You Still Say It's TOO Easy?
A friend of mine needed to get rid of a litter of puppies. He went to a Wal-Mart with his little boy, the puppies, and a sign saying, "Free Puppies." He sat there for an hour and a half with no takers. Finally an old guy came over and said, "If you make a sign that says 'Puppies $5.00,' you'll sell them all." Skeptical but tired of waiting, my friend made the sign. Within 30 minutes, he had sold them all. You know what that proves, don't you? People don't really want something for nothing. If something is worth nothing to the person giving it away, why should I want it? Why should it be worth something to me?
People say that about the Gospel we Lutherans preach. It can't be worth very much if it's free to all. It can't be worth very much to me if it doesn't cost me anything. At least some of the Protestant churches require you to be miserable for awhile, fret over your sins publicly, or dissolve in tears in front of the altar before you are forgiven. And Catholics at least have their penance. But what do you hear Sunday after Sunday? Christ does it all for all. Christ bears your sins; Christ carries your sorrows; Christ pays your debts. You're encouraged NOT to have a troubled conscience but to see the sins that trouble your conscience on Christ. You're told it is WRONG to think you need to make up for your sins in some way by doing penance. You're assured that Christ alone was punished for your sins, and GIVES you salvation fully and freely.
Your salvation is placed before you as a completed act, a work done by Christ 2,000 years ago. You're not taught "salvation by repentance." That is, you're not taught that God forgives you BECAUSE you repent but that God forgives you freely for Christ's sake. You're not even taught, as some are, that "all you have to DO is believe." This makes faith a work, and Scripture says faith is not a work of man but a miracle of the Holy Spirit. So faith is not something you need to do but something God does in you.
But all this free stuff bothers some people. They want more exciting, challenging stuff. They want to be stirred into a holy zeal. They want to be challenged to get out there and share the Gospel. They want to be made better givers, better parents, better kids. Don't believe me? Why do you think things like Promise Keepers, discipleship training, and workshops on parenting are well attended while Bible classes focusing on what Christ says and does aren't? Change the sign from "Free Salvation" to "Be a Better Christian," and people flock to it. They want to hear what they are to do rather than what Christ did. Some of you secretly think salvation is TOO easy. You're like the man in the text who think's salvation is so easy for him he can speculate about it for others. To YOU Jesus says, "Agonize over your salvation." The YOU is an important part of our text which the bulletin just leaves out. Jesus doesn't say,
the owner of the house will answer, "I don't know you." No, Jesus says, the Owner "will say to YOU, I don't know YOU." To YOU who think salvation is too easy, not exciting enough, not challenging enough, Jesus says you are to start right now agonizing over your salvation.
Do you know why? Because salvation isn't easy at all; Jesus says elsewhere salvation isn't just hard it's impossible. Heaven only has one Door and it's real narrow. It's like when you move furniture. Most pieces fit through the door only one way. Do you think you'll get through heaven's door while you're turned to look at the things of this life? Do you think you'll fit through that door with that grudge you carry or that chip on your shoulder? Do you think the God who stoned to death animals who accidentally touched His holy mountain will allow you to purposely stuff your body bloated by sins through His door? Do you really think you are succeeding in hiding your secret sins from the all knowing, all holy God?
O yeah; salvation is TOO easy. You wouldn't think that if you paid attention when Christ speaks to you. Do you hear what He says? He says, "MANY will try to enter and not be able to." In Matthew He says, "The gate to destruction is WIDE and the way is EASY and MANY there are who enter it. But the gate is NARROW and the way is HARD that leads to life and those who find it are FEW." Salvation can't be too easy because MANY miss it.
The bulletin explains why many try to get in the door but few make it by translating, "they are not able," but it actually says "they are not strong." O I forgot; you are. Sure you have the strength to make it through the narrow door even though you don't have the strength to attend services for 3 Sundays in a row! Sure entering by that narrow door is a piece of cake for you even though you don't have the stamina to get through 1 Bible class. Sure you'll do what it takes to enter that narrow door even though you don't have the strength to sacrifice your time, your talents or your treasure for the Lord of the door!
But you certainly don't need to worry if you don't make it through the door before it closes. You know how it is with easy things. How many last-chance-going-out-of-business sales does a store have? How many times do car dealers have the lowest prices of the year? How many times do jewelry stores have 50-75% off? When something is easy there is really is no rush.
What's wrong? The way you folks are shifting and stirring, you would think that once the Owner of the narrow door gets up and shuts it, it'll never be opened again. As nervous as you folks are, it's like that easy to enter door will slam shut as tightly and as finally as a coffin lid. It's as if it won't matter how much you beg, how much you plead, how much you bargain; you're still going to be outside crying your eyes out for grief and gnashing your teeth for pain.
Some of you people say salvation is TOO easy. To YOU Jesus says, "agonize over your salvation." But to you who are in agony, I am authorized by that same Jesus to say, "The Door is not yet shut for you."
