I remember watching the television show “Let’s Make a Deal” with host Monty Hall (Wayne Brady hosts the current version). People came to the show dressed in all kinds of crazy costumes. Hall selected people and then offered them a choice between various items. They might be asked to choose between a small box and a big box; between what’s behind the curtain or what’s in the box; or what is behind a curtain and what is in his pocket (usually money). When the person had made a choice (and before they discovered what was in the box) he would give them the opportunity to trade what they had just chosen for something else. The fun of the show was watching the people agonize over their choices. At the end of the show people were given the opportunity to trade what they had won for a chance to choose one of three curtains on the stage. Behind the curtains there might be a sports car, a dream vacation, nice furniture or . . .there could be several chickens, a broken down vehicle or some other booby prize. The people risked everything on the choice they made. Choices have consequences.
In our text this morning in Luke 13:22-30 Jesus speaks to the crowd about their choices and the consequences of those choices. It all started during the Question and Answer time.
23 Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”
It’s possible that the person who asked the question anticipated that Jesus would declare that only the Jews could be saved because they alone were the promised children of Israel. But that’s not what He said.
“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 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.’
26 “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’
27 “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’
28 “There will be weeping there, 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.
Jesus, in best “Let’s Make a Deal Fashion” informed the crowd that they need to choose between at least two doors. There was a narrow door and (implied) a wider door (or doors). Unlike Let’s Make a Deal, Jesus actually tells us which is the better choice. One door leads to eternal life, the other leads to eternal torment.
In the gospel of Matthew Jesus used the same kind of picture,
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
A Troubling Statement
This text causes great consternation to some people today for two reasons, First, these words are seen as “intolerant”. People today would call Jesus “narrow-minded”, “divisive”, and might charge Him with “hate speech” because of His “intolerant words”.
Let us grant that there is a need for tolerance. We must accept the fact that people will like different things, dress different ways, have different political views, pursue different passions, and worship in different ways and in different religions. Many have died on the battlefields to protect this right of equal protection under the law.
However, equal protection under the law is not the same as equal validity. I can defend the right of others to have the freedom to exercise their freedoms (within reasonable limits). However, this doesn’t mean I that I must believe their views are true. Unfortunately, this is what we are being asked to do in the political correctness movement. Many in our culture are advocating the equal validity of all. These people claim that it doesn’t matter what curtain you choose, everyone should get the same thing!
This is logical lunacy. Think about it,
- How is it possible for Jesus to be: 1) the only way to God, 2) one of many ways to God, and 3) a pretender that cannot lead us to God at all? These views can’t all be true because they contradict each other. If any one of them is true, the others have to be false.
- How can we affirm that 1) the Bible alone is God’s inspired revelation to men; 2) that the Koran is God’s true Word, and 3) there are numerous books that are God’s Word and 4) There is no such thing as God’s Word only books of wisdom written by men? Again, if any one of these is true, the others must be false.
- How are we to affirm that there is a Sovereign God who determines and declares what is good and evil, true and false; while at the same time declaring that people should decide what is right for themselves?
Let’s draw a picture. Let’s say you are golfing and one person says you total your score when the ball is put in the cup. Another person says “No, I think everyone should receive the same score”. Another says you should get points every time you see a bird! Are we to say,“Everyone simply play by your own rules”? To do so would eliminate the “sport” and replace it with chaos.
Political correctness if taken literally, is like saying, “You can’t give my child a lower grade simply because he believes that 5+2 = 45. He is affirming his truth and you have no right to impose your standards upon him.” We understand the lunacy of such a statement (I hope!) We recognize that there is such a thing as “absolute truth” (the standard by which other things are measured) and anything that contradicts it is false.
Most people who cry “intolerance” when Christians talk about Jesus being the narrow door and the only way of salvation are actually inconsistent in their beliefs. They are not willing to show “tolerance” to those of us who hold to the truth of Scripture. Their tolerance extends only to those who agree with them.
