Sermon — Pr. Tony Sikora — His Gifted Children

Sermon Date — August 21, 2016 — Proper 16
Sermon Text — Luke 13:22-30
Sermon Audio —


Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  AMEN!  Our text for this morning’s (evening’s) sermon is taken from St. Luke’s gospel account the 13th chapter.

Beloved in the Lord,

His Gifted Children

I        “Gifted Children” ask Silly Questions

SermonGraphic_300x220Every day it was right there in black and white except for Sundays, on Sunday’s it was in bright brilliant color.  Every day, a man named Gary Larson would give me and anyone who cared to look, a picture of the far side, a window, if you will into a world full of irony, humor, and flat out hilarious absurdities.  How many deer are born with a perfect bull’s eye for a birth mark?  How many poodles actually plot the death of their master and then lament that the pampering will end?

One particular window to the Far Side provides us with some insight into the depths of our condition.  The scene is simple enough.  A rather rotund school boy with books in hand has made his way to the School for Gifted Children.  He attempts to enter through the door, one hand on his books, the other on the door.  He leans forward, pushing his way in.  But the door doesn’t move.  It’s not locked.  NO one bars his entrance.  He pushes, and pushes, and pushes, until beads of sweat drop from his face.  What’s the problem?  What is stopping him?  Why can’t he get in?  A sing on the door reads, PULL.  Gifted indeed!

This morning (evening) in our text a certain “gifted” man asks Jesus a question.  “Lord, are there few who are saved?”  It was a common question of the day.  Pharisees and Sadducees would often debate the question, wondering who out there would be saved.  They were concerned with numbers.  The same is true today.  Pastors, churches, denominations, individual Christians are all concerned about how many will be saved.  There’s nothing new under the sun.  Sinful humanity worries about numbers.  When we worry about numbers we start worrying about metrics; measuring, evaluating, judging, attempting to discern which ones are the best practices that get the most results.  It’s become a multi-million dollar industry.  Conferences are held.  Resources are sold.  Products are marketed.  Books are written.  Stories are chronicled.  Visions are cast.  But in reality, all such thinking and reasoning and measuring and producing and practicing, are nothing short of that rotund little boy leaning heavy on the door to paradise seeking to push his way in while the door says “pull”.  Humanity is no so gifted.

II      Jesus Answers the Right Question

         Humanity is worried about numbers, about crowds, groups of peoples, not so much individuals.  You’ll notices that Jesus doesn’t answer the man’s question.  No, Jesus turns the tables.  Literally, Jesus answers, “YOU struggle to enter through the narrow door.”  The man is concerned about the crowds.  Jesus is concerned about the man.  Jesus is concerned about you.  Because the real question is not so much “are few being saved?” but are YOU being saved.  Jesus’ answer to the man is Jesus’ Word to you.  Like that rotund school boy in the Far Side, “many will seek to enter but will not be able to.”  Why? Because they do not believe the word.  The word is there for all to hear, to read, to practice.  In Gary Larson’s world, the Word is pull – the opposite of what that little boy was doing.  In the gospel’s that Word is believe.  Sadly, humanity has more trust in our fallen nature than we do the Word of the living God.  We trust our experience. We trust our reasoning. We trust our feelings.  We trust what gets us the results that we think and feel are desired.   We’re practical, we’re purposeful, we’re intentional, we’re passionate, we’re pious, we’re followers, we’re gullible, we’re sinful, we’re guilty, and we’re dying.  Many will try to enter but will not be able.

Jesus says, “struggle” to enter the narrow door.  He says “struggle” because that is the whole of the Christian life.  It is a struggle to walk by faith, to believe the word, to go against the devil, the world, and our own sinful desires and passions.  It is a struggle to deny oneself and follow Christ.  All of Jesus’ ministry is one of leading out of sin, death and hell.  It is an exodus that passes through death to the right hand of God.  Ask yourself, “are you following Jesus away from your sin?  Or are you still in your sin, living in sin, allowing sin to have its way with you?  The Christian life is a struggle against sin and its wages.

