Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem. As he makes his way through the towns and villages, he pauses from time to time to teach those who have come out to see him and to listen to him. In the middle of this journey someone poses a question His question is an interesting one, though. “Lord,” he asks, “Are only a few people going to be saved?”
We don’t know anything about this person, but I would be willing to wager that he thought he would be one of the few who did make it in. He thought he had it all worked out. What he wanted to know was whether there would be any others who would make it beside him and Jesus? It probably never occurred to the man who asked the question of Jesus, that he could be one of those on the outside looking in. Nevertheless, he should have known better than to ask Jesus such a question. For one thing, Jesus loved turning exclamation points into question marks
Hhe should have known better because Jesus rarely answered questions directly. Rather, he used such occasions as an opportunity to relate a parable or to pose a question of his own. So, when this person asked Jesus, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” Jesus turned the question back on him. He said, “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 evil doers!’
“There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth,” Jesus continues, “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.”
Those are hard words, but notice what he is saying. It really is life-changing.
He says, first of all, that there is a narrow door. That’s a concept to which we can all relate. We can see it in our mind’s eye. You can’t bring a lot of baggage through a narrow door. Neither can you squeeze many people through at a time. In fact, you can probably only make it through one at a time. It’s an intimate kind of experience. That’s what a narrow door implies to me.
But Jesus takes it one step further. He says, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.” The phrase “make every effort” in Greek is agonizomai, which originally meant “engage in an athletic contest” or “to fight, to struggle.” One commentator translates the phrase like this, “Strain every nerve to enter.” In other words you need to strive mightily to squeeze through the door. It is, then, extremely narrow.
Have you ever heard the expression, “No pain, no gain”? Of course you have. It is an accepted truism in our society.
Want to have an athletic body? You can’t do it by being a couch potato. It takes work, constant work. You have to pay the price in order to win the prize.
I was reading recently a story about a great golfer of the mid-twentieth century, the South African golfer Gary Player.
Player was leaving the course one day, dog‑tired, when an overeager amateur golfer told him, “I would give anything to be able to hit a ball as well as you can!” Player’s usual politeness temporarily let him down as he replied, “No, sir, I don’t think you would. You would give anything to be able to hit a golf ball like me if it were easy. But do you know what it takes? You have to get up before five every day, go out on the golf course, and hit little white balls thousands of times. Eventually your hands start bleeding. Then you just walk to the clubhouse, rinse off the blood, apply [bandages], and you get back on the course, hitting those balls another thousand times with sore hands. That is what you must be prepared to give. The price of success is hard, hard work and even greater mental endurance.”
Here is the hard truth of life: You have to squeeze through a narrow door if you want to succeed in any great enterprise.
The concept of the narrow door is present in every worthwhile task in life. The only place in our society where we expect to have gain with no pain is the life of faith! We have turned God into a doting Grandparent who is eager to bestow all kinds of blessings on us and demand very little from us in return. “Make every effort,” says Jesus, “to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.”
Those are strong words. Jesus tells us the door is narrow. Then, just when you think he will give us a way out, it gets worse. He changes his analogy. Not only is the door narrow, it’s only opened for a limited time. This is getting a little unnerving. Listen as he continues:
“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.’ ”
Who’s the owner of the house talking to? You’re probably thinking to yourself, I’m not sure I like where this is headed. And we have reason for concern. Jesus wants to make us uncomfortable. Not only is the door narrow, it’s only opened for a limited time. If you don’t squeeze through it while it’s open, you may not get through it at all.
He further states that just because you are associated in some way with him doesn’t necessarily mean you will be one of the select. This is really getting worrisome.
The people in his audience that day assumed that they would be in because they were descendants of Abraham. Surprise! Being a descendant of Abraham was no longer enough to guarantee you entry into God’s kingdom. But here’s what’s totally unnerving: It is possible that there are even many who fancy themselves Christians who might be in for a rude awakening as well. Listen as Christ continues:
“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!’ ”
This is scary. Could it be that not everyone who wears a cross around his or her neck is a member of Christ’s kingdom? Could it be that not everyone who has his or her name on a church roll is part of the family of Christ?
Most of the people in this land call themselves Christian. If you ask them, they will tell you that they expect to enter heaven someday. It makes no difference how long it has been since they darkened the door of a church. It makes no difference how loving they have been to their neighbor. It makes no difference how many of the Ten Commandments they have shattered they expect to be in. Is it really that easy? It’s something to think about, and Jesus likes us to think. But wait, he isn’t finished yet. He continues with his answer to the man’s question: “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.”
Wow. That sounds a little harsh, a little judgmental. In fact, this text lends itself to a bounty of legalism and pride. After all, we assume that we are on the inside. So, we can sit around and list all the people that we don’t think measure up to Jesus’ standards. And when we do that, we become the very people Jesus despises. For you see, the very people that Jesus pictures who will make it into the kingdom are at the very bottom of the list you and I would draw up. Read the record for yourself and you will begin to think that perhaps the homeless druggie on the street has a better chance than you and I of getting into the kingdom. The drunkard has more hope than the college dean.
That is the way Jesus taught. He deliberately used images that startled his listeners. That is why the man from long ago should never have asked him the question, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” He didn’t realize what he was in for.
But here is what is really interesting. Just as we begin to squirm in our seats about the door that is at first narrow and then shut altogether, Jesus twists his teaching in an entirely different direction. And he ends on a note of grace. Suddenly we begin to see that the door about which he has been speaking is big enough so that any who will can enter. He says, “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.” In other words, Jesus says: there is a door and it is narrow, but relax, the door is big enough for any who would to enter even the likes of you and me.
Here’s the point of Jesus’ teaching. Jesus doesn’t want us to take our salvation all for granted. Neither does he want us trying to decide who will be in and who will be out. He wanted the man who asked this question to understand that none of us deserves to get through the door. Nevertheless, some day we will enter into his presence and all will be well with our souls.
How do I know that? Because Christ himself is the door. In John 10:9, the Lord says, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in . . .”
We are saved by faith in Christ. We are saved by his grace, his power, his love. Nevertheless, the narrow door is a powerful concept in life. Most of the worthwhile endeavors in life require struggle, they require commitment. And there comes a time in most of the endeavors in life when the door will finally be shut.
What about the narrow door of the grave and our baptism?
But as far as becoming part of Christ’s family, the door is open to any who would make him their Lord and Master. He is the door. You are invited to step through the door and enjoy the grand feast in the kingdom of God, for it is open to all who will enter.
A Message from Rev King Duncan brought to you by Grace Lutheran Church, Web and Park Street, Mountain View, Arkansas. For prayer or more information, contact Pastor Kenneth Taglauer by email: [email protected]. A Pass it On Project