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Life of Christ (1996-1998)

The Narrow Door

Luke 13:22-35

We begin a section now where Christ is proceeding towards Jerusalem for the Crucifixion. The lessons are given “on the way.” Even though we are only about half way through the Gospels, we are rapidly approaching the last week of Christ’s ministry on earth. Time is short, and Jesus makes that point very clearly.

(Luke 13:22-30 NIV) Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. {23} Someone asked him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?" He said to them, {24} "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. {29} 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."

The Door

One of the most difficult concepts in Christianity is here: the door is narrow. We spend so much time proclaiming that the door is open that we forget that it is narrow. Much grief is caused by this.

First, we forget how the door appears to the world. “If this is such a good thing, if this is truly the way, then why isn’t it more obvious? Why isn’t it clearly marked as such?” The answer is that it is clearly marked; it’s just narrow. Just because one way is a six-lane freeway and the other a country road does not mean the freeway will take you to the right destination. The real complaint is not the marking; the real complaint is that it is hard. Because it is hard, it is the “road less traveled,” – not because it is unmarked.

The Rich Young Ruler found this out[1], to his cost. He had followed the commandments; he had prospered. But something was missing, and he went in search of it. He found it, and was unwilling to pay the price. Christ’s command was quite simple and clear, but the ruler was unwilling to “make every effort” – to pay the price.

The disciples, you will recall, were astonished at this. They were convinced of the man’s sincerity, and his wealth was to them proof of God’s favor. If he couldn’t make it, who could? Jesus’ reply was that with God all things are possible. It seems, however, that many are invited but few are chosen.[2]

Are only a few…?

People raised in a democracy abhor the idea that anything can be so exclusive – and then seek after the exclusive. A consistent theme throughout the Scripture is the concept of “the Remnant.” The history of the Old Testament nation of Israel is largely one of God taking a people out of bondage in Egypt and refining them. Over the years many are lost, but always there exists the remnant who are faithful to God.

This passage most certainly contains references to the return of the Lord. In Isaiah[3] we are told that one of the characteristics of the end time is that Israel will return to her land. This is phrased in terms of “the remnant.” Paul tells us in Romans about this:

(Rom 11:1-5 NIV) I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. {2} God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don't you know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah--how he appealed to God against Israel: {3} "Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me"? {4} And what was God's answer to him? "I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal." {5} So too, at the present time there is a remnant chosen by grace.

The point is clear; God reserves a remnant for himself, purified by the trials of life. These are precious to him.

Make every effort

There is an ongoing confusion, particularly among new Christians, about the relative merits of grace (or faith) and good deeds. Sometimes (as with Martin Luther’s comments about the Letter of James) it spills over to serious theology. Much might be said, but in the last analysis grace and works are inseparable. There are three points about “effort” that might be made:

1.    We are to “watch and pray”[4] – for we do not know when our Lord is coming again. Therefore, we need to be doing his will at all times. That way, He will find is in fellowship with Him when He returns.

2.    We are working for a heavenly reward, not an earthly one.[5] God knows you need to be rewarded; He prefers to give you an eternal reward.

3.    Ultimately, we cannot divide our world into works and grace. As Paul put it to the Philippians,

(Phil 2:12-13 NIV) Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, {13} for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.

The first half sounds like we do all the work; the second half like God does it. For those who walk in God’s way, it is a distinction without a difference.

The Reaction of the Lost

The reaction of the lost tells us much about our society today;

·         The can’t believe it’s final. After all, the church has been a part of our society for a long time. Didn’t we provide religious freedom? Didn’t we have “In God we trust” on our coins? How then can God be so unfair?

·         The result is very bitter. It is interesting that almost all the references to hell in the New Testament are from our Lord personally. It is as if the warning was so important, and the consequences so bitter, that no lesser authority would do.

·         The real question is this: knowing how they will react when the day comes, what should we be doing about it today? This is God’s version of “tough love.” Seek the Lord while He may be found, counsels Isaiah[6]; today, if you will hear his voice.[7] We know this bitterness is coming for our friends and family; what are we doing about it?

