Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Will those who are saved be many or few?
It is the eternal question that has dogged the Church since the days of the disciples. Some people have been drawn to the faith out of fear of the answer to this question and others have been driven away from the Church because they could not deal with the answer or the uncertainty. How many will be saved? How few?
When Jesus was asked this question in the Gospel lesson, the world was a small place, people did not travel, schools did not describe the geography of the planet. Their world was small and this was the hopeful question of a people desiring that more than they could see or imagine might be saved. Today the world is large, diverse, and well known to us. Every hidden corner is known to us – for good or ill. We ask this question almost as a challenge to God, almost a demand, that He save all. It makes it more difficult for us to hear Jesus’ words today.
We want to make this an all or none question. How can we say we believe in a merciful God and some be excluded from everlasting life and light. Or, how can we say we believe in a just God and he overlook the sin and unbelief in some in order to save them – against their will. Here on earth we judge on the basis of what we see but only God sees in to the heart. The question of how many will be saved is hard for us. But it is not ours to answer. The question is God's alone. It is our task not to weasel some answer from Him but to trust in His grace and to be content with His judgement.
The question is filled with shocking point. Some who presume salvation will be lost and others we would judge unworthy will enjoy its eternal reward. Some will start and will fall away. They will begin their spiritual lives with great enthusiasm and passion but it will grow cold and they will drift away. They insist they know the Lord but He does not know them. This is hard for us but we know it and see it around us every day. People once among the faithful, lose faith with God, turn away, and fill their lives with other pursuits. They reject the Word and Table of the Lord. But. . . all who will be saved shall be saved through the mercy of God in Christ Jesus.
The question we need be concerned about is not about how many will be saved but will we be saved. Notice how Jesus turns the discussion away from the question of how many to the personal question of me and my spiritual life. For this, Jesus urges us to strive to enter through the narrow gate, that is to keep the focus on His grace.
Faith is not some deep feeling that exists buried deep inside of you. Faith is not a belief that God exists but the personal belief of the God who is for you in Christ. Such faith does not reject the Word and Table of the Lord but yearns for them and seeks them out. Such faith does not fear God's judgment but delights in it and yields to it. Such faith does not resent His generous mercy but counts on that generous mercy for the life lived today and the life that is eternal.
If we would stand on our own merits, then we stand alone. If we stand on Christ then we stand only on Christ – not a lot of me and a little bit of Christ or a little bit of me and a lot of Christ. There is no room to for boasting in anything but Christ. Some will be found in God's earthly house but they are still a stranger to the Lord. The mystery of this question is surely hidden in the fact that the exterior of a person's life may be one indicator of faith but it does not speak unequivocally. Who people are on the inside is often very different. So we get no answer except the call to trust in God’s judgement.
The point here is not to explain God’s judgment but to admit the limits of our own judgement and of our great need not to question but to trust in God. We see outside; God sees all. Some whom we would believe to be first will be last and others whom we believe to be last shall be first. Such is the working of mercy and grace. Trust the Lord's judgment – that is enough. Whoever will be saved shall be saved through the merits and mercies of Jesus Christ alone. What I must focus on is striving to enter by the narrow gate.
What I cannot know for certainty about others, God wants me to know for certainty about me. Will I be saved? This we can know and should know with confidence. What does Jesus say? Strive to enter through the narrow gate. What does this mean? It means we should strive always to live with our lives fully centered in God’s grace, headed toward grace’s goal, without diversion or distraction.
In other words, keep on believing and trusting. Endure in faith and do not give up. Do not give up on God’s grace. Do not grow weary of well doing. Do not lose heart. Do not turn away from the goal of faith. Do not reject the House of God, the Word of God, and the Sacraments of God. Our confidence of our salvation flows from our confidence that God does what He says, keeps His promises, and accomplishes all that His Word proclaims. Stay close to Him by staying close to His Word and Sacraments.
Do not wear the righteousness of your own works but the righteousness of Christ which was placed upon you as clothing in your baptism. Wear the robe of Christ's righteousness, live in Him, plead His merits, rejoice in what His grace has accomplished and you will enjoy the assurance of salvation. That is why being here is important and why being our faithful gathering around the Word and Table of the Lord bears the fruit of confidence in His Word and the assurance that we are His forevermore. From the House of the Lord we receive His gifts and wear His grace; here we are restored when we fall, uplifted when we are weary, and strengthened when we are weak.
To strive for the narrow gate means to come regularly to the place where God comes to You in His Word and Table. Concentrate on living close to the Lord where He may be found and the assurance you seek will be your joy and confidence as long as you live and even to eternal life. Concentrate on walking with the Lord together with all those who walk in Him. Faith is no solitary journey but the community of those who share a common life in Christ and walk with Christ toward their common goal of life everlasting. Concentrate not on what cannot be known and focus instead on what God has revealed in Christ, and you'll be just fine. No one can be a bold witness when consumed with questions and doubts. It is from our confidence in God’s Word and our trust in His grace that our lives bubble over with hope for all to see.
Who will be saved? That is not your question to answer or mine. Only God can answer that question. This we know, any and all who will be saved will be saved through the merits and mercies of Jesus Christ alone. So leave that question behind and instead focus on the more urgent one. You, sinner redeemed in Christ, you strive to walk in the narrow path and enter by the narrow gate of grace alone through Christ alone. Here is our confidence and the source of our joy. By grace, through faith, in Christ Jesus... This is God's yes. The Holy Spirit teaches us to answer God's yes with our YES of faith. The result is that our hearts spill over with this YES so that those around us see and hear Christ in us and through us! For as long as we live this the anchor that hold us sure and the bold proclamation we make before the whole world. Amen.