Luke 13:22-30

11th Sunday after Pentecost – 8/21/2022

Experts are becoming more and more convinced that one of the down sides of living in our ever increasing technological and informational age is the loss of intimacy between people.  This is clearly witnessed in the high divorce rates, escalating disconnect between parents and their children, rising personnel problems on the work site, the exhibition of poorer and poorer communication skills, and the steady increase in the coldness of people’s hearts toward each other. Unfortunately, it appears we relate more and better on Facebook and to our I Pad’s than we do to each other in the flesh!

What about our relationship with God?  Does it also suffer from a lack of intimacy? Given all that is going on in the name of Christianity these days, it is right to question if some of us even know God anymore; that is, as He desires to be known? Even more importantly, it is fair to ask if God still knows us?

The polling organization, Gallup, has recently reported that for the first time in 80 years, it has found that less than half of US adults belong to a church, synagogue or mosque.  US church membership was 73% when Gallup first measured it in 1937 and remained near 70% for the next six decades, before beginning a steady decline around the turn of the 21st century.  The report added, “Over the past two decades, the percentage of Americans who do not identify with any religion has grown from 8% in 1998-2000 to 13% in 2008-2010 and 21% over the past three years.”   As far as church attendance is concerned, the Pew Research Center has reported that the percentage of Americans attending church services weekly was only 37% from 2008-2017. This percentage has continued to decline. Now, I ask you, does this sound like most Americans are having an intimate relationship with God?

I’m afraid things aren’t much better closer to home. On any given Sunday during the month of July on average 81 persons were here in worship. That is less than ¼ of us! Are we as a congregation being truly intimate with God?

Putting an eternal face on all this, one might rightly ask, “Who, then, will be sitting at the great eternal banquet in the Kingdom of Heaven? Who will be dining with the Lord, feasting on the delicacies of His salvation?  Does simply calling yourself a Christian or holding a membership is some Christian church qualify for a banquet invitation?  Can you totally ignore God and His Word now and still expect because you are baptized and confirmed you will be saved?

What do you think?  Is being a divine guest of God in Heaven a result of simply knowing about Jesus and being an acquaintance with His church?  Let’s ask these questions of Jesus.  In our text an anonymous person in the crowd does just that.  He framed the question this way:  “Lord, will those who are saved be few?”

Jesus was not about to make His answer simply be an academic or theological exercise.  He made it personal and pointed.  He said literally:  “YOU be striving to enter through the narrow door!  Because 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, YOU will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer YOU, ‘I do not know where YOU come from!”

This is quite a sobering response.  Jesus makes it quite clear that not everyone will be saved. There will be some people who will not be at the Heavenly Banquet, even some of those who presently assume they will. The Door to eternal life will eventually close and there will be some left outside and unable to get in. Likewise, the Door is narrow. Yes, you might say the way to salvation is exclusive.  So much for the pipe dream of our naïve society that everyone will be saved. 

Secondly, Jesus’ response is phrased in such a manner as to force you and me to do some real soul searching. His response does not allow us to merely look at that person or this one and ask:  “Will he be saved?”  or “Will she be saved?”  Instead, His response is couched in such as way as to force us each to ask ourselves: “Will I be saved?  Will I be one of those sitting at the Heavenly Banquet where Jesus promises to get up from the table and serve me, or will I be one, who will be left outside the door unable to get in?”

What is clear is that your eternal salvation and mine boils down to this: Those who will be saved are those whom the Lord knows intimately.  There will be no mere acquaintances at the Lord’s eternal banquet.  It behooves each one of us, then, to ask ourselves: “Does Jesus intimately know me or am I just an acquaintance of His?”

The difference between simply being acquainted with someone and truly knowing them lies in the level of intimacy they have with each other.  Those we know intimately we entrust our lives, our histories, our most private thoughts, our cherished hopes, our fears, our dreams, and even our confessions. However, we usually wear a mask and keep a distance those we just know only by name.  Oh, yes, we might attend a social affair with acquaintances, but we actually eat at our intimate companion’s home table and they eat at ours.

Jesus’ response here has its first and primary application to the Jews.  Many of the Jews in Jesus’ day (represented often by the Pharisees) were quite well acquainted with God, but were not intimate with Him.  They did not entrust themselves to His keeping¼ to His grace ¼ to His truth.  They trusted in their lineage, their own moral goodness or religious works to get them to heaven.  They trusted in the power of human swords more than God to save them. ¼¼ The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was fine until some other more exciting Gentile god came along.  Yes, God’s Word was read in their temple and their synagogues, but they didn’t heed that word. ¼¼ Yes, they went through all the religious requirements, but failed to look to what God had done and was continuing to do for them to redeem them.  In short, they honored God with their lips, but as God Himself clearly testified, their hearts were far from Him

When these Jewish acquaintances find themselves standing outside the closed door to God’s banquet hall, to be sure they will offer up this defense:  “Hey, Lord, we ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.”  But simply dining in God’s presence at a Passover Meal is no substitute for dining with Him.  By the same token, anyone can hear God’s Word being taught.  But it is entirely a different matter when someone heeds that word in faith.  It’s no wonder then that Jesus offered this hard rebuke of these Jewish acquaintances in His audience:  “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.”

