I'm willing to bet that the kids returning to school last week heard a teacher say, "There are no stupid questions." I don't believe that. There are stupid questions. There are questions that ought not be asked. Our text centers on one. Jesus is teaching His way through towns and villages on His way to Jerusalem. Luke writes it this way, so you'll remember that since Luke 9:51 Jesus has set His face: to go to Jerusalem, to be betrayed by a friend, to be lied about by the Church, and to be killed by the State. While teaching these momentous things about being saved and being damned. "Someone asked Him, "Lord are only a few people going to be saved?"
What's wrong with that question? Doesn't it even prick your interest? What a lively discussion that question would generate in Bible class! You'd like to be in on that, but it's not a good question. First it's preoccupied with the salvation of others. Never discuss anyone else's salvation other than the person you're talking to. Discuss that person's sins, not a person who is not there. Discuss what that persons thinks of Jesus, not what that person think another person thinks of Jesus. Discuss the salvation of that particular soul, not the souls of anyone else.
Second, "Are only a few people going to be saved" is a bad question because it's about the unrevealed will of God. What God wants you to know about the future He reveals in His Word. The rest is part of His hidden will. What God has chosen not to reveal to us we should be glad not to know. God chose not to reveal to Adam and Eve the knowledge of good and evil. That wasn't good enough for them. Satan deceived Eve into thinking God was holding out on them, so she ate of the tree. She pried into the hidden will of God and found more than she could handle. She looked for wisdom and found sin, death, and the devil instead.
See how Jesus handles this wrong question. Jesus directs the questioner and all within earshot back to themselves. This is sharp law, and that's how poor, wrong, or silly religious questions ought to be answered. There is something dangerous, deadly, and even damning about religious questions that are asked in a curious, academic, or detached sort of way. But the people who ask them always think they're going to the head of the class. How bright, how intellectual, how mature they must be for asking such a deep question. They are surprised when the pastor reacts with the Law as Jesus does here. They don't understand what the pastor knows. The questioner thinks, "I'm peeking into the mysteries of God." The pastor knows they're about to poke their head into hell. He has to yank them back.
Jesus tugs hard. He says, "You must agonize to enter though the narrow door. Many will try to enter and will not be able to," and then Jesus puts us outside of that door. He says, "You will stand outside knocking and pleading." Jesus does what Genesis does not. Genesis does not show you a heart wrenching scene of thousands of people pounding on the door of the ark as the flood waters rise. We don't hear the anguished screams, the pleas for mercy that Jesus shows us here. You who would ask about the salvation of others see yourselves on the outside banging and pleading.
But there's more. Jesus shows you your actual plea. You don't call Him, "Sir" as the insert translates but "Lord." You still think you believe in Him, you worship Him. He's your God and Lord. But He will say to you, "I don't know you. Away from Me all you evildoers." Then Jesus says you will know eternal weeping and gnashing of your teeth when you see those in the kingdom of God "but you yourselves thrown out."
Then Jesus ends with a statement that leaves an unspoken question in the ears of those asking wrong questions. Jesus says, "There are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last." This brings up the question, "Might I be one of the first who is going to end up last?" Luther said this statement of Jesus is "to frighten the greatest saints." It is indeed terrifying to ask, "Will I be saved?" but it is far more profitable then, "Are only a few people going to be saved?"
Before a flight, what does the flight attendant say you should do if oxygen is deployed? First make sure your mask is secure and functioning before you try to help anyone else. Yes, answer certainly and rightly, "Will I be saved?" before you look to the salvation of anyone else. This question is answered in out text by an even better question which we'll get to shortly by means of how Jesus answered the wrong question in the text.
Jesus says there's a Door that people can pass through to be saved and that the Door is narrow. Note well, there is Door. Jesus doesn't say there is a wall, but a door, and that this Door is open not closed. Yes, Jesus says there is a time when the Door will be shut for good, for eternity, but that time is not now. Today the Door stands open.
