LORD’S DAY MORNING SERVICE, 17 November 2019
Sermon Text: Luke 13:23-24
I. “The narrow door”
II. “Strive to enter”
1. Strive to hear the bad news about us
2. Strive to hold onto the gospel conviction
3. Strive to stop hanging around near the door
III. Why should people strive to enter?
No one knows when and by whom this question was asked. Only information we have is that it was while Jesus was going through towns and villages, teaching the message of His salvation to all people He met on the streets and at every corner, heading toward Jerusalem – the place for the completion of His mission – and ‘someone’ raised this and inquired of the Lord Jesus, saying, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” In other words, ‘Lord, please tell me whether there will be just a handful of people in heaven and multitudes in hell? Lord, please tell us whether all these people hem around You will be saved or just few?’ Maybe, the person who asked this question had heard Jesus’ teaching which we find in Mt. 7:13-14 which reads, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Or he might have observed that people generally didn’t seem to interested in being saved. Or he simply asked this question without thinking deeply at all. Whichever reason he had, it was an interesting question – don’t you think? I guess this is a question many of our contemporaries would also like to ask and hear an answer from the Lord. It’d be truly interesting to know how populated the heaven might be.
So, you can picture the scene of everyone turning their curious eyes to Jesus and waiting for His answer. While this person’s question instantly drew people’s full attention, Jesus’ answer bewildered all people around. It was a strange answer because the inquiry was about the number or sum of those saved, but He talked about what would count for the inquirer and everybody to be included in that number of those saved. This is a well-known practice of Jesus the Lord; He often redirects people’s questions to see the core of their queries and hear His divine answer to them. This is one of those cases and Jesus redirected the question to what that question was really about – that is, they needed to know about not ‘how many will be saved’ but ‘what must people know about salvation and focus in their life.’ After all, there’s no point, no benefit for any of us of knowing the total population of heaven. What matters to every man and woman in the world is to be saved and have Jesus’ eternal life and live even in this life as God’s beloved children, and then, completing our days and time on earth, enter their eternal home in full joy. So, our Lord answers to all there around Him and also to us gathered together here to “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many … will seek to enter and will not be able.”
I wonder whether we often lose our focus and ask the same kind of question to the Lord. I wonder whether we often forget what we must focus on in our faith and life, and strain for something, anything that is not important to our walk with the Lord Jesus. In this regard, Jesus’ answer speaks to us and points us to focus on what is truly vital for us and, that is, our response to Jesus’ invitation to His salvation, our attitude toward living in Jesus Christ. Simply put, our zeal for Christ expressed in this action word, ‘strive.’ We ‘strive to enter,’ ‘strive to continue’ and ‘strive until we finally reach our destination.’
I. “THE NARROW DOOR”
In this sense, this path we must continue and never lose our focus is the ‘narrow door’ to strive to enter. But, before moving on, you need to know that, by ‘narrow door,’ Jesus doesn’t mean the ‘door’ of salvation, the ‘door’ to heaven, is narrow and for just a few qualified people. That’s not what He means. This ‘door’ is not like passing a country’s highly secured and sophisticated border protection system. To enter Jesus’ kingdom, you don’t need a stack of paper documents for getting an entry visa to satisfy all required immigration rules and border protection regulations. What you need instead is your penitent heart, your remorseful heart for your sins, and faith in the Lord Jesus, acknowledging Him as the Son of God and your Saviour and of the world. That’s all you need to enter God’s kingdom. The door for heaven is wide open – everyone can come and there’s no discrimination in this.
So, by ‘narrow door,’ the Lord Jesus means that some people change this wide and open door to heaven to be a narrow door for themselves. This ‘narrow-ness’ is their own creation, a false image of that door some people made up. This they do as they deny the existence of this wide-open door and reject its open invitation. A typical example that describes this denial and rejection of the open door to heaven is evolutionism against creationism. God created mankind in His own image unlike all other species, but people cling to the lie of evolutionism and claim that monkeys are our ancestors and, before monkeys, reptiles and monad. So, to evolutionists, this wide-open door to the knowledge of God’s existence and creation is so narrow, if not non-existent.
II. “STRIVE TO ENTER”
Having considered what the narrow door means, we move on and see the point our Lord Jesus makes with His urge for all to ‘strive to enter’ it. He means, none should deny this door to heaven or reject its open invitation. Also everyone must keep his/her focus on the door and entering it, and, having entered, continuing the path it leads.
Again, let me point out to you that this command for all people to ‘strive’ does not at all mean we should earn our own salvation by our works. Jesus doesn’t teach us to ‘strive’ and get salvation as the wage of our labour. No, that’s not at all what our Lord points out because our salvation is by Jesus’ grace; it’s His gift to us, not a wage of our labour. We do not deserve His forgiveness of sins and reconciliation of us to God the Father because we all are constantly, unceasingly in sin. Borrowing John Calvin’s words, we’re ‘idol factories,’ we’re constantly against the holy and righteous God. Never do we sorry for our sins. We say, ‘I’m sorry,’ for our faults and offences, but, almost instantly, we return to our evil thoughts, evil intention, evil imagination alongside shameless excuses for ourselves. No one ever fully feel sorry for oneself, let alone toward others or God. So, up to the very moment of the end of our existence in flesh on earth, all of us never stop sinning. Thus, none whatsoever deserves Jesus’ forgiveness of sins. For this reason, Jesus’ salvation is His gift for us. In other words, our ‘striving’ – whatever that is – will never bring us a pardon.
When Jesus urges us to ‘strive,’ He means, therefore, what we must focus on in our faith, what we must consider as the most important and give priority in our life. In a word, our attitude toward the gospel and Jesus and His salvation. So, we’re urged to strive to do three things.
