Striving to Enter the Narrow Door (Luke 13:22-35)
22 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.”
31 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.’”
During the Olympic Games the television network has run a beer commercial that causes us to smile. Several great “gold-winning” feats are performed, and then, in the last few frames, the face of a “dreamer” is cleverly superimposed over the body of the great athlete. After several such “victories” the “hero” is awakened from his daydream. We see that this man was only dreaming of victory. His victory was a dream, but not a hope.
The Winter Olympic Games have produced the two real American heroes, Brian Boitano and Bonnie Blair, who have won gold medals. The most interesting “hero” of the Olympic Games, however, is not from America, but from England, “Eddie the Eagle.” Eddie did not win the 90 meter ski jump. Indeed, he came in last, about 150 feet short of the winner. Why, then, did Eddie become such a hero? Why did the 100,000 people in that crowd of on-lookers greet his efforts with such enthusiasm? I think the answer lies in the fact that Eddie is a man with whom we can much more readily and easily identify, rather than with those who won the gold. If Eddie can do it, then somehow there is hope that anyone, given enough time and effort, can do likewise. “Eddie the Eagle” personifies the hopes of the common man.
During the presentation of one set of medals this week, Frank Gifford made an interesting, but erroneous statement. The three top winners of the men’s ice skating competition were being presented their medals, and were then given a bouquet of flowers. (Most of you women probably were horrified by the way these men held them upside-down.) As this presentation was coming to a close, Frank said, “The flowers will not last, but the medals will.” Christians know that the gold and silver will pass away, too, and that our salvation and eternal things will not (cf. 1 Peter 1:18-19). Our salvation differs from the “gold” of the Olympics in that it is not won by human striving, but by Christ alone, by His death upon the cross of Calvary in our place. This we all know to be true, but a statement made by our Lord in our text seems to contradict all this. Jesus said to those listening,
“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to” (Luke 13:24).
Is Jesus here teaching that one must “work” for one’s salvation? Is salvation the result of our efforts, and not that our of Lord? How can Jesus tell these people that they must “strive to enter the door” in terms which are very appropriate for the efforts expended by Olympic athletes, for this term is one that is employed for such competition?
This, my friend, is the “tension of our text.” It is this question which will provide the fuel, the emotional push, for studying our text carefully. We will seek to find the answer to our dilemma as we consider this text and its interpretation.
The Structure of the Text
The structure of our text is very simple, for the passage divides neatly into two sections:
(1) Verses 22-30—Striving for salvation and the few who are being saved
(2) Verses 31-35—Herod, Jerusalem, and Jesus
Verses 22-30 speak of the striving for salvation, occasioned by the question of the man who wished to know if only a few were being saved. Jesus indirectly answered this question, but He went on to tell His hearers far more than they wished to hear, for the few who would be saved were not primarily Israelites.
In verse 31 Luke tells of a group of Pharisees who arrive with the “bad news” that Herod was planning to put Jesus to death. Their advice to the Savior was that He abort His mission and go elsewhere. Jesus’ words reflect His commitment to persist in His ministry and His mission. He would keep on doing what He had been called to do and He would press on to Jerusalem as well. The final two verses reveal the heart of our Lord toward Jerusalem, the place where He was soon to die.
The Few Who Are Being Saved
Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 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.’ “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’” But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’ “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. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last” (Luke 13:22-30).
In verse 22 Luke introduces this section with the statement that Jesus was making His way to Jerusalem, teaching as He journeyed. This is not the first time such a statement has been made, for previously Luke wrote:
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village. After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go (Luke 9:51–10:1).
Luke’s reference to Jerusalem is not incidental, and surely not accidental. Luke, as one of my friends has observed, “is a very geographically oriented writer.” Here in Luke we find the ministry of our Lord pressing toward Jerusalem. In Luke’s second volume (Acts), we find the ministry of our Lord (through the apostles and the church), pressing from Jerusalem to the “uttermost part of the earth” (cf. Acts 1:8, which may well serve as a kind of geographical outline to the book of Acts).
