Summary: when God closes the door on the last day which side will you be left standing on?
The story is told of a little Jimmy who came home from school and asked his parents the following question: “Where did I come from?” Mum looks at Dad, Dad looks at Mum – the ‘birds and the bees’ moment has suddenly arrived. Mum smiles and as she leaves the room she says ‘This is a moment for dad and son bonding, don’t you think?’ So dad takes a deep breath, sets little Jimmy on a chair and begins to explain the facts of life. Little Jimmy’s eyes get wider and wider and his mouth falls further and further open. When dad has finished little Jimmy says “Dad, Mikey says he is from Larne. Where did I come from?” Sometimes you have to know what is behind being asked in order to understand the question in the first place. The same is true this morning for the question asked in verse 23 of Luke 13. Turn with me to Luke 13.22-30, the lesson John read for us this morning.
Verses 22-23. Luke has set this question in the context of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. In is this middle section of Luke’s gospel, Luke has Jesus answering a series of questions posed by differing people and groups of people. On this occasion the question is posed by one of his travelling companions. Luke does not tell us if it is a disciple or just one of his many followers who are travelling with him to Jerusalem. Turn to verse 23 and listen to the question asked: “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” It seems an innocent enough question to ask and yet it is a profoundly deep question. It is a question tied up in national identity, religious identity and it is of eternal significance – not only to the one who asked the question and to the others walking with Christ on the road to Jerusalem but also for us this morning.
At the time of Christ there was a debate going on amongst many of the religious factions of the day about who would and who would not be in heaven. All Jews believed that the nation of Israel would be saved, with a few exceptions for real sinners – but they disagreed vehemently whether or not Gentiles would be saved. The question is addressing this issue – numerically how many will be saved?
Verses 24-25 – I want you to note that Jesus does not directly answer the question. The questioner had asked ‘how many will be saved?’ but in his answer Jesus addresses ‘how to be saved.’ The questioner had asked a vague question about and unknown number but Jesus addresses his answer to him personally – look at verse 24 “I tell you…” Jesus turns a vague theological question into a personal challenge. He tells his questioner, and those listening in, that “every effort” is to be made “to enter through the narrow door.” The verb which Jesus uses for “make every effort” is the verb from which we get ‘to agonise.” In older translations it is translated as ‘ to strive.’ The idea conveyed is one of not giving up of straining every muscle and sinew to complete a task. It denotes one who overcomes whatever obstacles are placed in the way to complete the task. Originally it was used of an athlete in the games ‘striving’ to win the victors crown. Everyone could see the strain on their bodies as they raced for the finishing line. It is this analogy that Jesus uses in answering the question concerning salvation.
But note the other part of the sentence: “many will try to enter and be unable to.” When I read that it stopped me dead in my tracks. I read it over several times to make sure I had had read it correctly and understood it correctly. Jesus is saying that many people, the unknown number that the questioner had asked about, will seek to enter through the narrow door but will be unable to do so. This raises a couple of questions for me, for you also I hope;
What is the narrow door by which you have to enter in order to be saved?
Why would you be unable to enter it?
In answer to the first question let me read to you the words of Christ in John 10.9 and also John 14.6. In these two verses Jesus leaves us in no doubt that He, alone, is the door by which you enter into salvation. How do you enter through Christ? Answer: By repentance and faith. You see what is made clear here is that no one enters through this door by accident. You cannot accidentally stumble into salvation, into Christ. It is a conscious decision that you make to enter through the narrow door and to enter into salvation. The very words chosen by Christ to describe salvation show that it is not entered by accident – it is a door and it is narrow. Doors must be opened in order to go through – and the door was opened by the death of Christ on the cross, by the shedding of His blood for your sin and my sin, for the sins of the world. It is narrow – you do not enter as a group but as individuals because the entry point is narrow – there is a focus, one way in, not many ways in – just one – as Jesus made clear in John 10.9 and 14.6. So you cannot fall by accident into salvation – you have to focus, strive to enter it – not that it is by works but that it must be obvious that you have done so. No one can slip through this door.