“Strive to Enter through the Narrow Door” (Sermon on Luke 13:22-30, by Pr. Charles Henrickson)

“Strive to Enter through the Narrow Door” (Luke 13:22-30)

Suppose there’s a big party, a grand banquet that you’ve heard about, and you really want to go and be there for this great event. So you go to the banquet hall, and you see a door there, and you walk up to it and try the handle. It doesn’t budge. The door seems to be locked. “Okay, no problem, I’ll try another door.” Which you do. You pull on the handle, it doesn’t move, same thing. Hmm. What’s the problem? “Oh, wait! Let me see if there’s another door around the corner of this wall. Ah, there is!” Oh, no. It’s locked, too. This is getting frustrating. “OK, I’ll go around to the next side of the building. Oh, there is a door on this side. Just one door, and not a very big one, but I’ll give it a try.”

It doesn’t open, but you hear some voices inside. So you say: “Hello! Anybody in there? Hey, I’m here for the banquet. Can you let me in?” “What’s your name?” You tell the guy inside your name. “Sorry! You’re not on the list. I can’t let you in.” “But, but, this is supposed to be the biggest event of the year! I really want to get in there.” “Sorry, you’re not on the list. I can’t let you in unless your name is on the list.” “Really?” “Really.” Disappointed and disheartened at not being able to get in, you trudge off with a profound sense of being left out. What a bummer!

Now multiply that bummer-ness by about a bazillion, and you’ve got the picture in our text today, the Holy Gospel from Luke 13. Jesus tells a story about some people trying to get in to a big feast, but the person at the door says they can’t come in, and they’re told to get lost. That’s not a happy picture. But at the same time, Jesus says there are people who will be allowed to enter; they are able to come in and enjoy the great feast in the kingdom of God.

Obviously this is where you want to be: let in, not shut out, when the heavenly banquet takes place. This is the place to be. The alternative is rather frightening. So the question before us, the question that should be foremost for every person walking on this planet–the question is: How do we get in? And Jesus tells us the answer, right here in our text. He says, “Strive to Enter through the Narrow Door.”

You know, when Jesus talks about the kingdom of God in the gospels, he often describes it as a great banquet, a wedding feast or some lavish occasion like that. He talks about “reclining at table,” which was the ancient Near Eastern way of dining at a feast. To “recline at table in the kingdom of God” will be to enjoy a great celebration, a time of unsurpassed joy and fellowship and feasting, and it will last for eternity. This is the place you want to be. You don’t want to be shut out. But the sad thing is, some will be shut out. Not everyone will make it into the heavenly banquet hall. They will be denied admittance.

Why is that? Because they have chosen to try to get in through a door that doesn’t work. They think they deserve admittance, but they are not coming in through the one and only door God has appointed. They think they can get in some other way, a way of their own choosing. But they are going to find out, and find out too late, that their self-chosen method of entry is just not going to cut it.

“Strive to enter through the narrow door,” Jesus says. There is a door to go through to enter the kingdom of God, but what kind of a door is it? It is, as Jesus describes it, a “narrow” door. It is narrow, and there is just one door. There are not many doors.

But that’s what people think today, though: that there are many doors by which to enter the kingdom of heaven. You can pick Door #1, or Door #2, or whichever door you choose. You may prefer the door of the Christian tradition. Somebody else picks the Jewish door. The Muslims–well, I guess they believe in and worship God, just in their own way. Buddhists, Hindus–many faith traditions, many doors.

Or maybe you have no faith at all. You say you’re “spiritual not religious.” You don’t believe in organized religion. That’s OK, too. After all, you’re basically a good person. You can make your own door. Wherever you want to put one, whatever you want it to look like, that’s your door, and it works for you. That is the prevailing message of our culture today. Many doors lead to God, any door you like. But that idea is wrong, dead wrong.