The world says we are fools for following Jesus.  Scripture says we are fools if we do not follow Jesus.  The wisdom of the world seeks to push its way into paradise.  The fool ignores the Word on the door.  The door is narrow – there is no room for pride, passion, piety, or persuasive praise. Any door open to such things is not the door to paradise but rather the bowels of hell.  The Lord heart is not swayed in our favor by the things that seem right to a man.  Such things in the end lead to death and damnation.  They seek the wrong door and thus the Lord does not know them or where they have come from. The door to heaven is locked to those who would work their way in.  Despite what you think about yourself, no one is gifted enough, no one is righteous enough, to merit heaven.   We have all become “rotund”, puffed up if you will with our works and cannot enter by such a narrow door.

III     The Door is Open

It is not what you do that opens the door to heaven.  It is what Jesus does for you.  Thus you are to look to Jesus, the author and perfector of your faith.  Everything He does He does for you.  He was conceived for you because in sin did your mother conceive you.  He was born for you, because from birth the Law’s demands laid heavy on your heart and soul.  He was circumcised for you that His blood would be shed to take your place. He was baptized for you that all righteousness should be fulfilled.  Thus the heavens were rent asunder, the Spirit descended like a dove and the Father’s voice beckoned from heaven, “This is my beloved Son.”  He was crucified for you that having taken your sins and suffered their curse His blood would cover over a multitude of sin, even the sins of the world.  Taking them into death, burying them in the grave, Jesus put sin and death to death through His death.  This was His baptism to undergo.  This was His cup to drink to the very dregs.  No sin was left unatoned for.  No sinner left unjustified.  All was fulfilled!  All was finished.  All was accomplished!  Even the grave itself was plundered when He rose from the dead on the third day.

IV     Christian Life is One of Struggle and Repentance

Jesus has opened the door to heaven for you.  Jesus has made His way through death to the Father’s right hand for you.  As the Master of this house Jesus has left the keys to the door with His Church, and in His Church with His ordained servants.  For the Office of the Keys is that special authority which Christ has given to His Christians to unlock the door to heaven through the forgiveness of sins for those who repent and to lock the door for those who do not repent.  Through exercise of the keys Christ’s ministers deliver the gifts of His passion to hearts through the Word and Sacraments.  This ministry of reconciliation calls for and creates the faith that justifies sinners before a righteous and holy God.  Those who are being saved, not “saved” – past tense, but “being saved” present tense – for today is the day of salvation, those who are being saved receive this ministry of reconciliation by the hearing of the word and the receiving of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  It’s not the hearing, eating or drinking that saves, – for many hear, eat, and drink but do not believe.  NO! It is the Word, the Body and the Blood, and the Spirit poured out for you that does the saving.

As Christians, you are to daily struggle to enter by the narrow door, that is through the ministry of reconciliation you are to daily receive the forgiveness of your sins.  This is the Work of the Holy Spirit who daily and richly forgives the sins of all believers through His means of grace.  This is the life of repentance.  This is the struggle against sin. This is entering the narrow door because this is the only way, the only truth, the only life that endures forever and ever.  How can a Christian remain a Christian when he or she is not regularly receiving the forgiveness of sin and daily struggling against sin?  How can a Christian’s faith abide, that is remain, endure, continue to exist, if such a Christian doesn’t hear the Word that creates and sustains faith or doesn’t feast on the resurrection in the sacraments?  Any Christian routinely absent from the Divine service and the gathering of God’s holy ones around God’s holy things actually starves their faith and endangers their soul.  It won’t be long before they start pushing against the door thinking they’re gifted enough to get in on their own.