I understand from these earlier words of Luke that Jesus is continuing to press on towards Jerusalem, and that He is visiting those villages and towns to which He had previously sent His disciples. Our Lord and His message should not come as something new to these people and places.
Somewhere along the way, a man in the crowd put a question to Jesus, which was,
“Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” (verse 23).
Luke seems to deliberately avoid telling us who the man was, what group he may have represented, or what his motive might have been for asking the question. Whatever the man’s motive, the question provided Jesus with the occasion to teach His audience249 an important lesson.
The question which this unnamed individual put to Jesus raises some questions in the minds of the reader. I find it essential to ask three questions pertaining to our text.
QUESTION ONE: WERE THERE ONLY A FEW PEOPLE WHO WERE BEING SAVED?
Jesus did not answer the man’s question directly, but I believe that the answer is clear by inference. Jesus, in speaking of the “narrow door,” does suggest that the answer to the man’s question was that only a few would be saved. In a parallel text, Jesus speaks of the “narrow way,” which has virtually the same meaning, but here it is clearly stated:
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
It is not how few who are saved that will shock this crowd, but who many of these “few” are. This matter will be taken up shortly. For now, however, let us be sure that we understand what Jesus means when He says,
“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to” (Luke 13:24).
Let us seek to do this by asking several questions, and seeking to learn the answer from our text.
QUESTION TWO: IS JESUS SPEAKING OF SALVATION AS THAT FOR WHICH ONE SHOULD STRIVE TO ENTER INTO?
I believe that the answer to this question is clearly yes. The man asked if only a few were to be saved. His question was speaking of salvation. When John the Baptist introduced Jesus as the Messiah, He referred to the prophecy of Isaiah, which spoke of Israel’s “salvation” (Luke 3:6, citing Isaiah 40:5). In the mind of the Israelite, this meant the restoration of the nation Israel and the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham and the people of Israel throughout the Old Testament. It also meant an individual’s participation in the kingdom of God. Jesus went on to say that those who did not enter by the narrow door would be outside the kingdom, looking in with weeping and gnashing of teeth (cf. Luke 13:24-30). The “narrow door,” as I understand this text, is our Lord Jesus, who is the only means of eternal salvation, the only way of entering into the kingdom of God.
QUESTION THREE: IS JESUS SAYING THAT ONE MUST WORK HARD TO ENTER INTO SALVATION?
Simply stated, I believe the answer to this question is yes. I believe that nearly the same thing is said in the book of Hebrews, where the author writes,
Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall through following the same example of disobedience (Hebrews 4:11, NASB).
But how can this be? How can it be said that one must strive to enter into the kingdom of God? A few observations from our passage will help us find the answer.
(1) Jesus is speaking to Israelites. His words are directed toward Israel. The question is raised by one man, but the answer of our Lord is directed toward a broader group (“them,” v. 23). The term “you” is frequently found in verses 24-28, and the context makes it evident that the “you” is Israel. The words of our Lord in this text, then, are spoken to the Israelites.
(2) The expression “make every effort” (“strive,” NASB) is the rendering of an athletic term, used to speak of competition in the athletic games. We might think of it as an Olympic kind of expression. We have seen much “striving” these past two weeks, much effort expended. The same expression can also refer to doing battle, to fighting an opponent. Either way “striving” means not only entering into a struggle or competition, but also winning or losing.
(3) One is to strive to enter a particular door.
(4) The door through which the Israelites were urged to pass was one through which they had not yet passed. This seems self-evident, almost trivial, and yet it is a vital point to recognize. I believe that it never entered the man’s mind who asked the question that he was not viewed as one who was “in” the kingdom. To the Israelites, they were already on the inside, and a few Gentiles could also get “in” by becoming a Jew, by submitting to proselyte baptism and by keeping the law. How shocking Jesus’ words must have been to those who heard Him.
(5) The door which one is to strive to enter is Christ Himself. He is the door, the only way into the kingdom of God. He is the King and it is only by receiving Him that one will enter the kingdom.
