November 8, 2015
Read Lu 13:22-27 – A bank robber shoves a note to the teller: “Put the money in the bag, and don’t try anything funny.” The teller sends back a note: “Straighten your tie and smile. They’re taking your picture!” There’s a surprise you wouldn’t want to get. But that can’t hold a candle to the surprise that awaits many on Judgment Day when they’re cast from God’s presence.
That’s the condition that Jesus anticipates when He says in v. 30: “And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” This doesn’t mean some line-crowders trying to get into heaven will be sent to the back of the line. Here, He’s saying people the Pharisees looked down on as lost would end up in heaven. But those Pharisees, and other religionists like them, will not. They’re rejecting God’s grace thru Jesus.
The Pharisees didn’t get what Brennan Manning finally got: “Jesus comes for sinners, for those as outcast as tax collectors and for those caught up in squalid choices and failed dreams. He comes for corporate executives, street people, superstars, farmers, hookers, addicts, IRS agents, AIDS victims and even used-car salesmen. Jesus not only talks with these people but dines with them – fully aware that His table fellowship with sinners will raise the eyebrows of religious bureaucrats who hold up the robes of their authority to justify their rejection of truth and of the gospel of grace.”
So in answer to the question, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Jesus says, “Forget theory and percentages. Let’s talk about you. The question isn’t will just a few be saved, the question is will you be saved. Will you strive to enter at thru narrow door?” – which does not mean working our way in. He’s suggesting something harder – acknowledging we can’t work our way and must go with no baggage thru the narrow door. Most people will not humble themselves to go there – so in the end, few will be saved.
Which means, of course, many will be lost. Many of them the most wicked among us, yes. But also many who thought they were first – religiously circumspect – living good lives, BUT committed to self, not Jesus.
Matthew expands Jesus’ warning: Mt 7:13 “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. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Everyone eventually reaches the fork in the road -- wide or narrow. One leads to destruction; one to life. But both are labeled “Heaven.” Both claim to lead to go there. It’s not like the wide way is labeled “Destruction” and the narrow way is labeled “Life.” Both are labeled “Heaven”, and the wide way looks like a lot more fun.
But the narrow way requires that you check all good works at the door along with all idols. The door is so narrow that there is only room for a truly repentant heart. But while the wide road gradually narrows until all the temporal pleasures are gone and Destruction is all that awaits, the narrow way immediately opens up into a grand vista where Jesus reigns over pleasures forevermore at His right hand. That’s the choice we all face, sooner or later.
So our series “Don’t Be Surprised”. Three parts. I. Few Will Be Saved II. Many Will be Lost III. It Pays to be Saved. So, why will so many be lost?
I. The Performance Problem
End for v. 24, “For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” Seeking to enter sounds commendable, doesn’t it? It isn’t. The very effort is the thing that’s wrong. They are seeking; and they will not be able. It’s all about them and their effort. They are sweeping God’s gift aside and saying, “No, I will earn this. I can be good enough. I will make God accept me.” It won’t work, Beloved. We must come on God’s terms, not ours. Those who seek God on their terms are actually spitting in His eye – refusing His revelation in favor of their perceptions; refusing His gift in favor of their effort; insisting on their standard in place of His perfection. It won’t fly. You can’t perform your way into heaven. That’s a humbling thought.
Performers reject the word “Repentance” on the narrow door. They choose the wide door where they can bring their own offering. “See, Lord. Perfect attendance in 2010. $10,000 to the Building Fund. Gave up a vacation to Hawaii for that. See? Learned all those verses for confirmation. Did not retaliate against that guy who stole my idea at work – and you know I could have. See what I’ve done for you. You have to take me!” Jesus response? “Some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last”? It is “not by works of righteousness that we have done, but by His mercy we are saved” (Titus 3:5 para). Prov 14: 12 “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” The wide road to Destruction is filled with people who have bypassed the gift in favor of merit. What a surprise they are in for?
“Pretty good” isn’t good enough. During the Depression someone noted that Babe Ruth’s $80,000 salary was more than President Hoover was making. Ruth replied, “I know. But I had a better year.” The Pharisees thought they were the Babe Ruth’s of their time. They had a better year than anyone else. But measured against God’s holiness, they fell far short. Jesus told them in Mt 21:31, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.” That was shocking! Jesus was just telling them, great as their performance was, it wasn’t nearly enough. Performance problem
II .The Procrastination Problem
Mid v. 24: “For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.” They want in, but there’s a problem. The door’s been closed. That narrow door they walked by time after time, now it’s closed. They waited too long. They put if off because they didn’t believe, or because they thought they had plenty of time or because they wanted to get their fun first. Or they didn’t want to repent. They didn’t want Jesus when the opportunity was open. And now – it’s too late.
The grammar in v. 24 is very telling. “Strive to enter” -- present tense command. Do it now! But “will seek” and “will not be able” are future tense. These did not strive in the present and when they finally seek in the future, it will be too late. It’s chilling that that could even happen NOW, in this life. It could. God said in Gen 6:3, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man.” Reject God enough times and one day He’ll say “Okay. Have it your way.” That happened to Pharaoh during Moses time when he first hardened his own heart, but as he kept reneging on his promise to let the people go, God hardened his heart. The rejection he began, God finished. He was still alive, but the narrow door was closed to him forever. “Have it your way!”