Now to be sure, “many shall come from the east and the west,” that is, there will be many saved from every language, tribe, people, and nation. But all those who are saved are saved in the same way: They all will have come in through the same narrow door, the one door that God has provided for all men, namely, God’s only Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus says there is only one door, and it is a narrow one at that. Not everything will fit. This narrow door has no room for your pride or your accomplishments. No room for your money or possessions. No room for anything you think will earn your way in.

The narrow door has a “fraud detector,” too. A mere surface association with Jesus will not make it through: “Lord, open to us. We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.” But the master of the house will turn them away, saying, “I don’t know you or where you come from. Depart from me!” With this door, there is no sneaking past security.

Nevertheless, today Jesus is saying, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.” Yes, come in through this narrow door. There’s just room for you and Jesus, with Jesus leading the way. In fact, Jesus is the way. Elsewhere he says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.” Again, Jesus says, “I am the door for the sheep. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved.”

You see, there is just one door, and it is narrow, but that door is open, and it leads to salvation! Come in through the way that is Jesus, the new and living way that he opened for us–by his coming in the flesh, by the blood that he shed for us on the cross. Notice in our text that it says Jesus was “journeying toward Jerusalem.” There, in Jerusalem, Jesus would open the door for us. Christ, the everlasting Son of the Father, took upon himself all our sins, all that would block us and exclude us from God’s presence. Jesus suffered that exclusion in our place, when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

By his death on the cross, now the way for us sinners has been opened up. It is as open as the empty tomb with the stone rolled away. Christ has overcome the sharpness of death and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers. The door is open! Jesus is our open door! We enter through faith in him.

Come in through God’s open, narrow door. But if there is no room through this door for our works, our efforts to save ourselves, then why does Jesus say, “Strive to enter”? Isn’t that a contradiction? I thought being saved was giving up on our own efforts and instead trusting in Jesus’ work for us?

Well, it is. But going in still is an effort, it involves a struggle. We strive and struggle against our own flesh. You and I are saints and sinners at the same time, and our Old Adam is at war with the new man. So we struggle every day with sin and temptation, the temptation to not listen to God, to not trust in God above all things. We do battle against the devil, the world, and our flesh. That’s where the striving and the struggling comes in. It’s why the way of salvation involves a certain effort. Yes, salvation is all God’s work for us in Christ, entirely apart from our works of self-justification. But because our life is lived in this fallen world and in this sinful flesh, therefore it does involve a striving and a struggle. That’s what Jesus means when he says, “Strive to enter.”

“Strive.” The Greek word that’s used here is “agonizo,” from which we get our English word, “agonize.” It’s the word that was used in Greek of athletes in competition, like at the Olympics. Those athletes “agonize” to win the prize. Same here. We agonize, we sweat and strive and struggle. We press on to run the race, keeping our eyes on the prize, the crown of life that God freely awards us for Christ’s sake. The paradox of the Christian life is that it’s an absolute gift and an agonizing struggle at the same time. “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”

The door is narrow, but the door is open. It is open right now, for you. “Behold, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” Right now, as you hear the living voice of the gospel, God is opening his door to you. God is speaking to you, inviting you in. He is welcoming you in with open arms. Yes, come to the feast of salvation, enter the kingdom of God. Enter through faith in Christ, God’s open, narrow door.



“Strive to Enter through the Narrow Door” (Sermon on Luke 13:22-30, by Pr. Charles Henrickson) — 9 Comments

  1. Good sermon, better than the one we heard this morning. And you are right to emphasized the struggle. It is the struggle of faith, to put your faith and trust completely in the Trinune God, and to trust His word in all things. For as the scripture makes clear, many fall away, as in the Parable of the Sower.

    You correctly pointed out the forces against us, the Devil, the world and our own sinful flesh. So we all need to remember that the weapon to fight against the forces against us is the Word of Almighty God. For the Holy Spirit comes to us to help us in our battle only through the word and sacraments. So our striving should be to learn the word, trust it and put it all into practice in our lives.