(6) The door that one is to strive to enter is narrow. The “narrowness” of the door suggests several important lessons. If the door is narrow, then few will pass through it. If the door is narrow, then it must be passed through one-at-a-time. The Israelites believed that since they were descendants of Abraham they were assured a place in the kingdom, something which John the Baptist strongly refuted (Luke 3:7-8). Since the door was narrow which led to salvation, and the gate was broad leading to destruction, one would certainly not haphazardly enter into the kingdom of God; one would have to strive to enter in. Just as one who is in the rapidly moving current has to strive to swim upstream, so the Israelite had to strive to enter into the kingdom, contrary to the mainstream of Israelites.
(7) The door through which the Israelites were urged to pass was soon to close. It is not the narrowness of the door which will pose a problem to the Israelites, but the “closedness” of the door. It matters not how wide a door is when it is closed. The door is, at the time of Jesus’ words, open, but narrow. The door will soon be closed. While time is running out for our Lord, it is likewise running out for Israel. They must act, and act quickly.
(8) The door which the Israelites do not pass, is one which they will, in the future, wish to pass, but not be able. This is a final offer, as it were, one which would not last for long. Jesus taught that there would be a time when the Israelites would wish to enter the door, but would not be able to do so. It is one thing to be barred by a door that one never wishes to pass through; it is vastly differently to wish to pass through a door and to find it permanently closed.
The question which was asked afforded Jesus one more time to underscore the same message which has marked this phase of His ministry: the time for Israel to repent and to receive Him as Savior is short. Israel is to strive to enter in through the narrow door, not because men must work for their salvation, but because the time for Israel is short. There is much to be gained or lost. Israel dare not be apathetic, passive, nor even philosophical about Jesus and His ministry, as the question of the man in the crowd seems to suggest. The time is short. Israel must pursue salvation as something which is to be gained or lost in the person of Christ. Salvation is not gained by works, for it is free, it is the result of the sacrificial death of Christ. But this free gift is to be diligently sought for the prize it is.
Let me attempt to illustrate what I believe Jesus to be saying. This week Steve Green will be putting on a free concert at Dallas seminary. There is no charge for the tickets. Seminary students and others must contact the seminary missions office to procure tickets. If enough seminarians do not acquire tickets, others may have them. If one values Steve’s singing, one will work hard to get concert tickets, even though they are free. There is only a short time in which they may be acquired, and diligent effort (striving, if you would) is thus needed.
So it is with salvation. The gift is free. Man does not work for righteousness, so that he can be good enough to get in. Neither does any person have some kind of automatic membership in God’s kingdom. Those who are to be in the kingdom must recognize both the value of this gift and the need to diligently strive to enter into the marvelous blessings it offers. The urgency of the issue, the greatness of the reward, and the shortness of the time all necessitate a purposed, diligent seeking of that kingdom, and of getting through that narrow door, so as to receive the free Gift of salvation.
The “Many” Are You, Not the “Few”
The man who put the question to Jesus seems to have assumed that he was among the “few” who were being saved. He may, like his fellow Israelites, have thought that the “few” being saved were Israelites, while the “many” who were not were Gentiles. Jesus has some very distressing words for those who would think such thoughts. In verses 24-30 He is going to show His audience that Israelites will not be prominent among the “few” who are being saved.
Jesus first shocked His listeners by indicating that they were not already on the inside, so far as the kingdom is concerned. Then, He went on to say that many of His fellow-Israelites who were not on the inside would not ever be in the kingdom. He tells them in symbolic terms that God will tell His people, Israel, that He does not even know where they are from. Twice, in fact, this is stated.
It is not coincidental that Jesus chose to use the words of David in Psalm 6:8 to express God’s rejection of Israelites after time for entering the door is past.
“Depart from Me, all you evildoers” (Luke 13:27).
In this psalm, David begins with a petition for God to save him (vss. 1-5). He then described his own suffering, which included (and may have been initiated by) the rejection and resistance of his adversaries (cf. Psalm 6:7b). The last three verses of this psalm (vv. 8-10) conclude the psalm with an expression of confidence that God has heard his petition and will save him. The beginning of this final section is verse 8, and the very words which our Lord spoke. I believe that Jesus is likening His rejection as Israel’s Messiah-King by His people Israel to David’s rejection as Israel’s king by his fellow Israelites. David’s rejection is thus typical of our Lord’s, and David’s words of confidence, spoken to his enemies, can thus be repeated by Israel’s Messiah as well.
