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Finding the Narrow Door August 25, 2013

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Luke 13:22-30

Proper 16

August 24-25, 2013

Focus: God gave us a door, through faith in His Son Jesus Christ.

Function: That the hearers repent of their sins in order to receive the free gift of God’s salvation.

Structure: Here is a prevailing view…but here is the claim of the gospel.


Finding the Narrow Door


Extreme flooding hammered the state of California. The rain pummeling down, like a monsoon.  As the flood waters were rising, a man sat out on his front porch.  Another man in a rowboat came by. He called out to the man on his porch, “Get in and I’ll take you to safety!”  The man on his porch said, “No, I have faith in God and will wait for God to save me.” The flood waters kept rising and forced the man to go to the second floor of his house. A man in a motor boat came by and told the man in the house to get in because he had come to rescue him. The man in the house said, “No thank you. I have perfect faith in God and will wait for God to save me.” The flood waters kept rising. Pretty soon they were up to the man’s roof and he made his way up to sit on the shingles. A helicopter then came by, lowered a rope and the pilot shouted down to the man on the roof, “We’ve come to rescue you!  Grab on and we’ll pull you up to safety!”  The man on his roof wouldn’t get in. He told the pilot, “I have faith in God and will wait for God to rescue me.”

The flood waters kept rising and the man on the roof drowned. When he got to heaven, he asked God where he went wrong. He told God that he had perfect faith, but God had let him drown. “What more do you want from Me?” asked God. “I sent you two boats and a helicopter.”

It seems a little ridiculous, right?  The joke’s over the top.  None of us would turn down the help getting to safety for ourselves or our families.  Or would we?  In a sense this is the age-old Lutheran problem.  And the man on the roof was simply being a good Lutheran.

You know what I’m talking about.  God does the work.  Sola gratia; we are saved by grace alone.  We don’t deserve it; we don’t earn it.  God does it; God gives it.  It’s His free gift given for us.  It’s that simple, right?

And thus we find ourselves stuck on the same roof with the man.  The torrential downpour of our sin slowly trying to drown us.  Day after day, one sin after another, they pile up, the water rises.  The guilt of years past never seems to go away.  Satan knows all too well how to break us down and to depress us.

And then, we die and we find ourselves in our gospel for today.  We find ourselves knocking on the door, shouting, “Sir, open the door for us.”  And what will the Lord’s response be to us?  Will He open the door, or will the narrow door remain shut, and our Lord say, “I don’t know you or where you come from.  Away from Me, all you evildoers!”

How then are we saved?  We know through the Scriptures that Christ’s death was the perfect, final sacrifice.  His death applies to all of mankind and to all sin.  Among other places, we read it in Peter’s first letter, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”  What, then, really makes the difference between the narrow door being opened to us, or closed?  What separates us as the Church from everyone out there this morning?  That’s where Jesus goes throughout this section of Luke.

In Bible class in recent weeks, we’ve been looking at the prophet Hosea.  We have seen God rebuke His people for their wickedness.  And we’ve seen Him talk about their sin as leaven.  It’s a familiar illustration in Scripture.  Paul says in Galatians 5 that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump.”  That’s how sin is for a community.  The Israelites had lost their way.  And not just the people, but sin had corrupted even the priests and the kings.  The leaven of sin had affected the whole community.

History often repeats itself.  The nation of Israel in Jesus’ day, some 700 years after Hosea’s time, wasn’t any different.  King Herod didn’t follow God at all.  The Pharisees, as the teachers of the law, had set the law up to be their god, rather than Yahweh Himself.  And so Jesus is rebuking them in these texts.

Shortly before our gospel, Jesus heals a crippled woman who had been disabled for eighteen years.  Instead of rejoicing, the leader of synagogue rebuked Jesus for healing on the Sabbath.  And shortly after our text, some of the better Pharisees warned Jesus that Herod was seeking to kill Him.  And Christ’s response?

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!  Look, your house is left to you desolate.  I tell you, you will not see Me again until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’”


What was once the glorious capital city of God’s people, now was known as the place where prophets die.  Jesus mourned for them.  He wanted to heal them.  God seeks to heal His people.  But they didn’t want it.  Their house is desolate.  And on that day, they will find the narrow door closed to them.