V       Gifted because of the Giver

Beloved in the Lord, years ago during President Reagan’s first term it was not uncommon for an occasional guest at the white house to meet with the President.  Every now and then such a guest would share their story, how they were in need and hoped the President would do his best to fix the economy.  Such people were concerned with the crowds, the groups, the multitudes.  President Reagan, being the man that he was would often keep a stack of personal checks in his desk drawer.  Once, when a single mom met with him, having listened to here story he took out his checkbook and wrote her a generous gift.  Weeks later when he was going through the bank statements he noticed that woman hadn’t cashed the check.  He called her that day and asked why?  She told the President that she took the check and had it framed and was no hanging on her wall.  She was given a gift but didn’t use it.  President Reagan then sent her another check to be used for her and her children.

Those who receive baptism, who hear the word, eat and drink of the supper but do not believe are like this woman.  They take the gift and mount it on the wall.  They do not use it.  Christ has gifted His children with the means of grace that they be used for the reception of the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation.  These gifts are the way through the narrow door.  They are not meant to be put in our pockets or hung on our walls.  They are meant for our heart.  The promises of God are for you and your children so that all who are baptized receive the Holy Spirit and the forgiveness of sins, so that all who hear – believe, that all who eat and drink – live forever.  This is work of God for you.  These are the keys to the door.  It is what makes you His gifted children.  Believe the Word and enter by the narrow door.  AMEN!


The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus.  AMEN!


Sermon — Pr. Tony Sikora — His Gifted Children — 14 Comments

  1. “This ministry of reconciliation calls for and creates the faith that justifies sinners before a righteous and holy God.”

    While preachers bring the message, isn’t it God Himself who creates the faith that justifies?

    The Parable of the Sower comes to mind. The seed that is cast is good, but it does not create the conditions that are necessary to produce the harvest.

    So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. 1 Corinthians 3:17 ESV

  2. @Carl H #1

    Yes, but remember that the message preachers bring is the Word of God. The ministry of reconciliation is the proclamation of the Gospel (the Word of God).

    God creates faith that justifies through the message that is His Word. God and His Word cannot be separated from one another.

  3. You wrote, “As Christians, you are to daily struggle to enter by the narrow door, that is through the ministry of reconciliation you are to daily receive the forgiveness of your sins.” So it’s by works after all? The problem with this sentence is that it makes a major assumption that simply is not true. Sadly, few LCMS pastors understand this. The undeniable, scripturally supported fact is that we have already entered. Therefore, the sentence at the beginning of the sermon, “Jesus’ answer to the man is Jesus’ Word to you,” is also not true.
    Where does Scripture say that? In at least two places: John 3:5, “Jesus said, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.’’ Since quia confessors are not convinced by Scripture, here is what Luther says on the topic in the Large Catechism: “If, therefore, we have once in Baptism obtained forgiveness of sin, it will remain every day, as long as we live, that is, as long as we carry the old man.” (Large Catechism, Holy Baptism, Para. 86)
    Another of many passages in Scripture that supports the fact that we are already in the kingdom of God is Colossians 1: 13, “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
    Once it is clear that the “door” to the Kingdom is Baptism, then what are we to make of the whole life of the Christian being a struggle? Or more importantly, what is the nature of this struggle?
    Of course, if we do not understand our Lord’s teaching about the Kingdom, we also are likely to misunderstand the meaning of the Christian life, as in, “He says ‘struggle’ because that is the whole of the Christian life. It is a struggle to walk by faith, to believe the word, to go against the devil, the world, and our own sinful desires and passions. It is a struggle to deny oneself and follow Christ.” Yet our Lord said, Matthew 11:30, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
    In the Lord’s Prayer, we do not pray for ourselves as individuals, but for “us”; that is for all the people of God. And so it is with the “struggle.” Because we have already received the forgiveness of all of our sins in Baptism, the burden of the struggle for our own salvation has been lifted from our shoulders. “It is finished.” The struggle lies in what our Lord asks us to do for others. The point of the Christian life is not to devote oneself to the struggle with one’s sins, but to devote oneself to being a servant.
    Do I need to cite the relevant passage from Philippians? Is it not clear that in the Judgement of the Nations, it is not those who have come close to perfection in their lives, but those who served “the least of My brethren”, who are welcomed into Paradise?
    Of course, the Holy Spirit, “… even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith; in which Christian Church He forgives daily and richly all sins to me and all believers, and at the last day will raise up me and all the dead, and will give to me and to all believers in Christ everlasting life. This is most certainly true.” So the Church has a role in sustaining the faith of every believer throughout life. Whatever that role, it must be taken in the light of the fact that the child of God is a member of the kingdom of God. In fact, that is what, according to our Confessions, it means to be a member of the Church.
    Does that then mean we should sin so that grace might abound? Of course, we know that is wrong. But then who will live a life of denying Christ yet be a servant to his neighbor? Galatians 6:10,” So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  4. @George A. Marquart #4