First off do note it is a DOOR not a WALL. Your Lord wants you to enter. His intention is to get you in the door, not slam it in your face. And that door stands open right now all because of Jesus. God split open the closed heavens when He saw His Son standing in the Jordan being baptized in your sins. God reached down and ripped open the wall your sins had built between you and Him when Christ shouted, "It is finished," from the cross. As we sing in the ancient Te Deum, Christ "didst open the kingdom of heaven to all believers."
Friend, Christ has opened the narrow door and only He can shut it. Do you get that? Your goodness, your faith, your repentance, your church attendance, your offerings, nothing about you opens the door; Jesus does; and, therefore, nothing about you in Jesus shuts it. Your badness is not so bad that Jesus goodness isn't able to get the door open for you. Your doubts are not so strong that Jesus' faithfulness can't overcome them. Your sins are not so terrible, so big, so many that they cannot fit through the door that Jesus opens. Doesn't Scripture say that Jesus carried away the sins of the world? Jesus went through the door with the world; I think He knocked a hole big enough for even you to get through.
But some of you feel far away from this Jesus. You feel like others are much closer to Him then you are. It seems like they eat and drink with Him on a regular basis, like Jesus teaches in the streets they walk down every day. They are close, they are tight, they are great friends with Jesus, but you feel so far away. They walk with Him and talk with Him. You don't feel that close.
Lutherans don't talk about proximity to Jesus that much. You won't hear a Lutheran talking about how close they are to Jesus, how much they have Jesus in their heart, how they walk and talk with Him in some garden. You don't hear Lutherans talking about proximity to Jesus, but you do hear them talking about intimacy with Jesus. Proximity to Jesus doesn't save; intimacy with Jesus does. Let me explain.
Lots of people eat and drink with Jesus. They invite Jesus to be their guests at their meals. They talk about Him in their dinner conversation. But that doesn't mean Jesus necessarily recognizes them as His own. Lutherans don't talk abut eating and drinking with Jesus; they talk about eating and drinking Jesus. They eat His body and drink His blood. They may or may not FEEL very close to Jesus but they are "bodied" and "blooded" to Him. They may or may not share walks and talks with Jesus in their gardens, but in Holy Communion they share His true Body and Blood as Paul says in I Corinthians.
Proximity to Jesus doesn't get you through the door; intimacy with Jesus does. Just because you've been around when Jesus has preached and taught in sermons and Bible classes doesn't mean you're through the door. What counts is Jesus knowing you and where you are from. Those born again by water and the Spirit, those baptized into Him, Jesus knows. In your Baptism He marked you with His cross both upon the forehand and upon the breast as a sign that you have been redeemed by Christ the crucified. Think of it as a "Made in Heaven" label, and though that label is made by the waters of Baptism it's not a water color. Baptism is indelible ink; baptism engraves you on the palms of the Savior's hand. You can point to your Baptism and say, "See this proves I can enter heaven's narrow door."
I am authorized by Jesus to tell you, you who are laden with sins and feel very far from Him, you who feel like you're the last one who would ever be able to walk through heaven's door, I am authorized by Jesus to say to you that the door is open wide for you. Why? Because entering is a matter of pure grace not order, not logic, not a merit list.
You see the fact of the matter is that there are those who are last who will be first. The door was opened to the tax collector who pleaded nothing but the mercy of God. It was opened to that Syro-Phoenician woman who claimed to be nothing but a dog. It was opened to the thrice denying Peter who didn't even know if He loved Jesus but clung to the Jesus who knew everything.
The door is still open to you today. And that open door is so sweet, so beautiful, so desirable to those who see that salvation is far from easy. But sometimes it does seem that salvation is too easy, when that happens start agonizing over your salvation. Paul did it. He said he beat His body so his sinful flesh wouldn't cause him to miss the salvation he preached. Luther agonized. He said that anyone who is not afraid of being filled with salvation destroying sin can scarcely be saved. Moses agonized. Even though God spoke to Moses as a man speaks to His friend, Moses was terrified by the holiness of God and his own sinfulness.
Agony over heaven's door and their own sins drove Moses, Paul, and Luther to the sweet, rich, free grace of God. If they thought about the law, their sins, their faith, their repentance, their Christian life, the door of heaven shrunk to the size of a key hole. But God's grace toward them for Christ's sake made the door expand to the size of an aircraft hanger.
Whenever heaven's door looks too easy to get through, go to the Law to be put in agony over your salvation. Whenever heaven's door looks too small for the likes of you, go to the Gospel and see Christ threading a needle with a sinner, and a sinner the size of a camel at that! Whenever the "Free Salvation" sign seems TOO easy, think how terrible a "Be a Better Christian and Be Saved" sign would be! Then go through the door of salvation, and you'll be surprised how the grace of God does indeed grow and change you. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost XIV (9-9-01) Luke 13: 22-30