Luke13v22to30: THE NARROW DOOR

(A) Introduction. Read: Luke13v22to30

There is a tendency for evangelical Christians to give the impression that the way of salvation is easy. We quote: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life. John3v16. AV. We stress the 'whosoever believeth'. 'Whosever' includes every one. All that is needed for salvation is belief - only trust Jesus and he will save you.

The passage under consideration paints a different picture and the picture, in common with the rest of the chapter, is brutally realistic and very challenging.

(B) The needless speculation. Someone asked him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?" v23.

It is difficult to know quite what the man who asked the question was thinking. He probably wondered who the Messiah would welcome into his kingdom - a Jewish elite, all Jews or a mixture of Jews and Gentiles.

Jesus refused to answer the question but, instead, told the man: "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door..... ." v24. In other words the inquirer is urged to make sure he is saved.

Today, people are very inclined to ask questions like that of the man in the crowd: "Who will be saved? What about folk who never hear the gospel? What about adherents of other religions? What about babies and young children who die before the age of discretion?" There are even some who ask anxiously, "Will only the elect be saved?" D.L. Moody used to say, "God please save the elect and then elect some more!"

Jesus' reaction to these questions would be the same as it ever was. These are not matters for us to worry about. We can leave little babies, the feeble-minded and people who have never heard about Jesus to God. Our prime responsibility is to make sure we are saved. The gospel challenges us to make a decision about Jesus.

(c) The narrow stile. "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door." v24.

I have used the word 'stile' not just for the sake of alliteration but because a stile is very much a straight gate. The entrance into the Christian life is like a narrow door or stile by being:

(1) Conditional.

Salvation is neither universal nor unconditional. Not everyone is going to be saved and neither are there many ways to be saved. Men and women have to satisfy one condition to be saved. Jesus said: "I am the way the truth and the life; no man comes to the Father except through me." John14v6. (See exposition on John14v1to14)

The only way to be saved is to be in a relationship with Jesus. This is clear from what the owner of the house said to those refused entry: "I dont know you or where you come from." v25. Jesus must know us and we must know him for eternal salvation.

(2) Personal.

The gate is narrow because it only admits one at a time. You cannot go through in a crowd - or with your parents - or arm and arm with a friend. Gaining admittance into the kingdom is like going one at time through a turnstile into a football arena or leisure centre.

Salvation is intensely personal. It is something that has to be settled between the individual and Jesus. There are no intermediaries. It is not something anyone can accomplish for you in any way whatsoever. You will never be accepted by God for the sake of your family or the church you attend. You must come to Jesus in person, confess your sin and ask him for forgiveness and new life. Sadly this deters many. They are fearful of getting involved on a one to one basis with Jesus.

(3) Restrictive.

In order to go through the narrow gate there is a lot that has to be left behind. It is like the check in for an aeroplane flight - there is not much you can take into the aircraft with you.

Here are some of the things that may have to be abandoned at the turnstile:

    (a) Family. Jesus said: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters ...... he cannot be my disciple." Lk14v26. Jesus is saying that the true believer must be prepared to be estranged from his family for his sake.

    (b) Reputation. Saul of Tarsus lost his reputation as an up and coming young Pharisee when he converted to Christianity. John Wesley was rejected by many of his fellow Anglicans when he began preaching in the open air. William Booth was hated by Wesleyans and Anglicans alike for the unorthodox methods he used to evangelise the East End of London.

    (c) A comfortable lifestyle. A self-indulgent, pleasure seeking and freedom loving lifestyle is incompatible with the self-denial and self-discipline Christ calls for. He says: "And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." Lk14v27.

    (d) A romantic relationship, a friendship, a business association. These are all things that might have to go in order to faithfully follow Jesus.

    (e) Worldly success. Sometimes worldly ambition has to be set aside to enter the narrow gate. This was true for Saul of Tarsus and it has been true of others like David Shepherd, C.T. Studd and Martyn Lloyd Jones.

(4) Prescriptive.

The door of salvation is narrow because it leads to a narrow way. It would be inappropriate to have a broad gate for a narrow way! The Christian life is one of obligation, duty and service. It involves self-discipline and self-sacrifice. Jesus said that anyone who follows him must be prepared to deny himself and take up his cross.

My mother had a privileged upbringing. She had a private education at Richmond High School. She later worked as a short hand typist in the Pall Mall branch of Lloyds Bank. My mother was a slim, good-looking girl and had no shortage of well-to-do boyfriends. She had a lovely life! But she married my father, a Grace Baptist pastor, determined to help him in the ministry. She chose a life of relative poverty and sacrificial service.

(D) The necessary struggle. "Make every effort .... ."

I prefer the 'strive' of the Authorised Version: "Strive to enter in at the strait gate." v24. The Greek word translated, 'make every effort,' was used of the titanic struggles of wrestlers competing in the Olympic Games. They strived to overcome each other - exerting themselves to the limits of their physical strength.

Jesus teaches that becoming a Christians will not necessarily be easy. It will involve a struggle. Many, like Paul, will kick against the pricks.

Would be Christians may struggle to:

(1) To find the door.

