The narrow door and the urgent choice
In response to a question Jesus explains that people have to make a choice to believe and trust Jesus but that was not easy and not many would do so.
In response to a question Jesus explains that people have to make a choice to believe and trust Jesus but that was not easy and not many would do so.
Hello welcome, we're now in series 9. This is the beginning of Series 9, Episode 1 and we're in Luke's Gospel. We're in Luke 13: 22 - 35 and this episode is headed ‘The narrow door and the urgent choice’.
Introduction and Recap
If you've been following in Series 8, you'll know that using material from John's Gospel and Luke's Gospel, we've put together a picture of that phase of Jesus' life where he's left Galilee after three years of successful ministry and he's heading southwards with very clear determination to head to Jerusalem, to bring his ministry to an end in the city of Jerusalem. He predicts his death and his resurrection a number of times to his disciples. He gets on the move, goes away from his base in Capernaum and we capture the story as he is travelling through central and southern Israel, Samaria and Judea. John describes in episodes we looked at in Series 8, a couple of times when Jesus made a private visit to Jerusalem in connection with some religious festivals but in general, he's in Judea and he's travelling around a lot and meeting lots of new people. Crowds come wherever he goes. Many interesting incidents are happening - huge crowds and more healings. He sends out 72 as described in Luke 10. 36 teams of people travelling all over the central and southern parts of the country, to get his message out, to make an impact and to prepare the way for what Jesus anticipates being the climax of his ministry - when he arrives in Jerusalem in public, and challenges the religious authorities.
Meanwhile, we've noticed in John and Luke's material in Series 8, the fact that opposition is rising and it keeps appearing from the religious establishment. We have groups of Pharisees, Teachers of the Law; we have representatives of the Sanhedrin and the priesthood in the Jerusalem episodes; we have all sorts of people challenging Jesus. Jesus is involved in some very dangerous situations when he's in Jerusalem as a private citizen, worshipping and teaching, where he's even threatened with death on the two accounts that John gives us of Jesus visiting at the Feast of Tabernacle, then at the Feast of Dedication, as described in John 7 through to John 10.
That's the general situation that we find ourselves in at the beginning of Series 9, when we are moving more specifically towards that final visit to Jerusalem. There's been some very challenging teaching about the Gospel, about the need to believe, the need to make decision, the need to use the opportunity that Jesus is providing to the people at the time, and that theme has been particularly evident in Luke's account as he describes various conversations Jesus has, and various teachings that he gives at different stages. It's with all those things in mind, that we come to this particular passage and Luke 13: 22 - 35.
Going to Jerusalem
Let's just look at the opening verse to start with. Luke 13:22
‘Then Jesus went through the towns and villages teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.’Luke 13:22, NIV
Luke is very specific in pointing out the intention of Jesus in going to Jerusalem. It started a little earlier, in Luke 9:51 which is a previous statement on a similar theme.
‘As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem’Luke 9:51, NIV
and here we have in verse 22, that he is going through the towns and villages teaching, as he makes his way to Jerusalem. The intentionality and structure of what Jesus is doing is clear and he's obviously travelling around to lots of different places. Luke doesn't name very many of these places. We just know that he's covering a lot of ground and visiting a lot of places. That's the context of this teaching.
The first part of this passage is triggered by a question. That's really quite common in Jesus' ministry. People see what he's doing; people notice him passing by; people observe a miracle, or something like that; and they ask a question from the crowd and that is often the basis upon which Jesus brings specific teaching. The question here is verse 23,
‘Someone asked him, Lord are only a few people going to be saved?’Luke 13:23, NIV
This really is a leading question, isn't it? ‘saved’ means experiencing spiritual salvation, entering into eternal life, being saved from their sins. We can assume that's the meaning that the questioner has. Are there only going to be a few people or are there going to be lots of people? You see, it was a puzzle to them. There were lots of people in the crowds; there were lots of people who had been healed by Jesus; there were lots of people who liked Jesus - are they all going to be saved? What's the criteria for being saved? That is the underlying question that this person has. It's a leading question. The context of course is that the door of salvation is open for the Jews at that time in a very special way, as I've made clear in earlier episodes, and Luke makes this point in a number of contexts. This is their opportunity. Jesus is coming to their area; Jesus is there in person, in humanity, on their soil, in their towns, in their villages, preaching, healing and teaching. It literally is their golden opportunity. Are many of them going to be saved? Actually, this question is very interesting because it's a very common question. Everyone wants to know the answer to this question. The anxiety about the next life, about our future destiny, our personal identity after death, whether death is the end, whether there is a God, whether there is a way of salvation, whether our religious systems will be good enough for us to receive salvation. All those kinds of questions are human questions that appear in every society in one form or another. They're there in your society and they're certainly there in my country, in the UK.
