Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 6/18/95
Luke 13:22 And he was passing through from one city and village to another, teaching and proceeding on his way to Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And he said to them, 23 “Strive to enter by the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us!’ then he will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence and you taught in our streets.’ 27 And he will say, ‘I tell you I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers.’ 28 Then there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth there when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves being cast out. 29 And they will come from east and west, and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” 31 Just at that time some Pharisees came up, saying to him, “Go away and depart from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32 And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach my goal. 33 Nevertheless, I must journey on today and tomorrow and the next day, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem.’ 34 Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stone those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! 35 Behold, your house is left to you desolate, and I say to you, you shall not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”
Nothing is more fun than thinking about speculative questions in theology. I suppose the most famous one is “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” Would it surprise you to know that the answer to this question is actually known—and that I know it? Actually, there are two answers with a certain amount of validity, each from a certain point of view. The first is that an infinite number, or else a number equivalent to the total number of angels God created, can do so. Why? Because angels are spiritual beings. Being finite, they have location, i.e, they are not omnipresent; being not made of matter, they do not have extension in space, i.e., they do not take up any room in our dimension (unless they are manifesting themselves to us in a temporarily assumed physical form, as they sometimes did in Scripture). So, like mathematical points, however many are dancing on the head (or even the point) of the pin, another one can always join them without pushing anyone off. The second answer? None, because angels, being good conservative servants of God, do not dance.
Seriously, such questions have a legitimate use: the question about angels is a good way of finding out if a theology student actually understands the attributes of a spiritual being. But they are notorious and the butt of jokes because they can also easily be abused—for example, if a person used them as a smokescreen to avoid dealing with a pertinent personal issue. That is exactly what the questioner in vs. 23 was doing. You will notice that the Lord gives no answer to his question as he verbalized it at all. No number of saved people, whether small or large, is even implied by what he said. Many will be saved, many won’t—but the pertinent question is which group you will be in? The important question is not how many people are going through the door, but rather what the door is, how to identify it and make sure that you are going in yourself. Once that is settled, then you try to take as many others through it with you as you can. Jesus ignores the “presentation problem” and redirects the question to what really matters: the focus switches from others to the door and then to the questioner himself. Are they few that be saved? None of your business. Wrong question. Let’s analyze for a few minutes the question Jesus really wanted to answer.
The narrow door that Jesus actually wanted to talk about is of course our Lord himself, as he makes explicit in John 10:7-9 and 14:6. He is the door of the sheepfold; he is the way, the truth, and the life. Through him we go in and out and find pasture; no one comes to the Father but by him. O.K., if Jesus is the door, what is on the other side? A door is an entryway. It is designed to give us access to that which is beyond it. What does Jesus give us access to, in other words?
First, he gives us access to God: “No one comes to the Father but by me.” The door is the door to God’s kingdom. Christ gives us this access to God first simply by being who he is, the eternal Son of God in human flesh. “No one hath seen God at any time; but the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John. 1:14). Jesus is the invisible God made visible, the incomprehensible God made understandable, the unapproachably holy God made accessible. That is why there is only one God and only one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5). But just as crucially, Jesus gives us access to God by his Work on our behalf. He died a substitutionary and sacrificial death on the Cross to pay for our sins, which otherwise would have separated us from a holy God forever. He who knew no sin was made sin for us, that by him we might be made the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21); he has canceled the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and taken it out of the way, by nailing it to the Cross (Col. 2:14); through him, we who were far off have now been made nigh by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:13). So infinite and high is this God that only by his own stooping to our nature in the incarnation of his Son could we reach him. So holy is he that only through the blood of his Son shed for us could we be able to stand in his presence. Truly, Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father but by him!
By giving us access to God, Christ gives us access to all else that is good, true, and beautiful as well. Even non Christians grasp at these things for a while. But apart from the One who made and sustains them, apart from the One who gives them their meaning by the way they reflect his own glory, there is no possibility of fully enjoying them even now, and no possibility of truly possessing and keeping them now or forever. In Christ, we have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places; in Christ we will inherit the new earth as well. In Christ we are joint-heirs of all the good things God has made.
Among those things is Truth itself. Bacon said that the inquiry of truth, which is the wooing of it, the knowledge of truth, which is the presence of it, and the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it, is the sovereign good of human nature; Bacon said that it is heaven upon earth to have a man’s mind move in charity, rest in providence, and turn upon the poles of truth. And Christ is the Logos, the Word of God, the light which comes into the world and enlightens every man. Isolated truths we may intuit or guess at even by that light reflected to us apart from faith; but there is no permanent and abiding relationship with the Truth as a whole apart from him. He is the way, the truth, and the life.
And so another thing to which Christ gives us access is Life. In him was life, and that life was the light of men; he came to give us life, and to give it more abundantly. For he is the Son of that One who is often and with reason called the living God. For he is that God whose Spirit, brooding over the surface of the waters, gave life to the world when it was without form and void. He sends forth his Spirit and the deer calve; he withdraws it and they return to dust. And this divine life was so powerfully present in Christ that even the grave could not hold him. So we who were dead in our trespasses and sins are made alive in Christ. All that is meaningful, energetic, wholesome, dynamic, growing, and good about existing finds its source in him. Thus the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord. Without him we scratch out a pitiful biological existence for a few decades; but there is no permanent and abiding relationship with Life apart from him. He is the way, the truth, and the life. He is the door of the sheep.
