He’s making His way to Jerusalem. St. Luke has made that plain already, and here the steadfast 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 His Exodus, by which He will bring His people out of death into life. For 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 Philippa and whoever believes and is baptized into Him. It is 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. And it is 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, the Lord Jesus Christ does for you and for all.
He first entered that narrow door when He entered the waters of the Jordan River to be baptized by St. John; and from those waters He passes through His crucifixion, death, and burial, into His Resurrection and His Ascension to the Right Hand of His Father. It is all about sonship and what it means to be and to live as a child of God, even and especially 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 through it, to bear His Bride over the threshold.
He gives Himself to be squeezed by the pressure, the tightness, the weight of the world, and the entire burden of the Law, and through it all 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 He simply 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 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 Household of His God and Father. That is what He has done for you, and that is what He gives to you by His Word.
He calls you to follow Him to Jerusalem, to His Cross and Passion, and to enter with Him through that narrow door of His death into His Resurrection and the Life everlasting in 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 by the shedding of His holy and precious Blood; and now by the preaching of His Word He brings you safely through that door, albeit putting you to death and raising you to life again in Himself. It is by the preaching of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, which both kills and makes alive. It is by your Baptism into His Cross and Resurrection, as it is for Philippa henceforth. That is your Exodus, your going out and your coming in, which brings you to the Passover of the Lamb within His Father’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. That 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 the Ministry of His Gospel and faith in His Gospel — all of your works, from the inside-out, and all of your thoughts, words, and actions, even at your very best, are all works of unrighteousness. Indeed, the harder you try to impress the Lord your God with such behavior, the further you wander from His Kingdom and His Righteousness. But if you want to be saved, if you want to live, abandon all 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 a brand new life.
So, He is not talking about simple proximity, simply being in His presence, in the right place at the right time. Sitting in the pew for the sermon, and even kneeling at the rail for the Sacrament, that will not get you through the narrow door. Don’t congratulate yourself that you are here, and do not presume that Christ must let you in because you’ve done your bit and paid your dues. If you imagine that you are 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 you surely do not have the fear of God in your heart and mind. Name dropping isn’t going to work with the Head of the House, and if all you’ve got is your personal pedigree and good attendance card, then you’re not getting in. But why would you even want to enter, if it seems like such a chore to you?
Now, to be sure, it is exactly right that you should want to enter through the door into the Lord’s House, for your Salvation is here. Simply coming to church, in itself, is certainly no guarantee of righteousness and salvation, that is true. But not coming to church at all is even worse, and is absolutely not the remedy or solution to sin, death, and hell. Instead, you are called to the Cross at the center of the Church’s life in Christ. Not to be a passive observer or 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, in fervent love for Him above all else, and in genuine love 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.
That is the life of repentance, faith, and love to which your Baptism has called you, into which it has ushered you by the grace of God in Christ Jesus. It is the ongoing life of righteousness and holiness to which the Lord has called Philippa by His Word and in her Holy Baptism this morning.
But the hard and solid fact is that you can’t achieve any of this by your own power or volition. The door is too narrow, and your ego will not fit through it. That 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.
But that is not your work. It is the Service of your merciful and great High Priest, that is, the same Lord Jesus Christ. You begin to 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 as a sweet-smelling aroma in His nostrils.
You are consecrated to the Lord your God by Christ Jesus 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 to Himself in His beloved and well-pleasing Son.
And so it is that Philippa has been consecrated to the Lord, the one true God, justified by His grace and sanctified by His Spirit. Not by any work of hers, but by His sacred work for her, as for you.
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 your sins upon Himself. He calls you by the preaching of repentance unto faith in His forgiveness, and He bears you in His Body through death into life. Following after Him through Holy Baptism, you have entered the narrow door that He has opened by His Cross and Resurrection. And what that means for the rest of your life is the daily dying and rising of contrition and repentance, confession and absolution, until your Baptism culminates and comes to rest in the death and resurrection of your body, unto the life everlasting of your body and soul in the Kingdom of God.
This daily dying and rising of repentant faith is the way of the Cross by which you live. 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 your God and Father, who teaches you and trains you to live as His dear child and heir. He does not leave you alone to be a passive observer or a listener only, but by His Word and Holy Spirit He lays the Cross of Christ upon your heart and mind, your body and soul, in order to conform you to the Image of His Son. He does so in love, in order to give you life, lest you perish forever in your works of unrighteousness. And so it is that He brings 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 Jesus 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, with gratitude in your heart and thanksgiving on your lips. 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 to you, the Fruits of His Sacrifice for you.
Beloved, you are not a spectator or 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 House, where you belong, 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 come at the sound of His Voice, rejoice and be glad, for that is the gracious gift and good work of the Holy Spirit through the Word and preaching of Christ Jesus.
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 Supper of Christ’s true Body and true Blood is the heart and center of the Church’s life and salvation, already 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 myriads of angels and archangels, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect; because here you have come to the Lord Jesus Christ, 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.