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Private Confession by appointment.

Struggle

August 18, 2022 Pastor: Rev. Peter Mills

 Proper 16/C [Pent. 11], 08/21/22: Ps. 50:1-15 (ant. v. 23); Isaiah 66:18-23; Hebrews 12:4-29; Luke 13:22-30.

Struggle

Some one said to [Jesus], “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Struggle to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (vv. 23, 24).

The inquirer calls Jesus “Lord”; yet Jesus responds to the crowd. The man seems to have assumed he was one of the “few”, perhaps on account of a Jewish identity, and if so, asked the wrong question.

Jesus does not directly answer; rather he speaks to individual spiritual endurance. Over the last two Sundays our inquiry has been: what does “salvation” mean; that Abraham was counted righteous by faith (Gen. 15:6), and God sending Jesus for fire on the earth (Jer. 23:29), either for repentance or judgment.

Most certainly, today’s questioner was a son of Abraham, believing he was “saved” ex opere operato, by the work of sacramental circumcision. Jesus did not allow such assumption to pass; referencing Isaiah he concluded, “[M]en will come from east and west, and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God” (Lk. 13:29; cp. Isa. 66:18-21).

Salvation is not ethnically determined nor religious groupings. Neither Jew, Pharisee, nor Missouri Synod Lutheran are per se counted righteous; rather, by God’s promise of a Seed to Abraham we are Abraham’s descendants, righteous for Christ’s sake.

So, what does it mean: “Struggle to enter through the narrow door”? First, the door is narrow, singly admitting seekers entry. Human effort does not bring about salvation; if that were the case, grace would be denied.

Baptism enlightens; when Jesus speaks of “struggle” or “striving” he orients faith, part and parcel of our begetting from above by water and Spirit (Jn. 3:3, 7), imparting insight of saving faith as pure gift.

“Hell receives people who think they are good. Jesus receives people who admit that they are not” (Lessing, Isaiah, p. 501), lest any man should boast (Eph. 2:9b). So, what is the point of Christian “struggle” on journey with Jesus?

Baptism is not a simple discrete event; rather its power effects an on-going condition in our lives where Jesus, God’s incarnate Torah aligns with our sin nature. The result is faith that pulverizes hearts to repentance, and brings us from rebellion to godly submission.

Faith, the essence of our righteousness and holiness, is wholly unmerited gift of the Spirit. We don’t “struggle” to obtain what we already possess by Baptism’s new begetting; rather we struggle for strengthening in submission and constancy to heaven’s discipline (Heb. 12:5-7).

Endurance of discipline strengthens us from being robbed by fleshly hearts, minds, earthly authorities, and heavenly powers; our inheritance prevails by grace – alone. Participation in Christ’s cross endures daily to the end.

Saving faith, as any relation must be exercised, often with effort. Marriage examples; men and women not only speak love but do love, physically and in forgiveness toward the other.

Esau, firstborn of Isaac and Rebecca; was an immoral, unholy man (v. 16); thinking so little of his patrimony and blessing that, without a struggle, forfeited them for a “mess of pottage” (KJV, Gen. 25:29-34).

Baptized we are babes, weaklings in faith, and subject to robbery. Rebecca, Jacob’s mother urged him to obtain, by trick, his father Isaac’s inheritance and blessing. So also, the church encourages sinners to “struggle” with Christ (cf. Gen. 32:24) for the things of faith, not the least, enduring the Father’s discipline, for advance from faith to faith and holiness.

When faithfully attending word and Sacrament, we grow in knowledge of God (Jn. 17:3); prepared and strengthened against every adverse circumstance. By a striving faith we enter the narrow door of Abraham’s inheritance, the fulness of Christ’s righteousness, peace, and purity, “without which no one will see God” (Heb. 12:14).

Baptism is our sacrament of enrollment into the school of Faith, the same school through which Jesus, in his flesh matriculated, learning perfect submission to his Father. Thus, last Sunday Jesus announced; “I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how I am constrained until it is accomplished!” (Lk. 12:50) having come for “division” on earth (v. 51).

Of course, we can skip class, or worse drop-out; or we can learn the difficult lessons of submission to the Father that admits of no “saving” self-sufficiency, confessing reliance only on Christ crucified, risen, and present with us.

In the Church’s school we learn a better inheritance, gospel grace both now and on the final Day when the door will be shut to those, like Esau who forfeited blessing, discipline, and knowledge of God in Christ.

Urging spiritual endurance under discipline, Jesus implicitly answered his anonymous questioner: “Yes, of the myriad stars in and destined for heaven, these are the few being saved, both Jew and Gentile who endure by faith’s discipline to the end.”

When Jesus urges struggle through heaven’s narrow entry, he simply tells us that one day, without further notice, school will close; and like Esau who wept bitter tears, having despised grace, others too will be turned away. Today, if we hear Christ’s voice, discern an end of the old and advent of the new.

We come to know God in Christ through the School of Faith; but for those who do not know Jesus or turn from struggling under our Father’s discipline, reply to our knock will be: “I do not know where you come from; depart from me” (Lk. 13:25b, 27); executing, “their worm will not die, and their fire will not be quenched, and they will be an abhorrence to all flesh” (Isa. 66:24).

Faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17) for a new begetting from above and on-going relation with God by his invisible word and visible Sacrament. His school of Faith is not for the lazy or feint-hearted; it is a tough curriculum that prioritizes our senses.

Our ears are taken for sightedness; by correction, rebuke, and discipline taste buds and tongues develop for thanksgiving of God’s work in Christ; touch recognizes the guilt, grief, and shame of brothers and sisters as our own; noses and mouths take-in the prayers of our incense.

Jesus has taken our flesh into himself that we might run in his strength, his crucified flesh for our guilt and shame, counting us righteous that, “look[s] to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2a). Amen.

pem.