Moving Towards the Narrow Door
Fourth in a Series of Five Sermons
August 24 and 25, 2019
Luke 13:22-30 / Isaiah 66:18-23 / Hebrews 12:4-24
Now that our church and school finances seem to be in order, at least for a time, and now that we are fully staffed at both church and school / no less than three pastors doing what pastors do / we have been asking the question, “Now What?”
Three weeks ago – moving away from covetousness and greed towards contentment. Two weeks ago – moving away from anxiety and worry towards certainty. Last week – moving away from a false sense of peace towards division / true unity. Today the Spirit of God would move us away from lukewarm Christianity towards an on fire for Jesus Christ kind of Christianity. Away from a comfortable and lollygagging sort of routine towards a drowning the old sinful nature inside of us through contrition and repentance kind of a routine so that the new life in Christ that is in us might rise up and be ruling. Away from the idea that there are several different ways to get into heaven towards the truth that there’s only one admission ticket into heaven, His Name is Jesus Christ.
The Ticketmaster rule
Speaking of tickets, Debi and I have had a friendly ten years or so long disagreement about tickets. Specifically airline tickets. She is of the opinion that we should get our boarding passes on our cell phones and just scan them in as we board the plane. I have stubbornly resisted the idea and have insisted on paper tickets that I can feel and touch and hold onto and treasure.
And so imagine my dismay when I purchased a couple of Vikings tickets through Ticketmaster recently and discovered that there are no paper tickets, only cell phone tickets. I spent a fair amount of time trying to print them off, then sending an email or two to the Ticketmaster authorities, even going on the chat line and saying something like, “are you kidding me, I want paper tickets that I can feel and touch and hold onto and treasure!” Their answer was no, there’s only one way to be admitted to a Vikings – through a narrow little gate with cell phone in hand.
Speaking of narrow gates, our theme today is “Moving Towards the Narrow Door.” Two snapshots of Jesus I put before you today. The first snapshot is Jesus delivering a stern warning, and the second is Jesus encouraging with the Gospel.
Snapshot #1 is that With great sadness in His heart, Jesus would plead with us in these days to quit (dilly-dallying). We see the sadness in Jesus’ heart when he looks out over the city of Jerusalem, he thinks about their unwillingness to be gathered as a mother hen gathers her chicks, and he cries. We see the sadness in Jesus’ heart in Luke 18 where he tells the story of a widow persisting in prayer, and then he asks the question, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
We can be sure that the number 1 cause of sadness in the heart of Jesus is sinners refusing to repent. Sinners putting off repentance until a later date. Sinners laying up treasures for themselves here on earth instead of heaven. Sinners procrastinating with regard to getting right with God. One of mom’s favorite words for procrastinating was dilly-dallying. When the school bus was honking and my sisters were late one more time, she would tell them to quit their dilly-dallying. When my brother and I would dawdle instead of getting at our homework, she just might say, no more dilly-dallying.
When it came time for Jesus to get to a little hill outside of Jerusalem and lay down his life, he did the opposite of dilly-dallying. There was no procrastinating, no delaying, no being distracted. He resisted to the point of shedding his blood and beyond. He struggled, he suffered, he agonized, he was crucified until he was dead and buried so that we could be saved. Again and again in this place we say that we are saved by the grace of God, but that the grace of God never comes alone. The same grace that saves our sorry souls is designed to be moving us in a new direction, it’s designed to grow us up into Jesus Christ.
In our text for today, Jesus gives us the opposite of dilly-dallying when he says that we should strive or struggle to enter through the narrow door. “To struggle or to strive in this text, simply put, is to repent. It is to do the opposite of relaxing and vacillating and loafing, it is to daily drown the old adam with contrition and repentance, that the new life in Christ might rise up and rule. Listen carefully now, the struggle, the striving, the repentance is produced inside of us as the Word of God both Law and Gospel do their work.
The Greek word that’s used here is the word from which we get our English word “agonize.” It’s the word that was used in Greek of athletes in competition, like at the Olympics. Those athletes agonize to win the prize. Same here. We agonize, we sweat, we strive, we struggle, we press on to run the race, keeping our eyes on the prize, keeping our eyes on the crown of life that God freely awards us for Christ’s sake. The paradox of the Christian life is that it’s an absolute gift and an agonizing struggle at the same time.
Not one, not two, but three warnings Jesus would deliver today. Three warnings in response to the questioner who asks, “Lord, are those who are being saved few?” As is often the case, Jesus doesn’t answer the question straight up. He will not let this questioner examine others without challenging him to examine himself. These three warnings seem to ask, “O questioner, will you be saved?”
