A serious plea from the heart - Luke 13:22-35
Last weekend my best friend got married, and a few weeks beforehand all his friends got together to send him off in style, the traditional stag day. And being warm blooded males we decided to do something typically male which was paint balling. Now for those not familiar with this aspect of male bonding, paint balling is basically big boys running round a forest shooting small balls full of paint at each other out of air compressed guns. And it's good fun. That is until you get shot, which happened to me on a regular basis. And it hurts, especially when you get shot on top of the head. But there was one aspect of the day that all of us took absolutely seriously and that was the safety briefing. Because for forty five minutes, the owner of the business told us in no uncertain terms what would happen if we failed to follow the safety instructions to the letter; and in particular what would happen to you if you took off your safety mask at any time during the game. Those paint balls, we were told, move at something like 10 metres per second, and if they were to hit you in the face or eye without protection, then you'd be in serious trouble. You would lose your sight for certain, and possibly your life. And once I had heard all the gory details about what would happen, I followed the safety instructions to the absolute letter. Because when the stakes are high, you listen very carefully to what is being said, and you obey what you have heard. There is simply no way you would ignore the lesson.
Now in our Bible passage for this morning which is from Luke 13, we discover that the stakes here are very high. Jesus is speaking to a crowd, and he's answering a question that someone has asked him in verse 23: 'Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?' Actually Jesus does not answer the question directly. For he says that it's not so much whether only a few will be saved. It's about whether you will be saved. Because what Jesus is saying is that our very eternal destinies are dependant on our response to Jesus Christ himself. Jesus isn't worried about safety in a paintball game. He is worried about whether or not we get to heaven. For he wants us to be there with him. And he's giving us crystal clear instructions to follow, instructions which will enable us to go to heaven and not hell.
Now we might say, what right does Jesus have to have to teach us about these things? Why should we listen to Jesus? What makes him so special? Well Luke's aim in this little book of his is to show us just how extraordinary Jesus is. And he has gone to great lengths to record accurately what was said and done by Jesus, to give us a quality historical document of the life of Jesus Christ. And the results are staggering. Jesus claims to be God in person come to this world that he made to rescue you and me from a fate far worse than death. And that is a claim he backs up time and again in the gospels.
So this morning I want each one of us to take serious note of what Jesus is saying. Because his teaching is not just something for the kids. Nor is it just something for the weak minded who need a psychological crutch to get them through life. It's something of supreme importance for all of us. It's about life and death, heaven and hell. And to ignore Jesus on this would be as daft as me ignoring the paintball safety instructions. And this time is not just our sight at stake, but our eternal destinies. The stakes are very high. So let's find out exactly what Jesus is saying in this passage under three headings:
1) Jesus' Urgent Appeal (Vv 22-30)
2) Jesus' Unflinching Resolve (Vv 31-33)
3) Jesus' Unfailing Love (Vv 34-35)
1) Jesus' Urgent Appeal (Vv 22-30)
And the first thing we discover is Jesus' urgent appeal. And what is his urgent appeal? Verse 24: 'Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.' His urgent appeal is to enter through the narrow door. So what does Jesus mean? He means that you and I must make every effort to make sure we are going to heaven. He uses this illustration of the narrow door on a number of occasions and he means that we need to trust in him to make sure we can go to heaven. He says elsewhere that he is the door, that is he is the only way by which we can get to heaven. And he says that we need to make every effort to get through that door. He's not saying that we can get to heaven by our own effort. Rather he's saying : 'Make sorting out your eternal destiny your no. 1 priority. Make every effort to make sure you've got your future sorted. Make sure you're trusting me.' That's what he's saying. And that's why he says that many will try to enter but will not be able to. Many try to get to heaven by all sorts of ways, including trusting their own goodness. But it's not enough. Rather it's about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. It's about knowing him which counts on judgement day when the door is shut. Do you see what he says in verse 25. To some he'll say: 'I don't know you.' The way to get into heaven is by being a friend of Jesus, by trusting him and entering through that narrow door.