    “Therefore, the sentence at the beginning of the sermon, “Jesus’ answer to the man is Jesus’ Word to you,” is also not true.”

    Just curious how you come to this conclusion. Jesus was asked a question by one man, but if you look at both the English and the Greek He responds to all of them.

  5. @George A. Marquart #4

    And while all of this is true, it might lead to falling off the side of the horse into the Calvinist view of perseverance of the saints. The old Adam must be drowned daily as we live out our Baptisms, and we do walk in danger all the way, not of earning our salvation day by day but by rather by “drifting away” as we forget that we are to live the repentant life.

  6. @T-rav #5
    T-rav: If we have already entered the Kingdom of God, the command to enter cannot apply to us.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  7. @Jim Seybert #6
    Jim Seybert: I responded to a specific issue. If I were to address everything that “might” happen, it would make for a very large book.
    With regard to drowning the Old Adam daily, I know you are referring to the “Fourthly” part of the Small Catechism under “The Sacrament of Holy Baptism.” I urge you to consider this text carefully in light of what we know about simul iustus et peccator, salvation by grace, through faith, sanctification, and the work of the Holy Spirit. You should come to the conclusion that this is pious nonsense, certainly not taught in Romans 6 as Luther claims. How does the Old Adam come back every day after he has been drowned? “Drowned” means “dead.” But somehow he is still around until we die, as Luther himself attests in the Large Catechism: The Large Catechism, Holy Baptism, “86]… If, therefore, we have once in Baptism obtained forgiveness of sin, it will remain every day, as long as we live, that is, as long as we carry the old man about our neck.”
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  8. @George A. Marquart #7

    Yes, I know you have the “now” down, but you consistently forget the “not yet” aspect of the kingdom.

    This will be my last comment on this topic.

    Thank you for the sermon, Pastor Sikora

  9. @T-rav #9

    Yes, I know you have the “now” down, but you consistently forget the “not yet” aspect of the kingdom.

    T-rav : Thanks for the succinct definition of the problem.

  10. @T-rav #9

    Dear T-rav: I am not responding so as to have the last word, but what you wrote reflects exactly what I wrote in my initial posting: “Sadly, few LCMS pastors understand this.” What is it that they do not understand: that we have already entered the Kingdom of God. I will offer no argument to the fact that we are “not yet” in the heavenly part of the Kingdom of God. But we have already entered the kingdom here on earth; therefore no admonition to enter, or to make our entrance a life-long process based on our good behavior, applies to us. We do not live in the kingdom on earth in fear and trembling, because an angry God is constantly blaming us for our sins and trying to push us out. Instead, Romans 8:5, “… you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  11. @George A. Marquart #8

    Sorry…I didn’t express myself very well. You’re correct…once drowned, he is dead. I was thinking of Rom. 7:18 when I said the “old Adam”. I tend to think of the corrupt nature as the “old man”, but it’s too easy to for me to slip into Luther’s terminology.