Second, these words of Jesus are upsetting to some because they go against contemporary views of Heaven. Today people proclaim: “I am a good person”. Most people believe that all you need to do to go to Heaven is . . . die. We hear statements such as “You have your faith and I have mine, but we are all going to the same place.” Others say, “It really doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you are sincere.” These statements make people feel all warm and fuzzy as if God will welcome us into Heaven no matter what we do or believe.
What Jesus says is different! He said many will expect entry to Heaven. . . . but will be denied! In fact the designations of “broad and narrow” seem to indicate that the majority of people will NOT be granted entry into Heaven!
Jesus says there will be some people who believe they are going to Heaven who will discover when they reach the door of Heaven that they are not allowed in. These people will claim to be friends of the Lord. They will point to their church membership, their baptism, their service or their experiences, but the Lord will say that He never knew them.
Suppose someone came to my door and asked me for a large loan. After I tell them “No!” they respond, “But I attended a wedding reception with you. We talked about how nice the service was.” My response would likely be, “That may be so, but I do not know you.” Then I would shut the door.
We may have been in the same place at the same time and may even have been doing the same thing. We could have exchanged passing pleasantries. However we still would not know each other because the relationship was superficial, passing, and of little lasting significance. There are many people who have desired the benefits of Christ but have not desired Christ himself!
Jesus is warning us that there are going to be people who get to Heaven and discover that their so-called relationship with Christ was nothing. They may have met the Savior, they may have been introduced to the Savior, but the Savior Himself will not know them because the relationship was superficial. We are told those who are cast away will weep and gnash their teeth. This is a picture of deep regret. These people will be angry with themselves because they will see what they could have had, and will live with the deep and eternal regret because they did not take the way of faith.
A Challenging Statement
Jesus did not mean for this message to be something depressing, He wanted to challenge the people to genuine commitment. He said, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door”. The Greek word translated “make every effort” is the word “agonize” It denotes work, strain, effort.
This is a challenging statement that must be correctly understood. When rightly understood it serves as a corrective for two erroneous swings of the theological pendulum. On one side are the many people who believe Jesus is telling us that we have to work your way into Heaven. If we work hard enough, if we push the right buttons, if we do enough good things we can earn or warrant salvation. These people are generally either hopelessly frustrated or unbearably self-righteous.
The Bible is clear that can never do enough good to earn our salvation. In Romans 3 Paul says, “no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by observing the Law.” We can never do enough good to erase the penalty of sin from our lives. We can only be made right with God through the work of Christ on our behalf. We need the payment that only He can make for our salvation. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, to the glory of God alone! We can only receive salvation we will never earn it.
But there is a flip side to this pendulum. There are those who seem to conclude that since we can’t do anything to earn salvation, we don’t need to do anything at all! They feel they have received God’s grace and yet remain unchanged! This too is error.
Pilgrim’s Progress is the great allegory written by John Bunyan. The book tells the story of a guy named Christian who is heading to the Celestial City (Heaven). Christian arrives at the cross and gets rid of his sin burden early in the book. Bunyan points out that the point of surrender to Christ is the beginning of the journey of faith, not the end of it. Christian encountered various challenges: Pride, Sloth, Impatience, Discouragement and many others along the way to the city. He learned that it is only by persevering in faithfulness that He could make it to the city. We learn that it is in the battle to be faithful that we grow faithful.
Suppose I told you that if you trusted me I would teach you how to drive. You want to learn to drive and you believe I appear to be a competent teacher so you profess your trust and you do so sincerely. Maybe your eyes even fill with tears because of your gratitude for my willingness to instruct you (it’s unlikely, but it could happen!).
We get into the car and I instruct you in how to turn on the car. I tell you that it is important that you give your full attention to the road and you reach over and turn on the radio and take a cell phone call. When we get on the road I tell you to slow down and yield but you speed up to try to beat the other guy. I tell you we need to turn but you continue to go straight. When I tell you to go straight, you turn. When we are getting on the highway I tell you to speed up so you can merge into traffic on the highway and you come to a stop. Here’s the question: did you really trust me? The answer is No. If you had really trusted me you would have done what I told you to do.