People discontented with their lives and looking for a better way have been misdirected to other doors - the entrances to:

    (a) Eastern mysticism or New Age Religion.
    (b) Penance. Martin Luther tried desperately for years to find peace through confession and penance.
    (c) Right living and good works. John Bunyan determined to change his life round and live by the Ten Commandments but it gave him no assurance of salvation.
    (d) Church attendance. Very many attend church because it makes them feel better about themselves without ever experiencing what it is to be saved and given new life by the Spirit.

A man or woman must find the right door to be saved. Jesus said: "I am the gate for the sheep .... . I am the gate, whoever enters through me will be saved." Jn10v7and9.

(2) Overcome a variety of problems.

Satan will use any strategy to keep a man or woman from entering the narrow door to salvation. Some have to struggle with intellectual problems. Others have to overcome their prejudices and join the people they once despised. I think rather more are troubled with doubt and fears. They ask questions like: "Will it work? Will I be able to keep up being a Christian? Won't I make a fool of myself?" C.S. Lewis in his autobiographical book, 'Surprised by Joy,' admits he was very reluctant to make the leap of faith because, to use his own words: I had always wanted, above all things, not to be "interfered with." I had wanted "to call my soul my own." He goes on to write: In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. Pride is a wickedly high hurdle for some to surmount. Saul of Tarsus must have resisted the promptings of the Holy Spirit and the pricks of conscience because it would be so humiliating for him to have been so wrong.

(3) Come to terms with the cost.

We have seen that there may be a considerable cost involved in becoming a Christian. Jesus leaves us in no doubt about this. He said: "In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple." Lk14v28to33.

One of the things that Jesus certainly expects us to forfeit as Christians is the personal freedom to spend time and money as we please. He said to the rich young ruler who wanted to know how to inherit eternal life, "Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." Lk18v22.

I think this is a lesson that few Christians in England have taken to heart. I heard an attractive young Christian lady say on, 'Songs of Praise,' that she had taken a job in Windsor Great Park organising the Sunday Polo matches. The members of the church she attended gave her their blessing. However, it does mean that she will no longer be able to take her Sunday school class regularly. It would have been a sacrifice to turn down the job offer - but then what does Jesus expect!

It is obviously easiest for those with very little to lose to become Christians. That is why there are so many conversions in prison and why people who have come to the end of their resources yield to Jesus without much of a struggle. Jesus recognised this when he said to the rich young ruler who was unwilling to part with his wealth: "How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Lk18v25.

(E) The never saved.

Jesus taught that we can remain lost by:

(1) Procrastinating.

I agree with Campbell Morgan that the punctuation of verses 24 and 25 should be changed to read: "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door. You will stand outside knocking and pleading, 'Sir, open the door for us.' But he will answer, 'I don't know you or where you come from.'"

Jesus seems to be saying that there may only be a narrow window of opportunity for salvation. This applies:

    (a) To the Jewish nation at the time of Christ's ministry. They hadn't long to repent as a nation before God shut the door on them. For 2000 years the Jews have missed out on the blessing that belief in Jesus brings.

    (b) To all men who must enter the straight gate and get on the narrow way that leads to life before death finally closes the gate. No-one knows when the door will be slammed shut.

    (c) During a man's lifetime. The opportunity to believe in Jesus might only come once. It often comes in youth. A young heart is stirred at a Christian camp, at a special evangelical service, at the baptism of a friend ... . If the opportunity to enter the narrow door is spurned the opportunity might never come again.

(2) Remaining a Christian by association only.

Jesus said: "Then you will say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' But he will reply, 'I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evil doers!" v26. It will be no use Jews or individuals saying at the Judgment, "We at and drank with you ..... ." It is not enough to be associated with Jesus by living in a Christian country, being brought up by Christian parents or attending a Christian church. The only way to be saved is to make a decisive, vital and total commitment to Jesus.

(3) Mistaking familiarity with Christ's teaching for belief in him.

You may know the gospel story - most people are familiar with parts of it; you may agree with Jesus' ethical teaching; you may be able to retell his parables and sing well known hymn in praise of him; BUT it isn't enough! You must be known by Jesus. There is only one way to be known by him and that is through submission and service. We must believe in Jesus - entrust our lives to him and obey him.

(F) The number selected.

Jesus does in fact tell us three comforting facts about who will be saved. The saved will include:

(1) The Patriarchs and Prophets. "There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, but you, yourselves thrown out." v23.

The Prophets and the Patriarchs never had an opportunity to believe in Jesus but nonetheless they will be saved. Paul says: Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. Rom4v3

The knowledge that the Patriarchs and the Prophets had of God was limited but they had faith in what they truly knew. So, perhaps, there is hope for others, non-Jews, who have had no opportunity to believe in Jesus but with faith in God as provider, protector and sustainer.

(2) People world-wide.

"People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God." v29.

Jesus looks forward to the success of the gospel and spread of the church all over the earth. This surely indicates that many will be saved notwithstanding the difficulties. The seed of Abraham - the children of promise - will be as the sand on the seashore.

(3) Many of the 'last'.

"Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last." v30.

There will be a large number of the underprivileged, impoverished, handicapped, marginalised, rejected and helpless among the saved. Surely children who die in infancy may be among the 'the last' and finally saved. Certainly many will be honoured in glory who have never been honoured on earth. There will be a happy band, little regarded even by their fellow Christians, who will wear their heavenly decorations with pride for all eternity.