There's a popular hope that we have, in many contexts, particularly in more secular cultures, more cosmopolitan cultures, more multicultural cultures, as you find in the West - that there's going to be a universal salvation based fundamentally on God's love. He's going to somehow find a way to save all of humanity, or perhaps much of humanity. Many people, deep down, hope that this is the case. There have been in the modern age, in particular in the 20th century, within the Christian Church - within the Protestant Christian Church - there have been theological trends and schools of thinking that have suggested that this is the ultimate reality. That, in fact, the primary issue that we need to engage with, is God's overwhelming love for humanity shown through Christ, and that this love will triumph in the end. We may resist him for a time but he'll win us eventually and he'll redeem our lives and he'll save all of humanity. I know many people who believe this; I've heard people say it many times. People are often discussing this issue. In the context of some church denominations in my country, this is common and you probably know something similar in your culture, to some degree. We're going to put this theory to the test. We have an ideal opportunity to address it because Jesus is answering that very same question which somebody in the crowd has raised. That person may have been influenced by Jesus' earlier teaching, as recorded in Luke 13: 1 - 5, when he was asked the question about people who had been executed in Jerusalem by the Roman authorities and people who had suffered accidental death as a tower had fallen on them. and to say, what's their status? What's the situation? Jesus encourages people that they really need to get right with God now, in case something happens to them in this fragile life. The questioner asked a very vital question and we have a great opportunity to answer it by hearing what Jesus says specifically.
Let's read verses 24 to 30.
‘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'll 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'll say, ‘We ate and drank with you and you taught in our streets’, but he'll 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 will be those who are last, who will be first; and the first who will be last.’Luke 13:24-30, NIV
There are many components to this sobering and challenging message in answer to that question: are only a few people going to be saved? We're going to go through the different things that Jesus says, trying to be clear about the context and the implications of some of the things that he says. An initial point would be to say that the Jews understood the afterlife, the next life, to be the Kingdom of God in fullness and they often used the analogy, or metaphor, of a feast, a meal - a celebration meal to indicate the status of people in that new life, that next life, when they are with God personally and redeemed. That's why we have the reference there to the feast and to the Kingdom. Jesus has used this language in other contexts and in other teachings. Let's look very specifically at what he has to say.
Verse 24 ‘make every effort to enter through the narrow door’ The first point is really striking. The way to salvation is narrow. It's not easy. It's not an easy option. This, in fact, is exactly what we remember Jesus saying in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7: 13 - 14. As the Sermon on the Mount comes to an end, Jesus makes some summary comments and exhortations to the people who are listening,
‘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, NIV
We have a similar statement here. The narrow door: it's not easy to get into the Kingdom of God; it's not easy to be saved. There is a door but it's narrow. You have to go down a narrow path. What is that narrowness? As far as we can tell, from everything that Jesus says, the narrowness is that it focuses around believing in Jesus personally and specifically; and believing and trusting in his suffering and his death as a substitutionary, atoning sacrifice for us, turning away from our sins and having faith in him; and believing that as he was raised from the dead, we too will be raised from the dead. This is the narrow message of Christianity that is emerging very clearly in the pages of the Gospel and is reinforced very decisively in the pages of the book of Acts, in the Early Church, as the apostles began to preach. Jesus has made this point in a number of different ways,
‘I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me,’John 14:6, NIV
John 14: 6. We'll be looking at that statement later. There are many ways in which he emphasises the narrowness but also in that verse, it says many will try and enter and will not be able to. Many would like to enter into salvation but they don't enter because they're not willing to pay the cost; they're not willing to actually put their trust in Jesus, to believe in him, to renounce any other way, to renounce any sense that they can get the blessing and favour and forgiveness of God through their own achievements. It's a narrow way; it involves something that we all find difficult and that is humility - being humble, realising that on our own we can't make it; realising that the way we've lived our lives is, in distinct ways, wrong, and it needs turning away from. We've lived independently of God. Many would like to enter but they'd like to enter on their own terms and God doesn't receive people on their own terms, only on his terms.
