Sermon - 8/25/19
2019.08.25 23:37:08

Proper 16/C [Pent. 11] (2019): Isa. 66:18-23; Heb. 12:4-29; Luke 13:22-30.  


Struggle,     And someone said to [Jesus], “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, Struggle to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (vv. 23, 24).


The questioner assumed he was “saved”; and for this reason, asked the wrong question. One must first ask after his own spiritual condition, a matter of individual faith; and only then, with trepidation attend others.


Jesus does not directly answer the man; rather he addresses those following him about spiritual endurance. So, what does “salvation by faith—alone” mean? That has been our inquiry over the last two Sundays: Abraham counted righteous by faith (Gen. 15:6); and God calling Jesus his “hammer and fire” (Jer. 23:29) who crushes stone hearts to repentance.


Certainly, today’s “questioner” was a Jew holding preconceptions as one of Abraham’s ethnically circumcised descendants. Jesus does not let his assumptions pass.


Salvation is not a matter of ethnicity or religious grouping. Jewish or Missouri Synod Lutheran are not per se accounted righteous; rather, as with the promise to Abraham of a Seed; God counts us righteous for Christ’s sake, the heir of God’s promise.


So, what does Jesus mean, “Struggle to enter through the narrow door”? Certainly, human effort does not result in salvation; if that were the case, we are lost. Here is where baptismal grace enlightens; when Jesus speaks of “struggle” or “striving”, he is orienting our faith part and parcel of a new begetting by the HS from above (Jn. 3:3, 7).


By Baptism insight is imparted, that faith is pure gift. It has been observed that, “Hell receives people who think they are good. Jesus receives people who admit that they are not” (R. Lessing, Isaiah, p. 501), that no one may boast of effort. So, what then is the point of Christian “struggle” on our journey with Jesus?  


Baptism is not an isolated event; rather its power effects our on-going condition where God’s incarnate holy Word, Jesus, is cast into our sin nature and lives. The result is faith that pulverizes to repentant hearts and submission to God’s will.


Baptism re-orients us toward God; thus, faith the essence of our righteousness and holiness is unmerited gift of Christ. We don’t “struggle” to obtain that already possessed by our new begetting in Baptism; rather we struggle for faith’s strengthening that we not be robbed of our inheritance by fleshly hearts, minds, earthly authorities, and heavenly powers; so that grace prevails.


Saving faith, as with any relational gift is intended for exercise, requiring effort. Marriage is an example; men and women not only speak love but do acts of love toward one another.


Esau was firstborn son of Isaac and Rebecca; but a fornicator and unholy toward God (Heb. 12:16); he thought so little of his patrimony and God’s blessing that, without a struggle, he forfeited all for a single mess of pottage (KJV, Gen. 25:29-34).  


At Baptism, infant or oldster, we are babes, weaklings in faith; and so as Jacob’s mother Rebecca urged him to seek and grasp after his father’s inheritance and blessing; so the church encourages us to “struggle” alongside Christ for the things of faith by which we ultimately arrive at faith’s perfection.


Faithfully attending word and Sacrament we grow in instruction and knowledge of God in his “School of Faith”. In this way we are prepared and strengthened for every circumstance and struggle through this world. In faith we come into Abraham’s prized inheritance, the fulness of Christ’s righteousness, peace, and purity, “without which no one will see God” (Heb. 12:14).


Baptism is the church’s sacrament enrolling us into God’s “School of Faith”, the same School through which Jesus, in his flesh matriculated, learning perfect submission to his Father’s will. Thus, last Sunday Jesus announced the “division” he came to cast on earth by fire; “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!” (Lk. 12:50).  


We can skip class, worse drop-out, or we can learn the difficult lessons of submission to the Father whereby we admit we have no self-sufficiency of ourselves, only utter reliance on Christ crucified and risen by the Father. In this teaching we learn to seek a better inheritance both now and finally on the Last Day when the School door is shut to those who forfeit knowledge of God located only in the revelation of Christ.  


The implicit answer to the question asked of Jesus is, “Yes, of the myriad stars in and destined for heaven, there are only few out of this world who are saved.”


When Jesus urges us to struggle to enter heaven’s narrow door, he simply tells us that one day, without further notice, the School door will close; and like Esau who later wept bitter tears for despising grace, they too will be turned away.  


It is in God’s School of Faith where we come to know God in Christ; and he, us. Of those on the Last Day whom Jesus has not known in his School, he will reply to their knocking, “I do not know where you come from; depart from me” (Lk. 13:25b, 27); at which point God’s prophesy from Isaiah, “their worm will not die, and their fire will not be quenched, and they will be an abhorrence to all flesh” (66:24) is execute.


Faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17) leading to Baptism for a new begetting from above and a continuing relation with God’s invisible word manifest in Christ with us. (Note well, infants hear every bit as well, perhaps better in absolute trust, than those having attained the so-called “age of reason”).  


God’s School of Faith is not for the lazy and feint-hearted, titillated by sensations apart from his Word. The School is tough in prioritizing how senses are formed by his Word.


Our curriculum first grapples our ears to enhance faith’s sightedness in the Spirit; then by on-going instruction, correction, and rebuke, discipline develops Eucharistic taste buds, spiritually tactile touch, and a nose for heaven’s prayerful incense.


Jesus has taken our flesh into himself that we might run our race in the strength and perseverance of his faith, his flesh, our flesh on the cross. “[L]ooking to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2a) we participate in his discipline to be known as beloved sons and daughters, achieving the goal for which we have been counted righteous and holy in the sight of God, by faith—alone. Amen.





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