  12. @Jim Seybert #12

    Jim Seybert: I am a little puzzled. As far as I am concerned, “old Adam” (an expression that, to the best of my knowledge Scripture does not use), “the old man,” and “the flesh” all have the same meaning with regard to the nature of man. I am afraid that Luther’s comment in the Small Catechism may lead some people to believe that they should be able to reach perfection in this life (even though I am sure that Luther did not intend it that way), and are overcome by guilt and concern for their eternal welfare, when they fail to do so. The point is that, in spite of the fact that we remain sinners all of our lives, God loves His children. He saw to it that His Son made atonement for our sins, and that the Holy Spirit would care for us in this world, until we see Him face to face.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  13. Before I begin my response to the many and various comments posted regarding my most recent sermon on Luke 13:22-30 I’d like to thank those who engaged in the conversation; making points, asking questions, discussing various angles and interpretations of the text. Thank you for your thoughtful wrestling with this sermon. If anything, such wrestling proves the point of the sermon, namely that the Christian faith is one of struggle; struggling against sin and death as well as struggling to understand God’s Word to us and for us.

    That brings me to the first point I’d like to make. The point was made that Jesus’ words to the man asking the question do not apply to us Christians. Scripture says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2Ti 3:16-17 ESV). Our text is the recorded words of Jesus. It is God’s Word. It is God’s scripture and therefore according to scripture itself is profitable for the man of God. All scripture completes the man of God, equips the man of God, reproves and corrects the man of God and trains the man of God. Let us not doubt that the words of our text are for us as His baptized believing Christians.

    It is true that baptism ushers the baptized into the kingdom of God. Jesus’ words to Nicodemus in John 3 are a call for baptism, now. Does that mean those who are already baptized have no need for Jesus’ words in John 3? No need to recall their baptism? No need to continually turn away from self-righteousness and cling to Christ crucified for salvation? As noted above even those words are for the believer already baptized. Once baptized, the Christian need to continually be reminded of God’s promises poured over the Christian in the water and the word. That most certainly is the now aspect.

    Luke sets the context of our text within Jesus “Exodus” begun in chapter 9 and concluded with His ascension in chapter 24. It is a now, and “not yet” context. In calling the man to “struggle” now Jesus puts such immediacy in an eschatological context. This is clear from Jesus’ words regarding the master of the house closing the door for ever and there be weeping and gnashing of teeth. In other words it is as if Jesus were saying, “Repent, now so that on the last day you will enter the Kingdom and feast with the saints.”

    Let us now discuss the word “struggle” which has garnered so much conversation. The Greek word is agonidzesthe which can be translated “strive” or “struggle” or “compete” or even “fight” and “contend” This word is used not just here regarding the conversion of unbelievers but also the Christian.

    Paul uses the word multiple times in his epistles.

    And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable bwreath, but we an imperishable.

    Here, the word “competes” is the same Greek word for “struggle.” In that same context Paul says he disciplines the body lest he is disqualified. Is Paul not already saved? Does he not already have the prize? The answer is yes, but not yet. Paul’s perspective is eschatological. He struggles to win the race.

    Again in 1 Timothy 4:7-10 Paul says, 7 Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; 8 for while bodily training is of some value, godliness bis of value in every way, as cit holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. 9 The saying is a trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. 10 For to this end we toil and strive,1 because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe. (1Ti 4:7-10 ESV). Paul says, “to this end we toil and strive” – the same Greek word our Lord uses in Luke 13, Paul uses in vs. 10 and it is translated “strive.” The Christian life “toils and strives” precisely BECAUSE we are Christians. What do we Christians toil and strive against? SIN in our bodies.

    And again Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:12 “Fight the good fight” the word “fight” is the same Greek word in our Lucan text. One can accurately translate the word “struggle the good struggle”. Why struggle if we have already attained it. What is Timothy to struggle against if not sin, death, devil, and our own sinful nature.

    Clearly the Christian’s life is one of struggle which is why Jesus says we will have toils and tribulations, which is why Christians are called to persevere. There is no perseverance without struggle. We struggle because we are believers. Unbelievers do not struggle against sin. With unbelievers, sin has dominion.

