25 August 2013

Strive to Enter Through the Narrow Door

He’s making His way to Jerusalem.  St. Luke has made that plain already, and here the journey continues.  The Lord Jesus has set His face toward His Holy City and the Sacrifice that He will offer there.  He has fixed His eyes upon His Cross and Passion, upon His Passover and Exodus, by which He will bring His people out of death into life.  By the offering of Himself once for all, He returns to His Father and opens the Kingdom of God to all who follow after Him.

It is a narrow door through which He passes, blazing the trail for you, and for whoever believes and is baptized into Him.  Like being born from your mother’s womb: in which the curse of sin and death contends with the promise and gift of new life.  Or, like a camel being drawn through the eye of a needle.  It seems impossibly small, and it is ludicrous to suppose that anyone could do it.  But, what man could not do, God does for us all in Christ Jesus.

He entered that narrow door when He entered the waters of the Jordan River, and from those waters He passes through His crucifixion, death, and burial, into His Resurrection and Ascension to the Right Hand of His Father.  It is about sonship, and what it means to be and to live as a child of God, even in the midst of sin and death.  He bears and suffers the curse of the fall into sin, by taking His place at the head of a long line of sinners, in order to open the door and lead them all through it: to bear His Bride over the threshold.

He is squeezed by the pressure, the tightness, the weight of the world, and the burden of the Law, but He remains faithful.  He relies upon His Father, come hell or high water against Him.  When He is reviled, He does not revile in return, but keeps on entrusting Himself to the One who will rescue Him from out of death, and raise Him up from out of the tomb, and bring Him finally through the narrow door into the breadth, and height, and depth of divine Glory.  He thus receives the inheritance of the Father’s Son, who, for us men, and for our salvation, came down from heaven into our flesh, and bore our sin, and was disciplined in our place, in order to make a place for all the sons and daughters of Adam in the House of His God and Father.  That is what He has done for you, and that is what He gives you by His Word.

He calls you to follow Him to Jerusalem, to His Cross and Passion, and to enter with Him through the narrow door of His death, into His Resurrection and the life everlasting of His Kingdom.

Because He has already done it, now is the acceptable and opportune time; now is the day of salvation.  He has opened the door, by the sacrifice of His own Body and the shedding of His own Blood, and by the preaching of His Word He brings you through it safely, albeit putting you to death and raising you to life again in Himself.  It is by the preaching of repentance, which kills and makes alive, for the forgiveness of sins.  It is by your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection.  That is your Exodus, your going out and your coming in, which brings you to the Passover of the Lamb at His Table in God’s Kingdom.

You “strive to enter” through that narrow door, as Jesus urges you to do, not by the futile striving of self-righteousness, but by the striving of contrition and repentance.  It is the very opposite of relying on yourself and trying to enter by your own effort.  It is, rather, to be crucified and put to death and buried to yourself, and to find your righteousness, life, and salvation in Christ alone.

Apart from Christ Jesus, which is to say, apart from faith in His Gospel, all of your works, from the inside-out, all of your thoughts, words, and actions, even at your very best, are works of unrighteousness.  And, ironically, the harder you try to impress God with such behavior, the further and further you are from His Kingdom and His Righteousness.  If you want to be saved, and to live, abandon that sort of striving, and fix your hope on the Cross of Christ.  His Cross is the Sign that He has raised up in the midst of His people, to which He calls you, and by which He crucifies you, in order to raise you up to newness of life.

So, what He is talking about is not simply a matter of proximity, of being in His presence, in the right place at the right time.  Sitting in the pew for the sermon, and kneeling at the rail for the Sacrament, does not get you through the narrow door.  Don’t congratulate yourself on being here, nor complain to Christ that He must let you in, because you’ve done your bit and paid your dues.  If you think that you’re doing the Lord a favor by coming to His House and hearing His Word, eating His Food and drinking from His Cup, then you are still too full of yourself and do not have the fear of God in you.  Name dropping isn’t going to work with the Head of the House, and if all you’ve got is your pedigree and attendance card, you’re not getting in.  But, why would you want to enter, then, if it seems like such a chore to you now?

Actually, it is quite right that you should want to enter through the door into the Lord’s House: For this is your Salvation.  Simply coming to church, in itself, is no guarantee of righteousness and salvation; that is true.  But not coming to church at all is even worse, and is certainly not the remedy or the solution, either.  Instead, you are called to the Cross at the center of the Church’s life in Christ, and not to be a passive observer, nor a listener only, but to worship the Lord Jesus Christ by repentant faith in His Word: to hear and heed His preaching, and to eat and drink His Supper, in the holiness and righteousness of faith in His forgiveness of sins.

