Enter Through the Narrow Door (On the Way to the Cross - Part 14)
Scripture: Luke 13:22–13:30
Synopsis: Will many people be saved or only a few? Jesus taught that we must strive to enter the narrow door to the Kingdom of God. As we will see, the door is not only narrow but unique, difficult to enter, often misunderstood, and will not be open forever.
Are there many seats left? If you travel by air on a space-available ticket, you must be familiar with this question. For those who don't know, a space-available ticket has the advantage of being significantly less expensive than a full fare. It is the prospect of saving a lot of money on an otherwise expensive flight that attracts us to finding these tickets. The disadvantage, of course, is that if there is no space available you simply will not be traveling that day.
Most people who travel this way ask whoever is at the check-in counter if there are many seats left on the airplane. Ten minutes later, they come back and ask again how many seats are left. For the entire time before they find out if they will receive a boarding pass, they worry. Not me. In the last 5 years, I have flown space-available almost every time I travelled. After all this time, I have developed a certain serenity about it.
You see, there have been times when we got to the check-in counter and were told that there were plenty of seats and not to worry. Then at the last moment, someone shipped some huge cargo that made the plane too heavy to accommodate more passengers, or droves of full-fare passengers would suddenly appear and fill all the seats. Other times, we would be told that the flight was totally overbooked and there was no chance of flying that day. Then, some passengers would not show up and we would get their seats.
From my perspective, the question of how many seats were left on the flight lost all usefulness because it was not predictable. I stopped asking "Are there many seats left," and instead contented myself with the question "will I be in one of them." That question could only be answered just before take-off.
Many people in the world today ask a similar question about salvation. "Will those who are saved be few?" This seems to be an important question because if many people will be saved, it increases the chances of those who are not quite so faithful, not quite so religious to get in. In our text today, a man asked Jesus this very question. Jesus pointed out to him, and to us, that this is the wrong question. We need not ask how many will be saved, but will I be among them?
22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
As we see, Jesus did not answer the man's question directly but told him to "Strive to enter through the narrow door." Many or few is not your concern. Your concern is to do all you can to make sure you are saved. Jesus likened being saved to entering God's Kingdom through the door that leads there. Using this metaphor, Jesus laid out five truths about entering his kingdom that we can explore using the question "What kind of door leads to God's Kingdom?"
A popular idea in the world today is that the way to God is like a mountain with many paths to the top. In other words, all religions lead to God, they just have different ways of getting to Him. Jesus did not see things this way. The first thing that we must notice in today's text is that the door to God's Kingdom is a unique door.
1. The Door to God's Kingdom is a unique door.
The original language of v. 24 leaves no room to argue for multiple ways to salvation. Jesus used a singular definite article (the), a singular adjective (narrow), and a singular noun (door). The point being that there is only one way in to God's Kingdom; only one door, and it is not wide.
The exclusivity of God's kingdom is not only found in this passage, but is one of the fundamental truths taught throughout scripture. The first of the ten commandments in Exodus 20:3 says:
And God spoke all these words, saying, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me."
Jesus picked this up and applied it to himself in John 14:6
Jesus said.. , “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
It sounds so nice to say that all religion is good and leads to the same destination, if only people knew how true that is. Every religion apart from faith in Jesus does lead to the same destination. In Matthew 7:13 Jesus made this clear.
13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.
There is only one way to God. All other paths lead to destruction. If you read the bible, the truth that God is the only God and has made only one provision to enter his Kingdom is impossible to ignore and impossible to argue against from scripture. And yet, how many so-called Christian churches today try to do just that? How many Christians, when faced with unbelievers cave in to the pressure of universalism? The door to God's Kingdom is a unique door, because there is no other door that can lead you to Him. There is only one way to God's Kingdom.
The second thing we find in the description is that the door to God's kingdom is a narrow door. Narrow in the sense of being pressed in.
2. The door to the Kingdom of God is a narrow door.
There is a cave near Tucson called 'Peppersauce' because it was known for being very muddy. This was not an officially administered cave, so there were no lights, ropes, or guides inside. The entrance of the cave was just big enough to crawl through and as you explored this cave, some rooms were very large, but often the way to get to them was through some very narrow passages and holes.