1. STRIVE TO HEAR THE BAD NEWS ABOUT US
Firstly, strive to hear the bad news about us. All of us ought to endeavour to hear more about how bad we are. Like the way we reflect ourselves on a mirror to see how we look like and to know more about ourselves, all must reflect themselves on the word of God and that reflection is the bad news of us. We should strive to hear more of it despite our ears and heart dislike it.
We cannot deny that we all love to hear a good repute for ourselves while hating bad comments on us. As much as people on the streets like to be greeted with good and kind words, Christians in churches love to hear words of encouragement, words of comfort and words of love and joy. No wonder why comedians and entertainers are popular and welcomed everywhere. Meanwhile, one who delivers gloomy news is not very much appreciated. We know how badly the OT prophets were treated by their own people. We also know how difficult it is in our day and age to hear sermons in churches on the subjects of God’s judgment, hell and eternal damnation for sinners.
But we’re commended to stop loving this inclination of man, stop loving to be tickled with sugar-coated words, but to begin inclining our ears to bad news of us so that we may find how badly hopeless we are in sin and turn our eyes to someone who can save us, that is, Jesus Christ. We’re implored to ‘strive’ in doing this because giving up our sinful craving is not at all an easy job. In fact, doing so is impossible for natural man. So, if your ears hear the bad news of you and your eyes see your bad shape reflected on God’s word, strive, strain and struggle to hear more of it to see the truth about you because that bad news you strive to hear more will turn your eyes to Jesus and make your heart seek Him desperately.
2. STRIVE TO HOLD ONTO THE GOSPEL CONVICTION
Once you see Jesus and believe in Him, once you become a child of God through faith, then, you’re asked to strive for another, that is, holding onto the conviction the gospel evokes. What I mean is this; having converted, having become Jesus’ follower and a member of His church, you and I like to read Jesus’ words and hear His message preached to us. We nod and respond to the word emotionally and spiritually; we sympathise with the teaching of God’s word; we’re convicted of our sin, we grieve over our sins being challenged by the gospel.
But, as soon as we close the Bible, as soon as we leave the church, our mind immediately tries to forget about that conviction and challenge. I’m telling you this based on my own experience which I know is of everybody else’s because we all alike experience the same. Our heart melts when the word is read and preached to it, but that’s it; our heart doesn’t like to remain in that serious, uncomfortable feeling the gospel of Jesus evokes in us. So, we search for some means – whatever that might be – to get rid of that unhappy feeling.
A fellow Christian has described it in these words: ‘There is a voice within us telling us to keep quiet and to be alone and to allow God to do His work [through His word and Spirit], telling us to avoid … everything that will tend to distract us from the contemplation of our own soul and our God. But there’s another voice telling us not to be foolish and silly, not to allow ourselves to be made miserable and morbid, that … thinking over these things can never help us, that the sermon has done its work, that we have felt what we were meant to feel, and that the effect will continue again, and that therefore in the meantime there is no point or purpose in our remaining alone.’ Having said this, our fellow brother in Jesus sighs deeply and concludes, ‘And how this second voice appeals to us and suits our mood!’
Because holding onto the conviction the gospel produces in us is so difficult, we’re urged to strive. ‘Strive to enter the narrow door’ is a picture language that describes the urgent need of all Christians to concentrate on holding onto the gospel conviction instead of losing it by being distracted so quickly and easily!
3. STRIVE TO STOP HANNG AROUND NEAR THE DOOR
Moreover, there’s one last urge of the Lord Jesus for some people, that is, to strive to stop hanging around near the door. Instead, grab your heaven-sent opportunity and charge into the door and quicken your steps along the path.
‘Hanging around the door’ means that some people know that the door leads to life and they hope to get through it one day, but they never enter, they never commit their life to Jesus. Occasionally, some of them enter but not too far, not too long, but just a toe maybe or the top of their nose, and then, quickly retrieve and move back to their original location, outside of the door, yet, never leaving the door. Because they think that hanging around near the door would enable them to jump into the door whenever they feel like to do, whenever they sense it’s needed, they never enter, nor leave their proximity to the door.
To them, the Lord Jesus urges and says to ‘strive to enter’ it because it will truly become one day the ‘narrow door’ – so narrow that none of them would be able to enter. Strive to enter now while it is opened to you and while you have your heaven-sent opportunity.
III. WHY SHOULD PEOPLE STRIVE TO ENTER?
Having considered the Lord’s urge for all to ‘strive to enter the narrow door,’ let me point out to you as the closing of this message the urgency of His imploration. His picture for urgency is clear as He says in v. 24 that many people will seek to enter, yet, will not be able; and immediately after that, in v. 25, He talks about the master of the house shutting the door. Then, people’s knocking on the door and the master’s rejection of their plea, shooing them off the door.
Jesus means that there will be a time when it’ll be no longer wide or open, it’ll be too late and striving will be impossible. It’ll be too late for those who keep hanging around near the door to turn around and enter because the door will be shut by the master of the house, that is, God; it’ll be too late for those who keep denying and rejecting the door and its invitation and, when they hear the noise of the door shut and locked, thus, turn their eyes toward the door, there’ll be no moment allowed to them to feel remorse over their stupidity because it’ll be too quick and the time of eternal darkness will be drawn upon them immediately. So, ‘strive to enter,’ says the Lord, inviting them graciously yet urgently.
For us Christians who have entered the door and enjoy our new life in Jesus through faith, the same message is given. We’re to strive to continue our path, endeavouring to hear more bad news of us, straining to hold onto the conviction God’s word brings to us, so that the word and the Spirit may work in us, leading us closer to the Lord and enabling us to enjoy an endless happiness in Him to finally complete God’s work in us. ***