  2. @Rev. Loren Zell #1

    Dear Rev. Zell: You write, “For the Holy Spirit comes to us to help us in our battle only through the word and sacraments.” The Holy Spirit has indeed come to live in and help every Christian when that Christian was baptized. I do not need to cite any of the countless passages of Scripture that attest to that.
    As to the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Word, first, once the Holy Spirit has come to dwell in us, He does not leave until He brings us safely into Paradise (Small Catechism, Third Article). Secondly, the Word is “the sword of the Holy Spirit.” (Ephesians 6:17) In other words, the Holy Spirit brings the Word, not the Word the Spirit, otherwise the Holy Spirit would be the “sword of the Word.”
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  3. @George A. Marquart #2

    George, you sound like, “once baptized, always saved”. In my “drier” moments I’d love to hang onto that, but Paul says you can fall away, and Jesus wasn’t speaking entirely to unbelievers when He said, “Strive…”

  4. @helen #3

    Helen, I simply refuse to have the exception become the rule. I think it is unhealthy to threaten every believer with the possibility that they are committing the Sin against the Holy Spirit. Luther himself “sounded like it” when he wrote, “If, therefore, we have once in Baptism obtained forgiveness of sin, it will remain every day, as long as we live, that is, as long as we carry the old man.” (Large Catechism, Holy Baptism, Para. 86)
    But, pray tell, did what I wrote have anything to do with “once baptized, always saved”? Luther chose not to touch on the question of Christians falling away when he wrote his explanation of the Third Article of the Creed. So why should I?
    One of the problems troubling our church is that few pastors or scholars really understand the difference between the Old and the New Covenants. Until our Lord was “glorified” and had overcome the sharpness of death, the Kingdom was not yet opened to all believers. With the exception of the 11 Apostles, the Holy Spirit had not been given to anyone. So that we cannot speak of “believers” in the sense of the New Covenant, until that Covenant was established. So yes, our Lord was speaking entirely to unbelievers, including His own Apostles. Remember, in His High Priestly Prayer, He asked the Father to take care of His Apostles, because He would be unable to do so for a little while. So the first thing He does after rising from the dead is to come to the Apostles to give them the Holy Spirit, thereby “taking care of them” until they entered Paradise.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  5. Helen, I’m with you. What teaching is this that sounds like the doctrine of Eternal Security? George, are you saying the New Covenant refutes simul iustus et peccator? It seems that once you assert that the Holy Spirit cannot or will not depart from the believer unless the believer blasphemes Him you are very nearly saying, “once saved, always saved” with rare exceptions because it is rare for a believer in Christ to commit the unpardonable sin. Are you leaving room for believers who shipwreck their own faith? 1 Timothy 1:18-20 Do you believe a Christian is capable of blaspheming the Holy Spirit and thereby committing the unpardonable sin?

    George, it would be good to know how you systematically depart from confessional orthodoxy because your explanations are plausible but differ from the teachings of Pastors writing on BJS. You say that you don’t believe in eternal security so what is it exactly that makes your interpretation of the New Covenant different from Luther’s and the Confessors’ throughout the centuries? I’ve read many of your comments but get confused trying to understand all the points of departure from the confessions. Your writings seem to verge on antinomianism because, as you say or imply, Christians no longer need to repent for sins already forgiven at conversion. You seem to take umbrage at the idea of living a life of daily repentance because it conflicts with the state of perpetual joy in which redeemed Christians should find themselves, and that this idea of Luther’s of ongoing repentance emanates from his early Romish tendencies, and as a consequence can be dismissed.

    Are there specific articles in the BOC that you think are in error? How much of the BOC is in error in your opinion? Who did you study under and why is your theology and doctrine different from your brother’s, Dr. Kurt Marquart? Do you believe he was in error?

    Ephesians 1:13-14

    Philippians 1:6

    Mark 3:28-30

  6. @Mark #5

    Thanks, Mark, and thanks for asking the questions I was trying to formulate.

