It’s generally accepted as an undisputed and unchanging truth. You hear it repeated everywhere from elementary school classrooms to doctor’s and financial advisor’s offices, and you may have even heard it in church. What is this unchanging, undisputed truth? “There are no stupid questions.” You’ve heard that before, right? Is that true? Are there no “stupid” questions? There are stupid questions. There are questions that should not be asked. There’s one in our text. Jesus is teaching his way through towns and villages on his way to Jerusalem telling them that he must be betrayed and abandoned by his friends, abused and wrongly accused by the church and executed by the state in order to pay for the sins of the world. And yet, even as Jesus is proclaiming the saving Gospel, someone from the crowd, someone who undoubtedly thought he was pretty clever, asks: Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?
Now, you may be thinking, “what’s wrong with that question? I’ve been wondering that myself.” In fact, people love to ask questions like this in Bible class, questions with no obvious answer, questions that make them appear to be deeply wise and theological, questions they hope will stump the pastor. It’s a popular question, no doubt. But it’s a bad question. Why? First, because it reveals a sinful preoccupation with the salvation of others. Like other questions in this same vein: “What about people who never had a chance to hear the Gospel, God wouldn’t send them to hell, would he?” God has never commanded us to worry about the salvation of the nameless, faceless people we will never meet. He consistently tells us to take advantage of our own time of grace (Psalm 32:6; Isaiah 55:6; Philippians 2:12-13). Second, it’s a bad question because it is an attempt to uncover the hidden will of God. God has revealed everything we need to know in his Word. If he hasn’t revealed it, it’s something he doesn’t want us to know. And we should accept that. In fact, we just get ourselves into trouble if we don’t. Remember Adam and Eve? God chose not to reveal to them the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17). But that wasn’t good enough for them. They tried to peer into the hidden will of God by eating of the forbidden fruit and instead of finding wisdom and knowledge they wound up finding guilt and shame, sin and death instead. Third, and most importantly, questions like this tend to turn repentance and faith, which are to be intensely personal things, into mere abstract, theoretical ideas. This question makes heaven and hell seem like imaginary places. This question reveals a prideful and presumptuous heart; one which thinks he is clearly “in”, but is curious about how many others there will be.
How do you deal with stupid questions? With the Law. This person wanted to ask hypothetical questions about other people; so Jesus points the razor edge of the sword back at him. (Literally: “YOU”) Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. “You asked about others, when you should be worried about yourself. Are you sure you will be saved?” And to maximize the impact, Jesus shows us what lies outside that door once it shuts. You will stand outside knocking and pleading…there will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth. Jesus does here what the Holy Spirit chose not to do in Genesis. Genesis 7 does not describe the gut-wrenching scene outside the closed door of the ark as thousands of people pound on the door until their knuckles bleed as the flood waters rise around their necks. We don’t hear their anguished screams, the cries for a second chance. We don’t see the torrential rain sweeping them away, one by one, to certain death. As bad as that must have been, the scene on Judgment Day will be even worse. Not only will they face an eternity of torture, they will see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.
Jesus closes with a statement that Martin Luther described as enough “to frighten the greatest saints.”  Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last. In other words, don’t get cocky. Don’t think that just because you’ve been baptized and confirmed, because you give your offerings and read your Bible that you can sit back and set the cruise control to heaven. Continue making every effort to enter through the narrow door, which doesn’t leave time for foolish hypothetical questions about others. If you’ve ever flown on an airplane, you’re familiar with this concept. During the safety speech, what does the flight attendant tell you to do if the oxygen masks drop out of the ceiling? First secure your mask and make sure it is functioning before you worry about anyone else. Otherwise, you both might end up dead. If these words seem startling and uncomfortable – that’s because they are. They are cold, hard Law. They are intended to shake us out of our complacency and force us to ask the hard questions: If those who appear to be first in line to heaven can be lost, where does that leave me? Am I going to be saved?
That’s a very good question. That’s the question we should be asking. But where do we even start? With Jesus’ words. Jesus says that there’s a door through which people can pass in order to be saved. Yes, it’s a narrow door, and many will try to enter and will not be able to, but there is a door into the kingdom and it’s open…for now. The day will come when that door is shut and locked forever – but today – as long as the Gospel is being preached and you’re still alive to hear it – that door stands open.
To whom is this door open? Well, to whom did Jesus extend the invitation as he was teaching and preaching in the towns and villages of Israel? Did he call to the proud and self-righteous? No, he said come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). Are you wearied by your sin and burdened with guilt? Then Jesus’ invitation is for you. Yeah, but only perfect people can go to heaven, and I’m not perfect. That’s right, but remember what John said when he saw Jesus? Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Are you in the world? Then Jesus took away your sins. Yeah, but certainly Jesus expects us to be getting better, to sin less and do more good, to get into heaven? That’s not what Paul said, Paul said here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst (1 Timothy 1:15). Do you get the picture? The door to heaven is open, not to prideful, presumptuous, self-righteous people – but only to confessed sinners. Yes the door is narrow because there is only one door. But Jesus is this one door – and the sacrifice he offered on the cross has opened the door wide enough for a whole world of sinners to fit through – including sinners like us.
