Don't Be Surprised (1): Few Will Be Saved
November 1, 2015
Read Lu 13:22-24 – A young lady found an old shotgun in the attic of a new home. She called Dad to ask what to do with it. He said, “Take it to the police station.” “Great idea,” she said. Then Dad said, “And Katie.” “Yes.” “Call first!” You don’t want to surprise the police by walking in with a shotgun. And you don’t want to get surprised at God’s judgment seat. No way.
But it’s going to happen to a lot of people, Beloved. Billions. That’s what this passage is about. How not to be one of them. The key verse is 30: “And behold, some are last [in this life] who will be first, and some are first [in this life] who will be last.” That’s not the kind of surprise you want to get.
Most people think they are on the narrow way. Most of us do. But the narrow way is called that for a reason. Few find it. Most fool themselves with placebos. Think they’re okay. They forget it’s what Jesus thinks that counts.
As Jesus was heading for Jerusalem someone asked, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Great question. Jews were taught, “You’re God’s chosen. If you’re a Jew, keeping traditions, you’re good to go.” They expected Jesus to affirm all Jews were in unless they’d committed some grievous sin. They also thought Gentiles were out. They presumed superiority of the Jewish few.
So Jesus’ answer came as a complete shock. 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” Right between the eyes! Jesus says, “You want to talk percentages? The question isn’t will few be saved? The question is will you be saved? Are you striving to enter the narrow door? There are going to be a lot of surprises. You must ask, will you be one?!” “Will few be saved?” is safe, speculative, academic question. “Will you be saved?” is abrupt, personal and demanding. It’s intended to get attention NOW to avoid surprise LATER.
More shocking statements follow – all aimed at eliminating surprise. If we are thinking we are first, better look out. Racial background, church attendance, born in America, even physical proximity to Christ are no guarantee. So our series is “Don’t Be Surprised”. Three parts. I. Few Will Be Saved II. Many Will be Lost III. It Pays to be Saved. Why will few be saved? Partly because we’ve turned two truths on their ear.– I. It’s Easy to be Lost II. It’s Hard to be Saved. We think the opposite. Let’s see what Jesus says.
I. It’s Easy to Be Lost
What do you have to do to be spiritually lost? Be born! That’s it. But few believe that anymore. For 200 years we’ve been told that man is basically good. We’ve translated “good” into “good enough for God”, and we’re not worried. Typical is Codependent No More, Melody Beattie’s best seller where she quotes Nathaniel Branden, “To honor the self is to be in love with your own life, in love . . . exploring our distinctively human potentialities. Thus we can begin to see that to honor the self is to practice selfishness in the highest, noblest sense of the word.” This kind of thinking is our cultural Bible. You don’t need a Savior; you need to love yourself.
Perhaps a few are lost – Hitler, Stalin, bin Laden, murderers, terrorists, rapists – and even in those cases, it’s probably excusable because of something that happened in the fourth grade. Actor Will Smith says, “Even Hitler didn’t wake up going, ‘Let me do the most evil thing I can do today.’” So, if you don’t think it’s wrong, apparently it’s not. Given that premise, it’s not just hard to be lost; it is well-nigh impossible. But is that what Jesus taught?
Not even close! Note the question in v. 23: “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” The question itself implies all people need to be saved. And Jesus accepts that assumption. But He adds: “Let’s stop talking about the world. Let’s talk about you! Are you saved? Because you need to be!” The question and the answer both imply that lostness is the normal human condition. It’s a lostness we don’t see – because we measure by the wrong standard.
In the 1968 Olympics, Bob Beamon collapsed when he found out he had long jumped 29’ 2-1/2” – almost 2 feet over world record. Most amazing single athletic endeavor of our time. Next 20 years, guys regularly broke the old record – but against Beamon’s standard they were hopelessly lost. And that’s how we see sin. We’re great by our standards, but way short of God’s. Rom 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” When did that sinfulness start? Psa 515) “in sin did my mother conceive me.” It started pretty early, wouldn’t you say? Eph 2:1 reminds that outside Christ, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.” Not just sick – dead! We’re the walking dead. And the only solution, according to v. 8 is to be saved by grace thru faith. God’s perspective is that we all fall into one of two categories – saved or lost. And it’s easy to be lost if you don’t even believe in “lostness.”