Now this word 'make every effort' was used by the Greeks of wrestling in the original Olympic Games. We get our word 'agonise' from it. It speaks of much pain and effort and time and energy spent in getting to your goal. It's the sort of effort that England put in to winning the World Cup. For them it was literally 'agonising' and for us at home too! They spent every ounce of energy striving for that great goal. For me it was summed up on one glorious moment when Mike Tindall physically carried George Cregan, the Australian captain, off the field in order to win the ball. England wanted it badly. And it's that sort of effort Jesus is talking about here. Jesus says to each one of us here today: 'Will you make sure you sort out your eternal future? Will you make every effort to enter the narrow door.' So many people think that Christianity is just a hobby, including many Christians. It's something we do on a Sunday, but that's about it. But Jesus here is talking about making every effort. He's talking about vigorous activity. He's not saying: 'Well, if you've not got anything better to do, then why not ponder your eternal destiny one wet Sunday afternoon.' This isn't a lifestyle choice that we adopt for a month or two, this isn't a personal preference like playing golf or following Hull City. This is about life and death, its about heaven and hell. And Jesus says: 'Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.' If you're a Christian here today, then how seriously do you take your commitment to Christ? Could you say you are making every effort to enter through the narrow door. Or has something else got more of your attention? And if you're not a Christian, then hear Jesus' urgent appeal to you this morning, Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.
Now why is Jesus so urgent? Why is his message more important than playing golf or watching football. Well there are three truths that come out of this little story that Jesus tells in verses 24-30 which answer three very common assumptions that people make.
a) Entry is Limited- The first assumption many people make is this: I've got lots of different options to choose between when it comes to getting to heaven. But Jesus makes it clear in this story that entry is limited. Notice what he says in verse 24: '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.' 'Then you will say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' 'But he will reply, I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!'' How many doors does Jesus talk about here? Just one. Jesus says that there is only one way to God, and that is through him. He once said: 'I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father, [that is, God], except through me.' He never claimed to be one of a number of options. He claimed to be the only way to God. Of course, it's very popular and politically correct to say all religions lead to God. But Jesus says they don't. Only he can get us to God. And he constantly makes this same point in all his teaching. Now we or our friends might be tempted to say: 'That's arrogant. How can he say he's the only way?' But it's only arrogant if you are wrong. The boxer Mohammed Ali was once flying across America when the pilot informed the passengers that they were about to go through a storm and they needed to put their seatbelts on. Well Ali refused and when the stewardess came to tell him to put his belt on, he said: 'Superman don't need no seatbelt.' To which she quickly replied: 'Superman don't need no plane!' It is arrogant to make outrageous claims with no credentials. But Jesus claimed to be the only way to God and backed it up by his life, his words and his actions. Entry to heaven is limited. You must come through Christ. And there is a real sting in the tail for many of us church goers in verse 26. Because Jesus says that some will say: 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' But he will reply, 'I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!' Some, you see, think that they are Jesus' friends. They ate and drank with him, they heard his teaching. But familiarity is not the same as being genuine friends. And just because you are familiar with Christian things, just because you are a church goer and what we might call a good person, does not mean you have gone through that narrow door. Rather we need to commit ourselves to Christ personally, to have that personal relationship with him. And that's a real warning for those of us who think we are OK. We all need to make sure we've entered that door, whether we're here for the first time or the eight hundredth time. For Jesus says the only way to get to heaven is through a personal faith in him.
b) Time is Short- But a second assumption many people make is this: 'I've got all the time in the world! I'll think about it later.' But Jesus makes it clear in this story that time is short. Verse 25. Notice how personal Jesus gets: '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.'' Jesus says that one day the door will be shut. Time will have run out. So often I meet people who say: 'I'll think about Christ later. I've got too much to do now. The kids, the mortgage, the job. I've got my life to lead.' But that's precisely the point. One day your time will be up. The one thing that is certain in life is our death. One day says Jesus the door will shut. Our time is limited. And none of us knows when we will stand before our maker and give an account to him. For some of us it could be next year, next week, even today. And Jesus urges us: 'Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.' Get your future destiny sorted out before it's too late.'