How sad is Israel’s response to God’s rejection of them from His kingdom. Note their defense, the basis on which they feel they should be included in the kingdom:
“Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets’” (Luke 13:26).
They believe that mere association with Jesus was sufficient to save them. They had eaten in His presence. He had taught in their streets. Wasn’t this enough? No. John the Baptist, followed by Jesus, required the followers of Jesus—those who would be truly be saved—to identify with Him. This is what baptism was all about. Did the Israelites think that being a Jew saved him? He was wrong. Baptism was a public testimony of the Jew’s break with His culture, and with the legalism and ritualism of Judaism. It was a profession of identifying with Jesus as the Messiah. Identification with Jesus was, to put it in the terms Jesus is using in our text, passing through the narrow door.
May I pause for a moment here to press this point a little more personally? How many people think that they are going to be in God’s kingdom because they are a part of some religious sect or denomination? How many suppose they are saved because they come from a Christian family? How many think that they are saved by mere association with spiritual things? Nothing could be further from the truth. You are only saved by identification with Christ. Association with Christ (by going to church, reading the Bible, or whatever) isn’t enough. It wasn’t for the Jews of Jesus’ day. It isn’t enough for you either.
But the final blow of this paragraph is yet to come. Not only is association with Israel or with Jesus not enough. Not only are many Israelites not going to be among the “few” who are saved. But many of those who are saved will be Gentiles, and not Jews. This is made crystal clear in verses 28-30:
“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. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”
Many Israelites, who assume they had a reserved seat in the kingdom of God, will find themselves on the outside when the kingdom comes. Many Gentiles, whom the Jews believed would suffer eternal torment, and whom they felt were unworthy of salvation (cf. the Old Testament book of Jonah), are described by Jesus as sitting at the banquet table of the kingdom, along with the prophets and the patriarchs of Israel.
Notice that the Israelites who miss out on the kingdom by failing to pass through the narrow gate are very conscious of what they have lost, and what others have gained. This is the basis for great torment, for “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Hell is no joy. Hell is being separated from God, and wishing you were not. Hell is being separated from God, knowing that you could not have been, but refused, and watching others enjoy it. Hell includes conscious torment, the knowledge of what could have been.
In the Old Testament, God’s covenant with Abraham included the blessing of the Gentiles (cf. Genesis 12:1-3). The Old Testament prophets also spoke of the blessing of the Gentiles. Jesus spoke of this as well, and it sent His audience into a frenzy of opposition (Luke 4:16-30). Many who are first—Jews in the minds of an Israelite—Jesus said, will be last, left out, while many Gentiles—those considered “last” by Jews—will be first, enjoying the blessings of God in the kingdom (Luke 13:30).
Before we pass on to the second, and final, paragraph of our text, let me say that we dare not be philosophical about the kingdom of God, as the man with the “academic” question seems to have been. Jesus would have us know that entrance into the kingdom is something which we all need, something which we all must do individually, and something which is so urgent we dare not put the matter off or deal casually with it. The kingdom of God—salvation if you prefer—is a blessing so great, a gift so free, but with an offer so limited in time, that we must diligently pursue it.
But how, you might ask, can unsaved men be expected, even required, to pursue salvation with such energy, such zeal? Apart from a grasp of the gospel, apart from a knowledge of one’s lost condition, apart from a realization of the urgency of the issue, one will not take the matter so seriously. But this is something which the Holy Spirit produces. Jesus told His disciples in the 16th chapter of John’s gospel that it was the Holy Spirit who would communicate, convince, and convict men pertaining to sin, righteousness, and judgment. And when He does His work, men get on the move. A look at the second chapter of Acts tells us how powerful His persuasion is.
Herod, Jerusalem, and Jesus
We have been told by Luke (once again) that Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, teaching and ministering as He went (Luke 13:22). I believe that Jesus’ exodus from Jerusalem (via His death and ascension) that will eventually close the narrow door, which He has urged His listeners to pass through. Verses 23-30 therefore stress the implications of Jesus’ approaching Jerusalem for the nation Israel. Verses 31-35 stress the implications of arriving in Jerusalem for Jesus.
