Make every effort to get through the narrow door
A sermon preached on Luke 13:22-30 by Pastor Jonathan Were at Good Shepherd Lutheran on September 15, 2019.
The thing about doors is that they not only let you in, they can also keep you out. The door that lets you into Jesus’ family, he said, is very, very small. Just like the door that lets you into heaven, it is very, very small. It can let you in. But it can also keep you out. And, Jesus is very clear about this, it’s going to keep a lot of people out because it is a very, very small door and most are just too big to get through it. So, how about you? Are you small enough, right now, to get through this door? And if so, can you stay small enough? Because getting smaller, for example, when you lose weight, is one thing, keeping it off is another.
Let’s do some math. Let’s say each sin you commit puts on one pound, spiritually speaking. Let’s say I committed only 10 sins per year, less than one per month (I have committed many more than that, but for illustrative purposes). If I have committed only 10 sins per year, I spiritually speaking weigh 550 pounds today (you can do the math). At that weight, 550 lbs spiritually speaking, this is what Jesus is going to say to me when I stand before him. “Sorry, you’re too bloated with sin to get through the door; you are so bloated with sin I don’t even recognize you.” (v.27) Which will make the demons cackle as they sink their jagged claws into my back and drag me into that place that is nothing but teeth-grinding pain wrapped up in darkest depression (v.28), as Jesus described it, “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
My problem is that I am too big, too big for my britches. Too big to get into Jesus’ family, too big to get into heaven. It’s a small doorway, Jesus is very clear about that and he’s also clear that most will be too big to get through. “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” Why not? Because they are too big for their britches. Like me. And some of you are, as well. Are you one of us, those “too big for our britches and so destined for hell” group? The surefire way to tell if you are guilty of being too big for your britches is if you think you are not. That is the greatest arrogance of all. Because being too big for our britches is a sin that infects us all by nature.
So, a lifelong Baptist, and a successful pastor, and two opioid-addicted accountants all died and appeared in God’s courtroom. The lifelong Baptist steps forward and says, “Lord, let me in. I made my decision to accept you as my Lord and Savior way back when I was 12 years old. I proved my decision by being baptized.” And Christ looked at him with a total blank look on his face. He said to the man, “I don’t know you, you bloated, arrogant fool. Your false beliefs tell me you are way too big for your britches, and thus way too big to get through this very, very small door to heaven. Away from me, you evildoer.” For to think that faith is your own decision is great evil and a great arrogance. The Bible teaches that faith is a gift worked in us by the Holy Spirit through the Word/Sacraments, a gift from God, not a decision of mine. To contradict a teaching of the Bible, any teaching of the Bible, means you are too big for your britches, too big to get through that small, small door. So the demons cackled and pulled the man down, down, down.
The successful pastor stepped forward. He said, “Lord, let me in. I worked so hard. People appreciated what I did. Our church grew by 15% every year, I was a blessing to your kingdom, so many people were saved because of my work.” And Christ looked at him with a total blank look on his face. He said to the successful pastor, “I don’t know you, you bloated, arrogant fool. I can see that you think you need only a moderate amount of forgiveness because you consider yourself a hard worker and successful man. All that tells me is that you are too big for your britches, thus way too big to get through this very, very small door into heaven. Away from me, you evildoer.” Because failing to recognize that sin clings even to the good things you do, like the smell of garlic clings to your breath after eating Italian, is great evil and great arrogance. Every good thing, even the best things, we do are never pure, for, at the very least, our motivation is never pure—but motivation is the most important part of any good work. That’s what happened to this successful pastor, in part because he was successful. Failure often gives our egos a reality check and humbles us. But success, even mild success, can make us get too big for our britches. So heads up and may we daily repent. And then the demons cackled and pulled this pastor down, down, down.
The two opioid-addicted accountants were next. The first account didn’t move. He just said, “Lord, I have done so many things I’m ashamed of because of my addiction. My wife threw me out, and I don’t blame her. I got thrown out of the firm I worked for, and I don’t blame them. But I kept coming back to church because I knew you would not cast me out. I knew that when I confessed my sins to you, you would speak your word of forgiveness to me through my pastor. I tried to quit the Vicodin, Lord,” the man said, and it was true, he had. Many times. But there are certain sins that get so much a hold of us, we never get over them. Each day we have to quit them all over again, in light of our Lord’s forgiveness. Certain sins have addictive-like qualities. Not just alcohol or drugs, but gossiping can be like that (Prov. 18:8), complaining can, greed is, sexual sins can be like that, husbands—blaming your wives for things is a sin that can so easily become like an addictive behavior. Thus Jesus said, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door”—that’s a present tense verb, “make every effort”, every day a new beginning to quit doing the wrong, just for today, and instead to do the right. So important. It’s one of the ways the Holy Spirit works in us to keep us “small” enough so we can enter the narrow door. And that’s what Christ said to this first accountant. He whooped and said, “Yes! My sufferings and death and resurrection were not wasted on you! You needed my full forgiveness, and my full forgiveness I gave you through my Word and Sacraments. Come on, you’ll have no trouble getting through the small, small door.”