Well, my family decided to go exploring in this cave. To get to one of the more impressive rooms, I had to go through a tunnel in the rock so small there was not even room to crawl and I could see nothing in front of me. That was the most pressed in I have ever felt.
I think the feeling of being pressed in by trouble is what Jesus had in mind when he said that the door to the Kingdom of God is narrow. We can find reference to this not only in the word itself but over in Matthew 7:14.
14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
There are obstacles and trouble on the way to God's Kingdom. It is a hard way to go when you consider what following Jesus will mean for your life. First of all, God's Kingdom is counter-cultural. We talked about this fact a few months ago when we covered the sermon on the plain. The values of God's kingdom are not the values of this world. Furthermore the gospel is offensive and foolish to those who don't believe. In fact, it's a miracle whenever anyone actually believes it.
Another obstacle that we must contend with is our own flesh. God made us great bodies, but because of sin our bodies are slowly dying. Many of our appetites are out of proportion such that we must fight to keep them under control. Even more difficult is the fact that the war we must fight against our flesh our whole lives is one that the world tells us is unnecessary. Finally, we will not see the greatest benefits of our efforts until far in the future when we enter the Kingdom. I think this is what is meant by the door to God's Kingdom being narrow. Life will not be easy for those who would enter in.
If there is only one door and it is narrow, it will be difficult to enter. So what is the door to God's Kingdom like? The door to God's kingdom is difficult to go through and yet Jesus said, "Strive to enter!"
3. The door to the Kingdom of God is a difficult door to enter.
That time when my family went caving, we brought a very long rope with us and tied it at the entrance of the cave. We did this so that we would not get lost inside. As I said before, there were no lights except those we brought and no guides. There were also legends of people who went into the caves and got lost, never to find their way back out. We also did this because on another trip into the cave we got lost and spent several hours climbing through the caverns striving to find the one way out.
That is the description we have here of the difficulty of entering the door to God's Kingdom, except that the difficulty is much greater. Jesus told the man who asked him if only a few would be saved to "Strive to enter through the narrow door."
The word for strive in Greek is 'agonizo.' It is where we get the English word agonize from, and it is in the imperative voice denoting something that must be done. The idea is that one must take great pains to enter through this door; striving, struggling, even fighting to get through. Otherwise, one will not enter.
Jesus went on to say in v. 24
“..For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able."
Once again, we are brought back to that difficult truth that not everyone will be saved. In fact, according to Jesus, many will not and it won't be for lack of trying. The thrust of the text here is that if many people who try will be unable to enter God's Kingdom, what will become of you if you do not strive to enter?
Now, I don't think this is an endorsement of works based salvation. Instead, what I see in this illustration are the many people throughout the world who seek to enter God's Kingdom by being good enough under their own ability. They will not be able to enter. The difficulty in entering the door then is caused by its uniqueness and narrowness. Just like in the cave, there is only one door and only one way to it. Many will seek to enter, that is they will look for the door and be unable to even find it. Therefore the striving is more about striving to find the door to God's Kingdom than squeezing your way through.
One reason I think the door is so hard to find and therefore difficult to enter is that most people can't wrap their heads around the concept of grace. I was speaking once with an older man about my faith in Christ. He listened while I told him about human sinfulness that separates us from God, and that was ok. It was something he could see and had experienced. He listened when I talked about Jesus' death on the cross to bridge the separation between God and man, and that was ok. It seemed to make sense. But when I got to the part that all you have to do is believe and the work of Jesus will become effective to restore you to God, he had a problem. He said, "But what do I have to do?" I could not convince him that faith in Jesus was enough because he was sure that there must be something you must do to earn this salvation.
The door to God's kingdom is difficult to enter because it is in directly the opposite direction of all man-made religious thought. Every religion in the world requires that you do in order to get, whereas the gospel maintains that you receive by faith in order to do. You must therefore strive to enter the door and not miss it.