    [If this is just meant to “one-up” Kurt(not here to reply) perhaps it’s just belated sibling rivalry?] It will be 9 years, I think, Sept. 19, since KEM was relieved of his earthly burdens. (I know it was Sept. 19 because it was my deceased son’s birthday.)

    @George A. Marquart #4
    Helen, I simply refuse to have the exception become the rule. I think it is unhealthy to threaten every believer with the possibility that they are committing the Sin against the Holy Spirit. Luther himself “sounded like it” when he wrote, “If, therefore, we have once in Baptism obtained forgiveness of sin, it will remain every day, as long as we live, that is, as long as we carry the old man.” (Large Catechism, Holy Baptism, Para. 86)

    Now I’m confused. Who said anything about “the sin against the Holy Spirit”?
    That’s the second time I’ve noticed that you seem to be suggesting that you understand more than Luther.

    [I am not saying that everything Luther wrote was absolutely correct, but I do tend to read people who know more about him than I do and can tell me where they learned it.]

  7. @Mark #5

    Mark: The problem with this thread is that it can be characterized by the following statement: “We do not see things as they are, but as we are.”
    Nowhere, never have I ever claimed that the New Covenant refutes simul iustus et peccator. It is, in fact, a concept that did not exist before the New Covenant. There can be no Gospel without this principle.
    Now as to Eternal Security:
    Not all baptized Christians will be saved. I believe this to be a true statement.
    Those Christians who will be saved will be saved by grace through faith, because of the perfect life, suffering and death of our Lord Jesus, the Son of God. We Lutherans affirm monergism; that is, God Himself does everything for our salvation; man does not and cannot contribute anything.
    Those Christians who will not be saved will be lost forever because, through their own fault, they will have committed the unpardonable Sin against the Holy Spirit. Whether you call it “falling away,” “shipwrecking their own faith,” it boils down to the Sin against the Holy Spirit. That does not mean that one has to specifically “blaspheme against the Holy Spirit,” but it means final resistance and rejection of the work of the Holy Spirit, Who tries to keep a Christian in the Kingdom. This is the only sin for which people can earn eternal condemnation. All others can and will be forgiven.
    People, whether pastors or lay people, cannot make the judgement which ultimately God makes. In my lifetime I have seen two deathbed “confessions” of people who most of their lives lived in denial of the Gospel.
    I firmly believe that many people despair of their faith, because the Gospel is not preached to them purely.
    With regard to repentance, I think your assumption is based on the fact that you do not distinguish between the two types of repentance: the one that is part of conversion, and the one which follows conversion. In his Twelfth lecture, Walther distinguishes them as follows: “One of the principal reasons why many at this point mingle Law and Gospel is that they fall to distinguish the daily repentance of Christians from the repentance which precedes faith. Daily repentance is described in Ps. 51. David calls it a sacrifice which he brings before God and with which God is pleased. He does not speak of repentance which precedes faith, but of that which follows it. The great majority of sincere Christians who have the pure doctrine have a keener experience of repentance after faith than of repentance prior to faith.”
    I believe it would be rude and a misuse of this platform to list my personal beliefs on every subject here. I want to confine myself to commentary on what has been specifically said by others.
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  8. @helen #6

    Helen: A trained, professional psychologist or psychiatrist would not publicly comment on “sibling rivalry” without having had in depth interviews with the parties involved. Therefore your comment can only be attributed to your maliciousness and malevolence. I forgive you, as our Lord has forgiven me. Let me add that there is probably no person alive today who could understand the life my brother and I lived through and what our relationship was.
    As to “Who said anything about ‘the sin against the Holy Spirit’?” please see my answer to Mark above. Just because you do not understand something does not mean you have to vilify the writer. Can’t you just ask?
    Peace and Joy!
    George A. Marquart

  9. @George A. Marquart #8

    “Sibling rivalry” is something that goes on in every family, in different ways. Those who are merely parents observe it and deal with it. My use of the term was not meant to carry anything like the weight you have loaded on it. I sincerely apologize!!!

    Mea culpa!

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