The door is narrow, but it stands wide open through the Means of Grace, Word and Sacrament. The preaching, teaching, and table fellowship of the earthly ministry of Christ continue this day for you. He is still present to teach through His Word and to serve you with His very Body and Blood at His table, the table that is prepared for you today, all for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
The door is open, but many will ignore it. Jesus does not mince words. This is not a game. This is not a horse race. The ones who refuse to repent and to receive the Master of Banquet feast now stand on the outside looking in. All these warnings are specific and directed at the individual — “‘I tell you’ Jesus says. ‘I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’” (Lk 13:27–28).
But then here is the promise for those who repent and are baptized, a picture of the heavenly feast that awaits through that door: “And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God” (Lk 13:29). You see, the ones who will be with Christ at His table are not there on the basis of ethnicity or family ties or how much money they have or on the basis of their own accomplishments. The door is open to everyone, from everywhere, for all time. “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Ac 2:39). The Holy Scriptures testify that God, who has called you, is so faithful that when he has “begun a good work in you,” he will also continue it to the end and complete it, if you do not turn away from him, but “remain steadfast to the end in that which he has begun.” For this purpose he has promised his grace.
Fire, a baptism of suffering — this is the commission, His commission. Now we can understand what Jesus is telling us about peace and division, for Jesus surely does bring peace to those who are brought into His kingdom through the waters of Holy Baptism. In this Sacrament we are made to participate in His death as our sins are washed away by the blood of the cross, and we are raised again to a new life in Him. This is peace with God, won on the cross, kindled with the fire of the Holy Spirit. But this does not lead to peace in earthly life. That is not part of the promise. In fact quite the opposite. The teaching of the cross which brings peace with God also brings the enmity of the world. The salvation on offer through Christ will serve to separate you from those who reject this Gospel. We see this in Jesus’ entire ministry, the contrast between the religious authorities of the day who reject and persecute Him, and the sinners and tax collectors who receive Him in faith. You see, there are only two paths, two ways, one of life, and one of death, and there is a great difference between these two ways. Apart from Christ there is no peace between these two ways, no way to accommodate the gulf that separates them. That is division. For those who are grown accustom to life apart from the Word and and the Sacraments the conscience develops a false sense of security. Only Christ can bring that reconciliation, only the Holy Spirit can move hearts to turn back toward God in repentance and faith.
The opposition to Jesus only increased as He made his way to Jerusalem, and the divisions against the disciples would only increase after Pentecost as the Word was kindled in the ancient church. Jesus says opposition to Him would even split families. The same is true of our our age, in the time of the church, as the Body of Christ waits for the consummation of all things when Christ returns in glory. On that day the final division will take place: Jesus will divide the goats from the sheep, those who have been sealed in the waters of Holy Baptism and have confessed their faith in Christ will be confessed by Christ to the Father. On that day the peace Christ announced when He greeted the disciples in the upper room after His resurrection, “Peace be with you” will once and for all be established in the midst of God’s people, because Christ will be present with them forever.
Christ is our life: He is the author of our creation and our salvation and by the power of the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament He keeps and sustains us in faith and empowers us to fight against the power of sin and darkness. And Christ who is our life will appear again in glory when He come to collect all that belong to Him, who are the sheep of His pasture, and restores all things in a new heaven and a new earth. The new creation that awaits is the glorious end of the revelation of God’s salvation. This is the hope of the Christian, who knows that the battles of the here and now are not the end, for there will come a time when reality of salvation that we already have in Christ will be completely and once and for all fulfilled. There will come a time when the foretaste of the banquet feast of the Lamb that we have in Holy Communion will be fully realized when we gather around the throne of God. And on that day there will be no more battles, no more sin, no more death. “What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. 43 It is sown in dishonour; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power” (1 Co 15:42–43). We will appear with Christ in glory. For He is our life for all eternity.
Now seems to be the time for groaning and hardship and trial, but then it will be for rejoicing. Now is the time for desiring, then is the moment of embracing what we long for. What we desire now is not present, this is true. But let us not falter in desire for the things that are above. Let us continually desire to daily set our minds on Christ, who is our life — the One who made the promise, who seated at the right hand of God. From thence he shall come again.
So the rhythm of the Christian life takes place along this path. Your faith is now rooted. To be rooted means being rooted in something, and I’m no one’s idea of a gardener but it seems really apparent that the quality and type of soil that plants are rooted in will determine how well they grow. That’s a good metaphor for the Christian life — Jesus thought so, remember the parable of the sower? The Lord says, “15 As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Lk 8:15). We must be rooted in something that aids in our growth, and that something in the life of a Christian is the good soil of God’s Word. These roots grow down into that soil your entire life. The roots are what you build on, so that you are “rooted and built up in him,” and this is what being established in the faith looks like — firm in commitment, strengthened against all the prevailing tides and winds of an increasingly secular culture. The apostle warns against this: “8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col 2:8–9). The writer of Hebrews also says to his church, “9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace” Heb (13:9). Rooted, built, and established in faith. This is the rhythm of faith. This it the walk of a Christian in Christ.