Leaving aside the Bible for a moment, is mankind really as bad as God says? H. G. Wells didn’t think so. He was an Enlightenment Age optimist. In his Outline of History Wells confidently predicted that applied scientific advances were the key to ridding the world of poverty and racism. Then came the disappointment of WWI, but it was, after all, the war to end all wars. Better days were still ahead. Then came WWII with its unspeakable atrocities. When it was over, Wells wrote A Mind at the End of its Tether in which he said, “Homo Sapiens”, which means “the rational”, “is spent. This is the end.” He wasn’t alone. Philosopher C. E. M. Joad wrote, “This view of human goodness which I adopted unthinkingly as a young man I have come fundamentally, to disbelieve.” And Nobel-prize winning Wm Golding (of Lord of the Flies fame) said, "I believed in the perfectibility of social man . . . but after the war I was unable to. I had discovered what one man can do to another. . . . Anyone who moved through those years without understanding that man produces evil as a bee produces honey, must have been blind or wrong in the head." And frankly, nothing that has happened in our world politically since that time – in Vietnam, Korea, Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, ISIS or a dozen other places would lead to any different conclusion. Genocide involving well-intentioned people reigns! Most people like Ahab in I Kings 16:31 find it “a light thing . . . to walk in sin.” We can rationalize anything.
That’s mankind. What about individuals? Nixon’s hatchet man, Chuck Colson world fell apart during Watergate. He went to see a Xn friend one night in August 1973. He says, “I was seeking spiritual answers, but not for any escape from my sin. Despite the bombardment of Watergate charges, I saw nothing particularly wrong with myself. I knew what I had done was no different than what everyone else had done. Right and wrong were not determined by absolute standards, but were relative to people and situations. People in politics played dirty; it was all part of the game.” You see the issue, right? Wrong standard. He goes on, “But that night when I left my friend and sat alone in my car, my own sin – not just Watergate, but the evil deep within – was thrust before me by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, forcefully and painfully. For the first time in my life I felt unclean. Yet I could not turn away. I was as helpless as the thief nailed to that cross, and what I saw within me was so ugly I could do nothing but cry out to God for help.”
We don’t even believe in “lost” anymore. Compared to others around us, we are okay. We’ll make it. But God’s truth is you’re born lost. And until you see your heart as God sees it; the bitterness, selfishness, vengefulness, lust, covetousness, selfishness – until you see that, you can’t be saved. We have to decide who’s right, society which says, “Love yourself and practice selfishness in the highest sense of that word,” or Jesus, “If anyone will come after me, let him deny himself”? By those terms, It’s easy to be lost.
II. It’s Hard to be Saved
You wouldn’t think that to listen to the typical gospel presentation the last 200 years. Just walk down the aisle, pray this prayer or turn in this card, and you’re good to go. Haven’t we all heard that? Getting saved isn’t hard. It’s easy. NOW -- let me be very, very clear here. Walking that aisle or praying that prayer may be a true indication of salvation -- but only if it reflects a repentant heart. The act itself can only affirm a changed heart.
Ask yourself, where in the Bible do you see Jesus explaining salvation in terms of praying a prayer or coming forward? You don’t. Jesus doesn’t make it easy. He makes it hard. He demands complete and total allegiance reflected in a changed life. To Jesus, a saved person is one who “hears these words of mine and does them” (Mt 7:24). They’ve counted the cost before committing to His Lordship. You say, “I thought we just had to believe in him.”
Yes, and here’s how Jesus defined “believing” in Him. Lu 9:23, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” Salvation is dying to self, and living to Christ. It’s exchanging my script for my life for His script. We forget to tell people the giving up part. Salvation is a momentary decision to make a lifetime commitment – or it doesn’t count. That’s not even close to easy; it’s hard.
Look at what Jesus says in v. 24, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.” Strive -- ἀγωνίζομαι – we get our word “agonize” from it. You must agonize for this, strive for this. Now, to be clear, “strive” does not mean good works. This isn’t strive to do good works; it is strive to leave good works behind. It’s a mindset. Look again. Strive! For what? To enter the narrow door. Narrow – στενός – constricted. Think MRI tube and you’re getting the picture. Do you do any work to get into that tube? No, but it is not easy to submit to that claustrophobic encounter, is it? You have to be committed – strive to enter!
That’s exactly what Jesus means here. “Is it few that be saved?” “Let’s forget the few, what about you? Do you want to be saved? Then you must strive to enter through the narrow door. It’s constricted there. It is narrow there. You can’t take anything with you through that door. Nothing!” What that means is if Jesus were to say to you, “It’s me or your money” and you would choose the money as some of you are, you’re not saved. If He were to say, “It’s me or your relationship,” and you would choose that person, you’re not saved. “It’s me or your career; it’s me or sports; it’s me or your family; it’s me or all your plans for your life,” and you would take any of those, then you are not saved. You are still on the broad way, and in for a big surprise. Both the broad and narrow ways are labeled “Heaven”, but only one goes there.
