Summary: What Christ and Narrow-Minded Christians Have to Say … to the Critical, to the Curious, to the Complacent -- Jesus gives us both the model and the content of how to answer questions about the gospel’s exclusivity
September 5, 2004 — 14th Sunday after Pentecost
Christ Lutheran Church, Columbia, MD
Pastor Jeff Samelson
What Christ and Narrow-Minded Christians Have to Say …
… to the Critical
… to the Curious
… to the Complacent
Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Father’s Son, will be with us in truth and love. Amen.
The Word of God for our study this Sunday is our Gospel, Luke 13:22-30:
Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?"
He said to them, "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, `Sir, open the door for us.’
"But he will answer, `I don’t know you or where you come from.’
"Then you will say, `We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’
"But he will reply, `I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’
"There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last." (NIV)
This is the Gospel of our Lord.
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Chances are good that you’ve had to deal with it. Maybe someone has actually said it to you, or perhaps you’ve only just anticipated it, expecting to hear it if you actually got around to sharing the truth about Jesus Christ.
“It” is the question — or, in some cases, the objection — “So, are you saying that, according to what you believe, the only people who are going to be saved are those who believe what you believe about this Jesus of yours?” Sometimes the question is born from a true lack of knowledge — the person you’re talking to really has never heard that Jesus Christ is the only Way, the only Truth, the only Life before. He or she is curious as much as anything — looking for clarification — because such an “exclusive” message sounds pretty strange to their ears in this “anything goes” kind of society we live in.
At other times, the question is more of an accusation. It comes from someone who already understands that our message — Christ’s message, the gospel — is exclusive. He doesn’t like to be told that he’s going to be left out of heaven because of what he believes and does, or she just doesn’t like the idea that anyone would be so — in her mind — judgmental and arrogant — to say that some people are going to be saved, and others aren’t.
It’s a very modern dilemma that the Christian finds himself in, because the whole idea that we might actually possess a spiritual truth whose acceptance or rejection determines whether other people are saved or not goes against the prevailing attitudes of western culture — first, because no one is supposed to be able to define truth for anyone else when everything’s relative, and second, because it’s so “arrogant” to presume to actually know, with certainty, what’s going to happen to anyone at the end of life. These ideas we’re up against are so prevalent in our society that chances are you’re like me in this respect — you’ve dealt with this question more in anticipating it than in actuality — you expect it so much it affects your sharing of the gospel before you ever even open your mouth. And in some cases it may even keep you from opening your mouth in the first place.
But you know what? As modern as both the objection and the curiosity might be, there’s also nothing new about them. Jesus himself dealt with the same thing, and because of that, the Bible gives us his example of how to deal with it. That’s what our gospel reading today is. Now sure, we usually look at these verses as a direct invitation from Jesus to leave self-righteousness — any trust in yourself or anything else — behind and believe in him, and they are, but look at the question that starts it all off:
Someone asked him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?"
That is not the question of someone who has never heard Christ’s message — it’s the question of someone who has heard it and has realized just how different and radical it is. It’s either asking for clarification of this new teaching Jesus had or making an accusation against him because of it. And so there’s a lot we can learn – and apply — from how Jesus answered. He shows us what to say to the critical and to the curious, and also gives us a message for the complacent.