Summary: Jesus tells us to strive to enter the narrow gate, while many will seek to enter when it is too late. The difference between seeking and striving for the kingdom of God.
Please turn in your Bibles to Luke 13 and follow along as I read verses 22-24:
“And he went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem.
Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”
Wednesday I preached on the previous verses that deal with how the nature of the kingdom of God is to spread. It spreads when we are faithful to Jesus’ command to love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. It especially spreads when we love our neighbor as ourselves. My primary argument is this: How you treat people is perhaps the greatest evidence that God reigns in your heart. That is the Kingdom of God – when God reigns in your heart. If you are hateful toward people, God does not reign in your heart. I know it is difficult, which brings us to this morning’s message. Are you seeking the kingdom of God, or are you striving for it?
Jesus destroys the idea that the religious rulers epitomize righteousness. He rebukes the Pharisees, the rulers of the synagogues, and the scribes. What they have in common is great knowledge of the Scriptures, but a lousy record in showing kindness and mercy to the people. Jesus shows that love demonstrates itself in kindness, compassion and mercy. To fail in loving people is to fail God. This shocked his followers. They understood that the rulers, Pharisees, and scribes were the most righteous. People do the same today. A minister does something terrible and people think that he was made of angel dust – how could he have fallen? If the Lord rebukes those seen as the most righteous, who in the world can be saved? Jesus creates a vacuum: if not them, who? And this is the question that gets us started this morning. We have, first, a question. Then we have, not so much an answer, but a challenge.
The question: Are there few that be saved (v. 23)? The assumption is that some are “non-saved” and others are “saved.” This is not a safe assumption in our culture. Whether pop-culture or post-modern culture, the prevailing theology denies hell and judgment. Some are nihilististic, and believe we cease to exist at death. Some are optimistic, and believe that since God is Love, there can be no judgment and we all go to heaven. Some are fatalistic, and think hell won’t be so bad. Besides, they say, my friends are there and I want to be with them. Is salvation necessary? If so, from what must we be saved?
For these answers let’s escape the snare of our culture and examine the Scripture. God’s Word should shape our culture. Culture has no business shaping God’s word.
We want a clear answer, so we tend to create vivid pictures of hell. Often it resembles a cavern with rocks and flames. There is a satanic figure with a tail and horns, armed with a pitchfork. These pictures cause people to joke about hell, dress their children up as devils on Halloween, and generally not take it seriously. I want you to push these scenes out of your mind this morning. Instead I want you to hear the simple language of the Bible on the theme of hell.
The word “Hell” shows up 54 times in the Bible, though it is spoken of many other times in other terms. It does not always mean a place of eternal torment. Usually it only refers to “the place of the dead,” where good and evil alike go until the judgment. This is also known as Hades. It is an intermediate state for the dead. Then there is Gehenna. Can I hear you say, “Gehenna” so I know you are still with me? Gehenna is the place of eternal damnation. There is no escape or parole from this terrible place. It gets its name from the Valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem. II Kings 16 and 21 tell us of a time that the children of Israel allowed their culture to take precedence over the word of God. Thy began to do what their neighboring cultures did – they sacrificed their children, and other human beings, to foreign gods. They would then take the bodies and throw them into the Valley of Hinom, and burn them. You can imagine the sight, and the smells of the burning flesh, the rotting corpses, the valley of bones. So fearful and terrible was the valley that it become a symbol used by the Old Testament prophets to warn of eternal judgment. Once in Gehenna, you never return.
Beyond Gehenna, Sheol, and Hades, the Scriptures go on to describe Hell like this: