Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 16,c) August 21, 2022
22 [Jesus] 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.”
In the Name of Jesus.
In the chapter previous to the text we have before us, Jesus spoke of living a life of no fear. He taught of the Kingdom of God as pure gift. Luke 12:32:
[Jesus said,] “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
The angel had told Mother Mary of this kingdom. The angel told her of the Holy Spirit coming upon her so that she will bear the Son of God. And the angel told Mary that her Son’s kingdom will be eternal. [Luke 1:33]
Later, Jesus gives us to see this kingdom of no fear as he pulls in a sinful woman of the city, so that in thankfulness she enters the Pharisee’s house in order to anoint Jesus’ feet. [Luke 7:36]
This kingdom is Jesus forgiving sins and sending his Apostles to forgive sins.
This kingdom is Jesus healing the servant of a Gentile centurion; of him looking at the paralytic let down on a mat and saying, “Your sins are forgiven,” then telling the paralytic to stand up and walk. This kingdom is Jesus touching lepers and making them healthy; of him eating and drinking with the worst sinners in town and announcing himself to be friend to tax-collectors, drunks, and sinners.
This kingdom is God the Son coming in the flesh to be with sinners, to take all their sin upon himself, to cleanse them of all shame—it is the kingdom of Jesus making these sinners his own.
Jesus has been going out into the towns and villages gathering sinners into this kingdom of God, and sure enough, someone comes up to him and says,
“Lord, will those who are saved be few?”
Why ask that question?
It’s easy to note that the man did not say to Jesus words of thanksgiving for opening the Kingdom of God to all sinners. He didn’t say words to extol the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He didn’t even say words of petition, praying for mercy for someone he knew or even for himself. He said, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?”
The man asks a question seeking the limits of God’s Kingdom. What are the borders of the kingdom?, the man wants to know. Who’s allowed in, who’s not. Give us some measurements for the kingdom—what is the count of those saved?
The question assumes the Law. Who gets in, who doesn’t? Who’s worthy, who’s not? To whom does the Lord give mercy, from whom does the Lord withhold? The man wants to measure by the Law. Jesus will give him the Law. Luke 13:24:
[Jesus said,] “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 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.’
The man had been looking around at others. His question wondered how many were righteous enough to get in. That’s a Law question. So Jesus gives him a Law answer. Jesus uses the Law to bring the man to look at himself. Because, that’s what the Law does—it puts a mirror in front of you so that if you rightly hear the Law, you will be looking at your own sin. So, as the man asks how many will get in or how many won’t be counted worthy, Jesus tells him what he must do: Strive to enter through the narrow door.
When all is said and done, when the Law has its way, the sinner is brought to repentance not because he’s able to count up the sins of others, or to figure out how many make it into the kingdom, but the sinner is given repentance as the Law shows him his own sin and excludes him from the kingdom. In hearing the Law, the sinner finally hears the Lord’s voice: “I don’t know you, I don’t even know where you came from.” [Luke 13:25]
With the Law, the borders of the Kingdom shrink so tight that the man could now count the number of those who are saved without even getting to the number one. It’s a stingy kingdom that is run by the Law. But that’s not the kingdom Jesus wants the man left with. Luke 13:29:
[Jesus said,] “People will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
Jesus’ kingdom bursts borders. His kingdom gathers from all the nations. He brings in sinners of every tribe and language to the table. This is the kingdom Isaiah prophesied.
The prophet Isaiah had spoken of the virgin bearing a Son who would be called by the name Immanuel, which means, God is with us. [Isaiah 7:14] So Isaiah proclaimed the kingdom of the Messiah who would bear the sins of every sinner. This Messiah would be oppressed and afflicted on our behalf, stricken for our sin, all in order to account sinners righteous. [Isaiah 53]
In our Old Testament reading this morning, we hear Isaiah describing sinners being gathered from all nations and all tongues, from Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, and from the distant coastlands.
This is the kingdom of Jesus. The kingdom of the virgin’s Son, the suffering servant upon whom the sins of the world were laid. This kingdom is not tightened down by the counting and measurements of the Law. It’s opened up to dimensions the teachers of the Law cannot even fathom, stretching to the farthest coastlands. This is the kingdom of no boundaries of tribe or language or culture:
The time is coming, [says the Lord,] to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them.
So we are given to see Jesus going out into the towns, including the unclean villages of the Samaritans.
He’s gathering sinners to into his kingdom.
The teachers of the Law taught a Kingdom of God as small and constricted, confined to the acreage of the Temple, confined by the borders of Jerusalem and Israel. But Jesus teaches a Kingdom whose borders are defined by the blood of the cross. And the blood of the cross leaves out no sinner.
The Lord never intended his Israel to be a matter of confining his salvation. He set Israel as a light to the nations, a servant to the world of sinners; he set Israel to be his congregation into which he would gather the nations.
For the true Israel of God is nothing other than the kingdom of God sinners gathered to the Lord’s Name. The Lord gathers these sinners not with the Law, for the Law gives only condemnation to all, but the true Israel he gathers by the Gospel.
Where the Lord has his Gospel being proclaimed, where Jesus is justifying the guilty by his word of forgiveness, where the Holy Spirit is calling sinners to the Body and Blood to be cleansed of sin, there Jesus is gathering his true Israel, the Kingdom of God on Earth—it’s the church.
In the church, the counting is over. The Law has done its work of measuring and found us to be sinners.
Now, it’s the Gospel.
By his Gospel, Jesus gathers you into his Israel, the kingdom of God. He wants no sinner left out. He reaches into the home under a blanket of despair, into the marriage twisted in conflict, into the friendship cut by malice—he reaches into the heart and conscience of the sinner living in fear.
His kingdom recognizes no boundaries, for Jesus left out no part of our sin, our shame, or our fear. He took it all upon himself, so that his righteousness now goes to all. We can find not a single sinner to whom we can say, Jesus is not for you, your sin does not belong to him.
This is our own salvation. In knowing that no sinner is to be left out of the proclamation of the Gospel, we find that the Gospel is for even us.
Jesus proclaims his Gospel to us, to all sinners, gathering the lowliest into his kingdom. Hebrews 12:24:
you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in Heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of the new testament, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
In the Name of Jesus.