Here as elsewhere, Jesus emphasizes a curious quality of this wonderful door: it is narrow. Strive to enter in by the narrow door. For strait is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and (relatively) few there be that find it, while wide is the gate and broad the way that leads to death, and many there be that enter therein. What is the point of this rather off-putting adjective? It highlights the specificity and the exclusivity of Christ’s claims. There is only one Door that leads to God, to Truth, and to Life. There are a lot of other doors out there, but you don’t want to take them. I once read a short story entitled “The Black Door.” A general offered a captured deserter a choice between the standard punishment for desertion, a firing squad, or whatever was behind the black door. He chose the firing squad over the unknown horror and chose to suffer rather the evil that he knew than fly to another that he knew not of. Afterwards, an aide asked the general what was on the other side of the door. “Freedom” was the answer. The consistent message of Scripture is that our choices matter; our choices in time affect eternity. This being the case, we need to know that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. And we equally need to know that no one cometh to the Father but by him.
No doctrine of the Christian faith is more unpopular in the modern world than this one. Our insistence on the exclusivity of Christ as the only way to God gets us branded as narrow, intolerant, and bigoted. So harsh and unforgiving is the response to this teaching that many even who still call themselves Evangelicals have begun to weaken and waffle on it, to fall into a horribly secular shuck and jive whenever it comes up, or even to abandon it altogether. At best we shy away from it. But it is a matter of spiritual life and death, as well as faithfulness to the clear and unequivocal teaching of our Lord. And therefore it is both unfaithful and (ironically) uncharitable for us to compromise on it. At the end of the Nineteenth Century, the great London preacher Charles Haddon Spurgeon had already prophetically smelled the way the wind of doctrine was blowing and provided a response to it as wise as it was forthright: “Men must be told that they are dead and only the Holy Spirit can quicken them. This is thought to be discouraging teaching, and so it is. But men need to be discouraged from seeking salvation in a wrong manner.” Yes. People need to be actively discouraged from thinking that cholesterol is good for their hearts. They need to be actively discouraged from thinking that no one else ought to drink and drive, but they can get away with it just this once. They need to be actively discouraged from storing their guns and their ammunition together in unlocked cabinets when they have children in the house. And if they need to be discouraged from these things, then they surely need to be actively discouraged from seeking salvation in any other, for there is no other name given under heaven, whereby we must be saved.
Jesus says we should strive to enter in by the narrow gate. The word translated “strive” is the Greek agonizomai, literally “to agonize or struggle.” It is a word from athletics, a verb for athletes doing an excruciatingly demanding and intense form of exercise such as wind sprints; one hears in it the desperately shouted gasp of a weight lifter trying to clean and press an almost impossible weight. The point is not works for salvation. As long as the door is open, all you have to do is walk through it. The problem is that the door is not going to be open forever for anyone, and it is not always open even for you. Now is the accepted time, today the day of salvation! The point is the importance of getting yourself through the door while you still can. You can’t afford to just saunter up to it when you feel like it. Some people may get through that way, by the skin of their teeth, as it were, but you cannot afford to count on it. Run through the door now while you still can! The house you are in is on fire! Get yourself and anyone else who will come through the door while you still can!
The point, in other words, is the supreme importance of getting in combined with the urgency of doing so. And it is also the realization that you may have to struggle against many obstacles to do so: your own pride, your own stubbornness, the influence of society, possibly your own family and friends, and certainly the Enemy of our Souls will be trying to hold you back. But whatever is trying to hold you back must be overcome at any cost, and overcome now, because the door will not be open forever (vs. 25). So strive to enter by the narrow gate!
This life is not purely an end in itself. Do not mistake me. In one sense it is. To obey God now, to love God now, to love God’s people practically and sacrificially here and now, to glorify God right now, is worth doing for its own sake and needs no future life to justify it. But in another sense this life is also truly a preparation for the next one. At death or at the end of history, we must all live forever with what we have chosen in this life. And therefore we need to ask ourselves some serious questions. There are some questions, important in themselves, which are sometimes asked simply to avoid asking the only question that matters. What about those who have never heard the Gospel? Why does God allow suffering? How can a God of love send people to an eternal Hell? I say these questions do have their own importance. Well, there is another set of questions that is more important still. Is Jesus the door? Is he the only door? We are in no position to wrestle with the first set of questions until we have dealt with the second. And if the first set is used only as a smokescreen to avoid dealing with the second, they become no better than “Are they few that be saved?” And God’s answer has not changed: Strive to enter by the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us!’ then he will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence and you taught in our streets.’ And he will say, ‘I tell you I do not know where you are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers.’ Then there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth there when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves being cast out. And they will come from east and west, and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
Strive to enter in. Agonize to enter in. Do it today.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams