The Narrow Door
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 13:22–30
The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
August 21, 2022
“The Narrow Door”
Pop quiz time! When did the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) become law? Answer: 1990. That was more than thirty years ago and since then, our nation has become more sensitized to accommodations for people with disabilities (Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 - Wikipedia). These include things like traffic lights that have audio components so that walkers who are sight impaired can cross the street safely. Or curb ramps to make pedestrian crossings accessible for people who are challenged with mobility issues. And door width is another big deal. For people who are in wheelchairs, getting through a door is dependent on that door being at least 32 inches wide. We may not even think about these things until we ourselves are forced to confront how many spaces and places are not ADA-compliant, either for ourselves or for a loved one. We’ve come a long way since 1990, but for those dealing with disabilities, they will tell you that we’ve still got a long way to go. That 32-inch wide, ADA-compliant door stands in contrast to what Jesus is talking about in the Gospel lesson when he says, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:24). The message for today, based on Jesus’ words in the Gospel lesson, is entitled “The Narrow Door.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
As we heard last Sunday, Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. That’s the opening verse in today’s Gospel lesson: “He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem” (Luke 13:22). But for now, Jesus is up north in Galilee where he is doing a lot of preaching and teaching. Jesus’ teaching today flows out of the question that someone asked him: “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” (Luke 13:23). As the old saying goes, “Just make sure that you’re one of them.” Jesus’ teaching today is on the end of the age; the final day. Jesus would have us know that there will be some surprises here; some unexpected turn-abouts; some who think they will be first will be last, and some who think they will be last will be first. The key to understanding what Jesus is saying is that narrow door. In John’s Gospel, Jesus makes a number of “I am” statements: I am the bread of life (John 6); I am the light of the world (John 8); I am the gate and I am the good shepherd (John 10); I am the resurrection and the life (John 11); I am the way, the truth and the life (John 14); and I am the vine (John 15). Whenever Jesus uses these “I am” statements, he is identifying himself as the same God who revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush at Mt. Sinai: “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14). Jesus himself is that gate; he is the door which opens to forgiveness, life and salvation. But this is a narrow door. What does this mean? It means that we can’t fit all of our baggage through that narrow door. We have to let go of all the things that prevent us from entering through that door. It means that this is not about fitting the kingdom of God into our life, but fitting our life into the kingdom of God. It means that we must heed Jesus’ words: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23).
We can only take up our cross because Jesus first took up his cross, offering his very life on that cross as the atoning sacrifice for our sins. He has shed his blood that we might be his own and follow his gracious will for our lives. This is more than just a casual knowledge of Jesus; being aware of who he is, but that’s it. That will be the very thing that keeps people out of the heavenly feast, as people cry out to Jesus: “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets” (Luke 13:26). They knew about Jesus, but they did not know Jesus. It’s no different today. Merely being a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, or Luther doesn’t mean anything. It’s not an outward association, but an inward, living relationship with Jesus that will bring us into the heavenly feast. More than any other image in Scripture, it is a feast, a banquet, a celebration that is used to depict the kingdom of heaven. The free gift of salvation in Jesus is not limited to only a select few; some and not others. The free gift of God, the forgiveness of sins, life and salvation through Jesus is for all people and tribes, all nations and languages. This is what Jesus speaks of when he talks about that multitude coming from east and west, north and south, to sit at the table in the kingdom of God. We are blessed to receive a foretaste of that heavenly banquet today in the Lord’s Supper. Under gifts of bread and wine, we are privileged to enter through that narrow door and receive the true Body and Blood of Jesus in this blessed Sacrament. We come with empty hands and repentant hearts which Jesus fills with blood-bought forgiveness that is full and free. He bestows on us his saving peace which passes all understanding. He unites us with himself and his whole church on earth and in heaven, until by his grace we pass from this life to life eternal and see him face to face in glory.
The hymn of the day that we’re about to sing is probably not familiar to many of us, if anyone at all. But the words, the text, of the hymn are so fitting to Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel lesson, and the sure hope which we have in him. And so we are going to learn and sing this hymn together. The hymn itself, both the musical setting and the text, come from the Scandinavian church. The musical setting is from Sweden and the text is from Norway. We are told that the man who wrote the words to this hymn, Magnus Landstad (1802-1880), “suffered a difficult and solitary childhood, so it comes as no surprise that one of his best hymns looks past the physical and emotional struggles of this life toward the promised feast to come in the next” (Lutheran Service Book: Companion to the Hymns, Vol. 1. St. Louis: Concordia, 2019; p. 454). Further, “… these stanzas speak through references to prophecy (Isaiah 35:10) and revelation (Revelation 7:9-17) with a certainty of the heavenly feast of salvation to come. The language is comforting and assured: ‘All trials shall be” and ‘The heavens shall ring’”… (Ibid., p. 455). In 1858, Landstad wrote, ‘For me, whenever we gather to pray, we sing a psalm of penance. I believe it is right do so as long as we are in this world.’ It is fitting, then, that each stanza of this hymn – with its text that looks past the suffering of this world to the promised rejoicing in the next – concludes with a supplication echoing the Kyrie. The cry to Jesus for His mercy expresses not only a sense of humility and unworthiness but also a confident faith and a firm trust that He graciously hears us, has pity on us sinners, and helps us in our needs” (Ibid.).
Let us then, by the power of the Holy Spirit who calls us and keeps us in this one true faith, enter through that narrow door to life with Jesus, now and forever. Amen.