Paul commends the Colossians for their love for all the saints, the “saints in light,” because their love for one another is not separated from the love of the Father given through Christ Jesus. It flows from it. His love, the love that qualifies them into the kingdom, creates faith, and that faith works love. Paul has never met them but he teaches them, he reminds them, because it comes from the Word of God. Paul has never met you but the Word of God comes to you this day the same way. The redemption won by Christ has delivered all of us so that “filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord” (Col 1:9–10). What does that look like? He says it’s about bearing fruit, the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and increasing in the knowledge of God.
You have heard the Gospel. It has come to you. You have believed it. You are redeemed. You are baptized. You eat your Lord’s flesh and drink his blood. Often. It is for your forgiveness. It is to strengthen your love. Not only is there life in the body and blood of Jesus unto forgiveness; there is strength unto love of our neighbour. You are “saints in light” in Sarnia.
Nevertheless, our love is not what it seems or what it ought to be. We need to be patient with one another, bearing one another’s burdens. Our love needs bolstering, improvement. It receives strengthening from the faith given. The Christian life is not easy, there are false teachers that want to lead us astray just like the Colossians were tempted. Faith can falter, love can grow cold, priorities can change, God gets whatever is leftover. But still he gives and gives abundantly through the gifts of his church.
The church is rooted in the teaching of Jesus – His Holy Gospel and His institution of the Sacraments. The ones who are sent by Jesus to proclaim this ministry of Word and Sacrament speak and act in the name of Jesus, in a world where many reject the message and the One who sends out the message and the messengers. The church today dares not seek visible achievements or worldly ambition as the key to some kind of earthly fulfillment. Pride and a theology of success are just tools Satan will continue to use in the church to divide and discourage, thereby thwarting true ministry. So Jesus instead says to the seventy-two who have returned, “rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Lk 10:20).
Are these words for you as well? Indeed they are. Rejoice that by the power of the Holy Spirit you have received and not rejected and are therefore numbered with the saints in glory everlasting. Rejoice that in your Baptism Christ has made you His own and your sins are covered with His blood, that through the water and the Word all the dust and dirt is gone and you are made clean and white in righteousness. Rejoice even though in some ways St. Luke leaves us wondering and waiting. But God’s people, His Body the Church, are to walk in this earthly pilgrimage in the assurance that Christ has made us His own. Because your “name is written in heaven” God will not forget you; he has not forsaken you because your Saviour died to take away your sins and give you eternal life.
When you are sick and distressed, when you are homebound and receive Holy Communion, when you are near death and the pastor prays with you the comforting Commendation of the Dying, when your body has been lowered into the grave — in all these situations, the last words the pastor speaks are the Aaronic Blessing, “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you” (Num 6:24–25).
What makes these words so familiar is that you are blessed with them every Sunday at the conclusion of the Divine Service, and what makes these words so significant is that the face of God is in fact the face of Christ. Our Gospel reading from St. Luke for today begins with these words in chapter nine verse 51, which says “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Lk 9:51). This little sentence is the turning point in Luke’s Gospel, for now Jesus begins the journey that will take Him to the cross. He has set His face not to show wrath but mercy. The clock is running, the time draws near when He will be taken up on the cross, and taken up out of the grave, and taken up to be with the Father.
We who are in Christ continue in that discipleship because only He has these Words, and we can’t ever grow tired of hearing them. And we can never grow tired of sharing that same message with our neighbours, just as the longtime demoniac was instructed to do. What became of that message that he was sent to shout out? We don’t know, St. Luke doesn’t give us all that detail. Did God use it to plant faith into the hearts of hearers? Actually the response doesn’t even matter so much from our perspective, for the praises of Jesus are always a glorious thing even if people won’t listen. But the thing to take with you today is the reality of the evil one who seeks to destroy the faith that you have received, and in so doing destroy you in body and soul, and to rejoice that Jesus has conquered him and sin and hell itself for your sake. Christ covers with his blood all your uncleanness in the sight of God, even every time you gave into the temptations of the devil and were back in those shackles. He brings you this forgiveness through the very Words that He speaks, for through the preaching of His Word all sin and evil are vanquished forevermore. Jesus is the one sent from God to all people, to bring salvation.
The Holy Spirit’s job is to move the Words of Christ from ears to heart. In doing so he never lets us forget we are sinners in need of a Saviour, but then he never lets us forget that we are God’s precious, redeemed, holy, forgiven children, through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Everything that we know of Christ and everything we have received from him comes through this Helper and Comforter, as he convicts and consoles us day to day throughout our earthly pilgrimage. Let us always be seeking his Help, for to properly know the work and person of the Holy Spirit will lead us to be the holy people of God that he calls us to be.
God worked faith in the heart of Lydia and she was washed clean in the waters of Holy Baptism where she was made part of God’s family. Word and Sacrament, the means by which our Helper the Holy Spirit brings us the help we need. Our Gospel text today from St. John contains those familiar words of Jesus: “33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). These very words of our Saviour are spoken for our comfort out of the love that carried Him to the cross. For “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps 46:1). Praise be to God for the help and the Helper.