To whom is the Door open? Whom did Jesus call to Himself? "Come unto Me all who labor and are heavy laden," says Jesus. Do you labor with sinfulness; are you laden with guilt? Then Jesus is calling you. Whose sins did Jesus carry to the cross? John the Baptist called Jesus the Lamb of God that carries away the sins of the world. So if Jesus carried away the world's sins, were your's there or not? Were all your sins there or just the one's you think Jesus could forgive? Whom does St. John say Jesus is the wrath removing sacrifice for? For believers, for good people, for people who do their best? No, no and no. Jesus is the wrath removing sacrifice for the sins of the whole world John says. Jesus is the narrow Door wide enough for the whole world to fit through.
Ah, but what troubles you is those outside saying to Jesus, "We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets." Doesn't that seem like it should get the Door opened for them? No, this assertion is like the one I often hear. When I'm not wearing my clerical collar and someone I've been talking to finds out I'm a pastor, they inevitably say, "I have an aunt who goes to church." The people in the text also claim salvation by proximity.
Jesus teaching in your streets or for that matter in your very church does nothing for you. But being taught by Jesus does. Jesus promised that the person who listens to me when I teach God's Word hears Him. The voice of Jesus sounds through my mouth. In Isaiah 54 the Lord promises that in the kingdom of the Christ, "Your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the peace of your children." The Prophet Amos warns of coming days when there will be a famine not for food but for the Word of God. Those days are not yet here, but they're coming, so now is the time to be taught of God.
It's also the time to be fed by Him. Those outside the kingdom claim they should be let in because "We ate and drank with you." You might not get what they are saying because of the translation. They don't claim to eat and drink with the Lord as the insert translates but in the presence of Him as the better translations have it. This is the word used for doing something in the presence of deity. This is what idol worshippers do. They go to temples and have marvelous meals in the presence of their idols.
There's a world of difference, a heaven and hell difference, between eating and drinking in the presence of Jesus and eating and drinking the Jesus who is present. Jesus says in John 6, "Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise Him up on the last day Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in Him."
Day in and day out everyone is in the presence of Jesus. He, on the right hand of the Father, rules over all things. There's nowhere anyone can go that's out of His presence. But there is no salvation in merely being in the presence of Jesus. Salvation is attached to the Body Jesus gave on the cross and to the Blood Jesus shed there to cover sins. It's true; you can participate in the Body and Blood of Jesus by faith as hundreds of millions do who don't have His Body and Blood on their altars. But you have them on this altar, and therefore you can have His Body in your body, His Blood in your veins. That's important because heaven's gates must open wide to the Body and Blood of Jesus.
The text begins with a man wanting to know what God does not want Him to know. "Are only a few people going to be saved?" But do you see in this text that salvation doesn't hang on your knowing Jesus but on Him knowing you? Those outside the Door all claim to know the Lord, but what does Jesus say twice, "I don't know you or where you are from."
That's a good question: does Jesus know you and where you are from? If Jesus has called you by name in Baptism, I'd say He knows you. If Jesus has put away your sins in absolution saying, "I forgive you," then I'd say He knows you quite well. If Jesus gives you His Body for food and His Blood for drink, I'd say that's a pretty intimate knowing. But I know what happens. You get all turned around sometime in what you know and don't know, feel or don't feel, think or don't think. This troubles you, but better to be turned around in what you know then like the people in the text who were certain what they knew. You might say they were damned certain.
You be certain of what Jesus knows. Then you'll be secure in your salvation. Jesus knows you in Water, Words, Bread and Wine. Jesus knows where you are from. He gave birth to you in Baptism, raises you by Absolution, and sustains you in Communion. When Jesus looks at Water, He remembers you. When Jesus hears forgiveness spoken He remembers you. When Jesus comes to this altar, His every thought is of you.
Focusing on what Jesus knows is far better than focusing on what you know about the salvation of others or even your own. What you have in your head, heart, or even hand can be taken from you. What Jesus has in His head, heart and hands can never be taken from Him. And Jesus has you in His head, heart, and hands. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost XIV (20070902); Luke 13: 22-30