It’s hard to be saved. It’s hard to find the narrow door; and it’s hard to go through once you do. It’s hard to FIND because our seeker-sensitive church culture loves numbers more than getting the gospel right. It’s not popular to talk about that narrow door, so we don’t. We give people what they want instead of what they need. We give them feel-good messages on how to succeed in marriage, business, relationships and life. We preach self-fulfillment. Jesus says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself. Saving faith is not about exalting me; it’s about slaying me. It’s death to self. Now, what you get back is worth way more than what you give up! But the cross comes before the crown. Discipleship costs. But we don’t talk about that. We don’t talk about sin; we don’t talk about the cross; we don’t talk about atonement; we don’t talk about death to self because it offends. So people can’t even find the door. The message is lost.
But if they do find the door, we suggest that somehow they can have Jesus and their idols, too. You can hold Jesus with one hand and your idol with the other. Not according to Jesus. He never compromised the message to hold the crowd. Never. He told the truth. And the truth is you have to enter the MRI machine completely alone. You can’t take anything with you. No baggage. No negotiations – I’ll take Jesus if He doesn’t send me to Africa. I’ll take Jesus if He doesn’t attach my bank account. I’ll take Jesus as long as He doesn’t mess with my sexuality. I’ll take Jesus if I don’t have to tell anyone. I’ll take Jesus as long as it doesn’t cost me the one thing I want most. That baggage can’t go thru the door. That’s why there are going to be a lot of surprises.
Christopher Yuan was 20 years old when he acknowledged his gay lifestyle. His unsaved parents threw him out, and he began selling drugs in Louisville. Shortly thereafter with divorce imminent, his mother bought a one-way train ticket to Louisville to tell him good-by and take her life. But someone on the train gave her a gospel pamphlet that captured her attention. She continued to Louisville, stayed 6 weeks, found a church and Bible study and entered the narrow door. Returning home, her husband soon came to faith in Jesus, too, and plans for divorce were put aside as they began to pray for their son who responded to their faith by saying, “That’s good for you, but not for me.”
Eventually, they moved to Louisville and were there one day when the police caught up with Christopher, and he got a six-year jail sentence. His mother prayed – listen to this – not that he would get out of prison but that he would be there just long enough to come to Christ. Christopher began to read the Bible and realized his life would have to change if he came to Christ. He was willing to give up the drugs, but he also felt his sexuality was contrary to the Bible, and he wasn’t willing to give that up. He went to the chaplain who to his surprise told him the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality. He gave him a book explaining the Biblical justification. But as Christopher read with the book in one hand and the Bible in the other, he saw the book was in error. He says, “I had no reason to reject what that book was claiming. It would have been the easier route – embrace my sexuality, as the world says, not to have to deny myself, pick up my cross and follow Christ. . . . I knew I was at a turning point: either reject God and pursue gay relationships by allowing my feelings to dictate how I lived, or abandon gay relationships and live as a follower of Christ. I chose God.” He went on to write book Out of a Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God. Did giving up drugs and a gay lifestyle save Christopher? No – but it showed that he had truly exercised saving faith.
Conc – Have you chosen Jesus, Beloved, to the exclusion of all others? That’s what saving faith does. Remember that rich young ruler who came to Christ asking how to be saved? What did Jesus tell him? Pray this prayer? No – he told him to sell all he had and give it away. Isn’t that salvation by works? No, Jesus was simply showing him the baggage that he could not take thru the narrow door. He wanted Jesus and his idol too and Jesus said, “It’s Me alone.” That young man went away sorrowful. How about you?
It’s easy to be lost because we’re born that way. But it’s hard to be saved because that can’t happen until we accept that we are lost, and are willing to come to God on His terms. That violates every natural inclination of our idolatrous hearts. We want Christ plus something. Our very goodness can be the idol that keeps us from God. It is hard to be saved. In fact, it can only happen by God’s grace working in your heart. But if you feel His pull this morning, don’t turn Him down. Enter the narrow door. Leave the idols outside, beg for mercy and enter in and you will find more than you ever dreamed on the other side. Jesus gave all for us. It’s only right for Him to ask all in return. Strive to enter through the narrow door. Don’t be surprised on judgment day. Be well and truly saved. Let’s pray.