Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 22, 2010
“The Exclusive, Inclusive Gospel” (Luke 13:22-30)
Which is it? A) Christianity is the most exclusive religion in the world. Or B) Christianity is the most inclusive religion in the world. The answer is, C) both. The gospel of Jesus Christ is entirely exclusive, admitting no other, alternative ways of salvation. And, at the same time, the gospel of Jesus Christ is entirely inclusive, meaning, it’s for everybody. Everyone in the whole wide world is invited in, into God’s house, into the great feast of salvation, but only through the one and only Savior of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ. That, in a nutshell, is the nature of “The Exclusive, Inclusive Gospel.”
But there’s a personal twist to this story, too. This gospel, this salvation, is for you. You’re invited to the party yourself, so don’t get shut out. That is the take-home point of our text for today, from Luke 13.
Here’s the situation. Jesus has been teaching in various towns and villages, as he makes his way to Jerusalem. Somebody comes up to the Teacher and asks him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Nice religious question, isn’t it, for a knowledgeable religious teacher.
Pastors get asked these kinds of questions all the time. People want to get answers to their questions about God, the Bible, and so on. “What about those tribes in Africa that have never heard the gospel? Will they be saved?” “What about babies who die before they’re baptized? Will they be saved?” “What about people who lead a good, moral life and who try hard, but are not Christians?” “Do people have to go to church to go to heaven?” And so on, and so on, and so on. All kinds of questions about God and religion and salvation.
But what pastors train themselves to do, and what Jesus does here, is to ask: What is the question behind the question? Why is this person asking this question? Why do they want to know? You see, people can have different reasons for asking religious questions. Some people want to put God on trial, to see if he measures up their standard of justice. Some people want to have their preconceived notions and opinions affirmed. Some people want to feel better about themselves, that they can compare themselves favorably to people they deem less righteous than they are.
And some people ask religious questions precisely because they want to keep religion from getting too close. What I mean is, they’ll come up with abstract questions about religion in order to divert attention and deflect the word of God from getting too personal with them. They’re trying to avoid repentance, so they ask theoretical questions that put God and religion “out there,” safely at arm’s length.
But Jesus won’t let that sort of diversionary tactic stand. Notice what happens here. The guy asks the question, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And Jesus’ reply is: “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” Notice, Jesus doesn’t really answer the guy’s question! Instead, he turns it around and makes it personal: “Don’t ask about other people. You, what about you? Are you going to be saved? Strive to enter through the narrow door, so you don’t get shut out.”
You see, that’s why we’re here this morning. A sermon is not just some religious lecture about abstract questions. But rather, what is happening here this morning is God coming to you with his word, calling you to repentance and faith and salvation. It’s very personal and practical. This is about your eternal salvation. This is life-and-death stuff here.
And so this is why it is so very important to know that the gospel is both exclusive and inclusive. Jesus first emphasizes how exclusive it is: “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out.”
Oh, it’s not good to be shut out! But that is what will happen if your try to come in under false pretenses. Jesus compares salvation to being admitted to a house, that there is only one way in, and that is, through the front door. There are no side doors through which you can sneak in. Only one door, and only one way in through it. If you don’t come in through that one door, and come in the right way, you will be shut out. Talk about exclusive!
This is very unpopular talk in our day, as you well know. People don’t want to hear that Christianity is the only true religion in the world, that Christ is the only way of salvation. They want to think there are multiple doors to get in. Oh, you may prefer Door #2, and that’s fine for you, but if I choose Door #1 or Door #3, don’t tell me I can’t get in! All kinds of doors, right? Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam–even no religion at all, as long as you’re sincere and “spiritual” and you’re a little bit better person than somebody else.
But will those doors get you in? No, no matter what the world may say. You will never be good enough, no matter how hard you try. And all the sincerity in the world will not atone for your sin. No, you need another door, another way in. And there is only one.
Christ is the only way of salvation, the only door into the kingdom of God, and this is the clear and consistent teaching of Scripture. Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And the Apostle Peter says of Christ in Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” No other way, no other name.
“Many will seek to enter and will not be able.” Not even a casual, surface knowledge about Jesus will be enough in that day. Folks will say: “We had some contact with you, Lord. We went to church a few times. We heard a little bit about you.” “No, sorry, I do not know you,” the Master will say.
You see, that’s the key, that’s the way in through the door. It’s who you know–or rather, it’s who knows you. If Jesus knows you, who you are and where you’re coming from, you get in. If not, you don’t.
Did you ever see those movies or TV shows where somebody comes up to a door and knocks, and the voice on the other side says, “Yeah? Who is it?” And the person wanting to get in says, “Rocco sent me.” And that does the trick, the door is opened, and the person is allowed in. Notice, it’s not the person’s own name that gets them in, it’s the fact that Rocco sent them. It’s his name that counts.
So it is for us. I myself, Henrickson–I don’t have the credentials to get in on my own. Neither do you. You and I are sinners, and our sins would shut us out. But Jesus–now that’s another story. If you come in on Jesus’ name, you get full and free admittance. The door is opened wide. For Jesus does have the credentials, he does have the righteousness, to get you in. Jesus did complete that journey to Jerusalem, and there he died on the cross for you. His blood paid for your admission. His forgiveness is your invitation. His life is written right on your ticket. And so he is your way in. He does know you, he died for you, he rose for you, he baptized you, and you are on his guest list.
And here is where Christianity is the most inclusive religion in the world. It’s for everybody. The Savior God sent into the world is for all men–and women and children. It doesn’t matter what your race, what your background, what your nationality or language. Jesus is for you. It doesn’t even matter what sins you have committed. Jesus covers them all. This gospel is for all people. Not only will the patriarchs and prophets of ancient Israel be there–Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the rest–they will be seated at the table at the feast of salvation, but also there will be a multitude coming from the east and the west and all directions to join them. “And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.”
My friends, this is the inclusive nature of the gospel. It’s for everybody. It’s for the natives halfway around the world. It’s for your neighbors here in town who don’t know what they’re missing. It’s for me. And it’s for you. All of us, sinners, who would be shut out forever if not for what Christ has done for us. But through him–through the one and only Savior of the world, whom God has provided for the salvation of all men–through our Lord Jesus Christ we have the one way in, through the door, to life everlasting in the kingdom of God.