“Where Are You From and Where Are You Going?”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When you hear Jesus say things like, “I have come to bring division” (Luke 12:51) and “unless you repent, you will all perish” (Luke 13:3, 5), you might be tempted to ask with the anonymous stranger, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” (Luke 13:23, ESV)
Oh, we are so curious to know the hidden things of God! Is it not enough that we know God’s will for sinners in Jesus Christ and that we be faithful to His Word? We want the things that have not been entrusted to us. We want answers to questions that have not been given us to ask. But Jesus will not answer our idle curiosities. He is not God’s gossip. And nothing has changed in six millennia. In Deuteronomy 29:29, the Israelites confessed this truth, after God renewed His covenant with them: “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29, ESV). We can have no claim on the secret things of Yahweh, and Jesus answers the question in Luke 13 by refocusing attention away from “them,” whose hearts are known only to God, and back to “me” and “you.” “Strive to enter through the narrow door” (Luke 13:24, ESV). You strive to enter. You repent. You come to the banquet. And all of this so that you do not find yourself among the “many” who “will seek to enter and will not be able” (13:24).
This fact alone, that many will seek to enter the kingdom of God and will not be able, should be enough to shock us out of our comfortable religiosity. Jesus clears away any nonsense about eternal second chances. The door to the presence of God will be shut and many will find themselves on the outside, cut off from Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets. No one will be “left behind” with another chance to choose Him. Jesus was speaking in Luke 13 to those who claimed to be of the house and line of the Hebrew patriarchs. It is clear that Jesus will not accept their genealogy as payment for their salvation. John the Baptizer had said much the same thing to them a few months earlier: “And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father’” (Luke 3:8, ESV). Neither should we say to ourselves, “Our ancestors started this church,” or “We have Luther as our father.” “For I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham,” (3:8) and from these stones God can raise up children of Luther, who know that they are saved through a faith that trusts the grace of Christ alone. You see, “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!’” (Luke 13:25-27, ESV). This is the fearful reality for those who think that they will be made worthy of the kingdom of God by mere proximity to holy things. This is the reality for those who rely on anything other than the free grace of Jesus Christ. Those who think that they are saved by their genealogy or their knowledge of God’s Scriptures or their closeness to pope or congregation will find themselves cast out into the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Those who are comfortably confident that they are first in line for the kingdom may find themselves at the end of the line, and the door closed in front of them. Some who are first will be last.
But what should we make of the seeming contradiction between Jesus’ words in chapter eleven and His words here? In Luke 11:9-10, Jesus says: “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” But here in 13:25, He warns, “You begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’” Has Jesus taken back with the left hand what He gave with the right? No. Understand that our text for today is a warning sign of the end of the world. Until then, until the Lord of the House closes and locks the door at the end of time, the Holy Spirit will continue to call sinners by the Gospel so that they ask, seek, and knock. The Lord will certainly not turn away anyone who is thus called, gathered, and enlightened by His Holy Spirit. You do not need to look to distant countries for the truth of this; you yourselves are evidence. He has opened the door to you, given what you sought—whether you knew you were seeking or not—and answered when you asked. He comes today in bread and wine to confirm His promise to you. His flesh and blood are the seal of that promise.
But there will be an end of all calling, gathering, and enlightening by the Gospel. The Lord will arise and return on the clouds to judge the quick and the dead. As C.S. Lewis put it, “When the author walks on to the stage the play is over…For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up” (Mere Christianity, 66). At that time, fearfully overdue knocking and crying out, even saying, “Lord, Lord,” will yield only a closed door and that terrible Voice: “I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!”
Here the question confronts each one of us: Where do you come from? If you do not have an answer to that question, it is good that you are here, where new beginnings happen. The end has not yet come and God became Man so that He could put you on the narrow path that leads to the narrow door. That path runs through the water. Jesus made this water holy by His own baptism, and if you desire to follow Jesus, He must bring you after Him through the water. As He said to Nickodemus, so He says to you: You must be born again from above. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:3, 5). And if He has already brought you through the water, do not be afraid that He will shut you out. He knows where you come from, because it was He who called your name by water and the Word to come out of your sin and into His House. So where do you come from? The same place out of which Christ came: His grave. God raised you with Him in your baptism, and now you walk the narrow way with Him. And where are you going on that narrow way? To the eternal wedding celebration with the chosen few: “And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29, ESV). Blessed indeed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb! (Revelation 19:9). Blessed are you.
As you journey toward that marriage supper of the Lamb in the New Jerusalem, Jesus reminds you, “Strive, struggle, strain every nerve, to enter through the narrow door.” “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:14, ESV). St. Paul had to remind himself of just how difficult is the way, “But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27, ESV). Take both the promise and the warning to heart, and live between them: live before God in the quiet peace of a baptized child and live before the world in the sober fear of a forgiven sinner. Jesus knows what it is to walk the way of temptation and discouragement and betrayal. His way led Him to Jerusalem, to a lonely and God-forsaken hill; to the cross. If you walked the way of the cross by yourself, you would never reach that narrow door. The path would get darker and narrower and you would either run back to the broad, easy road that leads to destruction, or you would wander off the path into the darkness of your own sin. But He, your Lord, has not only walked the way before you; He walks with you now. His Word is a lamp to your feet and a light to your path (Psalm 119:105). Do not try to walk by yourself; do not leave this traveling fellowship of the Body of Christ; and do not forget to take Food for the way. Come; eat and drink; be refreshed for your journey and, as you struggle and strive in this Christian life, return again and again to this way-station along the path. Jesus Himself will meet you here and, when He returns, He will not fail to bring you to His Father’s House—to your Father’s House—for the banquet. “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thessalonians 5:24, ESV).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God…” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 8/22/07