To worship the one Lord, Jesus Christ, is to stop worshiping yourself and all your false gods in the world.  It is to deny yourself, to take up His Cross and follow Him; to drown and destroy the old Adam in you, and to live as the New Man lives, in faith toward God, and in fervent love for Him above all else, and for your neighbor as yourself.  It is to be at peace with God, and, in so far as it depends on you, to be at peace with all people, in the confidence that God is at peace with you in Christ Jesus.  And, in such peace, hope, and love, you worship Christ in righteousness by pouring yourself out in service to your neighbor, strengthening the weak and healing the sick, and pursuing harmony with everyone, rather than harboring bitterness toward anyone.

The fact is, that you can’t do any of this by your own power or volition.  The door is too narrow, and your ego won’t fit through it.  Which is why your ego must be sacrificed upon the Altar of the Cross, upon the Whole Burnt Offering of Christ Jesus, if you are to enter in.

And this is not your work, but the Service of your merciful and great High Priest, that is, the same Lord Jesus Christ.  You worship Him, in other words, as He comes to you and gathers you to Himself, in order to bear you to the Father in His own Body of flesh and blood.  He is the Clean Vessel in which you are borne, who offers you up to His God and Father as a grain offering, acceptable and well-pleasing in His sight, and a sweet-smelling aroma in His nostrils.

You are consecrated unto God by Christ, and by His Sacrifice; not that you must offer Him, but that He offers you to the Father in Himself, and the Father reconciles you to Himself and receives you in Him.

As Christ passed through the cities, towns, and villages on His way to the Cross in Jerusalem, so has He come here to your town, in order to gather you to Himself and take all your sins upon Himself.  He calls you by the Gospel, the forgiveness of all your sins, and He bears you in His Body through death into life.  Following after Him, you have entered the narrow door that He has opened, by your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection.  Which now means the daily dying and rising of contrition and repentance, confession and absolution, until your Baptism is completed in the death and resurrection of your body, unto the life everlasting of your body and soul in heaven.

This daily dying and rising of repentant faith is the way of the Cross that you are on.  But, again, your striving and suffering, and even your sacrifices, are not meritorious works by which you save yourself and your own skin.  No, this is the discipline of God, who has become your Father in Christ Jesus, and who teaches you and trains you to live as His Son.  He does not leave you alone to be a passive observer or a listener only, but, by His Word and Spirit, He lays the Cross of Christ upon your heart and mind, your body and soul, in order to conform you to His Image.  He does so in love, in order to give you life, lest you perish forever in your works of unrighteousness.  And so does He bring you through the narrow door to Himself.

Even now, by His grace, you live by faith in His Word and promise — as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob did in their pilgrimage on earth, in the midst of frailty and weakness — and here you are seated with them, with Patriarchs and Prophets, Apostles and Evangelists, with the holy martyrs and all saints, at the Table of Christ in the Kingdom of God.  Not simply “in His presence,” nor eating and drinking His Body and Blood unto condemnation, but receiving the Food and Drink with which He feeds you in repentance and faith, and with thanksgiving.  Here the Lord your God receives you to Himself, in peace, even as He gives Himself to you in love, with mercy and forgiveness for all your sins.  If you would enter His Kingdom and be saved at the last, then here receive these gifts Christ freely gives you, as the fruits of His Sacrifice for you.

Beloved, you are not a spectator, nor an “innocent bystander,” but a recipient of these good things, and a participant in the very Life of God in Christ.  It’s a matter of your death and life in Him.  And this is your Father’s Home, where you belong, and where you now live as His own dear child.  He knows your name, for He has named you with His own.  And He knows where you are from, for He has called you from the ends of the earth, from the four corners of the compass, to Himself.  As you have heard His call, and have come, rejoice and be glad, for this already is the gracious work of His Spirit by the Word of Christ.

As your Holy Baptism is the narrow door by which you have entered the Kingdom of your God and Father in Christ Jesus, so is the Altar His Table, at which you are invited to recline, within His house and home.  For the Holy Communion is the heart and center of the Church’s life and salvation, both here in time, and hereafter in eternity.

Here you have come, not to the fire and brimstone of Mount Sinai, but to the beauty and grace of Mount Zion, to the holy City of the living God, to the true Jerusalem, on earth as it is in heaven; to the myriad of angels and archangels, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect; because here you have come to the Lord Jesus, the Mediator of the New Covenant, and to His sprinkled Blood, with which He cleanses you and sanctifies you, and by which you see God and live.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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