Sermon for Pentecost 11

August 25, 2019

“Enter Through the Narrow Door”

We did it.  We’re all here. We found our way to Shepherd of the Valley and into the building.  We all had the same destination in mind.  Most of you came in through the front door.  You could have entered the building from the outside through any of five doors.  We have been given multiple doors to get where we are this morning.

Our ultimate destination is to reach heaven.  This morning we hear our Savior, Jesus Christ, declare, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”

Doors are simply passage ways to get from one place to another.  First let’s ask, “Why do we need to go through a door to reach our desired destination?”  Adam and Eve didn’t need a door to enter God’s presence.  They lived in the paradise of the Garden of Eden.  They lived in perfect harmony with God.  There was no separation.  That is… until sin entered the world, and along with it death.  They ate the forbidden fruit and then were cast out of the Garden.  “He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden He placed a cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.”  Gen. 3:24  They were driven out of the Garden for their own good, so that they would not be stuck in their sinful condition forever by eating of the tree of life.

Already in the garden, the Lord promised a solution to this major problem.  He promised to send a Savior, a son of Eve, who would crush the serpents head.  Adam and Eve would be saved from eternal death by trusting the promise that Jesus would one day save them.

The parable in today’s gospel is a parable about the Kingdom of God.  The parables about the Kingdom of God make two basic points.  The first point is that there is a real Heaven and a real Hell.  The second point is that the way to Heaven is through the forgiveness of sins that Jesus earned for us with His suffering and death.

Most people believe in some sort of an afterlife.  Some people believe that if you don’t get it right in your first lifetime, you keep coming back for lifetime after lifetime until you do get it right.  Others simply say that good people go to some sort of paradise and bad people go to some sort of punishment.  Some people, who can’t stand the idea of eternal punishment, insist that evil people simply cease to exist.

When Jesus taught about life after death, He made it very clear that there were two and only two destinations after death.  He described one destination as a great heavenly party.  He compared this destination to a wedding reception – the celebration of the coronation of a king – a great banquet.  He described the other destination as a place of eternal torment.  He talked of fires that never go out – worms that never die – great darkness.  In today’s Gospel Jesus spoke of those who recline at table in the kingdom of God and those who enter the kingdom of darkness, in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  Jesus made it very clear that there is a hell to be avoided and a heaven to be desired.

The next question is very logical.  How can I be sure that I am in the Kingdom of God and not in the outer darkness?  How can I be sure that I will spend eternity with Jesus?

Jesus replied, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”  The door is narrow because there is only one way to God.  Again, Jesus Himself said, [John 14:6] “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”  Our culture tries to tell us that there are many doors into the Kingdom of God, but Jesus tells us that He is the only way.  He offers Himself as the door into the Kingdom of God.

The saddest part of the parable in today’s gospel is that there are many who wait outside the door and even ignore it.  They follow the example of the people in Noah’s day.  As the door of the ark closed and the water started collecting around their ankles, they suddenly realized to their terror that they needed to be inside the ark, but it was too late.  So also, the people waiting at the door to the kingdom watch the door close and suddenly realize they need to be inside the kingdom.  In terror they pound on the door, but the master will not let them in.  Their fate is sealed.  Can you imagine the terror of the people in Noah’s day as they pounded on the outside of the ark until the water rose and lifted them off their feet and swept them away to a certain death?  How much more is the terror of these people standing outside the narrow door as they realize that they are doomed to an eternity in hell?

The sad tragedy is that these people were warned.  The people themselves say, “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.” Here are people who were baptized as infants, but rejected the faith.

Here are people who passed confirmation instruction, but didn’t take it to heart.  Do we, as parents, take seriously our role to nurture the faith of our children?  They are with us for such a short time.  We surely want what is best for our children.  We provide them with a safe and comfortable home, healthy food.  We sacrifice so that they can be set up for success in life.  The most important role that we as parents serve is to point them to the narrow door, to Jesus.  The only way to do that is to nurture them in their relationship with Jesus.  It means that we teach them how to pray and how to search the Scriptures.  It means that we talk about what God’s will is as we face decisions in life.  It means that we bring to the services of God’s house to grow in their knowledge of Jesus and in their relationships with fellow Christians.  We take God at His Word when He says, “Train a child in the way that he should go, so that when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6  It will make a difference not only for your child, but for your children’s children and the generation beyond them.   And so I urge you to study God’s Word with your child.  I challenge you to grow in the Word as well so that you might set an example of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.  Your children are watching now.  They are listening now.   What are you showing and telling them by your example?