Certain sins are so “addictive” that we will likely fall back into them maybe yet today. But still we must struggle against them. This is crucial. Because if you do not, you will be like the second accountant. He stepped forward and said. “Lord, I tried to quit the Vicodin quite a few times, myself. But it was just too hard. So I learned how to live with my addiction. I never lost my job and I kept my marriage together.” “But,” Christ interrupted, “I noticed that you stopped trying to live my way.” “That’s not true, Lord!” the second accountant protested. “I tried to live your way in every other part of my life. I kept going to church. I kept being involved in my community. I kept trying to be a nice person. It was just with the Vicodin that I made an exception. I know it meant lying to doctors and I know it took a toll on my personal relationships and my job performance wasn’t as good as it could have been. But that was the only part of my life that I did that in.” Which is the way people who are too big for their britches talk about their sin. So Jesus quoted from his own book, which is a best seller, “(But) whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2:10). So the demons cackled and pulled this second accountant down, down, down.
“Make every effort (present tense verb, on-going action every day) to enter through the narrow door.” This last week our community got beaten up a little bit, didn’t it. Some businesses ruined, loss of electricity for many, lots of trees and branches down. I am told that our emergency personal did an excellent job during this time, tornado sirens notwithstanding. News reports did a good job of keeping us abreast of what was happening. The meteorologists handled this the way they are trained to do. But there’s one thing that none of them told you about that storm–why did God do it? For the same God we thank when you plan a picnic and the weather is perfect (like yesterday) is the same God who sends tornadoes and hurricanes and thunderstorms.
Though we do not know all of God’s reasons for sending such destructive weather to our community last week for God is big, but we do know one. We have become too big for our britches. Storms remind us that we are totally dependent on forces beyond our control. Forces that are only in God’s control. And since he is the one who control’s these powerful, destructive forces, would it not be a good idea to get on good terms with him? And stay on good terms with him?
Which means not being too big for our britches…(devotion from Friday’s chapel service—box, lego door, the impossibility of being small enough, thus of ever entering heaven)…But Christ did the impossible. He became so small, he is the only human being who ever became small enough to get through a lego-sized door. In Psalm 22:6, it says of Jesus as he hung on the cross, “I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people.” A worm could make it through this lego door, couldn’t it. On that cross, Christ did that, he did the impossible. He became what we by nature are without him—a sinner damned and abandoned by God. On the cross, Christ did the impossible and died. God died. Impossible, since God cannot die. But in Christ, the God-man, God died. And in so doing, paid for all our sin, all that bloats us and makes us too big to enter through the small, small door into his family and into heaven. So that now, by faith in Christ, entering the small, small door is as easy as walking through those doors as you entered the Sanctuary.
“Make every effort (present tense verb, on-going action every day) to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” Jesus is telling us that it is crucial to struggle against every kind of sin in your life, every day. That struggle, whether you win and do the right thing (which makes everyone’s lives better) or lose and do the sinful thing (which makes things more difficult)—that struggle is meant to help keep you from getting too big for your britches, keep you for being totally dependent on God’s grace and forgiveness found in Christ’s Word and Sacraments. Which is the safest, happiest, spiritually slimmest, and eternally best place a person can be. Amen.
The difficulty of getting into a narrow doors is in being too big (for my britches, too big in my own estimation, too big because I am indulging in sin and am comfortable in it and not exercising myself in obedience, too big of guilt). The trick to getting into a narrow door is to become small, as small as a little child. Ultimately, to become as small as ashes and dust, as death is the doorway to heaven and it is only in dying that we are reborn to eternal life.
Christ has a special emphasis, “I tell you”,–church people will try to get into heaven by good works
–God is galled by those who are work righteous
Narrow door—two types of people who are not small enough: 1) the person who continues to be bloated with their own guilt 2) the Christian of convenience use the gospel as a license for sin and think there is no need to struggle since Jesus will forgive me anyway, carnal security
In this lifetime, only a few will be saved. Only a few will live a life of self-emptying love. Only a few will endure the humiliation of honesty. Only a few will face the despair of their own righteousness.
There is a great deal about God and what he does that he hides, that we do not know. God is big. We are to be content with what he HAS revealed
How it galls God to be contradicted—esp under the guise of being religious. Obeying the commandments apart from faith is “but rules taught by men.” For apart from faith, the only reasons for obeying the law is to earn God’s favor (which is a flat out rejection of God) and looking for the reward of obedience (which is nothing special, potentially self-centered.) (Mark 7a)
Two poles—ones who are weary/tired/burdened, crushed in anguish of soul, wanting the mercy and forgiveness of Christ; and ones who are Christians of convenience, use the gospel as a license for sin and think there is no need to struggle since Jesus will forgive me anyway, carnal security