22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying towards Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 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.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28 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. 29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
When I was a boy in Scotland we would travel around the country from time to time taking in the history of the nation. One thing that always intrigued me was when we would visit castles and fortified areas, the doors were always tiny. Like most people would, I surmised that it must have been because people in those days were just as tiny so there was no need for massive doors. However, my thoughts were corrected by a tour guide who informed me that the tiny passages were not because the people were small but because it would make it more difficult for the enemy to break in, because they couldn’t simply enter on horseback or even standing straight. They would have to stoop over, making them vulnerable to the attack of the defenders. I share this because it helps us understand the type of context in which Jesus is speaking to his disciples then and now. For there would be similar archeticure in Jesus’ day, designed to keep out the unwanted, while allowing passage only to a select group. FOR THE MASTER OF THE HOUSE HAS RISEN AND SHUT THE DOOR, AND THOSE WHO ARE SAVED ARE FEW.
Keeping on his theme of division in the world from last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus now addresses a question that is on the minds of all gathered there, and certainly I’m sure on the minds of many gathered here; “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” The answer that we want to hear however, is not the answer that Jesus gives. We would like to hear Jesus say, “Nope! Everyone will be saved no matter what!” Or at the very least, “As long as you are a good person you’ll go to heaven.” But sadly the desire to hear these words betrays the reality that our “Christianity” is not the Christianity of the Gospel, but the Christianity of Works. We love to think that we can be saved by simply being a good person, no matter what our religion, or if we have one at all. As long as we don’t kick the dog or say unkind things to our neighbour then we are golden. Yet Jesus shatters our hopes with his words, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” These words certainly would shake up our reverie and might cause us to protest. After all we all know good people, why should they end up in hell, just because they don’t believe like we do. The truth is that basing salvation on works, can only end in hell, because it takes away from the only work that matters, Jesus own saving death on the cross. So it doesn’t matter if you are a good jew, or muslim, or JW, or Mormon, or Buddhist or atheist, or any other religion of works, all of these good works are but rags which burden the bearer of them and prevent them from entering the narrow door which is Christ.
Yet it isn’t only those of other religions who must beware. Millions of Christians also bear their works upon their back, thinking that if they can just do enough they can please God; millions of others having once heard the Gospel of Christ’s death on the cross for their sins, now think that they are now free to live as they want, doing works that please themselves, thereby rejecting again the very work of Christ for them. Therefore in the very same way, millions of these “Christians” will find on the last day that they will “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.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’”
For Jesus, the master of the house, HAS risen and shut the door. Following his death on the cross to pay for the sins of the world, Jesus also rose from the dead so that all who are baptized into his death will be raised up to new life on the last day. With this very act of resurrection Jesus has shut for ever the door to those who would seek to be saved by their own works. In fact not only has he shut the door, we hear in John’s Gospel the 20th chapter, that Jesus has given the very keys of the kingdom, the keys of absolution, the forgiveness of sins, to those whom he sends in his name, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” Therefore no one can depend on his or her works for salvation, rather one can only depend upon Jesus forgiveness of his or her works, for salvation. It is for this reason that Jesus calls on you and me to ““Strive to enter through the narrow door.” But this striving does not mean trusting in our works, but rather trusting only in Jesus’ work, by rejecting our human desire to save ourselves and clinging only to the cross of Christ, and receiving and hearing that forgiveness won for you regularly. Every time the Lord gathers you around his word, where you hear forgiveness, life and salvation proclaimed to you the door of heaven is opened to you. Every time the waters of holy baptism are poured over a person, every time the sign of the cross is made to mark that person as one redeemed the door of heaven is unlocked to him or her. It is also for this reason the early church practiced truly closed communion, closing the doors of the sanctuary to the unbeliever or the catechumen during the service not permitting them to approach the table of the Lord, for they were unprepared to enter through the narrow door and to eat and drink with the fellowship of saints. Yet for those who had been instructed in the faith, and held to the true body and blood of Jesus in, with, and under, the bread and the wine, they were able to approached the Lord’s table and receive the very body and blood which purchased the forgiveness they were now receiving.
For this reason also, our Lord has not reserved salvation for people based upon their ethnicity or their bloodline, but rather upon his own blood gathering to himself Christians people from east and west, and from north and south, who even this day recline at table in the kingdom of God. For fellow believers, even now all around the world gather at the Lord’s table to receive this very forgiveness, trusting only in Christ, and not themselves, clinging to his promises alone!
Those who are saved will be few, and therefore we strive to enter the narrow door, not by our works, but rather through Christ’s work alone. Amen!