Sermon on Luke 13:22-30
13th Sunday after Pentecost
Stay on the Path!
1. In Christ alone
2. With Christ alone
Text: Luke 13:22-30
Talk about a conversation stopper! We’re told by the apostle Luke this morning that Jesus had been going, “through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.” Jesus had become quite popular by this point. Word of his spectacular miracles and his fiery preaching had spread all over. Everywhere he went there were crowds of people that followed him around. Undoubtedly, as Jesus stopped in towns and villages on the way to Jerusalem, a crowd of people would have met him at each location.
We could also be sure that Jesus didn’t just lecture. Surely he didn’t just preach two or three hour sermons and then pack up and leave. Jesus certainly fielded questions along the way. I suppose we could guess at some of the questions people asked him: “Teacher, when will the Romans stop ruling in our land?” “Teacher, my neighbor won’t return my plow. What should I do?” “Teacher, can you explain the laws of Moses a little more?”
Today we hear of one person that asked a question so important that Luke just had to include it in his gospel account. It was a question so important that it demanded an answer. Talk about a real conversation stopper! Or perhaps you could say a real conversation starter! “Someone asked him, ‘Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” This person must have been thinking other questions like, “Lord, are some not going to heaven? Are some going to hell? Is everyone going to be saved? Isn’t all of Israel going to be saved? Or is it only going to be a few?”
The question certainly got Jesus’ attention. Jesus replied not just to that person but to the whole crowd, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” In short, Jesus said, “Yes. Only a few people are going to be saved.” This is shocking! This is scary! This is attention getting! This is a conversation starter! If the door to heaven is narrow, and if only a few will stay on the path and enter that door of heaven, we need to listen to Jesus and find out how we can Stay on the Path!
Here’s another conversation stopper for you. Or again, maybe I should say another conversation starter. If you want to get someone’s attention and strike up a good discussion, then I have just the right question for you. Here it is: “If you died tonight, do you know where you would be?” That will make someone think. We might have lots of fun and games in this life, or we might get caught up in our busy lives and busy schedules. But that question demands some thought. If something were to happen to us this very day—some accident or some health emergency—where would we be? In heaven or in hell? Really, it’s the most important question you could ask someone because what happens to us after this life is all that matters. This life is temporal, but eternity is forever.
Now if you were to ask someone that question—and I encourage you to ask many people that thought provoking question—you have to follow it up with a second question. Many or most people in America assume that they will be in heaven some day. So here is the next question you need to ask: “If you died tonight and were standing at the gates of heaven and God asked you, ‘Why should I let you into my heaven?’ what would you say?”
While most in America might assume they will be in heaven, this is the question that most people would answer differently. You might get all kinds of different answers like these, “Well I’m a pretty good person, so God would let me into heaven.” “I’ve worked really hard in my life and I’ve tried really hard. God would definitely reward me for that.” Or, “Yeah, I’ve made some mistakes, but I’m not that bad. I’m no serial killer or anything. God would definitely let me into heaven.” Then again, others might answer, “I don’t know what I would say to God. I don’t know why he would let me in.”
When you talk to someone about faith and about Jesus, when you share what you know and believe, these are the two most important questions you can ask someone: “If you died tonight do you know where you would be?” And, “If you stood at heaven’s gates and God asked you why he should let you in, what would you say?” You see the most important thing to know and understand in this life is, “Will I be in heaven and why?”
That brings us back to the gospel today. Someone asked Jesus if only a few will be going to heaven: “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” Jesus clearly answered, “Yes!” “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” So what we need to know is why? Why will only a few be saved? Why is the door to heaven narrow? Why will many try but not be able to?
The answer to our questions is found in Jesus’ response. Only a few will be saved because many try and are not able. Literally Jesus said, “Many will seek to enter and will not have the strength.” In other words, many or most will not be in heaven because they are trying to do it themselves!
That was the problem with many of these Jews, especially the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. First of all, they thought they had an “in” with God simply because of their race, or their Israelite descent. “We have Abraham as our forefather,” they would say. But secondly, many in Israel thought they would be in heaven because they followed the laws of Moses so carefully. In fact, the Pharisees and teachers of the law even added laws of their own so they could be “extra holy.” They didn’t just follow the third commandment and remember the Sabbath day. They made rules about how many steps you could take on a Sabbath day. They didn’t just tithe their harvests for the Lord, they made their own laws about tithing even the parsley they grew in their home gardens. There were hundreds of extra rules. All of these rules essentially served the same purpose. They were setting themselves apart as different and special and better than others. They were trying to work and earn their way to heaven by their outward actions.
But these people who thought they knew God’s demands so well, didn’t even understand the most clear of all God’s requirements in the laws of Moses. Leviticus 19:2 says, “Be holy, because I, the Lord your God am holy.” The simplest and most basic of all of God’s commands is that we must be perfect and holy like he is. That is the bar, that is the standard that he has set.