Esau’s another example. He was the oldest of Isaac’s boys, but he sold his birthright for a pot of stew one day when he was famished. Traded eternal blessing for temporal pleasure. Lot of people do that. So God warns in Heb 12:16: “16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.” What a dire warning. Esau’s brother Jacob was hardly a model of integrity, but he genuinely valued the things of God. Esau traded them away for what the world offered. When he finally woke up to what he had lost, he cried great tears of remorse – even tried to find a chance (literally, place) of repentance. But his heart was not in it. Only God can stimulate true repentance, and the door had shut on Esau when he devalued God’s blessing. Now he wanted God’s blessing, but did not really want God. He had regret, remorse, not repentance. Judas cried bitter tears after he betrayed Christ as well, but he never truly repented. The point is, the door can close even in this life. We can never know when, but it can happen.
But that door for sure closes at death. Not everyone agrees. A few argue that a God of love would never send anyone to hell. In Love Wins in 2012, Rob Bell suggests that every single person will eventually embrace Christ, if not in this life then certainly in the next. Theologian Clark Pinnock, who died just recently, expresses the same hope when he says, “God will find faith in people without the person even realizing he/she had it.” Problem is, they didn’t find that in the Bible. It’s their opinion based on no biblical basis whatsoever. They represent wishful thinking out of touch with God’s reality.
The clear intent of Jesus’ teaching here is that the open door will inevitably close. And tho some may beg to be get in, the Father will answer, “I do not know where you come from.” “We have no relationship. You would not come when I called, and now, I do not know you.” And far from one more chance, these are told in v. 27, “Depart from me, all you workers of evil.” Who you gonna believe – Bell and Pinnock, or Jesus? Heb 9:27, “It is appointed unto man once to die and after that comes judgment.” When that door closes, it is forever. That’s what God was teaching when, after 120 years, God closed the door to the ark (Gen 7:16). The Father’s patience ended and the door closed to those lives forever. That is the deadly consequence of delay. The longer you procrastinate, the harder your heart will become. It will never be easier than now; only harder. Heb 4:7: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”
A couple of years ago actress Erin Grey was paired with pro dancer Derek Hough on “Dancing with the Stars”. Grey starred as Baby in the movie Dirty Dancing opposite Patrick Swayze who had died of cancer just a short time before. During one practice session, Hough announced to Grey that they would be dancing a waltz to one of the songs from the movie. Grey smiled broadly with great excitement – and then, just as suddenly, she ran from the room in tears. Shortly Hough retrieved her and asked, “What happened?” She replied, “I realized how short life is. He (Swayze) was just like you; he was – like – young and gorgeous – and now, he’s just gone! It just freaked me out. It was like a weird moment.” What it was, Beloved, was an intrusion of reality – something we all need from time to time to remind us how short time is and how long eternity is and that things we decide now matter for eternity. To remind us that “now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (II Cor 6:2). It will never be easier than now to say Yes to Jesus.
III .The Proximity Problem
This was serious. Look at v. 26, “26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’” As Jesus looks forward to that Judgment Day He sees that some who didn’t enter the narrow door will finally argue based on their proximity to Him. “Sure you know us. You walked our streets. We had dinner to together one night at Levi’s house after he started following you. Remember?” Matthew adds that some will even go further: “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” I suppose Judas will be in that crowd. He did, you know, do miracles in Jesus’ name. But Jesus says He will look him in the eye and say, “Sorry -- I never knew you. You were never part of the family. You wanted the attention and the blessings, but you never wanted me. You prized your own goodness above mine. You rejected me, and now I reject you. Depart from me.” How tragic.
It’s a proximity problem. Many – many, many, many – perhaps some here this morning – believe that proximity to Christ is all it takes. “Come on Lord. We went to a Bible-believing, Bible teaching church. We took Communion and were baptized. Surely you know us.” But it’s not about proximity; it’s about submission. It’s not about ritual; it’s about repentance. It’s not about religion; it’s about relationship. Do you know HIM? Does He know you? Listen, if it was about proximity, Capernaum, where Jesus lived and preached and did miracle after miracle would surely have been saved, right? What did Jesus say to them? “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day” (Mt 11:23). If the issue was closeness to Jesus, Capernaum would have been a shoo-in. Instead they were headed to hell. Familiar, but not family. Proximity, but not possession. Someone has said that being in church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than being in a garage makes you a car. It’s true.
Conc – Don’t be surprised – not on Judgment Day of all days, Beloved. Come to Jesus. Emergent church leader Spencer Burke says, “I don’t believe you have to convert to any particular religion to find God. The God I connect with does not assign humans to hell.” Perhaps not his God. But the God of the Bible most certainly does as testified by Jesus Himself. Who you gonna believe – Burke or Jesus? So what must we do? Enter by the narrow door, and the sooner the better.
Alistair Begg was finalizing a sermon in a restaurant next to Harvard Yard in Cambridge, MS when all kinds of interesting and diverse people began to wander in for breakfast. One of them was an Asian girl who appeared to be reading a Bible – strange indeed at modern Harvard. When he had determined that she really was studying a Bible he asked, “I see that you are reading the Bible. Are you a Christian?” She smiled and replied, “Oh yes.” He asked about her family and found that she was from a Buddhist home in China, now living among Harvard’s aggressive pluralism which tolerates anything except the gospel. He finally asked, “How did you become a Christian with such a background?” She replied with her Chinese accent, “I enter through the narrow gate. I enter through the narrow gate.” She knew what it was all about. It had cost her family, friends, and academic reputation, but she entered the narrow gate. Don’t wait, Beloved. Don’t let performance, procrastination or proximity keep you away. Enter today. It’s not just the narrow way. It’s the only way. Let’s pray.