Pentecost 14c

Preached: September 2, 2007

Am I Going to Be Saved?
Luke 13:22-30

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who pours out his Spirit on us through his Word and Sacraments. That Word for today is Luke 13

[Jesus] journeyed through the cities and villages teaching and making his way to Jerusalem. Someone said to him, Lord, are there few who will be saved?
He said to them, Struggle to enter through the narrow gate. For many, I say, will seek to enter and not be able to from whenever the master of the house will get up and shut the door. You will begin to stand outside and knock at the door saying, Lord, Lord, open for us! He will reply and say to you, I don't know you, from where you are. Then you will begin to say, We ate in your presence and drank, and you taught in our streets. He will say, I say to you: I do not know you, from where you are. Go way from me, all you evildoers. 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 being thrown out. They will come from the east and the west from the north and the south and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. Behold, there are those who are last who will be first, and there are those who are first who will be last.

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints of God:

We often like to ask hypothetical questions, the what if questions. We feel safer if we're not personally involved as the subject. For the same reason, abstract questions, like the one someone asked Jesus in the text, feel safer as well. We speculate about the answer, engage our thinking, without actually having to examine our inner self or challenge where our commitments in life are.

But notice how Jesus takes this impersonal question, Are only a few people going to be saved? and he gives a very personal answer. His answer leads each one of us today to examine our own heart and life. And rather than asking an abstract question that just deals with indefinite people out there, we are lead to ask, Am I, myself, going to be saved?

A. Contend in faith.

Make every effort to enter through the narrow door (Luke 13:24 NIV), Jesus says. Sometimes we fall into the false notion that the Christian life is easy street. The Bible clearly teaches that we're saved by grace alone, not by our works. Jesus did everything for us. Our sinful mind takes these wonderful gospel truths and reasons: Jesus has given me the push I needed. Now I just coast into heaven on the skateboard of salvation. Such thinking certainly coasts, but not into heaven, rather downhill into hell, picking up speed all the way.

Make every effort to enter through the narrow door (Luke 13:24 NIV). The NIV translation, Make every effort, doesn't seem to me to fully grasp the Greek word which the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to record, the word ἀγωνίζεσθε. That word often describes an athletic contest with two opponents contending against each other. Picture a high school wrestling match: Two wrestlers locked in a hold, every muscle straining, contending with all their might, striving for victory, struggling on. That's the Christian life. That's the life that takes up its cross and follows Christ.

Someone outside of Jesus may hear these words and says, See, Christianity like any other religion says you have to open heaven's door by striving and struggling to do the right thing. But when we are in Christ, we see that that thinking totally twists Jesus' words.

Why does the Christian contend and struggle on? Is it because we are driven by doubt and fear that heaven's door is closed unless we have done enough to open it? That's the driving force of our sinful flesh.

Faith sees things entirely differently. Faith sees that the door has already been opened, not by our striving, struggling efforts, but by Jesus alone. Even in this illustration, Jesus describes the door as already opened. That's why Jesus came to this earth. His cross cut through the chains of our sins that barred and locked heaven's door to us. His rising from the dead flung open the door to heaven so that Satan and death cannot close it. For us he opens wide the door Of Paradise today. The angel guards the gate no more; To God our thanks we pay. To God our thanks we pay (Christian Worship 41:6).

As Christians we contend in faith and struggle on because to open heaven for us Jesus has paid the greatest price of all: His once-and-for-all bloody sacrifice on the cross. We contend in faith and struggle on because his resurrection freely gives us the victory. Why lose it by letting go of his promise? So we contend and struggle on not in doubt and fear but with the certainty of faith that knows that Jesus keeps his promises.

Faith, your faith, strives and struggles against sin. You want to serve your Lord who has ransomed you to be his very own. Faith, your faith, turns to him for the Holy Spirit that gives you the strength to say No! to sin and to serve him in righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. And when we fail, our faith turns to Jesus each and every day and prays, Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin (Psalm 51:1, 2 NIV).

This daily repentance and faith is not like coasting on a skateboard. It is a daily struggle, a daily wrestling match. You, who are saved, contend in faith. Struggle on. Enter through the narrow door.

B. Attend to his Word

Where do we find the strength to struggle on, to contend in faith each day? That strength comes only from the Holy Spirit working through his Word in the Scriptures and the Sacraments. As you contend in faith, attend to his Word. Pay attention to it. Take it to heart, before it's too late.

Jesus says the time will come when he closes the door. Then those on the outside will begin to knock and claim that they ought to be let in. We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets (Luke 13:26 NIV), they'll say. They knew Jesus, but they didn't believe in him. They didn't trust him. He taught in their streets, but they didn't take what he said to heart. They didn't attend to his Word, making it part of their life and being.

Just as many in Jesus' day, knew of him but did not believe in and trust him, so also we must guard ourselves against that danger. Growing up learning about Jesus is a great blessing. But watch out that your familiarity with him doesn't lead you to take him for granted. Don't think that since you belong to a conservative, Bible-based church you have it made.

That's similar to the way many of the Jews in Jesus' day felt. They were part of God's Old Testament people. They had the temple and the sacrifices. They had the law and the prophets. If only a few were going to be saved, it certainly would be us Jews, they claimed. They had it made, or so they thought.

But what does Jesus say to them? I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers! There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out (Luke 13:27, 28 NIV).

Hell, that place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, awaits all who have not paid attention to Jesus and attended to his Word. And what added sorrow and grief, if you had had God's Word all around you, but neglected to attend to it and take it to heart!

See the warning for you and me? Don't delay putting God's Word into practice because you figure you can do it tomorrow. Tomorrow the door may be closed. Then like so many Jews of Jesus' day, you will be left with only weeping and gnashing of teeth in hell. That's why many who were first in the blessing of having God's Word around them all their lives will end up last, shut out from heaven. But those who may have been last to have the blessings of God's Word but put that word first in their heart and life, will enjoy heavenly banquet for all eternity.

Take God's Word to heart today and every day. Attend to it. Especially when you have opportunities to hear it in public worship, to study it in Bible class, and to read it at home. Why neglect any one of them? Rather attend to his word. Put it into practice. Believe his promises. Trust them as your only hope and salvation. Yes, depend on his promises. For his promises are meant for you.

C. Depend on his promise

People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God (Luke 13:29 NIV). His promise of forgiveness, his promise of salvation, his promise of eternal life is for you. Whether you come from the east or the west or the north or the south, his promise is for you. Depend on his promise, since his promise is for you.

Jesus came to be your own Savior from sin. His cross and empty tomb opened the door of heaven for you. God so loved the world, including even you, that he gave his only-begotten Son, gave him for you, so that whosoever, including you, believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life, including you. Depend on his promise, for his promise includes you.

That's why Jesus turned this abstract question personal. It doesn't matter whether few or many will be saved. That kind of question leads to pride thinking that I'm among the few saved, or to complacency thinking that if many are saved I can coast into heaven, or to despair wondering how anyone like me could be among the saved.

It doesn't matter whether many or few will be saved. What matters is are you going to be saved. Jesus has turned us to examine our own hearts and ask, Am I going to be saved? And into the hopelessness of the sin and darkness that lurks within us, Jesus' promise shines with light and life. Am I going to be saved? If it depended on me, the answer is certainly not. Then I would be damned. But Jesus promises forgiveness in his blood. He promises salvation from his cross. He promises eternal life because of his victory over death. His promises do not fail. I depend on his promise. And that is your faith as well. His promise gives you the sure and certain answer to the question.

Depend on his promise. And since his Word brings us the promise, attend to his Word. And as you depend on his promise and attend to his Word, then you are able to contend in faith. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313