“God’s Open, Narrow Door” (Luke 13:22-30)

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
August 21, 2022

“God’s Open, Narrow Door” (Luke 13:22-30)

In our text today, someone asks Jesus a question: “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Well, that seems like a reasonable question, something you might ask a visiting rabbi. An interesting academic question, to be sure: “Are only a few people going to be saved?”

But what was the question behind the question? Why did the guy ask this? Let’s consider the possibilities. Was it just idle curiosity, like, “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” Could be. Or maybe this fellow thinks God is too loose, letting in all the riff-raff he sees hanging around Jesus. A righteous God shouldn’t be that soft in his justice.

On the other hand, perhaps he asks his question in order to put God on trial. Maybe he thinks God is too strict. If God were really a decent God, he would let everybody in. You know, there are lots of people who think that way today. “God wouldn’t dare to send anybody to hell! The God I believe in wouldn’t do that!” That’s how people think today.

Another possibility: Maybe the questioner is trying to trap Jesus with his question. We know elsewhere in the gospels that that sort of thing happened. Jesus’ enemies were out to get him, and they tried to trap him into saying the wrong thing.

But it’s also possible the man’s question was neither purely academic nor a trick to trap Jesus. It could be a sincere question on the personal level for this man. Maybe he was genuinely worried about himself, that he wouldn’t make it. “Lord, will those who are saved be few? Because if that’s the case, then I’m not so sure I’m good enough to qualify.” Despair could be driving his question, and he was looking for the slightest sliver of hope.

On the other hand–now how many hands is this?–on the other hand, it could be pride. Pride, as in: “Hey, look at me! I’m one of the few, the proud, the saved! I’m better than all those lowlifes who aren’t as righteous or holy as I am. God must be pleased with me1”

In any case, we’re not told what the man’s motivation was for asking the question. What we do know is how Jesus answered it. Or didn’t answer it. You see, Jesus doesn’t actually answer the man’s question. The man had asked, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” But Jesus doesn’t directly address that. Instead, he says: “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”

Jesus turns the man’s question around. He doesn’t let it stay on the academic or theoretical level. He makes it very personal. “You ask, Will those who are saved be few? Not many or few but you!” It’s as though Jesus tells the fellow: “So you’re concerned about how many people are going to be saved? Well, start by looking in the mirror. Are you going to be saved? True, there’s a danger that many people will not be saved. But don’t let that happen to you. See, here, I’m warning you–yes, you, here today!”

“Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” Now what is this “door” that Jesus is talking about? It is the door to salvation. It’s the door to eternal life. It’s the door to the kingdom of God, the household of God, and the heavenly banquet. And many will not be able to enter, even though they will try. Jesus doesn’t tell us how many, or what the proportions will be, just that many will not make it. The door will be closed to them at that time.

You see, there will come a time when it’s too late. That will happen at the end of time, at the Last Day and the final judgment, when Jesus comes again. And until that time, the end will come for each one of us at our death. After that, it will be too late to repent, too late to enter through the door. So, make sure that you attend to such matters now, before it is too late. Death could come for any one of us at any time.

The Bible says, “Today, if you hear his voice, harden not your heart.” Any time and every time you hear God’s voice, open your heart and heed what he says. Don’t stop your ears and run the risk that the next time it will be too late. There may not be a next time. And even if there is a next time, by then you may be so used to saying “no” to God that you won’t be able to say “yes.” Listen, God is calling. He’s calling you today to repent and be saved. The door is open now, now while you have ears to hear.

“Strive to enter through the narrow door.” There is a door to go through to enter the kingdom of God, but what kind of door is it? Jesus says it’s a narrow door. It is narrow, and notice, there’s just one such door. There are not many doors. But that’s what many people think, that there are many doors to God. You can pick door #1, door #2, or whichever door you choose. You prefer the door of the Christian religion; someone else picks the Jewish door. The Muslims believe in God, just in their own way. Buddhists, Hindus–many faith traditions, many doors. Or maybe you have no faith at all. You don’t believe in “organized religion.” Well, that’s OK, too. You make your own door, your own “spirituality.” It’s your door, whatever works for you. That’s the prevailing message of our postmodern, hyper-tolerant culture. But that idea is simply dead wrong.

Now to be sure, “many shall come from the east and the west,” that is, there will be many saved from every language, tribe, people, and nation. But all those who are saved will be saved in the same way: They all will have come in through the same narrow door, the one door that God has provided for all men everywhere, namely, God’s only Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus says there is only one door, and it is a narrow one at that. Not everything will fit through. This narrow door has no room for your pride or your accomplishments. No room for your money or possessions. No room for anything you think will earn your way in. This narrow door has a “fraud detector,” too. A mere surface association with Jesus will not make it in: “Lord, open to us. We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.” But the master of the house will turn them away: “I don’t know you or where you come from. Depart from me!” With this door, there’s no sneaking past security.

Nevertheless, you, today, come in through the narrow door. There’s just room for you and Jesus, with Jesus leading the way. In fact, Jesus is the way. He says: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.” Again, Jesus himself is the door: “I am the door for the sheep. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved.”

You see, there is just one door, and it is narrow. But that door is open now, and it leads to salvation! Come in through the way that is Jesus, the new and living way that he opened for us, in his flesh. Christ, the only Son of the Father, took upon himself all our sins, which would block us out and exclude us from God’s presence. Christ’s perfect sacrifice now having been made, the way for us sinners no longer is blocked. It is as open as the empty tomb with the stone rolled away. Christ has overcome the sharpness of death and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. The door is open! Jesus is our open door!

Come in through God’s open, narrow door. But why does Jesus say, “Strive to enter”? If there’s no room for our works, our efforts to save ourselves, then isn’t that a contradiction? “Strive to enter”? I thought being saved was giving up on our efforts and instead trusting Jesus to do the work for us? Well, yes, it is. But entering through the door still is an effort, it still is a struggle. For we still strive and struggle against our own sinful flesh. Our Old Adam is at war with the new man. So we struggle every day with sin and temptation. We do battle against the devil, the world, and our flesh. That’s why the way of salvation involves a certain striving. And that’s what Jesus means when he says, “Strive to enter.”

“Strive.” The Greek word here is “agonizomai,” from which we get our word, “agonize.” It was used of athletes in competition. They “agonize” to win the prize. Same with us. We “agonize,” we sweat and strive and struggle. We press on to run the race, keeping our eyes on the prize, the crown of life that God will award us for Christ’s sake. The paradox of the Christian life is that it is both a gift and a struggle at the same time. “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”

We started this message with the question: “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” But this is no time for a mere academic exercise. The question is, rather: Will those who are saved include me? And God is not the one who’s on trial here. You are. How are you going to fare in his heavenly court of justice? Will you be able to enter his kingdom?

Yes. Thank God, yes! The door is narrow, but the door is open. And it is open right now, for you. “Behold, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” Right now, as you hear the living voice of the gospel, God is opening his door to you. God is speaking to you, inviting you in, welcoming you home with open arms.

If the question is, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” then Jesus’ answer is, “You who are hearing me today, come in through me and be saved while there is still time.” Yes, come to the feast of salvation, enter the kingdom of God, through God’s open, narrow door.

Published in: on August 20, 2022 at 11:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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