14th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 13:22-30 Sermon
September 4, 2004
HYMNS (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
163 "O Worship the King, All Glorious Above"
374 "God Calling Yet, Shall I Not Hear?"
395 "O For a Faith That Will Not Shrink"
461 "Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour"
TEXT: (v. 23-24) “And someone said to [Jesus], ‘Lord, will those who are saved be few?’ And he said to them, ‘Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.’”
If you ever visit Milwaukee, there is a place that you should visit. It is called the “Safe House,” and it is a restaurant and night club. It’s not the easiest place to find either—you sort of have to know where you’re going before you get there. You don’t just happen upon it by accident.
When you get there, you go through a single solid door, and you find yourself standing in front of a man behind a desk. Before you are allowed in, you have to give the password. Once you whisper the password to the man, another door unlocks, and you walk down a staircase into the restaurant. Now if you don’t know the password, there is an alternative. The man behind the desk will put you through some sort of silly initiation (flap your arms like a chicken, hop on one foot, that sort of thing) and you can get in that way. But you can’t just walk in.
It is worth it though; the atmosphere is very entertaining, there’s a lot of memorabilia around, and generally it’s a great place to take a date or your spouse or a friend, or maybe a small group.
They got the idea for the restaurant from actual safe houses. A safe house is a place, usually a very unassuming normal residence in a community, where spies can go to meet with others, maybe receive instruction or exchange information, or maybe to just be themselves for awhile.
In Nazi Germany during World War II there were other types of safe houses, which were places where the Jews could go and hide to avoid being killed or sent to concentration camps.
The concept of a safe house goes back a long time in history. In Joshua chapter 2, we read the story of how Rahab the Prostitute had such a safe house. She successfully hid Israelite spies from the king of Jericho.
The one thing about a safe house, is that it is for special people. Generally you have to know a password or special phrase to get past the front door. There’s only one way in, and it is protected by a guard. You knock on the door, and a little peep hole in the door opens up, and a guy says “password?” If you don’t know the password or you don’t belong there, you will be turned away. That’s what makes a “safe house” safe. You can be in there and be assured that you won’t be disturbed by unauthorized or unwelcome intruders.
In our text for today, Jesus gives us this “safe house” type of picture when he speaks about heaven. He says, “Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”
Somehow this gives a little different picture of the pearly gates and the entrance to heaven. I doubt if we’ll be standing before those gates, with St. Peter’s voice coming over a scratchy intercom asking us for the password.
What this text does tell us however, is that not everyone who dies will automatically enter heaven. In fact, there will be many who will attempt to enter who will not be able to get in. Heaven is an exclusive place for believers in Christ; it is not for unbelievers, or false teachers, or disciples of the devil. Heaven is for those who want to be there, and who strive to enter the way Scripture says. Heaven is not for those who wanted nothing to do with Christ while they were alive, or who were enemies of Christ and his Church, or who were false teachers and prophets.
The concept of a Christian funeral is interesting. What a funeral is supposed to be is a testimony of the departed Christian’s faith; and that based upon their public testimony of that faith, they are in heaven. And for those left to mourn, the only hope they have in being with their loved one for eternity is to have the same faith in Christ their Saviour as their departed loved one did.
However many have the mistaken idea that a Christian funeral fixes everything. Some believe that even though a person was an outspoken unbeliever, and wanted no part of Christ and the Church while they were alive, that a few meaningless platitudes spoken at a funeral will somehow get them into heaven. Families hang a lot of hope on this, and will get quite irate when a Christian pastor, out of conscience, will not conduct such a funeral.
I remember such a situation happening in Minnesota. An older gentleman died, who wanted absolutely nothing to do with church or religion while he was alive. The family searched for a pastor to do the service, and they found a rather generic chaplain who agreed. His explanation for the reason the guy never had anything to do with the church, was that he was “God’s secret agent.” Now that’s really grasping at straws.
Or I think too about the mother who tries to comfort her child upon the death of a heathen relative by saying, “Well, Grandpa, or Uncle Bill, or Aunt Matilda is in heaven now,” when in reality they are miles away.
