Are all religions the same? Do all roads really lead to heaven? Last week we looked at Luke 13:22-30, where Jesus made so clear the need to speak precisely when you're talking about religion and your relationship with God. Do you remember how he said that when the time comes, there would be those who thought they were just fine with God in this life who would be "outside, knocking and pleading"? But Jesus will answer, "I don't know you or where you come from," (Luke 13:27).
Now, look back to the question I started with today. Our society wants to say that as long as you are sincere, whatever you believe will work out for you as long as you believe enough. Jesus makes clear that's not how it works. The truth is no matter how much I believe my ceiling fan can get me to heaven, it just isn't so. So why should it be any different if I believe anything else that isn't in accordance with God's truth, whether it's trust in a statue, a feeling or even what I accomplish?
In fact, when Jesus was asked about the eternal salvation of those "other people" - he turned the question. He tells us not to worry about those others until we've dealt with the primary concern - our own relationship with him. "You, make every effort to enter through the narrow door." And it's interesting. He uses the same Greek word that he used in John 10, when he said: "I am the gate (door); whoever enters through me will be saved." And in Luke 13, he calls that gate narrow.
In Israel, at the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, somewhere during the Ottoman times, that church's wide arch entrance was replaced by what is known as "The Door of Humility" - a door so short and narrow that you have to enter one at a time and every adult coming to worship there must bow before the thought of what is said to have taken place on that site. God became man - the life ring was thrown into the water of this earth - how great is our God!
That's why we sang this Sunday that "In Christ alone my hope is found...in Christ alone who took on flesh, fullness of God in helpless babe, this gift of love and righteousness scorned by the ones he came to save, till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied" (In Christ Alone by Keith Getty and Stuart Townend). That thought makes our hearts bow in thanks to our God that he has pointed us to this narrow gate, the only Way and truth and life (John 14:6)... only Christ.
And he still shows us the way; he invites us through the narrow door standing open in the means of grace. Through the water of Baptism and the word of the Bible, through the bread and wine of communion, he has us look and see Christ, our savior. He has saved us.
But the question is still there: "are only a few to be saved, Lord?" Again, avoiding the question of number, look at verse 29: "People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God." Regardless of number, they will come from all over, from every background and every nation - so there is not a one that you can not show this narrow door to.
In fact, Jesus goes on and shows that we dare not try to judge by appearances who we think will make it through that narrow door. Verse 30: "Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last." Some of those who appear to have it all together, who seem like they'd be first in, may just be found outside. But some of those whom we'd expect to not have a chance, by the miracle of God's grace, will be first, because it is not about what we do or who we are, but what our God has done for us.
The stakes are high. Confusion about what church is all about or misunderstanding of what God expects will land us outside the gates saying, "But Jesus, we were all about you. We did all the right things." And he would have to say - "I never knew you, what you did or are is not the door in." Today, see that the narrow door is open, and every time you enter through those big mahogany doors at church, this (Jesus) is the door you're pointed to. He used the wood of the cross to make your door to eternal life. So come and darken our doorstep soon.
May Jesus bless you as you fight all the distractions and enter through him. And don't forget to bring others to that door too.
In Christ, amen.
Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.