At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” 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.’ In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! “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! 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.’”
Some Pharisees arrived, seemingly from Jerusalem. It appears that they have a kind of “news flash” for Jesus. Apparently they have learned of Herod’s intention to put Jesus to death if He made an appearance in Jerusalem. They had come to warn Jesus of the danger of persisting on His present course.
It is difficult for me to see this as a sincere gesture on the part of the Pharisees. Herod is represented elsewhere as desiring to see Jesus (Luke 9:9). The Pharisees, on the other hand, had rejected Him and had determined to put Him to death (cf. Luke 6:11). Did they really wish to save Jesus from Herod’s treachery? It didn’t matter. Jesus would use this as a further occasion for teaching, just as He had done with the question of the man in the crowd.
Jesus’ response to this warning was to tell these Pharisees to report back to Herod (something I find it difficult to believe they would wish to do), referring to Him as “that fox,” far from complimentary, and certainly not appeasing any wrath he might have toward Him. The message to Herod would be a short one, spelled out in verses 32 and 33. In verse 32, Jesus expressed His commitment to carry on His ministry, as given by God, and as planned. We use the expression, “Keep on Truckin,” and that is nearly what Jesus said. He would not be deterred from His ministry. It was business as usual for Jesus, even if that was dangerous, even if it meant death. Jesus was determined to finish what He had been sent to accomplish. No threat of danger would turn Him from His mission or from His ministry.
In verse 33 Jesus expressed His commitment to continue His journey. The fainthearted might be tempted to pursue the same ministry, but in a safer location. Jesus was intent upon continuing his ministry, and in keeping His course. He was not going to let anything cause Him to take a detour, so that He could avoid the danger which lay ahead. How much this is like the warning which Paul received in Acts 21, telling Him that persisting on with his course would lead him into bondage. How much alike Paul’s response is to His Lord’s. Neither would let danger keep them from fulfilling their mission.
Jesus made it clear that He knew He would die in Jerusalem. He was not naive of the danger. He was not oblivious to the pain and the persecution which was ahead. He was conscious that this was His calling. Would He urge men to “strive” to enter the door? He was striving to open the door to salvation, by His sacrificial death.
Today, when “playing it safe” seems to be the name of the game, even the smallest danger or threat may be enough to deter us. We conclude that “the Lord has closed the door,” when He may only have purposed for us to walk in His footsteps.
The last two verses of our text are perhaps the most beautiful as well. Here, Jesus expresses His own heart, and the heart of God, toward Jerusalem. Jerusalem was to be the place of His rejection and death. Jerusalem was the center of Jewish pride and rebellion against God. Jerusalem had the reputation for killing the prophets. And yet in spite of all this, Jesus loved that city and its people. How He yearned to embrace its people! How He yearned for their salvation. And yet they had persistently resisted and rejected God’s messengers. And so they would do again. It would not be until His second appearance that Israel would greet Him as their King. Here is the heart of God revealed. While Israel would reject Him, by and large, He would not finally or fully reject them. His rejection and His death was God’s means of restoring His people. His death ultimately meant their salvation.
It should be evident that Jesus’ words, as recorded in our text, were directed toward Israelites. This does not mean, however, that they have no application to us. Let me reiterate some of the lessons which these verses have for contemporary men and women.
First, these verses warn us not to falsely assume that we are in the kingdom of God. Jesus’ audience was Jewish, and they wrongly assumed that they were almost automatically going to be included in the kingdom of God because of their relationship with Abraham and their association with Jesus. They were wrong, dead wrong. No one has ever been saved by virtue of their natural birth. This is why Jesus told Nicodemus, a well-known Jewish religious teacher, that he must be born again (John 3:3). Neither has anyone ever been saved by an association with Jesus or the Bible, but only by a personal identification with Jesus Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection. This is why new believers are instructed to be baptized, to publicly identify themselves with Christ. Do not assume that you are going to heaven, my friend. Let Jesus’ words of warning shatter your assumptions and bring you to faith in Him alone. He is God’s King, and He is the only way into the kingdom.