On the other hand, one sign of true intimacy is the level of knowledge persons have of each other.  If they know especially where their friend is from ¼ his birthplace ¼ his personal history of how he got to be where he is, then there is true intimacy.

On the continuum between an acquaintance and an intimate companion of Jesus, where would you and I place ourselves?   Does God know where we are from? 

Today, we might rephrase God’s question this way:  “What planet are you from?”  Are we merely aliens to God or does He intimately know us?  Will we be able to enter the narrow door and sit at the Lord’s eternal Banquet?

Sad to say, but I’m afraid there are many today, perhaps even some among our own congregational membership, who are merely living a delusion, thinking that God knows them and where they are from, when in reality their hearts are far from Him. Some assume that if they pray once in a while then they will still be saved.  Others assume that because their name is on some church roster, God knows who they are. Some assume that if their parents or spouse goes to church regularly, then they have an in with God.  Others assume as long as they get confirmed and go to church on Christmas and Easter, then they are communing with God.  After all, they heard Jesus preach in their church. They ate and drank in His presence at Holy Communion a few times.  “Surely,” they think, “God is intimately acquainted with me.” 

But God will not be mocked by such mere acquaintances.  “I don’t know where you are from,” He will say.  “You certainly haven’t been communing with Me and you will not be dining with Me in eternity.”

Intimacy with God only exists where a heart is right with God and that can only exist where there is true repentance and faith in God’s mercy to forgive.  When God called to the fallen Adam in the garden, He didn’t ask, “Adam, what did you do?”  but He asked, “Adam, where are you?”  The closeness and intimacy with God was gone.  Adam’s sin had put Adam in a place of spiritual separation from His God; “How far have you fallen away from me, Adam?”

The doorway through this barrier of eternal separation from God is a narrow one.  Entrance is gained only through intimate communion with God through His Son Jesus Christ.  He is the Door.  Only in Jesus do we come to know God’s true heart of mercy toward us.  He alone is God in human flesh.  Only on account of Jesus’ atoning work on the cross for our sins can we draw near to God.  Only through faith in Jesus as our God and Savior do we come to have fellowship with God. 

This is all because only in the flesh of Jesus has the barrier between sinner and perfect God been broken down.  Only through Jesus’ flesh do we gain access to God’s grace, His merciful forgiveness, and eternal life.  The Jews missed the door when they rejected Jesus.  Can we afford to do the same thing?

But simply knowing the location of the door in the person of Jesus is not going through the door.  Seeing the Door to Life is not standing in the Door and seeing the Life that awaits beyond its portal.  Knowing that Jesus is serving the blessings of God’s grace to sinners is not partaking of those delicacies. 

Apart from faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, there is no communion with God¼ there is no intimate relationship ¼ there will be no place at God’s eternal banquet table.  Jesus has said, “For God so loved the world that He sent His only Begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life¼but whoever does not believe stands condemned¼”  (Jn 3:16, 18).  Simply doing all the right religious things (Simply eating and drinking in God’s presence) is not communing with God.  Intimate fellowship with Christ comes only when one entrusts Himself to Jesus¼ trusts Him for everything ¼ relies on no other god ¼  Jesus says:  “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you ¼ Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in Me, and I in Him” (Jn 6:53,56).  Such eating and drinking happens only in the intimacy of faith. And as Holy Scripture states quite clearly, such faith only comes through “hearing of the Word of Christ.”  Regular feeding on that Word sustains that faith.

And make no mistake about it, faith… believing in Jesus, is not, “Yea, I know who Jesus is and I visit His house once in a while.”  That’s not intimacy! 

Try that with your husband or wife if you think that is intimacy, “Yea, that’s my wife.  We talk occasionally.  We even eat together once-in-a while.  See this piece of paper, its says we are married!” 

Faith is a continuous understanding of where we are from and how much we need Jesus.  You can hear this intimacy of faith in the words of the Psalmist:  “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.  So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.  So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,  when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;  for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.  My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me” (Ps. 63:1-8)   

Jesus warns us all:  “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”  One of our Lutheran Theologians once commented: “Heaven is a free gift of divine grace, but accepting the gift and clinging to it imply a constant struggle with the forces of evil inside and outside, seeking to induce us to refuse or drop the gift” (William Arndt) 

Every Lord’s Day, through His Word and Holy Sacraments, God comes to dine with you that you may dine with Him in eternity.  Receive Him in faith as He meets you in these sacred Means of Grace and brings to you the blessings of His sacrifice, even forgiveness for your past unfaithfulness.  Rejoice in this intimate communion, a prelude to the fellowship of the eternal banquet reserved for those whom the Lord knows. Accordingly, be not a stranger to God’s house and His table on earth all your days and you will not be a stranger to Him when He comes to take His intimate companions to His eternal table in the glory of His heavenly home. Amen.

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