Exaude, the Sunday after Ascension May 27, 2001
213, 342, 279, 127 vv. 4-5
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
And he went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are: Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last. So far the Word.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, Who wants us to build our hopes of heaven on Him alone, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Have you ever had trouble fitting through a doorway? I suspect you probably have. Maybe you had a big bag of groceries in each arm, and had to do some acrobatics to get across the threshold. Perhaps you made a dash for the elevator as the doors were closing, and just missed it at the last moment. Think about the last time you moved: chances are you had some trouble getting the bulkier of your belongings—freezer, hide-a-bed, washer—through the doorway. I knew one family who puffed and strained trying unsuccessfully to get their upright piano out of the basement—until somebody remembered that the house had been built around it in the first place; the tape measure said it just wouldn’t go! In short, the bigger the object you’re trying to get through a door, the smaller that door appears to be.
In the section of the Bible that I just read, Jesus says that the door to heaven is extremely narrow. He says that so that each and every person will take the time to measure himself here on earth. Right now is the time for us to determine whether or not we’re going to fit through. Our theme today is:
When Jesus said, Strive to enter in at the strait gate, He was using a picture that everybody can understand. When you stop to think about it, it’s amazing how much time we spend going through doors! How many doors did you pass through to get here this morning? Isn’t it time you stopped to think about the final door that you will pass through in life—the door to heaven. How wide—or narrow—will that door be?
Well, to look at the lives of some people who call themselves Christians, you’d think the door of heaven was very wide indeed. Many say, “Oh, heaven must be a big place. Even though I’m not the best person, I’m sure there will be room for me.” Others confidently assert, “It doesn’t really matter what you believe. All roads eventually lead to the same place.” Which is a little like saying all you have to do is get on a road—any road!—and drive, drive, drive, and you’ll eventually end up in Denver. Is that what God says?
In our text, someone stopped Jesus and asked Him, Lord, are there few that be saved? He wanted how many people there would be in heaven. You notice that Jesus doesn’t really answer the man’s question. In effect, He says: Don’t worry about how many other people will be there, worry about how YOU’RE going to get there. There are a lot of people, Jesus says, who think they deserve to go to heaven—who aren’t going to make it. For many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.
Who is Jesus referring to here? Is He talking about those good-for-nothing tax collectors? The dirty prostitutes The openly shameful sinners? Not at all. The people Jesus was referring to at the time were the Pharisees: a group of people who were very pious-looking; a group who were completely confident in their own “religiousness.” A group who will be so surprised to be excluded from heaven on Judgment Day that they …shall begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.
The door to heaven is narrow enough that people who trust in themselves won’t get through it. And that should make you stop and think about something. Here were fine upstanding citizens who, outwardly at least, had not so much as a spot on their records. They went to church every Sabbath Day, and put a straight ten per cent of their income in the collection plate. And yet, these same people, Jesus said, would not be able to squeeze through the door of heaven.
The door to heaven is narrow because God demands repentance. People who are inflated with their own righteousness are people who don’t understand the full seriousness of their sins, and don’t feel the need to turn to Christ. My Christian friends, if we come to the Lord’s judgement throne carrying a grocery bag full of our own good works in each arm, there’s no way we’ll get through that narrow door!
Not long ago our Pacific Coast Pastoral Conference was involved in a discussion of the Reformed denominations, one of whose mottoes is “Deeds, not Creeds.” They believe that how many good deeds you do is a lot more important that what you believe.—And that’s dangerous, because that can turn people into Pharisees. Suddenly, people start comparing their good works with the next guy’s. Suddenly they start expecting God to open the door of heaven to them because of who they are. But the door will be shut tight to them, and Jesus will say, I know you not whence ye are. If you trust in your own deeds for salvation, you are, in effect, rejecting the work of Jesus Christ, turning your back on the only One who can save you.
So exactly how wide IS the door to heaven? After all, if those pious-looking Pharisees couldn’t get through, who will? If God’s chosen people themselves can’t get in, what about us?
There’s an interesting section at the end of our text for this morning. Jesus says, And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.
What’s especially interesting about those words is that Jesus is talking about you and me. We are the ones who are coming from the east and the west. You see, we aren’t God’s chosen people by birth, like the Jews were. But when the Jews rejected Christ, God opened the door of heaven to people from all parts of the globe. By faith, even the worst of sinners, no matter his ethnic background, is invited to cling to the promises of Christ.
I’ve noticed that little kids are really fascinated by automatic doors. They can be walking out of a department store, and as they get close to the glass doors—like magic—they suddenly slide open. What they don’t know, of course, is that the doors are operated by an electronic motion sensor. Do you know what makes the door of heaven swing open? It’s not magic. Jesus gives us a clue when He says that the last will be first, and the first last. What does that mean?
Well, when you look honestly at yourself in view of God’s commandments, you begin to understand something: on our own, we are LAST in God’s book. Each of us has to admit, with the Apostle Paul, “I am the chief of sinners!” I Tim 1:15. Only you know what kind of sins you are guilty of; what skeletons are in your closet, what evil deeds lie in your past. Only I know what wicked thoughts have lingered on my mind and tempted my soul, thoughts unworthy of any Christian, not to mention a minister of the Gospel. If we are honest, we all must cry out with Paul, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
Paul’s answer is our answer: “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Rom 7:24-25. Do you think of yourself as the LAST—the least likely to get through the door of heaven? Then take heart, for through His Son Jesus Christ, God takes the LAST and makes them FIRST. He says to you, Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven thee! And why? Because of Jesus Christ. He was first in the Lord’s book, His beloved only Son. He’s the only one who did live a perfectly holy life, who actually did obey all the commandments without a single failure. And yet, Jesus—the FIRST—made Himself LAST by dying on the cross as our substitute. He took the curse of our sin upon himself, and willingly came in dead last on Calvary, all in order to save us. Because of that sacrifice, God pronounces upon us His forgiveness. For Christ’s sake, He throws the door of heaven wide open to receive us!
So how can you know in advance whether you’ll fit through the door of heaven? Simple. Just measure yourself according to the standards of God’s Law; run through the Ten Commandments to see how your life stacks up. Then abandon any thoughts of self-righteousness, and cling only to the cross of Christ. And that’s all there is to it! For there’s one thing we can say with certainty: no one who repents of his sins and trusts in Jesus for forgiveness can possibly fail to pass through the doors of heaven. May the Lord keep us steadfast in that blessed faith for the rest of our lives! AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.