Christians for centuries have been trying to figure out this narrow door.  And we’ve often gotten it wrong.  For any of you have the seen the Luther movie that Thrivent did a decade ago, there is a scene in which a preacher, Johann Tetzel, is selling indulgences.  He held up a piece of paper and proclaimed, “Here is your raft, take hold!”  The Catholic church was trying to offer forgiveness and salvation in exchange for money.  Or, at least, they were convincing the people that they could.  This was one of the major problems that would lead Martin Luther into the Reformation.

Lutherans, on the other hand, fall into a different trap.  Our theologians warn us against a problem called antinomianism.  I know it’s a big word that doesn’t sound English, and that’s because it’s not.  Simply put, we run the risk of lawlessness.  Push our theology too far, and it’s easy to think that we can do anything we want.  Christ did away with the law; we’re free to sin as we please.

These thoughts are a slippery slope.  I can go to the party tonight and have too much to drink; it’s no big deal.  I can tell few lies and cheat a little to get ahead in my life, at work, with my family.  And what’s a little white lie between friends, I mean, I’m even saving them some grief.  I had a late night watching the game Saturday, so I’ll just sleep in Sunday.  I have to take the kids to a soccer tournament, but it’s alright to miss church on Sunday to play sports.  God won’t care.  I’m just going to live my life how I want now, and worry about God later.  I mean, I’m not close to death, so why should I be worried about the afterlife?

Have you ever had any of these kind of thoughts?  Have you ever thought ahead about a sin that you wanted to do, and just blown it off saying that I’ll just ask for forgiveness later?  How many people do you know who call themselves Christian, yet won’t take faith seriously until they’re on their deathbed with the narrow door staring them in the face?

The Apostle Paul saw this one coming two thousand years ago.  In his letter to the church in Rome, he said “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means!  We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?”  That’s the same attitude that Jesus is rebuking in our gospel.  From the same chapter in Luke:

“Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.  Jesus answered, ‘Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.  Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no!  But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’”


It’s verses like these that make us struggle as Lutherans.  We have to wrestle against our lawlessness.  Christ commands us to repent.  It’s a consistent theme throughout Scripture.  We must repent.  And that doesn’t mean saying, “Sorry,” but actually doing something about it.  You’re not repenting of being a drunkard if you’ve got a stash of beer back home that you’ll be hitting later tonight.  Repentance calls for change.  It means to turn away or to turn back, to return.  To repent is to turn away from your sin and return to God and the life He has called you to live.

God has done the work; He has kept His covenant.  He made the sacrifice for us when He sent His Son Jesus Christ.  As Christ suffered and died upon that cross, the shedding of His blood forever washes us clean of our sins.  That same blood, the blood of the new covenant, is what we have here before us today.  Christ has made Himself available to us, and so we partake of His body and His blood.  Through the waters of holy baptism, the Old Adam within us, that old sinful nature, is drowned.  We bring our children to the font, not just for some ritual or tradition, but because the Holy Spirit works through baptism to cleanse us of our sin.  And in doing so, God welcomes us into His family, calling us His children.

Lutherans love these kinds of both-ands.  This is the tension in which we as Christians must live.  We don’t do anything to earn salvation and yet, we have to repent.  How do we make sense of this?  Even repentance itself is a gift from God.  It’s part of His plan of salvation.  He works repentance in our hearts.  If we repent, it’s because He has brought about that change in us.  The only thing we can choose to do, is fight back.  We can choose to rebel.  It’s as Adam and Eve were in the Garden.  They could either live by God’s gracious will, or they could eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

God has done all the work for us.  He sent His Son.  And He sent His Spirit to create faith in us.  It’s through that Spirit that we are able to repent and to even want to be here this morning.  And it’s through the Christ that salvation is offered freely.  We do nothing to earn it.  It’s the boat that God has sent to us to save us from the flood of sin.  And to really make the analogy work, He has already put the life-preserver around our waist.  We can either passively be saved, or we can choose to continue to rebel, to continue in our sin, and kick and claw our way out of that life-preserver, sinking our way back into the floodwaters.  Perhaps, then, it’s only appropriate that we tweak Tetzel’s words.  Christ is your raft, hold tight!