The Narrow Door - Luke 13:22-35

It is estimated that between 2 and 6% of the United States population has red hair. It is rare to be a redhead in the United States. And because it is rare to be a redhead, we often get mistaken for other redheads. This
past week I was teaching at a conference and after my first session a woman came up to me and said, “You are doing a great job. I heard you speak last year in Hilton Head.” I softly replied, “No, you didn’t. I didn’t
teach in Hilton Head last year.” She bellowed out, “You are a liar. I know I heard you speak last year.” It took a few minutes, but I finally convinced this woman that she had never met me. She had met someone that looked like me and that talked like me, but she had never met me. She did not know me and I did not know her. Nothing she could say could change the reality that I did not know her. No matter what she said, I knew the truth. I did not know her.

Sadly, there are many people in churches across America who, like this woman, believe that they have met Jesus, but the reality is that He does not know them. They may know many things about Jesus and they may even enjoy his teachings, but on the last day, Jesus will look them in the eye and say, “I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!” Beloved, on that Day, there will be nothing we can say to change the reality. The reality is not determined by us, but by Jesus Christ. He knows His sheep.

There are some great passages of assurance in the Scriptures. There are great passages seeped with God’s mercy and forgiveness, but there are other passages, like this one, that should cause us to pause and ask, “Do I really know Jesus?” and “Does Jesus really know me?” 2 Corinthians 13:5 says, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.” Jesus is exhorting us in this passage to test ourselves to see if we are in the faith by pleading with us to walk through the only door of true faith in the hope held out in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that you will heed the words of Jesus and strive for the Narrow door.

Strive for the Narrow Door

In Verse 22, we see Jesus continuing his teaching ministry:

He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem.” 

This was why he came. Jesus came to preach the good news. Luke 4:43,

I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose.
Jesus came to teach and preach the good news of the kingdom of God, but Jesus lays out some very hard challenges. Listen to the challenges that Jesus gives his disciples over the last two chapters:

And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. Luke 12:8-9

Fool, this night you soul is required of you, and the things your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared whose will they be? So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God. Luke 12:20-21

And that servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or act according to his will, will receive a severe beating. Luke 12:47

Do you think that I have come to bring peace on the earth? No I tell you rather division. Luke 12:51

No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 13:3

After hearing all these hard warnings, someone asks in verse 23, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?”

Jesus lays out some very hard commands in the Bible. You may be thinking, “Jesus, I thought you were supposed to preach good news?” It does not look like many people will be saved. Could this be true?

Luke gives us a clue in the text to help us understand the intensity of Jesus’ teaching at the end of verse 22, “toward Jerusalem.” Jesus is heading towards Jerusalem. Remember Luke 9:51, the turning point of the gospel where Luke writes that Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem. He is heading for his death. And as He is heading for the cross, he is encountering increased hostility from the Jews. Six verses above this question, Jesus rebukes the synagogue ruler for misapplying the Sabbath. Imagine what these disciples are thinking, “If they did not make the cut, what about us?” Jesus says in Matthew 5:20,

For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

The Pharisees trusted in their works as righteousness. We have to have a greater righteousness than them, and, in fact, an altogether different righteousness. Jesus is on a quest towards Jerusalem to destroy a works-based salvation by offering a different door.

Jesus answered the question in verse 23b-24,

And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”

There are two questions we must answer, first, “What is the narrow door?” and secondly, “How do we strive to enter through it?” In order to answer these questions, we must look at context of the passage and we must consider what the Bible says in other places. “What is the narrow door?” The passage does not explicitly tell us what the door is, but he tells us the purpose of the door and who opens and shuts the door.

Jesus mentions the narrow door to answer the question, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” This tells us that the narrow door is necessary for salvation. We see in verse 25 that the Master of the house, the Lord, is the one who opens and shuts the door. Verse 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.’ (emphasis added).

