Gathered From

Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 26:45 mark.

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

Do not ask Jesus speculative questions about the souls or the salvation of other people. Already in this chapter, someone has told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate mixed with their sacrifices, and Jesus told them about those on whom the Tower of Siloam fell. “Do you think that these were worse sinners than all the others because these things happened to them? No, I tell you, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (13:1-5). Or, “Who do the crowds say that I am? … But who do you say that I am?” (9:18-20). Or here, when someone asks Him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Jesus doesn’t answer the question. Instead, He says, “You strive to enter through the narrow door.” Where are you from?

We like to speculate about others, generalize about other people. It is much easier to consider other people’s salvation than our own. It is much easier to gossip about other people’s sins than repent of our own. Jesus refuses to have anything to do with speculating about other people’s souls or their salvation. He turns every question to you. We would like to put a bunch of other people in line ahead of us, between us and Jesus, and talk about them. But Jesus takes everyone else out so it is only you and Him; me and Him. What about you?

Jesus is on the way to Jerusalem, having set His face to go and die, and rise from the dead. Notice, there’s nothing here about a narrow road that leads to salvation or a broad road that leads to destruction. Here Jesus speaks only of a door. The time grows short. He’s on His way to the cross. No time to speculate about other people, or salvation in general. There is only you, here and now. Today is the day of salvation. That narrow door is one day going to be closed. Those on the inside will be at the feast forever; those on the outside will knock and say open to us, but the Master of the House will say, “Go away from Me, workers of evil. I do not know from where you come.”

The only other time that this word for “from where” is used in the Gospel of Luke, it is by the leaders of Israel who ask Jesus about where He gets the authority to clear the temple, to teach this way. And Jesus asks them, in return, where John got his authority, from God or from people? They refuse to answer, and Jesus says, “Then neither will I tell you from where I get My authority.” To know where Jesus is from is the same as Him knowing where you come from. Those who do not know where Jesus comes from, who do not believe Jesus, will say, “But Lord, we ate and drank in Your presence and You taught in our streets,” as if mere proximity to Jesus meant anything at all. There are, no doubt, those who sit in churches, where Jesus’ teaching is proclaimed, and who eat and drink in His Presence at the altar, but who have no faith in Him; who take Him for granted, and assume that things will always go on as before. So they have time. They can wait before they give up the sins to which they cling, and which cling so closely.

But there is no time, and Jesus confronts us now and today with His presence. Do not take it for granted! Do not wait! Hear Him. Believe Him. Strive and struggle to enter the narrow door, which will one day be closed. How? Not by doing more good things and somehow making God happy enough with you that He will let you in. This struggle is not about good works, but about His promise. Jesus and His prophets and apostles are clear: if entrance into the Kingdom of God depends on our works, that house of feasting is going to be empty. But Jesus wants His house full, so He sends out messengers with the Word to gather people from everywhere: from the north and south and east and west. From every nation and people and language. Come in! The feast has been prepared by the crucified and risen Son of God. The door is just as narrow as the cross. And Jesus walked the road all the way to the end, faithful and holy, love that does not end. And in His resurrection, He flings wide the doors to the Kingdom. Come in!

But the struggle and the striving for those whom the Lord has gathered is about that promise. This world presses in on us; our sin presses in on us; the door is narrow, and sometimes we don’t think it’s worth it. It would be better and easier, we think, to go through the broad door with the many, than through the narrow door with the few. But that broad and wide door only opens into the narrow darkness outside, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. The narrowness of the door presses on us now, but it opens into the wide salvation of God’s resurrection life in Jesus, the all-encompassing new creation.

Psalm 107 gives us several examples of the ways that we are forced to struggle and strive. All of the redeemed of Yahweh give thanks to Him, for His steadfast love endures forever. He has redeemed us from trouble and gathered us from many places, from the east and west and north and south (107:1-3). But here are those whom the Lord has gathered: some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in; hungry and thirsty, their souls fainted within them. Then they cried to Yahweh in their trouble and He delivered them from their distress. He led them on the straight way to the City not built with hands. Let them thank Yahweh for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to the children of man! For He satisfies the longing oul, and the hungry soul He fills with good things (107:4-9).

Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High. They knew the words of God, but they went their own ways. So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor; they fell down with no one to help. Then they cried to Yahweh in their trouble and He delivered them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and burst the bonds of their rebellion. Let them thank Yahweh for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to the children of man! For He shatters the doors of bronze and cuts in two the bars of iron.

Some were fools through their own sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction; they loathed any kind of food and they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried to Yahweh in their trouble and He delivered them from their distress. He sent out His Word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction. Let them thank Yahweh for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to the children of man! Let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and tell of His deeds in songs of joy!

Somewent down tot he sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw the deeds of Yahweh, His wondrous works in the deep. Because He commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away; they were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to Yahweh in their trouble and He delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and He brought them to their desired haven. Let them thank Yahweh for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to the children of man! Let them extol Him in the congregation of the people, and praise Him in the assembly of the elders!

I don’t know where you are: whether you’re in the desert, hungry and thirsty, wandering and unable to reach your city of refuge; if you’re in darkness and the shadow of death, bound by the chains of your own rebellion; if you’re foolish in your sinful ways and suffering affliction because of them, drawing near to death; or if you are like those in ships on the sea, terrified and unable to reach the safe haven. But wherever you are, whatever the struggle, whatever presses in on you from without or from within, here is the chorus of the Psalm: cry to Yahweh in your trouble and He will deliver you from your distress. And for all the times before, and all the times to come, Give thanks to Yahweh for His never-ending love, for His wondrous works to you. He delivered you from all your sin and death; He gathered You to Himself. He will not leave you now. He knows those who are His. Even when you do eventually go to the grave, He will not forget. He will raise your body and gather you from wherever you are, with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets, and bring you in to the wedding feast, which Jesus has prepared for you. Even now, He feeds you. Even now He gives you the beginning of it. Even now, you recline with Him at the table and He teaches you His word. You know where He is from: God sent Him into the world to gather sinners to Himself, to make a people for God. And so He knows you; you are born from above by water and the Spirit. He knows where you are from. And because He has gathered you now, He will gather you on that last day, when the door is shut, and you will share in the feast that has no end.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 8/19/22

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