Who’s In First?

Luke 13:22-30

The Narrow Door

22 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”

He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door,because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 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.’

26 “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’

27 “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’

28 “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. 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. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”


            I love Jesus!  Everyone is probably like “phew.  It’s a good thing to know we have a pastor who loves Jesus.”  Well, besides loving Jesus because he is the Savior of the world as well as my personal Savior, one of the other reasons I love Jesus is because of what he does in our gospel reading this morning.  Throughout the different gospels, Jesus is always being asked questions.  Sometimes questions come from people in the crowd, his own disciples, or they come from the religious elite.  Remember, Jesus lived a sinless life, so without sinning, Jesus, in a sarcastic kind of way, takes the question being asked and he answers it without directly answering the question.

Jesus is asked, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” (Luke 13:23).  The person asking this question is probably trying to find some reason to justify to himself that he will be saved.  However, what seems like a simple question with a “yes” or “no” type of answer, Jesus turns it into something much more.  Instead of giving a simple “yes” or “no” answer, Jesus gives a short little discourse about how each person needs to “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.”  But here’s the thing, after saying this, Jesus says that “many will try to enter and will not be able to.”  This probably isn’t the answer the person was looking for.  “I should make every effort, but even though many will try, some will not be able.  Okay … where does that leave me Jesus?

Jesus goes on to say that once the owner of the house has closed the door, that’s it.  The door is closed, locked, and the key is thrown away forever.  If your late, you aren’t getting in, no matter how much you beg or plead, no matter how much you thought you knew the owner, you aren’t getting in.

Through Jesus’ response to the somewhat easy sounding question of “are only a few people going to be saved,” he is essentially telling those who think they should be in to not be so confident, don’t be so sure of yourself.  You see, especially the Pharisees, the religious elite of Jesus’ day, as well as those close to them … they think they’re in.  The religious elite especially think they’re in because they are God’s representatives and are basically the ones who write up and set the rules.  They are the ones who say that if you want to get into heaven, this is what you need to do.  If you can’t follow these rules or if you break one of them on accident, well, then here, take this list of other things you need to do to make up for your mistakes.  If you fulfill this list, then you should be back on the right path again.  Jesus I’m sure is shaking his head at this mindset in disappointment.  Jesus tells these religious elite, those close to them, those who believe that they will be saved based on their deeds … they have it all wrong.  Not only do they have it wrong … they are in for a rude awaking and they are going to be really surprised when they don’t make it and when they see who actually does makes it in.

The ones who make it in are the ones who are believed to not even stand a chance.  “There is no way.  No way these outsiders, no way these people from the wastelands of society, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, these sinners and Gentiles … they’ll never make it.  Them … they are the worst of the worst.  There is no way they will make it in.”  Except … these who are looked down up on and are considered to be last in society … they will be the ones who are in first.  They aren’t first because of their perfect fulfillment of the law or because of their innumerable good deeds, far from it … they are going to be first because of the faith they have in Jesus.

And this is where you and I come in.  We aren’t going to heaven because of the good deeds we have done or because we have followed the rules perfectly.  Our deeds are as clean as bloody rags and we follow the rules about as good as a sloth being told to run.  If left to me, I’d never get into heaven.  Not even on my so called “good” days would I even come close to qualifying.  And thanks be to God it isn’t left up to me.  But when I read this text, as much as I love the sarcastic like side of Jesus … there is something deeper here which bothers me.

You see, when we look at who is truly first in the kingdom of God, it’s Jesus.  As we confess in the Nicene Creed, Jesus is the “only-begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds.”  Hebrews 1 says that Jesus was appointed the heir of all things, that he is the exact representation of God, that he is so much better than all the angels, and that he is seated at the right hand of God.  Our Epistle lesson from Philippians says that Jesus, “being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped” (Phil 2:6).  God himself at Jesus’ baptism and again on the Mount of Transfiguration says of Jesus, “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”  Jesus as God and the Son of God is first in the Kingdom of God.  There is no higher place given to any other person.

Yet this Jesus, who is first in the kingdom of God … he becomes last.  Remember what Jesus said at the end of our gospel reading?  “Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last” (Luke 13:30).  It blows my mind to think that Jesus exchanged the security of a perfect life in heaven for what?  For an even better life on earth?  I don’t think so.  He exchanged the security of a perfect life in heaven for the insecurity of a life on earth.  And this life on earth treated him as if he was a bum.  When he was born, instead of being born in a palace like other kings are, Jesus is born in a stinky, messy manger because there was no room for him in the inn.  When Jesus left home to begin his ministry, he didn’t have an apartment or house to call his own.  Instead Jesus tells a crowd that “foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Matt. 8:20).  Jesus, the very Son of God is homeless.

On top of that … Jesus as the very creator of all things “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” (Phil. 2:7).  But Paul didn’t stop there, he goes on to say, and, “And being found in the appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (2:8).  In the words of Psalm 22, Jesus “was a worm and not a man; scorned by mankind and despised by the people” (22:6).  Isaiah says Jesus was “despised and rejected by men, he was despised and we esteemed him not, he was stricken by God and afflicted, led like a lamb to the slaughter and numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53).  It’s not right that Jesus went through all this, but probably the most disturbing part of all of this is that “it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer” (53:10).

This the thing that gets me the most.  It was the LORD’s will to crush Jesus, it was God the Father’s will to make Jesus suffer.  And why?  Because I’m sinful.  Because you are sinful.  It isn’t because Jesus is sinful.  Jesus isn’t at fault at all, it is your fault and my fault.  Jesus was forsaken by his Heavenly Father, which is the ultimate shame and disgrace one could experience … and it was all because of me … it was all because of you.

Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last” (Luke 13:30).  Jesus became last … he became last so that we, so that you and I, who deservedly are last because of our sins … he became last so that we can be first in the kingdom of heaven.  He became last so that you can walk through the narrow door of Christ.  The Bible says that once we were not a people, we were a nobody … but now, because of Christ making himself last … you are a child of God, we are a people of God (1 Peter 2:10).  You and I … we are the elect of God, we are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, the apple of God’s eye.

Because of what Jesus has done the question “are only a few people going to be saved?” really turns into a question of “will the saved be you?”  Because of what Jesus has done, what he has suffered, what he has endured, and what he has victoriously come through alive and well … the answer is a resounding yes.  “Will the saved be you?”  You better believe it!

Who’s in first?  You!  You because Jesus became last for you!  Amen.

The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever.  Amen.