The Last First

There always seems to be a taste of paradox to Christ’s words. Indeed, it is possible to view the kingdom of God as a divine joke: He is so mighty, and we are so weak, that He becomes weak on our behalf so that we might become mighty. To do this He has established his kingdom – a kingdom of servants. The reigning magistrate of the kingdom is Jesus Christ – who came to serve. Do you recall how, on the night of the Lord’s Supper, He washed the disciples’ feet? Indeed, He did not come to be proclaimed king, but to serve:

(Mat 20:25-28 NIV) Jesus called them together and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. {26} Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, {27} and whoever wants to be first must be your slave-- {28} just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

If your Lord came for that purpose – and the servant is not greater than the master – how then can we avoid being servants? And if a kingdom of servants, then the greatest of servants (who will be the least among us) will be the greatest in the kingdom? The first shall indeed be last.

The surprises from society.

The phrase quoted in our passage today occurs elsewhere in the New Testament. It is interesting to look up the other occurrences, for they provide some additional insight:

·         In Matthew 21:28-31, we find that this implies that many whom we consider the worst of sinners – the tax collectors and prostitutes in Jesus’ day – will enter the kingdom of heaven ahead of “respectable” people. We often shut out the unwelcome by our dress and actions (think of the biker in the church); our Lord is most unscrupulous in this regard.

·         In Mark 10:29-31, we see the description again. This time, it is the “fanatics” who surprise us, those who have left home and family to hear the call of Christ. Those who have no concept of the “proper place of religion” are at the front of the parade, not the back.

·         In the parable of the vineyard owner (Matthew 20:1-16) we find the natural reaction to this largesse on the part of our Lord: envy. One reason we find it so hard to think of “the wrong kind of people” entering the kingdom is that we feel it is just not fair. That’s a human reaction. If we held the key to heaven’s door, we would be just. God holds the keys to heaven and hell, and he is love.

Reaction to threat

People who are by their nature threatening to the status quo are often met with threats.

(Luke 13:31-35 NIV) At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, "Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you." {32} He replied, "Go tell that fox, 'I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.' {33} In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day--for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! {34} "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! {35} Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'"


The slyness of the threat

Bullies bluster and threaten you with dire consequences. The sly among us sidle up to you and let you know (quite confidentially, of course) that someone else is threatening you with dire consequences. It is the nature of those who seek their will be moving others to do this. It is often effective with us because it combines our fear of harm with our fear of the unknown. An open threat may be dealt with. A sly one raises the possibility that it cannot be dealt with.

But the Pharisees have underestimated their man. You cannot threaten the God who holds the future.

Christ’s reaction

There are three key things to note about Christ’s reaction to this threat.

·         His reaction is open, not hidden. The things of God are out on the table, in plain view, there is no guile to them.

·         The “third day” spoken of is, of course, speaking of the Resurrection. Jesus is telling them that he will proceed to his goal whatever Herod (or the Pharisees) may do. This is a characteristic of a servant of God. He does his Father’s will no matter what others may think.

·         Even though Jesus knows he is going to die, he goes ahead. The glory of God is a prize worth dying for.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem.

There is a final, poignant note in this passage. It is Christ’s lament over Jerusalem.

·         There is the longing to gather his children under him. A father lamenting over lost children is as close to the sound as I can portray it; it is an anguish of the heart. This is not the love of the innkeeper or the magistrate, all head and happiness. It is the consuming fire love of a father for his little children.

·         As always, though, the consummation of that love depends upon the children, not the Father. The power is all His; the willingness must start with us.

·         Finally, there is the intense passion the Lord shows for the lost. Ninety-nine in the fold provoke not so much care as the one who is lost.

Should we not, therefore, imitate our Lord, and seek and save those who are lost? While there is still time?

[1] Matthew 19:16-26

[2] Matthew 22:14

[3] See, for example, Isaiah 11:11-12

[4] Luke 2:36

[5] John 6:27

[6] Isaiah 55:6

[7] Hebrews 3:7-8

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