Today’s reading: Luke 12-13.
“Isn’t everyone going to Heaven?”
The world says, “there are many ways to Heaven.” Jesus disagreed. When directly asked if few or many would find eternal life in Paradise, Jesus said many would not be able to enter.
Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” He said to them, “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.’ ” Luke 13:23-25
On another occasion Jesus answered the question more directly, saying that only a few would enter Heaven.
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14
If there was any doubt about the identity of the door or gate, Jesus also answered that question.
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6
Jesus uses the definite article “the.” He doesn’t say he is a way, or one of several or many ways. He is the way, the only way.
Few could mean few in absolute terms or few in relative numbers compared to all those who have lived or ever will live on Earth. I prefer to think it is few in number relative to the many who take the broad road to destruction. Either way you define few, it’s clear there are reasons only a few go through the door.
It isn’t easy to get through the door. The word narrow comes from a root meaning to stand. You have to stand straight upright in order to fit through the door. It’s a picture of a righteous person, but whose righteousness? The Bible makes it clear that it isn’t our own righteousness (which is nothing but filthy rags) but the righteousness of Jesus which allows us to fit through the door. It’s a Jesus-shaped doorway, and we have to be Christ-like (clothed in his righteousness) to fit through.
It takes an effort to get through. Jesus urges the questioner to make every effort to enter. He’s talking about the kind of effort it takes to win an athletic contest or a battle. In contrast, the path through the broad gate is almost effortless. It’s going with the flow, following the crowd. Does this mean that our salvation requires work? The whole counsel of God teaches that grace and faith are paramount in our salvation, but there are also passages that describe saving faith as faith that does works. “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? … As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.” The greatest work, however, is the work of faith. “Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’ “
There is a time limit on getting through. The door won’t remain open forever. The word for narrow carries the meaning of getting narrower to the point of closing up like a clogged artery. When the door closes, Jesus says it isn’t closed in a casual sort of way but is purposefully shut against those who haven’t entered (the door is shut fast; they are shut away). God controls when the door closes. It has already closed for each one who has died. It will close with extreme finality when God judges the Earth.
A day is coming when everyone will want to pass through. But on that day it will be too late. People will view the door with hindsight and see how foolish they were to pass it by. There will be no remedy for their sorrow. God’s grace will be complete and judgment will be the result.
Jesus not only said he was the way. He said he was the gate itself.
“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.”
He’s the way, the doorway, and he’s the good shepherd at the doorway making sure that only his sheep enter the pen to find safety. Is everyone in the world one of his sheep? No, only those who enter the gate in the likeness of the lamb of God.
I wish I could speak now in words that would burn their way right into your inmost hearts. Alas, I cannot. I must, however, just repeat the text again, and leave it with you. “Many shall seek in that dread day to enter, but shall not be able.” Oh, enter then, enter! Enter now, while yet the gate stands wide open and mercy bids you come! Make haste to enter while yet the avenging angel lingers, and the angel of mercy stands with outstretched arms and cries, “Whoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely.” May God, the ever-blessed Spirit, without whom no warning can be effectual, and no invitation can be attractive, sweetly compel you to trust Christ tonight! Here is the Gospel in a few words – Jesus suffered the wrath and torment we justly merited. He doubtless bore the penalty of your transgressions if you penitently believe in His Sacrifice. When you trust in Him for pardon, ‘tis proof your sins were laid on Him for judgment! You are, therefore, a forgiven man! A pardoned woman! You are saved—saved forever! – Charles Spurgeon
Image by William Murphy on Flickr, CC by-sa 2.0