4. The door to the Kingdom of God is a misunderstood door.
Fourthly, the door to the Kingdom of God is misunderstood by many people. In other words, there are many people who think they have entered even though they have not. Look again at verses 25-30:
25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
Jesus was speaking to a Jewish man in a Jewish context. It was the common belief of the time that Abraham's descendants were all part of God's Kingdom simply by birth. God had chosen Abraham and established the nation of Israel through his descendants. What a shocking thing it is then for Jesus to suggest that God would say, "I do not know where you come from" to Jews descended of Abraham! Even worse that while denying the chosen people, God would allow Gentiles into His kingdom instead! Those called later would go in before those called first.
For us today, being all gentiles, the clear lesson is don't just assume that you are in. When I was very young, I lived in the Mid-Western USA, an area people refer to as the "bible belt." In the bible belt, almost everyone goes to church and almost everyone calls himself a Christian. Many people rely on this heritage to get them into the Kingdom of God, but it doesn't work that way. If the Jews whom God had chosen to be His people could not rely on their heritage, how can we? If your parents were Christian, that is a wonderful blessing, but it does not necessarily make you a Christian.
What about those of you who were not born in an overtly Christian home? Do you rely on being better than most to get you into the Kingdom? Do you rely on church attendance? Do you rely on doing good things? Do you rely on subjective experiences? If you rely on anything but faith in Christ, you have misunderstood the door to the Kingdom and you will not enter.
So how do we understand way to God's Kingdom clearly? The primary way is by knowing His revealed Word. To understand who God is, who we are, salvation, and His Kingdom, you must turn to the scriptures. In the bible you will find what evidence should proceed from your life if you have been saved.
In the letter to the church in Galatia, Paul wrote that what proceeds from the life of a saved person is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Are these an good description of what flows your life? Don't misunderstand the way to God's Kingdom. Those who are sincere can be sincerely wrong.
The final answer to the question of what the door to the Kingdom of God is this: The door to God's Kingdom is a door that will one day be closed.
5. The door to the Kingdom of God is a door that will be closed.
25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’
The first thing that seems to pop out at me when I read this is that once the door is closed, it will not be opened again. All excuses are nullified by the phrase "I do not know where you come from." Also, as we read before the description of those left outside is "weeping and gnashing of teeth." This is not a nice picture, but it demonstrates the truth that the age of salvation will not go on forever. The question then is when will it be too late to get in?
The first answer is that the age of salvation will officially end at the second coming of Christ. When he returns, the door will be shut. Jesus taught this in Luke 17:26-30
26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, 29 but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— 30 so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.
No one knows the day or the hour when Jesus will return and bring this age to a close. What we do know is that this will be the end of all opportunities to repent and trust in him. It will be too late, the door will be shut.
The second answer as to when is it too late to enter, is when we die. The bible is clear that at the point of death there are no more opportunities to trust in Jesus. All the years of life now are your opportunity to repent and believe. Now I can hear the objection. What about all the people who have not heard and don't know? This is a valid question, but before you worry about that, consider this: Have you taken the opportunity to enter the narrow door? Don't delay. You don't know either the time of your passing or the time of Jesus' returning. Get in before the door is closed.
The door to God's Kingdom is unique, narrow, difficult to enter, often misunderstood, and will not be open forever. If it has not yet become clear, I would like to clarify what this door that Jesus talked about is. For that, we look to John 10:9 where Jesus said,
"I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved.."
Jesus is the door to God's Kingdom. He is the only way to be saved. Isn't it profound that Jesus taught this while passing through cities and villages on his way to Jerusalem? On his way to be crucified, to bear our guilt and shame so that the door to God's Kingdom might be opened for all who trust in him. All who will be saved must enter God's Kingdom through Christ who died and rose again for us.
Ask not whether many or few will be saved. Ask if you will be among them. For many will seek to enter the Kingdom of God but will be unable because the door is unique, narrow, difficult to find amidst all the confusion of world religion, misunderstood by many, and will not be open forever. Strive to enter God's Kingdom through Jesus, the narrow door.
More in On the Way to the Cross
April 13, 2014Glorious Injustice (On the Way to the Cross - Part 24)
April 6, 2014Peter and Judas (On the Way to the Cross - Part 23)
March 30, 2014I Will Send My Son (On the Way to the Cross - Part 22)