The door is the road to salvation and it is controlled by the Lord. And the only way one is to have the door opened or to be saved is if the Lord knows you. This is the parallel passage to Matthew 7:13-14:

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. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Gate and door are interchangeable. Jesus removes all doubt of what the door is in John 10:7-11:

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Jesus is the door. Jesus is the way to salvation. Jesus is the way to salvation in that he lays down his life so that we can open the door.

In Luke 10:24 Jesus says, “For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” This seems like a strange statement. Wouldn’t all people who seek to enter the door be able to enter? Does God not save all those who seek Him? God does save all those who seek Him, but many are seeking to get to the other side of the door without going through Jesus. People are seeking to enter through the door on the merit of some other work than the work of the cross.

Friend, the Bible says we all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Our sin has separated us from God. We are born into this world in sin and outside of the door. We have been tainted. We know this by our own hearts, and yet we many of us do not believe that our sin should separate us from heaven. We think that we are not that bad. Imagine a beautiful lasagna dinner cooked to perfection. It is full of vibrant red and yellow, steam rising for the top, perfectly melted cheese. It looks delicious. Now imagine, walking in your back yard and scooping up your dog’s droppings and sprinkling it over the lasagna. Would you eat it? Of course not! Even the smallest bit of dog droppings would taint the whole lasagna! It would be inedible and
you would have to throw it out. Beloved, our sin is disgusting in the eyes of God and taints His glory. God cannot allow His glory to be tainted, so in order to see his glory in heaven, our sin has to be dealt with, for we cannot enter glory tainted. As dog droppings taint a beautiful meal, so our sin would taint heaven. Therefore, God sent His son to be tainted on our behalf, so that we could enter His glory unstained. We cannot enter the door until we deal with our sin, but the problem is that we cannot deal with our sin on our own. If we seek to overcome our sin in our own power we “will not be able.”

This is why Jesus was journeying towards Jerusalem. He was going to die. Jesus is the gate of salvation and offered his perfect life on the altar for God’s righteous wrath. He deals with your sin by becoming sin on your behalf. He pays the full penalty of all your sin; all your disgusting, nasty, and gross sin. He pays for it all. He was dead and buried, but God raised him on the third day. So now, Jesus is knocking at the door. If anyone hears His voice and opens the door of faith in the life, death and resurrection of Christ, Jesus will open the gate so you can enter His glory. Jesus stands at the door and knocks, do you hear his voice? If you do not truly know Jesus, do not harden your hearts, hear his voice and enter the narrow door.

Now that we know that Jesus is the door, the second question is, “How do we strive to enter through him?” Jesus says, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.” We strive by holding fast to our confession of faith. We fight sin. We do what saints have been doing for 2000 years. We pray. We read and meditate on the Word of God. We worship. We pursue holiness. We covenant with a local church. We entrust ourselves to spiritual authority. We commit ourselves to love one another in a faith family. We practice the disciplines of grace. Beloved, there are no short cuts. There is no magic pill. It is the daily struggle of repenting of your sins and trusting in Christ. We ask God to search our hearts, reveal our sin and then we again trust in His death alone on our behalf. We fight against believing that we bring something to the table for our own salvation. We are saved by faith alone, in Christ alone.

I will not boast in anything, no gift, no power no wisdom, but I will boast in Jesus Christ his death and resurrection. Why should I gain from his reward, I cannot give an answer, but this I know with all my heart, his wounds have paid my ransom.[1]

We must strive to enter the narrow door through the gospel of Christ. Listen to Jesus’ strong warning for those who trust in another way to get to heaven:

I do not know where you come from. Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But I will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all your workers of evil! In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets of the kingdom of God but you yourselves are cast out.

If you do not have Jesus, you will not go to heaven.

Notice here that many people thought that they knew Jesus, because they had been around him, they fellowshipped with him, and heard his teaching. And yet, he said I do not know you. Friends, having
occasional fellowship with the church does not mean you know Jesus. Regularly hearing the teachings of Jesus, does not mean you know Jesus. Many people believe that because they were once baptized or raised in the church or give money, that they know Jesus. The only way to know Jesus is by faith. It is an active faith and a continual belief. This morning, do you trust in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as your only hope? Are you following Jesus, not according to your own standards, but the standards of God’s Word? As we have been studying on Wednesday night in 1 John, are you actively covenanted with a local church expressing your love for one another?