One of the more difficult parts of my job is to conduct funerals. And often I ask the question to the relatives: 'Were you expecting to lose your relative at this time.' And more often than not people will say,' No, we weren't expecting it this soon.' We don't know what tomorrow will hold let alone next year. Life is so very fragile, whether you are young or old. Death does not respect age. And that is why Jesus is so urgent in his appeal for us to trust him to get us to heaven. I've got all the time in the world, we say. No, says Jesus. You haven't. For time is short. One day, sooner or later, the door will shut. Time is short.
c) Eternity is in view- But a third opinion that is very common is: 'I'll get another chance. Death is not the end. Surely there be a chance to rethink after death?' Just look though at what Jesus says in verse 28-30: '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. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.' This is what will happen when the door is closed. Some will be consigned to hell, where Jesus talks about weeping and gnashing of teeth and some will go to heaven. They will enjoy the great feast with God for ever. There is no second chance. What we decide here in this life about Jesus Christ will determine our future, whether in heaven or in hell. Jesus, you see, has eternity in view.
You see in the face of those three common misunderstandings come three solid facts from the Lord Jesus Christ. To the person who says, 'I've got lots of different options,' Jesus replies, 'Entry is limited. I am the only way. Come to me.' To the person who says 'I've got all the time in the world,' Jesus replies, 'One day the door will be shut, sooner or later. Don't leave your thinking about me till later. It could be too late.' And to the thought, 'I'll get another chance,' Jesus says 'No, that simply is not true. Eternity is in view.' Can you see then why Jesus is so urgent in his appeal? He is urgent because so much is at stake. Can you imagine a paintball operator being blasabout a customer in danger of losing his sight? Can you imagine a fireman being blasabout a person in danger from a fire? Well how much more is Jesus urgent in his appeal to each one of us this morning to hear and respond to his appeal. Make every effort to enter the narrow door, he says. That's his urgent appeal.
2) Jesus' Unflinching Resolve (Vv 31-33)
But there is a second aspect about Jesus that we discover in this passage this morning and that is his unflinching resolve. What is his resolve? He is resolved to die in Jerusalem. And absolutely nothing will stop him from this mission. Not even the plans of evil men. And one of those men that Jesus often comes up against is King Herod. Now this is not the Herod of baby killing fame; this is his son, but he's almost as bad. And he wants to get rid of Jesus. But not even this death threat in verse 31 will stop Jesus from his mission. See what he says in verse 32: 'Go tell that fox, 'I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.' In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day- for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!' This is the only person that Jesus is recorded as treating with contempt. 'Fox' was certainly a contemptuous term and Jesus will not be shaken. He will carry on with his mission. And that means dying. For God's plans cannot not be thwarted. Whatever mankind tries to do, God is in complete control. And why is it that Jesus has this death wish? Why is it that he is so completely driven to go to Jerusalem and die? Well the answer lies in what his death will achieve.
You see many people make the mistake of thinking that Jesus' death was simply an act of great love and self sacrifice, something we can all take courage and inspiration from. Well that's true, but it's not why Jesus died. Many human beings will lay down their lives in acts of love. I heard recently about one young man who gave his life for his new wife as they were scuba diving off the coast of Australia whilst on honeymoon. A huge shark came towards them and the husband put his body between the shark and his wife. In doing so he was killed but she was saved because he died for her. Yes, we do hear of many acts of great courage and love. But Jesus' death far outstrips them all. For on the cross Jesus died for people that were his enemies, people who hated him and ignored him. And he died taking the penalty that those self same people deserved to take themselves. Who are those people? They are you and me. The fact is that Jesus went to the cross for you and me. Each one of us has ignored the God who made us and we deserve to receive the penalty for that rebellion. But Jesus Christ loves us so much that he was willing to die in our place to offer us that hand of friendship again. He was willing to give us forgiveness and a fresh start, and for our broken relationship with God to be restored.
And what Jesus experienced on the cross was hell itself. And that is why Jesus Christ can speak with such authority about the need to come through the narrow door to heaven. For he knows what it is like. He knows what it is like to come under God's judgement and receive his anger at human rebellion. That's why he cried out: 'My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?' At that moment, Jesus knew what is was like to be cast into hell. Hell is not a scare tactic to get us to believe in Jesus. It is a reality which we all face for our proud rejection of God. And Jesus has gone to incredible lengths to make it so that you and I need not face hell, because he himself has faced it for us. His urgent appeal is based on his unflinching resolve to go the cross for you and me. We can go through that narrow into the feast in heaven because of what Jesus has done for us. Often the question is raised against Christianity: 'How can a loving God send people to hell?' What I am always amazed about is how a just God can allow anyone to get into heaven. But that is what he has done. That is how much he loves us, even rebels like us. There is a way back. And it's available because of what Jesus has done. And it means that we can be totally forgiven and washed clean, however guilty we feel, however dirty we are.