So there was a huge problem in Israel. Most of the people thought they could work their way to heaven. But they couldn’t! Not one Jew was perfect. All had sinned and fallen short of God’s demands. The same problem is still true today. That’s why that one question is so important. “If you stood at heaven’s gates and God asked why he should let you in, what would you say?” Most people usually say something like, “I’m a pretty good person. I’m not that bad. I’ve tried pretty hard.” But the problem is that God doesn’t demand good effort or trying hard. God demands perfection—“Be holy, because I, the Lord your God am holy.”
This is why the door to heaven is narrow. This is why only a few will be saved—because many will try . . . and will not be able. Only a few will be saved because everyone who tries on his or her own will only fall short of God’s demand for perfection. They will stand at the door to heaven and plead, “Sir, open the door for us.” But God will reply, “I don’t know you or where you came from.” But those Jews at Jesus time would say, “We ate and drank with you and you taught in our streets.” People today might say, “But Jesus, I heard about you. I went to church once in a while. I followed your commands most of the time.” But God will reply, “I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!”
Jesus answered the question very clearly. Yes, only a few will be saved. Therefore, “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.”
I don’t know about you, but I find that quite scary. I find it frightening because I know I too have fallen short. I know that I haven’t been holy like God is holy. I haven’t been perfect. I’ve failed. I’ve sinned. So that means that no matter how hard I try or what I do, I too would be left out where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. And so would you!
That’s exactly why Jesus spoke these words. It was a wake up call to the people. It was a call to recognize that they could try, but they would never be able to do it on their own. It was a call to recognize that they were on a path to be shut out from heaven and end up in hell. Jesus spoke these words so that these Israelites would repent of their sin and turn to him.
For that is why Jesus was there in the first place. It’s just a passing comment, but the first verse today tells us that Jesus went from town to town because he was making his way to Jerusalem. This wasn’t a friendly visit to sightsee in Israel’s capital city. Jesus was going to Jerusalem for the last time. Jesus was going to Jerusalem so that he could be betrayed by his own disciple. Jesus was going to Jerusalem so that he could be arrested. Jesus was going to Jerusalem so that he could be falsely accused, tried, and sentence. Jesus was going to Jerusalem so that he could be beaten and battered. Jesus was going to Jerusalem so that he could be crucified.
Jesus wanted these people to know that on their own and by their own effort they were on the fast track to hell. But in telling them this he wanted to point their attention to himself. For the very person warning them about their sin was also the solution for their sin. Jesus came to be the Savior from sin. If we do not meet God’s demands for perfection, the punishment is death and hell. We get shut out from the doors of heaven. But Jesus came to suffer that punishment in our place. He carried our sin on the cross and suffered hell on the cross so that the punishment wouldn’t be ours. He died to erase our sin and win forgiveness. He died to open back up those doors to heaven so that we can enter through. And he didn’t just do this for the Jews. This forgiveness is for anyone and everyone. As Jesus says in verse 29, “People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
Listen to Jesus words today! The door to heaven is narrow. Only a few will enter. But this is because most people try to get there on their own. Most people try to do it themselves. Know your sin. Know you can’t earn heaven. But also know your Savior. Know that your salvation is in Christ alone. Know that, as we sang, Till o that cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied; for every sin on him was laid. Yes! Here in the death of Christ I live. Stay on the Path to heaven. It’s a narrow path and the door is even narrower. Only a few will be saved. But know that you are one of them because you know that you are saved and forgiven in Christ alone!
One thing we must understand though is that once we are forgiven, the struggle isn’t over. Jesus died for our sins. Jesus has bought us back from the clutches of Satan and has given to us the riches of heaven. Salvation is surely ours. However, that doesn’t mean the struggle is over. Knowing that we are Christians who are on our way to enter the doors to heaven, Satan is going to try his hardest to knock us off the path. Satan will try everything in his power to keep us from passing through that door. He will assault and attack us with every temptation he can muster. He will whisper doubts into our ear. He will cause us to question the certainty of our salvation. He will try to make us apathetic and uncaring. Oh, he’s going to fight with all his might to keep us shut out of the doors to heaven. That’s why again Jesus said, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.”
But wait a second! How am I going to be able to do that? I can’t do that! Jesus said, “Make every effort,” but I don’t have the strength to do that! I’m not going to be able to fight off Satan! I’m not going to be able to win that battle! How can I possibly Stay on the Path and enter that narrow door to heaven?
Thankfully, we’re not alone. We’re not left to ourselves. The very Jesus who came to this world and saved us from our sins is the very Jesus who also promised, “Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age,” and “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you.” You see, the very Jesus who already crushed Satan at the cross is the very Jesus who is with us every day, empowering us. He reminds us that we have been washed clean of our sin and clothed with him at our baptism. He strengthens our faith through his true body and blood and the forgiveness given at his holy Supper. As we just sang, No power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from his hand; till he returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I stand. Stay on the Path to heaven throughout your life. How? With Christ alone!
If you died tonight do you know where you would be? Yesterday I had the privilege to go to the hospital to visit Mike. Mike wasn’t doing very well and it looked like it might be the end. So I read to Mike and to his family the words of Jesus in John 11, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” About 30 minutes after I left, Mike entered through the narrow door and now lives in heaven. Mike knew where he would be, and you do too. If you died tonight, you would be in heaven. For we have been saved in Christ alone.
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