Theme: Be Here for Christ
Luke 13:22-30: He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward 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."
Why are you here today? It’s a simple enough question. But how would you answer it? Are you here because it’s Sunday and church is what you do on Sunday? Are you here because you feel an obligation to come to church so that others don’t judge you? Are you here because you feel a sense of community and it’s nice to fit in? Those are all compelling reasons for being here, but they aren’t the one reason why you should be here.
In this portion of God’s Word, Jesus had some pretty startling things to say to the people. The group around Jesus at this time were primarily His followers. People who admired Jesus and hung on His every word. They were people who knew that Jesus was the one to be with, but they weren’t asking themselves why they were with Him? Perhaps they didn’t fully know. Maybe they were looking for answers. But, they surely didn’t anticipate what Jesus was about to teach them.
Sometimes, we find ourselves in the same situation as this crowd of followers. We come to church, we’re present, but not always for the right reasons. So often the church is seeking to find out why people aren’t coming to church. The magnifying glass always seems to be on those who aren’t present. I’m sure you might find it a bit offensive for the pastor to speak of the importance of being in church to those who are actually here. Kind of like preaching to the choir, right? Shouldn’t we be focusing more on those who aren’t here instead of examining the intentions of those present?
We surely don’t ignore those who have strayed from church; nor should we downplay the seriousness of breaking God’s commandment to remember His day of rest each week. But the thing we may not realize is that the attitudes and intentions of those present may be in just as dangerous a situation as those who are absent. Coming to church gives you an opportunity to connect with God’s Word and His grace and it gives you time to be strengthened, but it doesn’t force it upon you.
Like many of the people who followed Jesus, very often the greatest danger is for those who feel comfortable, but are actually complacent. Why were the people there with Jesus that day? Well, we may not know the whole answer, but Jesus’ message reveals a lot. Many were with Him for the wrong reasons. Many thought they were united with God but were really only paying lip service. Many were basing their relationship with God on their lineage as Jews, and not what they actually believed in their hearts. And some seemed to pick up on this to an extent because of what one individual asked Jesus, “Lord, are there few who are saved?” What an interesting question. It’s one that comes up often in our lives too. When God offers such an amazing, unthinkable gift as eternal life, we can’t help but wonder who is going to receive it. It’s an easy question to wonder about but a much more difficult one to answer for ourselves. We don’t like going to that difficult place in our minds where we must be entirely honest about ourselves. Could it be that we think we’re going to be saved, that we live like it on the outside, but we actually don’t believe it?
That’s a serious question. But, taking the time to think about why you’re here today can help you answer it, and give you comfort about real salvation. The answer that Jesus gave them people didn’t sound all that comforting, but it was exactly what they needed to hear. Just as there is little comfort in the thought of separation from God and being on the outside looking in; so also there is no comfort in false hope and security. In order to lead these people to the “once for all” hope of the cross, they needed to first travel through the wasteland of their own sins; and through it have a stark reminder of God’s impending judgment.
Sometimes the answer we need is the same too. Sometimes we need to be reminded, like the people, that perhaps we’re not following Jesus for the right reasons. Perhaps we need to see the decay in our hearts before the restoration of the gospel begins its work. Do we listen to that needed reminder, though? If the pastor brings you a message of correction, do you heed it, or automatically shut it out? There were many present that day with Jesus who wanted nothing to do with this reminder of judgment. There were lukewarm followers of Jesus who withered at the first uncomfortable message. They should have asked themselves why they were there that day. Were they there to really follow Jesus, no matter what, or were they there simply to fit in and to stick around until they heard something they didn’t like.
Jesus even mentioned a striking example of this very attitude. In addition to listing Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, He includes the prophets of the Old Testament. These were men who brought the very same message of judgment to the people because of sin. They were often maligned and persecuted. Often, no one listened to them. Sometimes they were even killed for bearing the Word of God. All because the people weren’t there to listen to God’s truth. They wanted to be called His chosen people, but didn’t want to follow through with what that meant.
How do you feel about church? Are you willing to listen to all of God’s Word, even if it condemns you? Even if it causes you to be maligned by the world? Are you here only because of the relationships, only because of family members? Will you listen to me only when I tell you what you want to hear, and tune me out the minute I must help you see the law? Are you a member at this church because it’s just the easiest thing to do in your current stage of life? Will that change for you even if our teachings don’t change? Do you care about the doctrinal differences between our church and others? Are you aware of them? Do you take the time to learn them? Or are you here for a different reason? Will you change your mind and leave just because you feel like it?
Dear friends, please recognize the important lesson Jesus is trying to teach us! He is on the lookout for true followers. He seeks children who desire to listen to His Word. If that’s not why you’re here, then you should take a close look at your heart. Friends and family can bring us into contact with Jesus, but they’re not the reasons alone for choosing a spiritual home. Jesus wants you to be with Him most of all. Everything else comes after.