Think of the Christian faith like a coin that has two sides. Any coin that does not have both sides is considered fraudulent or counterfeit. The Christian faith is the same way: both sides must be present: we must trust God’s grace and provision of Christ as the only way of salvation and we must demonstrate that trust by the way we live our lives.
Paul shows us this balance in Ephesians 2:8-10
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
We are saved from the wrath of God not by anything we have done but through the gift of God through the work of Christ on our behalf. There is nothing we can do to merit grace. However, faith is not merely receiving what God offers….it is to receive, embrace, and love Christ himself! Those that embrace HIM are those who seek to honor Him, adore Him, and follow Him in all that they do. When we truly meet Christ we are irrevocably changed.
Here’s the question we must all wrestle with: Have I sought to embrace Christ or only the gifts that Christ offers? Are we “agonizing” to honor our Lord by entering the narrow gate? Are we really following Him?
If we take the words of Jesus seriously we understand that this is serious stuff! Jesus indicates that there are many who think they are right with God but are not. They think they are Christ-followers but are not. They are deceived. Because this distinction is so important let me be very pointed in application.
- If we are not reading, studying and getting acquainted with God’s Word we are not on the narrow way; the way of eternal life.
- If we are not at least trying to learn how to pray we are walking in the ways of the world rather than the ways of God.
- If we put other things before our worship of the Lord we are putting other things above God and are idolaters rather than followers.
- If our business practices are no different from the other non-Christian businessmen around us, we are on the road that leads to destruction.
- If our leisure time activities are just as profane as the rest of the world (drunkenness, lust, and God-mocking amusements), we are living against God rather than for Him.
- If anything is more important to us in our parenting than our concern to lead and train our children in the way of discipleship, we are parenting more like a pagan than as one who pursues the way of Christ
- If we are engaged in behaviors we know are condemned by God and we are doing nothing to change those practices we are defying God rather than following Him.
- If we lack compassion for the hurting and are unwilling to find ways to alleviate the pain of others we show that we do not have the heart of God within us.
- If we are not looking for opportunities to introduce people to Jesus and to point them in the way of truth we hate those people rather than love them (even though we may covet their approval and applause). We are denying the Lord rather than following Him.
A Hopeful Statement
Don’t miss the hopeful word at the end,
People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”
Here is the good news. Though many “religious people” will NOT get in because their relationship with God was superficial, many others from all over the world (Gentiles like us) will get in and enjoy the feast of the saints who eat and fellowship with Jesus. All around the world people are finding the narrow door. The Table of the Lord will be surrounded by people of all races, nationalities and cultures.
Many of those who are last in the eyes of the world will be first in the Kingdom of Heaven. Many who are tossed aside in this world will be honored before God. Anyone who truly runs to Jesus will be at this great banquet. Your reputation doesn’t matter, your resume is inconsequential. All that matters is your relationship with Christ. Have you embraced Him as the Lord of Life? Are you following Him as your supreme delight and your only hope?
Those who follow Him will be changed. They are changed not because of how hard they have worked . . . they will be changed because of the work of Christ within them. There is no such thing as an unchanged Christian. Because of His love for us, Jesus changes ALL who follow Him by leading us in the way that leads to life.
Our glorious Lord calls us to make a choice. You stand before the doors. Everyone around you will exhort you to choose the wide door at the end of the wide road. It is the popular choice. And it is the choice that a large number of people have chosen. There is only one voice calling you to the narrow door and the sometimes rocky path that is before that door. . . that one voice is the voice of Jesus. He invites you to be His follower from this moment on and in every aspect of your life.
It’s a big choice. The wide door will bring applause from the crowd, the narrow will bring sacrifice. The wide door will be the easy way; the narrow will at times be hard. We already know what is behind the doors. Behind the narrow door is new life, Heaven, intimacy with God, contentment, joy, and an invitation to the banquet of all Banquets. And what is behind the wide door? Let’s just say that you would gladly trade what is behind that door for chickens, any day.