Second, our text warns us of the folly and futility of merely theoretical religion. The man with the question wanted to talk academically and theoretically. He wanted to keep his religion “upper story” (mind alone), as Francis Schaeffer would put it. I find that many of the “touchstone issues” and doctrinal matters over which Christians debate and divide are merely philosophical matters, things which we can spend a lot of energy arguing about, but which have little practical value. For me, the doctrine of limited atonement was one such academic hobby horse. But this doctrine, true or false, has very little pragmatic relevance. It is one of those safe issues, so far as practice is concerned, for we can proudly hold it (one way or the other), fight over it, and yet do nothing with it.
I am learning that the “camels” of the Christian life (to use Jesus’ term) are those things which are clearly stated, emphatically stated, and intensely practical. They have clear biblical commands associated with them. Let’s get out of the realm of the theoretical, and get on with the practical. The world is dying. Men will spend eternity in hell. Jesus is coming again. Let’s get with it. Jesus would not allow this man (or those who stood by listening) to have the luxury of living in the realm of the theoretical. Instead, Jesus told men to diligently strive to enter into eternal life. We love the academics; Jesus calls for action. This is not to advocate thoughtless action, but rather thought that leads to action.
Third, our text strongly suggests to me that we need to beware of evangelism that is too low key. Our Lord’s words in this text are very direct, and they strongly call upon men to act and to act decisively in order to be saved. Jesus is not offensive, nor is He pushy, but He is very direct in informing His listeners that they are not saved, and that they will not make it to heaven apart from decisive, disciplined action. While it is absolutely true that no man can work hard or well enough to earn his salvation, it is also true that the free gift of God will not be gained by those who think the matter unimportant, and who do not pursue that which God freely offers. Let us be on guard against being so low-keyed in our presentation of the gospel that we negate or minimize the urgency of this matter. Just as the door was about to close for Israel, it will also soon be closing for the Gentiles. Time is short. Salvation is available now, at no cost, to those who diligently seek to enter through the narrow door, Jesus Christ.
Fourth, our text reminds us that there is a constant danger of elitism. I think that this man may well have been typical of the Israelite of his day—thinking of himself as one of the few, rather than as one of the many. There is a “cultist” mentality lurking about in all of us, the kind of mentality which loves to think of ourselves as being among that small group of those who have arrived, and looking down on the rest. It was certainly true of Israel’s spiritual leadership (cf. John 7:49). It is often true of churches and of individual Christians. True Christianity should look upon that large group of unbelievers as in desperate need of salvation, and seek to add them to our ranks. True Christians should not look upon other Christians in terms of how they fail to know and to practice that truth which we alone seem to possess, but in terms of those vital and fundamental things which we all share in common.
Finally, our text in verses 31-35 indicts a mindset bent toward fulfillment and painless spirituality. Jesus’ path was one which led to a cross. Jesus would not let either danger or pain deter Him from His calling. We readily turn from pain and danger and death as that which is inconsistent with following Jesus. If the servant is no better than his Master, and if we are His servants, we should expect danger, pain, persecution and a “cross” of our own. Let us toughen up, first in our thinking, and then in our lives. Let us be disciples, and not mere pleasure-seekers.
Matthew 7:13-23 “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. 15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
Matthew 19:23-30 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” 26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” 27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?” 28 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
Mark 10:23-31 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” 28 Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!” 29 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Luke 3:8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.
John 18:36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
1 Corinthians 9:24–10:13 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert. Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in pagan revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.
Colossians 1:29 To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.
Colossians 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured.
1 Timothy 4:10 (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.
1 Timothy 6:12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
2 Timothy 2:1-13 You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others. Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer. Similarly, if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not receive the victor’s crown unless he competes according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this. Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. Here is a trustworthy saying: If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him. If we disown him, he will also disown us; if we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself.
Hebrews 4:11 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.
249 Note that while this one man asked the question, Luke tells us that Jesus responded to “them,” that is to the broader group, and not just to the man. Jesus wanted all to learn from his response to this man’s question.