congregation. The only important question is “What about YOU? Will YOU be saved?” Theoretical questions make for a bad Bible study class or sermon and have the effect of deflecting and avoiding the call to repentance and faith.

Oh, it sounds at first like Jesus is answering the man’s question. “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” It sounds like Jesus agrees with the man’s presumption that there will be few, in the end, who will be saved. And He is. The answer is “yes.” But then Jesus’ little story of those wanting to enter the master’s house after the doors have been locked illustrates the real problem. Does it matter that you knew OF Jesus? that you attended the church picnics or potlucks? that you were a pastor or organist or synodical president? Does it matter that you even heard a few sermons? “Lord, open to us. We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.” “I’ve been a member of this church my whole life.” “But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from.’”

How can this be? When Jesus says, “strive,” struggle to enter the kingdom [the Greek word is, literally, “agonize”] He is not saying that salvation is ever a result of your effort or any quality or virtue in yourself. The struggle He is referring to is the struggle of repentance of sin and trusting in God’s promises to you, His creation of a new person by your baptism into Christ. Daily repentance of sin and living according to the faith that is in Christ Jesus is not an easy thing. It is a struggle.

Jesus seeks to shatter any presumption that a mere acquaintance with God or His Church is good enough by describing the inconsolable sorrow of an irreversible judgment. “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” But it’s not just general agony described. For Jesus lists the big heroes of the faith, “when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out.” These all were saved by faith in the promised Messiah of God. But now, when He comes on the scene, when He comes near to you, He is rejected.

We’ve seen evidence of the building rejection of Jesus in Luke’s Gospel; first, of course, according to the prediction of Simeon in the temple, saying, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed” (Luke 2:34). Then He is rejected even by His hometown acquaintances in Nazareth where, “when they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away” (Luke 4:28-30). Some of us have experienced that rejection ourselves. At times like that we remember the beatitude, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets” (Luke 6:22-23). Of course the greatest and most important rejection was yet to come as He completed His journey riding into the Holy City to the shouts of “Blessed is the King!”

The question is, “will those who are saved be few?” The question is, “will you endure, agonize between daily repentance and faith, remain faithful?” The question is, as in the Rite of Confirmation, “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and Church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?” (LSB 273). You said, then, “I do, by the grace of God.” Well, how’s it going?

It is by the grace of God that you are saved. For your salvation is not a result of your own striving of works but by the agony of Jesus Christ on the cross, which He endured not for Himself but for you. The striving or agony required of us, then, is only that of repentance and faith; daily repentance, the daily drowning and death of the Old Adam in us, our fallen, sinful nature, with all sins and evil desires so that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever. As the psalm said today, “The heavens declare His righteousness” (Ps 50:6). By repentance and faith in Christ God declares you righteous, restored, redeemed, saved.

Will there be few? Well, there will be one at a time. So how about you? These days it would seem that there would be few who would be saved. But the prophets of God had the grander vision, the vision of the result of Jesus’ journey to old Jerusalem to die, namely, the new Jerusalem of heaven. “People will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Those we may consider the outcasts, the least likely, will be at the head of the line. I, for one, would rather be last in line than not in line at all.

May you be constantly enabled by God’s Word and Spirit to live a life of daily repentance and faith in Christ. Not only the Christ that drank in our presence and taught in our streets, but chiefly the Christ who journeyed to Jerusalem to die and was raised again from the dead, “that we may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness” forever.