Warning #1 is that the door is narrow, and therefore many will not be able to enter. Several of the parables of Jesus compare salvation to a great feast or banquet given by a king. Entrance to the feast is gained by going through a small door one at a time.
The kingdom of God is like a man who every so often says to himself, “I really should start going to church….I really should start reading my Bible…..I really should apologize to a few folks I have wounded.” But the day never comes.
Warning #2 is that the day is coming when the door will be shut, never to be opened again. The master in our text is Jesus. He ate and drank with these first century Jews, and he taught them in the streets. He is about as patient as a master can be, yet there is a limit to how long he will let it go.
The kingdom of God is like all kinds of folks who were hoping to get into heaven by being decent folks, they were thinking they could sneak in by having their good works outweigh their bad, but in fact on the last day they hear the Master say, “I don’t know who you are.”
Warning #3 is that for those who choose death by not repenting will spend their eternity by weeping and gnashing of teeth, they will see the patriarchs and the saints in heavenly reunion, but they will be thrown outside.
The kingdom of God is like a person who goes through life saying what he wants to be saying, he makes a career out of burning bridges and telling people, and as life goes on, he finds himself as alone and as miserable and as full of regrets as a man can be. Snapshot #1 - With great sadness in His heart, Jesus would plead with us in these days to quit (dilly-dallying).
Snapshot #2 is that With great urgency in His voice, Jesus would encourage us in these days to move off the (dime). Martin Luther is pretty famous for standing up to the authorities of his day, preaching and teaching and holding on to pure doctrine, and defiantly proclaiming, “here I stand.” But standing in the same place in terms of preaching true doctrine is different than standing still in terms of taking the Gospel and spreading it near and far.
Luther on the Gospel: The Gospel has its course and runs from one city to another; today it is here, tomorrow in another place just as a downpour passes and now rains here, no in another place, and makes the land moist and fruitful.
The question of this sermon series is “now what?” Now that we are staffed in a strong way both in church and school, now that our financial books are in the black for the first time in a long time, now what? Today’s answer is that we would be a congregation of redeemed sinners every day striving to be close and to stay close to Jesus Christ, every day struggling with our own sinful natures to the end that the Spirit of God could be ruling and rising up in our midst, every day repenting that the forgiveness of sins might be front and center and contagious in our midst.
To get off the dime is an expression I remember hearing back in the day. It means to get moving and to stop wasting time. I read this week that back in the 1920’s and 1930’s, taxi dancers were female dance hall employees whose livelihood was dancing with any men who paid for the opportunity. The usual fee was ten cents, but that’s not what “dime” in get off the dime meant. Dancing with man after man for hours on end was tiring business, and the women often draped themselves over their partners, and the dancing could turn into suggestive and sexual activity. Although the men didn’t object, the dance hall managers did. That sort of dancing could lead to police being called and even the moral judges of that day objecting.
This weekend, in our appointed lessons, the Spirit of God would invite this church and school to step it up. Step it up in terms of outreach, step it up in terms of stewardship, step it up in terms of pastoral care, and step it up in terms of Christian education.
When Jesus ends with “the first shall be last and the last shall be first,” He was telling those first century Pharisees who wanted first seats in the synagogues and at the table they would be taking a back seat in the kingdom to the poor, the outcast, and the tax collectors. He was telling the lawyers of that day who held in their hands the key of knowledge that opened the narrow door to the final banquet – they would find the door shut, Jesus wouldn’t know who they were.
The kingdom of God is like a man who looks in the mirror tonight, he realizes two truths. Truth #1 is that Jesus Christ has paid it all – not with nickels and dimes and dollar bills did he pay, not with gold and silver did he pay, with holy precious blood and innocent suffering and death he paid. He is certain that on the last day, Jesus will know who he is, he will be invited on in to live face to face with His Savior into eternity.
Truth #2 is that he realizes that spiritually speaking, he’s just sort of coasting along, he wonders aloud what his next step forward might be. It’s like lay leaders and called workers asking as individuals and collectively in these days. In what kinds of ways are we dilly-dallying? In terms of reaching out, in terms of connecting broken people to Jesus Christ, in terms of giving generously, in terms of random acts of kindness, in terms of loving as we have been loved, in terms of forgiving as we have first been forgiven, in terms of serving others as God first served us at the cross, in terms of both church and school ministry, what would it look like if we took one step forward?
Worship Sermons & Letters
Pastor Paul Muther