Verse 25 indicates that the door is into a house - the house of salvation in metaphorical language - is only open for a certain period of time. There will come a time when that door closes. What's that a reference to? That could be a specific contextual reference, to the door of opportunity for the Jews. They need to receive salvation while Jesus is there because then that particular opportunity will be lost. That's certainly a possibility by way of interpretation, but maybe that door refers to the Second Coming, when Jesus comes again, it'll be too late. There won't be any time to think about things. That closing of the door may also refer to the length of our human lifespan. We have the opportunity when we're alive but when we've died, we no longer have the opportunity. The door is only open for a certain time.
Verses 26 and 27 The people who were excluded from the house said they'd met Jesus, ‘We ate and drank with you and you taught in our streets.’ Meeting Jesus, and hearing his message, does not guarantee salvation. Even now, hearing the message of Jesus that I'm bringing in these videos, and hearing the message of Jesus from preachers and churches, or online, that's not enough. It's what we do about it that counts. A lot of people ate with Jesus, had meals with him; they witnessed him coming to their villages and towns like he is doing just this moment, according to the first verse 22. That's not enough. You can't say that Jesus was here, that Jesus came by; can't just say, I heard the Christian message one day and I nodded my head. No, it's what you do about it in your heart that counts.
Jesus indicates there's going to be terrible regret for those who don't take the opportunity given them. Verse 28 there'll be weeping there and gnashing of teeth. A terrible sense of regret will come for those who had the opportunity to believe but did not believe.
Verse 28 to 30 tells us some of the people who are going to be in God's Kingdom. We see the Jewish fathers, the patriarchs - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the prophets. The implication is many ordinary Jews will be with them there, but many Jews will not be there because they didn't take the opportunity to believe. However, people are going to come from east and west and north and south. That's a reference to all the nations of the world. Jesus said, a paradox is going to emerge in God's Kingdom: that the first nation to receive the message - the Jews - will significantly miss out because they'll reject the message, even though they had the best opportunity. Whereas people in Gentile nations, in other parts of the world, who had less opportunity will be more responsive will come in large numbers and they'll come into the Kingdom, so that those who are last will be first and those who were first will be last. The Kingdom will be like a banquet. Our next episode is a parable. We're going to look at the parable of the Great Banquet in Luke 14, which follows on directly from this theme.
When we go back, and ask ourselves the question, is everyone going to be saved, is there going to be universal salvation on the basis of the love of God, we have to say that is not what Jesus says here. There is no possible way we can interpret this language to suggest that the love of God in itself is sufficient to bring universal salvation. God's justice has to be settled. There has to be rectification, or resolution, of the problem of sin. Men and women need to open themselves up to be reconciled to God. They have to take responsibility for their side of the bargain. God isn't going to overrule our will. He's waiting for us to willingly submit to him and his truth and be set free from our sins.
A Trick Statement?
We have a second and important passage here, to conclude. Luke 13: 31-35,
‘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 keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow and on the third day I'll reach my goal. In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day. For surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem. 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. and you are not willing. Look, your house has left 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’’.Luke 13:31-35, NIV
This question is from the Pharisees and this statement is intriguing, ‘Leave this place and go somewhere else, Herod wants to kill you.’ Where was Jesus, in the first place? And which Herod are we talking about? And what is the significance of the statement? According to our last episode, in John's Gospel at the end of chapter 10, we find that Jesus was in a town called Bethany beyond the Jordan where he had had a really good reception, after he'd visited Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication briefly. John describes that very clearly and I explained that Bethany beyond the Jordan was the place where John the Baptist had operated. It's referred to very specifically in John 1 and identified by name. That town and the area was probably where Jesus was, at the time when the Pharisees asked this question. That was in the territory called Perea, not in Jerusalem governed by the Romans, but in Perea which was linked to Galilee, although further south than Galilee. It was under the rulership of the same king who ruled in Galilee - the one who Jesus had spoken of earlier and who had imprisoned and executed John the Baptist. His name was Herod Antipas, one of the sons of King Herod the Great, who ruled in the region of Perea and Galilee. The Herod that the Pharisees are referring to here, is Herod Antipas, the ruler of the area that Jesus is in at that particular time.
