Will heaven be full? - Luke 13:22-30

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the evening service on 14th September 2008.

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Do you ever get frustrated with people who never answer your direct questions? All you want is a simple yes or no but five minutes later and you are still waiting for the information you need. Earlier this week I decided to watch the footage of the famous interview Jeremy Paxman conducted with Michael Howard on Newsnight in 1997. You may have watched it first time round but you can now see it on Youtube. I think it’s a brilliant example of the evasiveness of a politician. Michael Howard was asked the same question, ‘Did you overrule him?’ 12 times by Jeremy Paxman and he never answered once. Do you ever get frustrated with people who never answer your direct questions?

Well, before my wife shouts out hypocrite I must confess to being guilty of this practice some of the time. Occasionally, I do answer questions directly but quite frequently I prefer to ask either a question of my own or waffle about a related subject for a few minutes. I understand how frustrating this can be for those who have to listen to me but at least this week I was comforted by my discovery that in Luke chapter 13 Jesus decides not to answer a question directly.

Look at what we’re told in verses 22 and 23. “Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, ‘Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?’” It’s a fairly straightforward question, isn’t it? Will the houses of heaven be full or will the streets of eternity be empty? How would you answer the question? Just suppose you’re making your way to spend some money at the new St Stephens shopping centre in town. It’s a Saturday afternoon, it’s supposed to be the season of the Credit Crunch, but the shops are as full as ever, and then someone stops you in the street and says, “Are only a few people going to be saved?” I know it’s not going to happen but just suppose it did. Humour me. How would you answer the question posed to Jesus? Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Do you think heaven will be full or do you think heaven will be empty?

Well, in the end it doesn’t really matter what we think. We can have all the opinions and speculations we want but at the end of the day what really counts, what really matters, are the words we hear from the lips of Jesus Christ. And that’s why I was initially disappointed when I read verse 24.

Someone has asked what seems to be a very good question and yet listen to how Jesus responds. 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.”

Let’s get something clear straight away. Jesus is not trying to be like Michael Howard on Newsnight. He is not trying to be an evasive politician. He will answer this man’s question by the end of the conversation but to begin with Jesus makes the man’s question more personal.

Think about it. The question about how many people will be in heaven is rather safe. It is one of those keep me at a distance questions. A question of interest, yes, but not one where the questioner appears in the answer.

So do you see what Jesus is doing? He’s not ducking the question, he’s not trying to keep his head low to avoid being drawn in to some controversial discussion. He simply changes the focus. The man wants to know, and we want know, ‘Will heaven be full?’ But Jesus wants to know, “Will you be there?” And so he says, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.”

One of the most popular non-Christian ways of understanding how all the different world religions are connected is to picture a mountain with many pathways. I’m sure you’ve come across this idea before. There is one mountain but there are many paths which eventually make their way to the same final destination. The point is simple. It doesn’t matter what path you take, eventually all roads lead to heaven. If this picture was true then the conclusion would be justified but my question for us to think about is, ‘What if the picture is wrong?’ What if getting to heaven is not like climbing a mountain on one of many pathways but instead suppose getting to heaven is like walking through a door?

Jesus doesn’t speak about a spiritual mountain but in Luke 13 he says with crystal clear clarity, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.”

Tonight I want to focus on three things Jesus says about this door

1.    There is one door
2.    It is a narrow door
3.    It is a door that won’t be open forever.

First of all, he says, there is one door. That is, there is one unique way of finding a place in heaven.

Notice what he doesn’t say. He doesn’t say there are many doors which all lead to the same place, so choose which door you like and go on through.

Getting to heaven is not like entering the KC Stadium through one of the many turnstiles. It doesn’t matter which turnstile you go through, all of them will take you into the ground.

No, Jesus says, there is one door, there is one unique way of becoming friends with God and spending eternity with him.

And if you were here last week you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. Do you remember the rich ruler who came running up to Jesus? He asks what is perhaps the biggest question of all, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said, “The big thing you must do is follow me.” It may seem overly dramatic to some but Jesus could not be clearer, he says, our eternal destiny hinges on whether we become his committed followers.

This all makes sense when we consider the mission of Jesus. Why did the eternal Son leave the splendour of heaven? Yes to teach, yes to do miracles but the ultimate reason was to make heaven accessible to people like you and me. He came to open a door. He did this when he died a unique death on a Roman cross.

What stops human beings from entering into the heavenly kingdom? By nature we are under the wrath of God. God is angry at human beings because of their wickedness. We cannot just stroll into heaven, put our feet up and expect to be welcomed into heaven. We don’t deserve to be there. But here is the good news. God has made it possible. The Father has sent his only Son into the world to endure the wrath of many so that now a door is open for anyone who wants to become reunited with God and experience life with him forever.

Is this arrogant? One way to heaven. All we are trying to communicate are the words of Jesus. It is arrogant to disagree with him.

