Tuesday, August 23, 2016

The Bethany Bullet - Week of August 21, 2016

“The Narrow Door”

Let me tell you it is good to be home.  To cross the threshold of your own house, to sleep in your own bed, to be with family, it is always so good to be home.

Last week I crossed the threshold of Bethany for the first time in weeks and it was good to just sit and worship with no responsibilities.

I did the math and in the past 6 weeks I have spent just about the same number of nights away from home than at home.  I’ve spent time in New Orleans, Louisiana working with the Lutheran National Youth Gathering and in Alaska with our annual mission team.

To make things more challenging I have been battling a lasting upper respiratory infection for three of the last six weeks and am only now starting to feel like myself again. And, yes, my back is still sore. 

But enough about me, let’s dive into the topic for today.  Our Gospel lesson for today is from Luke the 13th chapter and in many Bibles is titled “The Narrow Door.”

I found this great definition of a door this week…Doors are providers of welcome, protection, and passage. 

There is one door I want to talk a little about before we continue.  It is called the “Holy Door of St. Peter’s Basilica”, also known as the “Porto Sancto.”  It is a special door within the walls of the Vatican that is only opened every 25 years during a special jubilee.  It is said that pilgrims who cross the threshold of this door are granted special mercies by God.  It is as if they are passing into the presence of God himself where He welcomes them and protects them. 

Now, I’m not convinced that a door in Italy has that much power but I do know about one from Bethlehem that does.

Let’s dive into the text starting with verse 22, I’m reading from God’s Word Translation, “Then Jesus traveled and taught in one city and village after another on his way to Jerusalem.” (Luke 13:22)

Let’s get a little context.  Back at the end of chapter 9 Luke tells us that “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:51)

Now “resolutely” doesn’t seem to mean direct as it takes 10 more chapters before Luke describes the Triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  This journey that Jesus is on is more than the quickest way into a city. 
On the way He stops to teach and to heal.  But there can be no doubt as to the ultimate goal.  Jerusalem will finally be reached and in the city the salvation of the world will be accomplished.

It was salvation that as on the minds of those with Jesus in our text today so let’s continue with verse 23, “Someone asked Him, ‘Sir, are only a few people going to be saved?” (Luke 13:23)

It was an honest, yet probing question.  Contrary to the teaching heard in many of the synagogues of the time Jesus answers, “Try hard to enter through the narrow door.  I can guarantee that many will try to enter but they won’t succeed.  After the homeowner gets up and closes the door, it’s too late.  You can stand outside, knock at the door, and say, ‘Sir, open the door for us!’ But he will answer you, ‘I don’t know who you are.  Get away from me, all you evil people.’  Then you will cry and be in extreme pain.  That’s what you’ll do when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets.  They’ll be in the kingdom of God, but you’ll be thrown out.  People will come from all over the world and will eat in the kingdom of God.  Some who are last will be first, and some who are first will be last.” (Luke 13:24-30)

Now, in the scope of the message today we are not going to be able to address all of Jesus’ response but today I want to focus on one phrase, “Try hard to enter through the narrow door.” (Luke 13:24)

Once again Jesus describes salvation as some sort of banquet or feast.  Here we see that entrance to that feast is a narrow passage or door.  It’s interesting to note what a narrow door would provide.

A narrow door prevents a great crowd from entering all at once.  The door to the eternal banquet is only wide enough for one to enter at a time.  Credentials are to be checked, an encounter with the one at the door is guaranteed. 

And I think the first thing we can take away from this text is that salvation is something deeply personal and intimate. It comes in the context of relationship.

But just how are you to enter?

Jesus’ first few words have generated questions and have caused confusion throughout the years. 

Is Jesus saying, try hard, do your best, follow the law, and paradise is yours?

If so, have you done enough?

Other translations say, “Make every effort” or “Strive” to enter.

So, have you made every effort to enter? Are you one to strive hard to get in?  Well, I’ll give you this much, you are here.  That’s more than I can say about those who are not.

The Greek word Luke uses here is the root of the word to agonize.

The most literal meaning is to compete for a prize, not unlike what has been going on down in Rio the past two weeks at the Olympic Games.
The figurative meaning is to contend with an adversary, to struggle with difficulties and dangers or to endeavor with strenuous zeal to accomplish something.

So I ask you again, have you agonized to the point of being worthy to cross the threshold of the narrow door and enter into the marriage feast of the lamb that has no end?

Take a long look inside you.  Are you worthy to cross the threshold?  Are you good enough to enter through the narrow door?

If you think you are, listen to the words of Jesus again, “I can guarantee that many will try hard to enter, but they won’t succeed.” (Luke 13:24b)

One of the things we do when we are faced with a part of scripture that is either unclear or difficult, we go to other parts of God’s Word and we let Scripture interpret Scripture.

The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians describes in detail all of the qualifications that he had to qualify him to cross the threshold into eternity.  He was born to the right family with privilege of birth.  He followed the Laws of God perfectly.  His actions were in line with his convictions.  Yet he lays it all down as he writes, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” (Philippians 3:7-9)

All the goodness Paul agonized for, strived for, worked hard for, he describes as loss and rubbish.  Paul actually uses some colorful language that we translate as “rubbish.”  Talk to me out in the Friendship Square after for the real definition. 

You see… entering the narrow door is not a set of actions.
It is not something that comes as a birthright.
It is not given as a reward for a job well done.

The narrow door is a person, and his name is Jesus. 

He is the one who agonized. 

He is the one who strove, who worked hard, and who contended with the adversary, Satan.

He struggled against difficulties and dangers, sin and even death itself.

Yet He endeavored with strenuous zeal to accomplish the salvation of the world.

He is the only one worthy to cross the threshold and enter the feast.

Yet, in an act of love, He becomes the narrow door and grants you access.

Indeed, John in his Gospel records the words of Jesus when he said, “I am the door.” (John 10:9)
Narrow enough to come face to face with you, personally and He desires to forgive you of your sin and have you enter the feast through Him. 

He is the one who provides a welcome, protection and passage.
You see, it’s not about crossing a threshold, but it’s the threshold of the cross!

The threshold Himself ushers you into paradise.  He offers forgiveness for all the acts that shut you out and He asks nothing from you for payment.  His forgiveness is a free gift given to all, won on the cross, and secured when He rose on Easter.

While this would be a wonderful place to end, the text says something else important for us today.

At some point the door will be closed.  When?  We don’t know.

There will be undoubtedly some who are outside and how terrible it will be for them, the text is clear on that.

So, while the door to heaven lay open in Christ we CAN make every effort, we can strive, we can work hard to tell others of the door, who desires to have a relationship with all and who stands ready to usher His children into the feast to provide welcome, protection and passage, for all eternity.

-Pastor Seth Moorman


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