    Our Lutheran Confessions in Article XII of the apology notes that “This faith gradually grows and throughout life struggles with sin to conquer sin and death.” Clearly the believer struggles. Faith struggles against unbelief as the prayer goes “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief” Again the same article states that “faith is nourished in many ways amid temptations through the proclamation of the gospel and the use of the sacraments.” In other words, the ministry of reconciliation that has been entrusted to God’s servants in office of the Keys.

    The Treatise also says that “true worship” (which only believers can do) is the exercise of faith struggling against despair” (par. 43-44) This is the Christian life. The Christian life is one of struggle as scripture and the confessions clearly give testimony.

    If we are to follow Mr. Marquart’s reasoning which denies such a struggle, there would then be no need to call the believer to repent, no need for the preaching of the law or even the continual call to faith. Such reasoning denies the sin in the believer and the constant need to receive the forgiveness of sins. Such reasoning is actually a denial of the Christian life.

    Truly as Mr. Marquart notes the Christian is saved at baptism. Salvation is not a process. And he rightly notes Luther’s comments regarding baptism’s lasting blessings. But we cannot take Luther out of context. After all, Luther’s first of the ninety five theses states “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said “repent” He meant that the whole life of the Christian be one of repentance.” The struggle is one of repentance.

    Again the apology art. IV states that “the faith we speak of has its existence in penitence” (par. 349). And it further states that “it ought to grow and become firmer in the conviction that God care for us, forgives (not forgave but present tense – forgives) us and hears us for Christ’s sake. NO ONE LEARNS THIS WITHOUT MANY SEVERE STRUGGLES. How often our aroused conscience tempts us to despair when it shows our old or new sins or the uncleanness of our nature! This handwriting is not erased without great conflict in which experience testifies how difficult a thing faith is.” (par. 350) The baptized believer struggles and suffers many difficult experiences. Why? Because sin still exists in the believer. The believer struggles in faith against sin. Faith in Christ overcomes sin and its wages by the grace of God, hence the continual need for forgiveness delivered in the means of grace.

    Again Luther states in his lectures on Isaiah, “This is the very work of faith, to fight against sin and to slug it out with death.”

    Luther, in his sermons on John’s gospel says, “we have the forgiveness of sin through Christ, even though this sin has not been entirely abolished. We must, however, contend against sin in our body again and again.”

    And regarding what happens in baptism Luther writes (AE vol 32) “as a testimony that you are thus purified, you have the symbol of baptism, through which all sin are most truly forgiven you – entirely forgiven, I say, not wholly abolished. We believe that the remission of all sins has been without a doubt accomplished, but we daily act in the expectation of the total removal and annihilation of all sin.” Later, in the same work, he quotes Augustine “sin is forgiven in baptism ; not that it is no longer present, but it is not imputed.” He goes on to say, “Here we plainly see that sin remains, but it is not imputed. The two reasons were mentioned above. First, because we believe in Christ, who, through faith, takes our place and covers our sin with His innocence; second, because we battle unceasingly against sin to destroy it. Where these two reason are not present, sin is imputed, is not forgiven, and condemns us eternally.” In other words, where there is no struggle against, sin has dominion over us and not Jesus. Where there is no struggle against sin in our bodies we have become as Luther says, “Callous in such horrible presumptions that we relish neither Christ nor God.” Faith struggles against sin in the life of the Christian and thus we see that Luther rightly discerns the “now” and “not yet” of our salvation.

    Though one could go on and on listing scripture and many and various Luther quotes suffice it say for now that the Christian life is one of struggle against sin until the day of our death. This struggle is one of repentance for the whole of the Christian life, not a one time event, but a lifelong battle which is strengthened and nourished by the grace of God for the sake of Christ given and distributed through the means of grace. So when Jesus says, “struggle to enter by the narrow door” – indeed He is referring to all who call on the Name of the Lord in the sure and certain hope of being saved on the last day when sin is finally put away from us in body and soul for eternity and death has become His footstool. Until that day, we struggle to enter by the narrow door.

    Again, thank you to all who commented. The Lord bless you and keep you in His grace and mercy.