Is this exclusive? If there is one door then it seems so narrow minded. We like to have choice and variety so we tend to react very negatively to all this talk about one way to heaven. I’m convinced this is actually the most inclusive and exclusive message in the world.  Yes it is exclusive. Every religion is exclusive. Most exclude on the basis of goodness. Christianity says there is one access to heaven and this has been opened up by the unique life and death of Jesus and only those who become his followers walk through the open door of heaven – in fact, this is how someone walks through the door in the first place. However, at the same time this message is actually very inclusive. Jesus never says, this is for the Westerner. Christianity is not a Western religion. Right now most Christians are not in Western countries. It didn’t start here. It all began in the Middle East. In fact, the very existence of a church here in Hull shows that the message of Jesus is very inclusive. There is one door but anyone can walk through it. People from all around the world. People from different cultures are welcome but there is only one way to receive eternal life, the way has been opened up by Jesus and anyone who becomes one of his followers walks through the door of salvation. There is one door.

Secondly, the door is narrow. Jesus says in verse 24, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.”

Why is the door narrow? Not to show us that getting to heaven is really difficult. It’s very easy. We simply have to walk through a door that has already been opened for us. That’s not very difficult. Try it later when you walk out of church. See those double doors at the back? How difficult is it to walk through them if they are already opened? It will be one of the easiest things you do all day.

Why does Jesus talk about a narrow door? We can only come through it one by one.

Think about that door at the back. If the double doors are open then many of us can leave or enter together but if only one of the doors is open then we must come in one by one.

I think this is Jesus’ point. We must enter heaven on a one to one basis. There are no family passes or country agreements. This conversation will never be heard at heavenly passport control, “British you say, well, come in. By nature of your birth you have automatic entry.” No, Jesus says, it is a narrow door.

A few years ago I went to a friend’s wedding in Jersey. At the garden party I was chatting to a girl and then the preacher came across. She made the mistake of saying she liked what he said. That was his opening. He asked her if you was a Christian. She made the next mistake of saying her grandmother was religious. And quick as a flash he said, “Well, that won’t do you any good on the day of judgement!”

We need to go in one by one and, Jesus says, we need to come in before it is too late.

Look at verse 24 again. “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. [Why can’t they get it? The next verse tells us…] 25 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.’ 26 “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’

28 “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.  29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God [There is the answer to the question].  30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last [Some Jews will be excluded and Gentiles will take their places instead].”
 
You can feel the agony and the desperation of these people. They have missed out on eternal life. No wonder they are gnashing their teeth.

In London, if you missed the tube of course there was disappointment but there would always be another along in a moment. If you missed the last tube then that was more disappointing but at least it wasn’t the end of the world. But to miss out on eternal life, well, that would be on a different scale altogether.

There is the agony of disappointment in these verses but there is also a huge surprise, particularly in verse 26. These people claim to know him. We ate and drank with you, you taught in our streets. There is no doubt the owner of the house is Jesus. Who are these people? The very people he is speaking to. They have met Jesus, listened to him and shared a meal with him.  But what we discover here is that an acquaintance with Jesus is not good enough. They were never personally committed to him in life and so they lost their opportunity to gain eternal life.

What does this mean for us?

•    The opportunity to respond to Jesus will not always be there.

Should we leave it to old age? Retirement, slippers on, Saga magazine in hand. But why miss out on a relationship with Jesus now?

In the German city of Friedberg there is a beautiful church with a magnificent organ. Many years ago (19th century) an old man played the organ. Every day – three tiers of keys and an old man playing. One day a young man walked in and strolled to the organ. He asked the man if he could be allowed to play the organ. Second time then third time – embarrassed. Okay – just for a moment. He stood beside organ stool and he listened in amazement.  Who are you? My name is Mendelssohn. Old man replied: “Dear me - to think that I almost never allowed the master to play.”

Those who promise to turn to Christ at the 11th hour often die at 10:30! Death can take it from us. We have no idea when we will see Jesus face to face.

We can also harden our heart. The more you delay the harder it is to say yes. Today is the day of salvation!

•    Be careful not to merely be an acquaintance of Jesus.

Jesus spoke about people who ate with him and heard him teach. Today this could be those who would say but we’ve heard sermons about you and we’ve met your people. We came to your church.

Outward contact with Jesus and his message is not profitable for our eternal future. We must be a personal follower of his.

Difficult conversations on that final day. Where is dad? But he used to drive us to church. He came to the Christmas carol service. He was always so polite to Lee. But he never followed Jesus personally.

Suppose Jesus came back right now and started to greet his friends, what would he say to you? Hi Martin, good to see you’re still firm in the faith etc. Oh, I’m sorry I don’t think we’ve met?

Lord, are only a few people going to be saved? Nah. People will come from east and west  and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. A great multitude that no one can count, from every tribe and nation will be standing in heaven because of Jesus’ unique death on the cross.

But Jesus says, there is one door, it is narrow and it won’t always be open. Let’s pray.

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