Then there are those people who “Strive to enter through the narrow door.” – Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets… people … from east and west, and from north and south.  These are the people who became convicted of their sins through the power of the Holy Spirit and struggled in repentance over those sins through the power of that same Holy Spirit.  These are the people who had their sins washed away by the blood of the lamb and were brought to saving faith in Jesus Christ who is our door into the kingdom of God.  These are the people who did not rely on their own works to save them, but, by the power of the Holy Spirit, placed all their trust in that same Jesus Christ.  These are the people who recline at table in the kingdom of God.

Some of these people will be a surprise.  For Jesus said, “And behold, some are last who will be first…”  There will be the thief on the cross who knew nothing about the Gospel until he came to the end and God in the flesh was hanging on the cross next to his.  There will be Paul who persecuted the church until Christ met him on the road to Damascus.  There will be that juvenile delinquent who was nothing but trouble when he was a kid, but whom Christ met when a volunteer brought the Gospel to him when he was in jail.   Iranian Muslim detained in Canada who came to faith as he read the Bible in prison…  Then members of family also came to faith.

Unfortunately, there will be tragedies as well.  For Jesus said, “…and some are first who will be last.”    These tragedies will include the Jewish leaders who heard Moses and the prophets from the day they were born until the day they died, who met Jesus in the flesh, but who rejected him as their Messiah.  They will include Judas who walked and talked with Jesus throughout his earthly ministry.  They will include popes and kings.  They will include famous pastors who believe that entertaining a congregation is more important than giving them the Means of Grace.

          “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”  It is open.  Christ was opening it from the manger when He, the God of the universe was born as a frail human being.  Christ was opening it from the road as He set His face to go to Jerusalem and taught about the kingdom of God.  Christ was opening it from the cross as he traded His perfect life for the death of our sin.  Christ was opening it on that Sunday morning when He declared victory over Sin, Death, and the devil and rose from the dead.  The door is open.

“Strive to enter through the narrow door.”  But you will tell me, “I cannot strive.  I don’t have the strength.”  And you are right.  We cannot strive in our own power, but the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son will work in us through God’s word, Holy Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper – the Means of Grace.

Remember all the people Jesus healed during His ministry here on earth.  None of them had the strength to heal themselves, but through the power of Jesus’ word, they became whole.  When Jesus said, “Rise, take up your bed, and walk.”  A lame man rose, took up his bed, and walked.  That man didn’t have the power to do that himself, but with the command, Jesus healed him and gave him the power to obey.  When Jesus said, “Lazarus, come forth.” A dead man walked out of a tomb.  We know he didn’t have the power to do that.

That same Word of God that healed the sick, raised the dead and even spoke into the nothingness and brought forth all of creation can speak into your heart and say, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”  And then you too, by the power of the Holy Spirit, will strive knowing that the blood of the lamb has washed your sins away. 

“Strive to enter through the narrow door.”  It is open now, but the day is coming when, just as Christ rose to open the door, he will rise to close it.  For some in this world, the door will close today.  Perhaps it will close for you.  Perhaps it will close for me.  Which side of the door will we be on?

Fortunately, the answer to that question does not depend on us.  How blessed we are that Jesus Christ saved humanity in all times and in all places.  For as Christ’s saving work extends back in time to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets, it also extends forward to include all of us.  For as God’s word and his sacraments spread from Jerusalem to east and west, and north and south, so also people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.  That includes people who come from Bismarck and Mandan and across North Dakota.

Thanks be to the Father who gives us the kingdom.  Thanks be to Christ who strove for us on the cross and opened the door through which we enter the kingdom.  Thanks be to the Holy Spirit who enlightens and sanctifies us so we can “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”  Amen