If that’s true, then why did some people think they were “in” only to find themselves locked out? Those who said we ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets. Why did they hear I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers! (This translation doesn’t clearly convey their precise argument. They’re not saying that they ate and drank with Jesus but in his presence. In other words, they had an external, superficial relationship with Jesus, but that’s as far as it went.) You know the type, don’t you? The type who wants nothing to do with the church until the time comes for a baptism, wedding, or funeral – then they insist that the church open its doors, as if that somehow opens up heaven. The type that thinks coming to church on Christmas and Easter makes you a Christian. But it can also be the type who sit right there in those chairs week after week and say all the right words but don’t really mean it; who come merely out of habit, not because they desperately need forgiveness, who imagine that somehow, every single sermon is aimed at other people and not themselves. People like that believe what the evildoers in our text believed: that salvation comes by proximity, that merely being in the presence of Jesus is enough to gain you entrance into his kingdom on the last day.
The fact is that being in Jesus’ presence doesn’t make you special – any more than breathing air does. Jesus is present everywhere (Jeremiah 23:23-24). There is nowhere anyone can escape his presence (Psalm 139:7-10). But salvation doesn’t come by merely being in Jesus’ presence. Salvation is attached to the body of Jesus hung on a cross and the blood of Jesus shed to cover sins. Jesus doesn’t tell us to eat and drink in his presence but to eat and drink his body and blood (Matthew 26:26-28), to believe in him (John 6:36), to be saved. Jesus made this point explicit to some of the 5000 people he had miraculously fed with just a few fish and loaves of bread. They believed that because they had eaten in Jesus’ presence, they were set. But Jesus dashes this fantasy to pieces: I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day (John 6:53-54). The door to heaven is narrow, impossibly narrow for anyone bloated with unforgiven sins or hauling the baggage of self-righteousness to enter. But the door to heaven must open for all who have become small by laying their sins at the foot of Jesus’ cross and placing their faith in his merits. That’s repentance. That’s what Jesus is driving at when he says [continue] mak[ing] every effort to enter through the narrow door. Continue repenting, continue believing in Jesus for forgiveness. Continue struggling against the devil, the world and your own sinful flesh that would have you think that only others need to repent. Repent and believe and step through Jesus, the narrow door to heaven.
This text began with a fundamentally foolish question: are only a few people going to be saved? It’s foolish because it comes from a heart of pride and presumption. It’s stupid because it tries to pry into the hidden knowledge of God – knowledge that God doesn’t want us to have. But did you notice what entrance into the kingdom depends on? Those locked out claimed to know Jesus, but what does he tell them not once, but twice? I don’t know you. Entrance into heaven doesn’t depend on whether you know Jesus…it depends on whether Jesus knows you. If you are really concerned about your salvation, that’s the all-important question: does Jesus know you? How can you be sure? Well, if Jesus has called you by name in Baptism, then he knows you. If you have heard Jesus’ spokesman say to you: “I forgive you all your sins” then he knows you, but he doesn’t know your sins. If Jesus gives you his body to eat and his blood to drink – I’d say it doesn’t get more intimate than that.
Do you see why we place such a huge emphasis on the means of grace – the Gospel in Word and Sacrament – here? Those are the only means, the instruments, through which Jesus gets to know you, to wash away your sins, to cover you with his righteousness so that you can be certain that the narrow door to heaven will be open for you. I don’t think we can overstate how comforting it is that our salvation doesn’t depend on how much we know – or think we know, but rather on how well Jesus knows us. Newborn infants can’t confess their faith – but Jesus welcomes them into his arms and blesses them – he knows them (Mark 10:16). There are times in all of our lives when we forget all about Jesus, we stray from the narrow path, and we can start to think that he could never forgive us for what we’ve done, we can begin to think that we are beyond saving – but even then Jesus is thinking about us, praying on our behalf: Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34). Perhaps most important of all, the day may come when we don’t know our spouse, our children, or what year it is. Even then, Jesus says I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep…I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand (John 10:14, 28). Does Jesus know you? Continue making every effort to hear his Word, to receive his forgiveness, to eat and drink his body and blood at this table – and you can be absolutely positive that Jesus, the narrow door, knows you.
Forget about asking foolish, theoretical questions regarding things that God doesn’t want you to know. Don’t worry about how many will be saved, that’s God’s concern, not yours. Instead ask the important question: am I going to be saved? And cling to the answer: Jesus has died for your sins, Jesus has called you by name in Baptism, cleansed you with his absolution, and given his very body and blood to you to eat and drink – he knows you, he claims you, he is the only door, the narrow door to heaven for you. Yes, one day this door will slam shut forever. So don’t wait, repent and believe today, because today this door is open to you. Amen.
 Lenski, Interpretation of St. Luke’s Gospel (Columbus, Ohio: The Wartburg Press. 1946) 755