“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.


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