They suggest that Herod wanted to kill Jesus. We have no evidence of that. It seems a really odd statement and it may be that the Pharisees are trying to frighten Jesus, so he goes over the River Jordan, which then takes him into different territory - the territory of Judea, where Pontius Pilate the Roman governor was ruling, and where the Pharisees had much more authority and were more likely to be able to arrest him and execute him. It's probably a trick question as far as we can tell. Jesus' answer was that he must keep going on his ministry and he's not going to take any notice of the potential threat from King Herod. He predicts here that he is going to die ultimately in Jerusalem, the place where prophets often died in the Old Testament. Jesus prophetically anticipates this.
And then he concludes this statement here by a mournful statement about Jerusalem.
‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem you who kill the prophets and stones 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.’Luke 13:34, NIV
Jesus is not just thinking of his personal safety. Far from it. He is thinking of the terrible loss to the city of Jerusalem, that it had been so unwilling to receive him up to this point. This reference here is particularly to his previous visits and most particularly to the last two visits, as recorded in John 7 - 10 - the Feast of Tabernacles and the Festival of Dedication. On both occasions, he got a very hostile reception. On both occasions, he was threatened with stoning. On both occasions, he was heavily criticised by the religious authorities and his identity challenged. Jesus wanted to gather the people of Jerusalem into his Kingdom but they weren't willing and so he predicts, in the final verse, that the city of Jerusalem will suffer for this unwillingness and will ultimately be destroyed - left desolate. He is referring here to events I've mentioned on a number of occasions that took place just a few decades after Jesus' life, in A.D. 70, when the Roman armies came to Jerusalem after a rebellion amongst the Jews and they destroyed the city, and destroyed the Temple.
‘You won't see me again after that until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’.Luke 13:35, NIV
This is a reference to a long-term future where Jews will, as a nation, turn to the Messiah in a more fundamental way and welcome him back for his second coming. That's a whole other story which is just alluded to here very briefly, and is elaborated by Paul, particularly in Romans 9 to 11, where he explains that a future time is coming when the Jews, as a nation, will overwhelmingly be responding to Jesus Christ. That process has just begun to happen in our generation and will continue.
Some final reflections, as we close this episode. Whatever the Pharisees, and others, wanted to do with Jesus, however much they were trying to destroy him, the greatest factor at work in the life of Jesus was God's sovereign power. This is made clear in Acts 2: 23 - 24. Peter, on the day of Pentecost, the first sermon preached by one of the Apostles in the era of the Church and the Holy Spirit had come in power. He said,
‘This man was handed over to you by God's deliberate plan and knowledge and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him on the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.’Acts 2:23-24, NIV
God's predetermined purpose was that Jesus would die and be raised again from the dead. All the scheming and planning of the religious leaders and all these different factions, is only a secondary factor in the story. Jesus knows that; he's trusting God that through the actions of evil men, God's greater purpose will be fulfilled.
My final point is going back very much to the beginning of what we were saying. The questioner said, ‘Lord are only a few people going to be saved?’ The answer is: the Gospel door is a narrow door and relatively few people amongst humanity are going to be saved. In every generation. people have to make a choice between following Christ, following their own inclinations, or another religious tradition, or a secular way of life. That choice is with us in this generation, 2000 years later. That choice is there. It's actually a choice for you, the listener and the viewer of this episode. If you have not yet committed yourself to Jesus Christ, can I encourage you. Don't wait any longer. Don't wait until the door of opportunity closes. Take that opportunity right now. Thanks for joining me.
The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.
- Do you agree with ‘universal salvation’ (everyone will be saved)? If not, what does that mean for you? Have you made the choice yourself?
- If we believe that not everyone will be saved, how does that affect our witness?
- Where there is persecution Christians are keen to witness despite consequences. The western world does not face the same realities but there is apathy. Is there a link between material wealth and a hunger for God?