The people in this crowd thought that Jesus was theirs because of something in themselves. They were Jewish and He was the long-awaited Messiah to come from the Jewish people. In a sense, they were right about this. Their Jewish heritage has indeed brought them into contact with Jesus. But, they took this too far when they staked their eternity on it. They would not get to heaven on their own, no matter how sincerely they saw Jesus was their fellow countryman. Something much greater went into their salvation and into ours. Jesus had to give His own life. He had to offer a gift that none of them could. Salvation and eternal life was not about what they could offer, but about only what Jesus could freely give. Therefore, there was a limit to the value of their ethnic heritage. It brought them to Jesus, but only He could bring them life.
Jesus reminded them about many others who would be saved. Yes, the path to heaven is narrow, but it is traveled by more than just Jews. The Gentiles, too, have just as much an opportunity to believe in Jesus as the promised Israelites. For many in the crowd that day, this message was too difficult, too offensive. It went against the very reason they began to follow Jesus. He was their Jewish Messiah and that was it. To allow the Gentiles these blessings would be too much. They were with Jesus so long as He fit what they wanted Him to be. Once He taught something different, even if it was truth, they wanted no part. In the next verse after our text ends, the Pharisees tell Jesus to leave their region and Jesus mourns for Jerusalem; the city who waited so long for a Savior only to reject Him when He came.
The same lesson applies to us. Do we treat our membership here the same way that the people treated Jesus? Are we here for the right reasons? Is our strongest loyalty to God’s Word and teaching, or to the things that first brought us into contact with Him? The things like: friends, family, a sense of belonging, good relationships. Are you willing to sacrifice loyalty to God’s Word if those things change? What if the good relationship turns sour? What if the new feeling of community dies down? What do you do when you begin to see the flaws in others, in your own pastor, that you never noticed before? Will church just get too old for you? Will you flee somewhere else because it’s easier? If your ultimate loyalty is to God and His Word, the smaller details that would get in the way become opportunities to show the love of Christ.
When you have a disagreement with a fellow brother or sister, you can display the same forgiveness Christ gave you on the cross. You can be proof that the gospel does indeed work. But, what good is our faith if petty arguments and estrangements consume us more than the love of God? If we’re willing to forsake the truth of His Word because of something minor and fleeting, what was the purpose from the very beginning.
We have structured our membership at Redemption so that we hold ourselves accountable to one another and to the Lord. That starts with listening to His Word in all matters and letting that Word be the lamp that guides our path in life. You must know that on that journey God’s Word is not always going to take you where you would choose to go. There are moments of pain and grief when sin becomes known. There are necessary times of repentance when we have strayed. There are times when Jesus will have to speak as sternly to us as He did to these people, reminding us to wake up from our indifferent ways.
Ask yourself if you are here to listen and to obey your Savior. Have you chosen to become a member of this congregation because you believe Jesus is given to you in truth here, or because of some other factor? Be honest to give a diligent answer. It is a matter between you and the Lord only, but He already knows the thoughts and intentions of your heart. If you can answer that question, you can have hope.
When frustrations arise, when relationships strain, when admonishments are given, when weaknesses and mistakes are revealed, you will have hope if you have Jesus first. If that is why you’re here. If not, those little things will get in the way, and they will grow until they become something bigger which ultimately affects your faith.
I’m not saying you have to be a member of this church to be a Christian or to get to heaven. I’m simply asking you why you are here. If you don’t believe this is the best place to preserve the truth in your life and to strengthen the faith in Jesus that does save, then why are you here? So often when you try to tell people that you attend church because it teaches the truth, you get a blunt response like, “Oh, so you believe you have the truth?” or “That’s sounds a little arrogant to think you know the truth!” When I hear those things, I do often as a pastor, I scratch my head in disbelief.
If I didn’t believe that my church was true and correct, why would I be there? Why would I give offerings, time, and effort to a cause that I didn’t believe was correct? Why would I be a pastor of a church that I knew and believed was teaching error? It’s the most blatant paradox to support that which you don’t actually believe. It’s the worst of paradoxes, it’s hypocrisy. But, it happened back in Jesus’ time and it happens today too, sometimes even to us.
If you have found yourself indifferent or apathetic toward what you believe and your membership here, heed the words of Jesus. He doesn’t want fake followers. He promises a strict judgment for those who are claiming to believe but really don’t. He tells us that we put our faith at risk when we do such things. Many shy away as soon as they see that strictness, even in the Savior. But, see more than that. He says it because He loves you. He wants what is best for you. He pleads with you to recognize the dangers, even if He must chastise you for you to see it. If there was no hope, there would be no warning; no need for a judgment.
Jesus is severe because there is promise, hope, and life. He does not want you to squander these free gifts of salvation. He worked hard to earn them for you. Our mission here is to share these blessings as they come to us in Word and Sacrament, and to preserve them for future generations by teaching and practicing the truth. And I want each of you here today and in the future because you believe the same thing. If we can come together on this goal, we can accomplish much for our Savior and we can grow strong in that eternal faith. Be here today, and always, for Jesus. Amen.