Over and over again, people will try to re-fashion what God teaches in the Bible to make heaven a place where all people go when they die, irrespective of what they believed and did while on this earth. But Jesus in our text today says this isn’t the case at all. In fact, the Bible teaches this simple fact numerous places. Heaven is an exclusive place.
One of the beautiful pictures of heaven we have is in Revelation 7, 13-17, which is a text often read at funerals. We read: “Then one of the elders asked me, ‘These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?’ I answered, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said, ‘These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”
The beautiful picture we have here is the believers—those who have departed this earth with nothing but a saving faith in Christ their Saviour. These are the people who have lived their mortal life in this sinful, wicked world, and have received their heavenly reward.
Sin is a dirty thing. On our own, we are filthy with it. Our souls are stained and tainted by every sinful thought, word and deed. We are sinful by the things we have done and left undone. Our natural sinful self isn’t a pretty picture at all.
But that Revelation passage gives us a beautiful picture. God calls this sinful world “the great tribulation.” The faithful in Christ have traded their sinful selves for Christ’s righteousness. The Holy Spirit has given them the gift of faith so they would come to know Christ as their Saviour from sin. These are the ones God describes in Revelation who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Christ’s blood removes every stain and every bit of filth created by sin.
Heaven is for such as these; but more importantly heaven is for you and me. We are in this great tribulation now, and we can see the picture and promise of the heavenly reward that awaits us. We will also be the ones that will have “washed our robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Faith in Christ our Lord accomplishes this. That narrow door Jesus describes in our text can only be entered by those who have Christ as their Saviour. Faith in Mohammed, or Buddha, or any of the many heathen gods just won’t cut it. That door to heaven can only be entered one way. It is a narrow door which allows no room for those who worship a god other than the one true God, or who try to enter in by their own merit. The faithful in Christ will be the only ones to get through.
In our text today, Jesus knows there will be those who object to this teaching. There will be those who will argue that they should be let in for other reasons. But Jesus counters these arguments very directly. In verses 24 and 25 he says, “…for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the householder has risen up and shut the door, you will begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us.’ He will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’” But that doesn’t end the argument. People will come back and say things like: “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets!” And still the same answer is given, “I tell you, I do not know where you come from; depart from me, all you workers of iniquity!”
I have this picture of people who argue that they were pretty good people, maybe even people who were in church every week and active in church programs; or even those who say they are pastors and teachers in the church. There will be those who want to go through the narrow door for all sorts of reasons, but they will be turned away, because they didn’t have a saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Today’s world is full of passwords. Our Email and internet accounts are password protected. We have a PIN number that we use to get money out of our bank’s ATM. We use passwords in various forms all of the time. It’s part of life.
The door to heaven is a lot like the safe house concept. The door is in a sense “password protected”—but it isn’t just the mouthing of a few words that open the door. If you have faith in Jesus your Saviour, then the door will be opened for you, and you can enter into God’s eternal kingdom.
The fact that heaven is an exclusive place shouldn’t worry or bother us. God has made entrance into heaven so simple, and he explains it over and over again in the Bible. It is so simple, that everybody should be able to enter in.
But people will still try to do things their way, and not God’s way. They will look for a back door or another entrance; but they won’t find it. And so, instead of entering through the narrow door, they will find themselves outside, where Jesus says there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” That does not sound like a very pleasant alternative.
Thankfully though, we don’t need to worry about whether or not we will enter heaven. We’re gathered as Christians, who believe Jesus has saved us. That is the gospel message. Entrance through the narrow door does not depend upon our actions, but our faith in Christ. So when we die, we won’t be among the ones knocking on the door and shouting “Lord, Lord!” Rather, we will be among the ones Jesus talks about in Matthew 25, 34: “…Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you…”
The narrow door is open for you….the kingdom awaits you….and the only thing you need to get there is faith in Jesus. Heaven is the only safe house we need, and we will indeed be safe there, separated from all the sin and tribulation and tears of this world. God’s eternal paradise awaits us, and Jesus will take us there, guaranteed.