It’s rather glaring. Did you notice it? How Jesus didn’t answer the question the man asked? “Is it only a few to be saved?” You might ask, “Well, why not?” It is an important question. We all ask it at one time or another. As you’re rolling the garbage can to the curb, about the neighbors who don’t seem to be connected to a church. You ask it when you pray yourself to sleep over a child who’s drifted from the faith. We ask it when we notice members of our church who have fallen off the face of the earth. You’d like to know, wouldn’t you? How many is it – in fact, who’s it going to be at the end, “those saved”?
Jesus’ answer is a harsh reality, a hard truth. “[M]any will seek to go in [through the door; enter into God’s salvation] and will not be able to.” And the picture he paints is depressing, devastating, pathetic. Of people locked out, pounding on the door, and pleading, “Lord, open for us!” And their reasoning? “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.”
But that’s exactly how things work here, isn’t it? In our world, things are often about who you know. Networking benefits us all the time. Flex a connection with someone you knew in the past to find a good contractor for your house. Make an ask of a former client for a reference. Seek help from your friend’s dad who works at the company you want to join. I think there’s an irony there many times – we’re often seeking big payouts on connections that are pretty slim. We flex those connections usually only when we’re in need and most often you’re not bosom buddies. It’s more like, “Sure, we both used to be at Bob’s Widgets…and you never burned the place down…I’ll give you a reference.”
That’s the situation Jesus describes. Many will find themselves locked out of salvation and they will consider it unfair. In their estimation, life is about who you know, and they knew Jesus… They were people who lived in Cana when he taught there. They were Pharisees who ate at that one banquet with Jesus. They were kids who sat in Catechism class for two years. They were people who baptized their kids when they were born. They were people in church now and again. Jesus was “in their network.”
Despite their casual connection, Jesus’ characterization is intense. He calls them, “all you evildoers.” Which in our parlance sounds more like mass-murderers, KKK racists, and abusers of power. But literally it’s “all those working unrighteousness.” That’s probably a more useful way to think of it. We’re talking about anyone working in their own network – living in their world, on the basis of their wisdom, through the power of their works – outside of Jesus’ kingdom, the only place with righteousness. And that could be anyone – longtime “Lutheran” to the most wicked Satan-worshiper – anyone who doesn’t know, forgets, or loses actual trust that being products of Jesus’ work is the only connection to life with God.
It’s a warning to us not to just be content with that Jesus is among our acquaintances, that he’s in our network. For in the end, even we might be outside, not able on our own to enter. And finally, in the full sadness of Jesus’ picture – be among those who swing from tears of despair over all they lost to gnashing teeth in rage that others didn’t. As Isaiah said it – to be rebels against real righteousness and subject to everlasting death.
The question we should be asking isn’t how many will be saved. That’s not information you really need, to be frank, and it isn’t most important. This life might be all about who you know. In our lives, Jesus calls us to turn that around. With respect to salvation, it’s all about who knows you. The question behind Jesus’ story is, does the Master know me?
And how does he operate? Is he an angry door-closer? A judgmental elitist? Apparently not, for “there are those who are last who will be first.” This Master operates on the basis of undeserved love, trusted-in. The kind where those who don’t deserve receive. From the writer of Hebrews this morning – the Master is the kind who brings people from all over, of every race, of every kind to the same place – to a mountain of blessings, the joyful assembly of heaven itself where people are “made perfect” (they weren’t on their own), but now, because Jesus is “mediator,” he guarantees that the sprinkled blood of his death is the payment for sins that speaks the best word about the least: not “connected”, not “savvy”, not “capable”, but “perfect” / “righteous.”
As we rejoice every week, this Master knows you. It’s a gracious knowing, to be sure. He created you. He sees you. He loves you. He forgives of your sins. He calls you righteous, opens the door to you, and welcomes you to his table—both here and now and on the last day when he returns. Though you may feel you are least, you are best: known by him.
Now Jesus is talking this morning because this relationship where Jesus knows you, where that alone invites into God’s salvation… that implies something. Philip Melanchthon put it this way a long time ago, “Love and good works must also follow [trust in God]” because “God has commanded them in order to exercise our faith” (AC IV. 74, 189). Today, we could put it as a twist on that old Sunday School song, “Jesus knows me, this I love.”
And love does not seek to do the least. Love effervesces, it reaches, it works, it gives whatever is necessary, it makes every effort… That’s what Jesus is saying when he says, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door…” or, work hard at what God has called you into. Enjoy the brilliant opportunity you have to work in a place like this: a kingdom where God’s eternal love is a gift.
Make every effort…
- Read his Word, your Bible – know his story of your salvation, let his poetry be your praises, use the manual he’s provided for your lives.
- Worship, like in a regular pattern – those who are able, walk through these doors and be present with this body and not at home on the couch – the body of Christ is meant to encourage each other in our salvation hope right here.
- Learn in Bible class – grow stronger and more faith-filled with other believers as you dig into the Word. But not just here…
- Live according to God’s will – not just a Sunday-faith, but a living testimony in your day that God’s will is best.
Make every effort to love that Jesus your Master knows you as his own. And, trusting in his work, all the efforts of your commitment and consistency and love for him will find you at his table – not worried about how many will be there, but enjoying the fact that you are. Amen.