A friend has a sign on his desk that says, “Do you know my Jesus?” This week someone looked at that sign and said, “I have a question for you, does my Jesus know you?” This is a better question, for when we stand before him we will only be able to enter the narrow door if Jesus knows us. If Jesus doesn’t know you, he will say “Depart from me and you will be cast to that place with the weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Seek those Outside the Camp

Jesus rebukes those who trust in something other than Jesus as the Jews were doing, but this passage is not without hope. Verse 29:

And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at the table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.

This is a great promise that God is going to gather the people from every tribe, tongue and nation under heaven. People from the east and the west and the north and the south will enter through the narrow door of the gospel. The Jews forgot that the kingdom of God is not only for them. It will start small, but will cover the Earth as the waters cover the seas. Salvation is open to all. There is no people group and no rebellious sinner who does not have the offer of salvation through Christ. The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Jews did not seek to bring others into the kingdom. They were not a light to the Gentiles, but the true light, which gives light to everyone, came into the world. He came to his own people and they did not receive him, but to all who do receive him, who believe in his name, he gives the right to become children of God. Beloved, we must rejoice in the far call of the gospel. We must link arms together and hold fast to one another as we hold fast to our good confession of the gospel. But we must never stop with ourselves; we must go and make disciples of all nations. We must strive to help others find the narrow door that they may experience salvation and find peace with God. This was why Jesus came, and this is our calling.

See the Forsaken City

It grieves the Lord that Jerusalem is not walking towards the narrow door. Let us close with hearing the heart cry of our Lord Jesus Christ,

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course. Nevertheless, I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet should perish away from Jerusalem.’ O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

Jesus longed to gather the Jews, but they were not willing. It is our task to see the forsaken city and to learn from its mistakes. Do not be unwilling, but say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Adoniram Judson was one of the pioneering Baptist missionaries in the early 1700s. He was raised in a Christian home and when he went off to college, he walked away from the faith. He fell under the influence of a friend, Jacob Eames, who drew Judson away from his faith. Judson became the valedictorian of Brown University and after graduation he left for New York to work in the theater. One night, Judson was traveling through a small village and stopped at an inn. He asked for a room, but the innkeeper told him that the only room he had available was one next to a dying man. All night Judson heard this man groaning and moaning as this man was knocking on death’s door. Judson couldn’t sleep, as he was tormented by these cries. He
thought, “Is this man prepared for death? That’s really all that matters now. Am I?” And as he lay there thinking of eternity he could hear his friend, Jacob Eames, say in the back in his mind, “Really, Judson? You’re this weak? Are you really the valedictorian of Brown University? Spooked by a little superstitious religion?” The groans finally stopped and Judson drifted off to sleep. He awoke refreshed and his sense of despair lifted ready to go about his travels. He asked the innkeeper in the morning about the man. He replied, “He is dead.” Judson responded, “Do you know who he was?” “Oh yes. Young man from the college in Providence. Name was Eames, Jacob Eames.”

Life changed for Judson in that moment. He saw the end of those who had forsaken God. Judson later reflected,

“Lost. In death, Jacob Eames was lost—utterly, irrevocably lost. Lost to his friends, to the world, to the future. Lost as a puff of smoke is lost in the infinity of air. If Eames’ own views were true, neither his life nor his death had any meaning. . . . But suppose Eames had been mistaken? Suppose the Scriptures were literally true and a personal God real? . . . For that hell should open in that country inn and snatch Jacob Eames, [my] dearest friend and guide, from the next bed—this could not, simply could not, be coincidence.”[2]

Judson repented and trusted Christ. He lived the rest of his life to help others find the narrow door seeking those outside the camp. Learn from the forsaken city, learn from forsaken sinners. Christ offers to open the door. He came to give life and life more abundantly. Jesus stands at the door and knocks; will you open it?

[1] Last stanza of “How Deep the Father’s Love?” by Stuart Townend.