Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
You are on a journey. It doesn't matter whether you are Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free, infant or aged, pastor or parishioner, rich or poor. All are on this same journey. You join every other human being on this planet in the pilgrimage that extends from here to eternity. There are two, and only two, destinations, either one or the other: everlasting destruction or eternal paradise ... condemnation or salvation ... the wide way to hell or the narrow Door to heaven. So will there be many who are saved? Listen once again to the Gospel Reading for today and hear that "Jesus is the Narrow Door."
[Jesus] went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, "Lord, will those who are saved be few?" And he said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, open to us,' then he will answer you, 'I do not know where you come from.' Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.' But he will say, 'I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!' In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last." (Luk 13:22-30 ESV)
From our Lord's words here we learn that, in order to be saved, there is one narrow door through which we are to pass. If we are to live forever with the Lord, there is only one way which we are to go. Jesus is that "Way." Jesus is the Narrow Door. Why are so few saved, then? Scripture says that God "desires all to be saved." (1 Tim 2:4) It also says that "in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself." (2 Cor 5:19) If God desires all to be saved ... if God has accomplished salvation for all ... why, then are so few saved? The reason has to do with the baggage that people carry on their journey.
This baggage is not the material possessions that we accumulate in this life. Both those who are saved and those who are lost must leave all these things behind. And this is fairly obvious to everyone nowadays. After all, many will confess "You can't take it with you." Or you've probably heard this one: "There are no U-Hauls following a hearse." So then, what is the baggage that prevents people from entering the Narrow Door? What must be left behind in order to get through the Door?
Imagine for a moment that you are approaching the Narrow Door. You discover that there are three bags that must be left behind ... three burdens that might very well prevent you from entering into the Kingdom of God. And there stands Jesus. He stands as the Narrow Door. Entry is not permitted to anyone who approaches Him with even one of following three bags.
The first bag is the one carrying your inventory of good works. If you attempt to gain entry into heaven on the basis of what you have done, on account of what you have accomplished, how good you did this or that, you are lost on the wide way that leads to destruction. Were your good works done in service to your neighbors? Were they accomplished in the service of the church? Were they done in the mission field? None of this will help you enter the Narrow Door. If you try to squeeze by carrying these bags, you will not be permitted to enter. Recall St. Paul's words from Romans 3, "For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin." (Rom 3:20) Those who seek to impress God with their personal deeds are the ones he describes standing outside the door and knocking, saying, "Lord, open to us." Jesus will reply, "I do not know where you come from." Then they will begin to say, "We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets." But Jesus will rebuke them, saying, "I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!"
The second bag is that small one you've got right there very close to your heart, the tiny bag carrying your earthly pedigree...that is, who you are, where you come from, how you define yourself. Using this as a passport in order to gain entry into heaven just won't work. But, you say, "look at my lineage!" You claim the name Lutheran, even though that in itself, especially in these doctrinally mixed-up days, doesn't necessarily mean anything. Your name is on the membership roster of this congregation, as was your mother and father, and your grandparents were members of a Lutheran church in North Dakota...or Illinois...or Nebraska...or wherever it was. Well, that bag with your pedigree in it must be dropped at the Door. It certainly is no passport to get you in and through the Narrow Door. If you try to squeeze through carrying all that baggage, then you will be like those of whom Jesus has said they must depart from Him, for He never knew them. If your hopes are on the earthly pedigree of who you are and you die in such a state, your eternal abode will be in hell. "In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God." (Luk 13:28-29 ESV)
The third bag is one that you are not even carrying. Now that may sound strange, but it is true, nevertheless. It is that huge bag of all your sins ... all your transgressions of God's holy, perfect, righteous Law ... all your sins of thought, work and deed ... every sin of omission and commission, each pet sin and sin of ignorance ... sins of the past, ones of the present, sins of the future. That huge bag is yours. Now look at that Narrow Door one more time, the Door before which we have been imagining ourselves standing. He is Jesus. He is the one who bore your burden 2,000 years ago. That huge bag of your sins was placed on him. They became his and he was charged with the divine penalty. Jesus paid the complete price for your bag of sins, and not for your bag only but also for the sins of the whole world.
It's easy for us to forget that Jesus is the one now carrying this bag. But still, we come to Jesus, thinking we are the ones who are supposed to carry it. But coming to Jesus in order to carry the burden of your bag of sins is an insult to him. He has already removed your sins from you as far as the east is from the west. It is blasphemy to think that you can do only what God is capable of doing. It is a rejection of both the person and the work of that Narrow Door who died for all your sins and rose again that you might be with him in Paradise. Why would anyone want to walk up to Jesus and seek to remind him of their sins? Why would we try to take them back from him, when he has declared: "I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." (Jer. 31:34) That would be like provoking Him into saying ..."I do not know where you come from. Depart from Me, all you workers of evil!"
Let's summarize. The three bags that must be left at the Door are the bag of good works, the bag containing your earthly pedigree, and the bag of sins, which is no longer yours. These must be left behind in order to get through the Door. So then, what prevents people from entering the Narrow Door? Certainly what we have just talked about. But there is also one more condition which prevents a person from entering Paradise at the end of this life.
There are many people who do not know Jesus. They have never heard what he has done for them. These people are walking the face of the earth ... always journeying in the direction of eternity for a date with destruction. They bear a burden of guilt for sins that have already found satisfaction in Jesus' sacrifice of himself on the cross. These people have not heard the Good News. Some of them think that God is going to let them into heaven because of their bag of good works. Others of them are expecting to be in Paradise because of their pedigree. You and I are called to speak both the Law which accuses the impenitent and the Gospel which comforts those who are repentant and looking for hope and peace.
This is the invitation that the Lord extends through you with the Word of Good News that you carry about with you as you travel here and go there. This Gospel is intended for each one, whether or not that person is Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free, infant or aged, pastor or parishioner, rich or poor. In order for that person to be "at table in the kingdom of God," that person needs to know Jesus, the Narrow Door. That person needs to be able to hear with the ears of his or her soul, exactly what you hear every time you enter into the presence of God in the Divine Service ... that you are forgiven in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
(Based on a sermon by the Rev. Michael McCoy)