By Paul Koch –
The Olympic games are an amazing spectacle. To be able to watch the best in the world compete on that grand stage is awesome. The speed, accuracy, dedication and strength on display often leave us in a state of shock. But every time the Olympic Games come around we are reminded that just as much as we love watching the athletes compete so we also love the background stories of these athletes. We love to learn about individuals who’ve overcome incredible obstacles to make it to the Games. This year perhaps more than any other individuals the world learned about the Refugee Olympic Team. A group of athletes from the Sudan, Ethiopia, the Congo and Syria who came not just from poverty or single parent homes but they came from countries torn apart by war and unimaginable violence. Where they came from was as much a part of what they did on the competition stage as any victory or loss they experienced there. Looking back over their journey to the Olympics helps us to understand who they are and why we want to root for them.
However, sometimes we would rather not have our origins known. I listened recently to an interview of Mike Tyson. The interviewer wanted to explore his past to get him to answer what it was like to be launched into the spotlight so quickly and so young. We wanted to know about the massive amounts of money he burned through and the drugs and women. He wanted to get Mike to talk about coming from nothing to seemingly having everything to losing it all again. But Mike didn’t want to talk about it. Finally, he said, “You’re asking me about Iron Mike Tyson, and I’m not that guy anymore.” He had changed. He didn’t want to go back. He didn’t want the story of where he came from to be a major part of the discussion about who he is.
Now some of you may be quite proud of where you come from. You are happy to tell anyone who will listen about your upbringing, about the obstacles you overcame to achieve the things you have today. Your personal story may be inspiring or encouraging to those who hear it. But some of you are more like Mike Tyson with a lot of skeletons in the closet that you would prefer to not go back and visit. You don’t want to have to explain what was going through your head when you bit the ear off of your opponent. And that makes perfect sense. But whether we want to talk about it or not, how important is where you come from? I think we all know, whether we want to talk about it or not, where we came from is important. It has shaped us. It is part of our story. And when it comes to our faith, to our assurance of entering into the blessing of eternal paradise, we find that it is actually crucial.
Luke 13:22-30 begins with an important question asked by someone from one of the many towns and villages our Lord was teaching in as he made his way to Jerusalem. And it is an important question for us to ponder. He was asked, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Now, I don’t think I’ve ever had someone ask that question in a Bible study or confirmation class. Perhaps it’s one of those questions we all know the answer to but don’t necessarily want to hear that answer out loud. Or perhaps we’ve forgotten that the whole endeavor, this whole thing called the Christian faith, flows from a revealed Word of God that speaks of those who will rest in His kingdom and those who will be cast out. And so though this question may seem a bit jarring to us it is important. Will those who are saved be few? Will there be a small amount of them or a lot of them? Will they be many or few? And the answer our Lord gives is fairly clear; Yes, there will be few and it has to do with where they come from. He says, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”
Jesus then paints a picture of words about how the Master of the house will one-day rise and shut the door barring any further entrance into the eternal feast. Those who are left outside will try to enter and be found knocking feverishly saying, “Lord, open to us,” But then in a shocking way the master of the house replies, “I do not know where you come from.” Now notice, Jesus doesn’t ask for a description of what they promise to do or what they can offer him to get in to the feast. No, they cannot come in because he does not know where they come from. Their origin, their history, is crucial to get into eternal life. Where you come from matters.
So where do you come from? When you come to the door, to the proverbial pearly gates and hope for entrance into eternal life, from where do you come? Perhaps you know only too well from whence you came. You know the filth and shame of your life, the sins that are clearly etched in your memories. And so you reinvent your history a bit. When you come you come like a cleverly written resume highlighting all the best things you’ve accomplished and allowing the worst things to silently recede into the background. I wonder what it would be that you would highlight about yourself to describe where you come from? Would you speak about coming from a life of service to your neighbor, perhaps being a good mother or a father who always provided for the family. You could say: I come from a good Christian family, I’ve been a Lutheran for all my life, I memorized my catechism and made a public testimony of the faith – that’s where I come from.
Now see, what you are doing, what you are hinging your entrance on, is yourself. You are saying that you come from yourself, from your own accomplishment or your own lessons learned, or your own humility or your own pride. In the end it’s all the same, for it is all from you. And the master of the house declares, “I do not know where you come from. Depart from me you workers of evil.”
So what do we do? What is the way in? Where must we come from? Well, he says we must struggle to enter through the narrow door. The narrow door is our way in. The narrow door is where we must come from. And that way is a struggle. In fact, it’s not just a difficult way, as in it will be uncomfortable or taxing on us. The struggle through the narrow door is to go the way that brings death to ourselves. It is the way of repentance, the way through which we die to ourselves and so live to Christ. The struggle isn’t to live the morally excellent life or to have the greater understanding of the things of God. The struggle is to confess that you cannot by your own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ or come to him. That you have sinned by your thoughts, words and deeds, by what you have done and left undone.
The narrow door is the way of Christ alone. There is nothing of you that gets through. Your sin is exposed as you watch your Lord suffer and die for each and every transgression. He bleeds it out so that you might live. He is sacrificed so that you might have hope.
So how do you answer the question? How do you make reply when all of yourself is crucified with our Lord, when promise and new life have been washed over your heads? What is your answer when he asks where you come from? Why, you say this: I come from the blood of my Savior. I come from the cross and the empty tomb. I come from the gifts of Christ alone. For I am a sinner who has been washed and declared clean. I am an inheritor of all the promises of God through the sacrifice of his only begotten.
This, my friends, is where you come from. And with those entering from the east and west, north and south, you will recline at the table of the Lord in the kingdom of God.