And there are millions down the centuries who have found that promise to be true. David Watson was a very famous preacher in the 1970's. And one time he was
speaking at a university when a student walked in and stood at the back of the hall. She was a notorious student at this particular university. She had the reputation of being someone who would drink anything, smoke anything and sleep with anyone. Throughout the whole evening, she just smoked and looked angry. But at the end, to David Watson's great surprise, this girl asked to chat. David Watson began by saying to her: 'I gather you have the reputation for being the wildest girl in the university.' 'It's true, she said. There was nothing that I wouldn't do. But all along I felt as guilty as hell.' Then a huge smile came over her and she said: 'But now I have been forgiven and it's marvellous.' And she went on to say that she had heard a talk about Jesus and gone back to her room and simply wept for joy for hours knowing that she could be forgiven and given a fresh start by God because of what Jesus had done for her.
That's why Jesus was resolved to die in Jerusalem. He died so that not one person in this building would have to go to hell. He died so that the narrow way could be opened to the feast. Have you gone through that door yet? Have you trusted Christ to forgive you and set you on the road to heaven? That's the only way you and I will be friends with God again. It's the only way you and I will get to heaven. Don't make the mistake of thinking God will let you in because you're a decent bloke or you've not done anyone any harm. God's standards are perfection. And no-one makes the grade. Rather trust in Jesus Christ who has done the hard work for us. Because of his unflinching resolve to go to the cross.
3) An Unfailing Love (Vv 34-35)
An urgent appeal, an unflinching resolve, but finally and briefly an unfailing love. Because what is so staggering in this passage is not just Jesus' urgent appeal in the face of eternity, but his unfailing love in the face of rejection. Verse 34: 'O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!' Jesus' heart goes out to this great city, which should have embraced him as their Saviour and King. But time and again, Jerusalem and her people had rejected God's messengers and ignored God himself. And this time they will go one step further and reject God himself in Jesus Christ as they nail him to a cross. But what is staggering is how Jesus' love for this city and her people remains constant. It's one of the most amazing aspects of the character of God that whilst he is a God of perfect justice who will sadly send people to hell who persist in rebelling against him, yet he is a God of unfailing love who will always have us back if only we will come to him. And Jesus uses this lovely picture of a mother hen sheltering her chicks under her wings. He's reflecting a common theme in the OT of a picture of God's amazing love for his people. Listen to these words from the psalms which reflect this theme of God's unfailing love: 'How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings' (Ps. 36: 7)
Again: 'Have mercy on me O God have mercy on me, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed' (Ps. 57: 1).
How often we need to be reminded of this truth again and again, that our God is a God of unfailing love who will not let us go. Do you sometimes believe that God is a harsh God with a big stick who lays down the rules and punishes willy nilly. Well if that's your view of God, it's not the view of the Bible. Yes God is perfectly just, but he is also perfectly loving. And here Jesus reminds us of his unfailing love for this people. It may be that you need to come again to him this week and shelter under his wings, to be reminded of his love for you as a child of God. Whatever difficulties we face in our lives, nothing can separate us from the love of God.
And yet sadly there are those who persist in rejecting such an unfailing, loving God. Do you notice what Jesus says in verse 35 about Jerusalem: 'Look your house is left to you desolate.' The sad fact is that if you persist in rejecting Jesus then he will in turn reject you. And one day when he returns to judge the world in glory, we will have to meet him and face the consequences of our rejection of him. And Advent Sunday is a reminder of the certainty of his return. We don't just look back to his first coming. We look forward to his second coming. That's what Jesus means in the final line of our passage. One day we will see him again and the door will be shut.
So let me ask you. Are you ready for that day? Can you honestly say you are prepared to face Jesus Christ when he returns again? It's not a question of 'if' he returns. It's a question of 'when'. And that is why he is so urgent in his appeal in this passage. So hear again the words of Jesus, the one who died for you and has shown once for all his unfailing love for you. 'Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.'
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