Luke 13: Knocking at the Narrow Door

The Feast and the Door

It’s a cold dark night.
A man is standing at a door.
He knocks.  He waits.  He knocks.

It’s a warm, bright room, full of happy people.
On the table is a feast.  It smells so good.
Food and friends and fun.

Who is knocking?
Will the door open?
Where is the feast?
Who is invited?

In Bible times, life was often hard.
Many people were sick.
Many were poor.
Their leaders didn’t care.
Their country was not free.

But the Jewish people had a hope.
One day God would save his people from all these things.
His kingdom would come.

They described this future time in many ways.
One was a feast, a banquet, a party.

The Lord will spread a wonderful feast
for all the people of the world.
It will be a delicious banquet…
There he will swallow up death forever!
The Lord will wipe away all tears.  (Isaiah 25:6-8)

A wonderful hope.
The most delicious foods.
No more sadness.
And no more death.
That’s heaven.

And people asked,
Who is invited to this feast?
All of the Jews, or only some? [1]

It was a hot question.
When a hot young teacher called Jesus appeared,
Who had a lot of answers,
They asked him too.

Will many people be at God’s eternal feast?
Or will only a few be saved?

Let’s read how Jesus replied.  Luke 13:22-29           page 796

22 Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he went, always pressing on [travelling] toward Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?”
He replied, 24 “Work hard to enter the narrow door to God’s Kingdom, for many will try to enter but will fail. 25 When the master [owner] of the house has locked the door, it will be too late. You will stand outside knocking and pleading [asking], ‘Lord, open the door for us!’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’
26 Then you will say, ‘But we ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 And he will reply, ‘I tell you, I don’t know you or where you come from. Get away from me, all you who do evil.’
28 “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, for you will see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, but you will be thrown out. 29 And people will come from all over the world—from east and west, north and south—to take their places in the Kingdom of God.

There is a great feast coming, like Isaiah described.
The word for “take their places” (29) means “sit down at a meal”.
Many translations say “eat”.
A wonderful party that lasts forever.
But the entrance is through a small and narrow door.
And many, said Jesus, will not get in.


As Wide As the World

Let’s look at that question someone asked.
Who is invited to the party of heaven?
How many people can go?

Most of Jesus’ listeners probably thought the feast was for good religious Jews.
People outside Israel are not invited.
Bad news for you and me.

By contrast, Jesus says people from east and west, north and south,
China and New Zealand.
Will be there at the party of heaven.[2]
That sounds better for us! [3]

In the next chapter, Jesus tells a story to show who is invited.
A man who represents God holds a feast in his house.
Once the meat’s on the barbecue, the ice cream in the fridge, the kimchi in the kitchen,
He sends his servants to invite everyone they can find.

“Go quickly into the streets of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame…  Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full.”  (Luke 14:21-23)

Come to the party whoever you are!
Eat as much as you want – for free!

Jesus lived this story out every day.
He welcomed people who were poor and sick and sinful.
Whom others would not touch.
The Jewish leaders asked Jesus,

“Why do you eat and drink with such scum?”  (Luke 5:30)

They thought heaven is only for respectable religious people.
But Jesus said,

“Whoever comes to me I will never drive away” (John 6:37)

Isn’t that good news?
Whoever you are, whatever you’ve done, wherever you’re from.
You are invited to God’s eternal feast.
You are welcome to his party in heaven.
“God wants everyone to be saved.” (1 Timothy 2:4)[4]

We see this in the last book of the Bible.
Many, many people in heaven,
Singing for joy before God’s throne.[5]

I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne.  (Revelation 7:9)

The door into heaven is wide open, wide enough for everyone.
It’s as wide as the whole wide world. [6]


How to Miss Out

Everyone is invited – not just Jews.
All are welcome – not only a few.
But Jesus also said we may not all get in.

Listen to what they say
When they find the door locked shut.
“What’s going on?
We ate and drank with you Jesus!
We heard your teaching!
We saw your miracles!
What do you mean, we can’t come in?”

And what will Jesus reply?
“I don’t know you.”
Terrible words.
Maybe the most terrible words we could ever hear.

You can go to church every week.
You can sing the songs and listen to the sermon.
Even put money in the offering plate.

But if you don’t have a relationship with Jesus,
If you haven’t begun to follow him.
If you don’t know him personally, and he knows you,
In the end you will miss out.

You might think it’s easy to be a Christian.
Easy to get to heaven.
Some people think it’s automatic.
That’s not what Jesus said.

Work hard to enter the narrow door to God’s Kingdom, for many will try to enter but will fail.” (24)

“Work hard” in Greek is agonizo.
Agonise, agony.
The word is used for a soldier fighting for his life.
Or a runner in a race.[7]
Lungs bursting, legs aching.
Working as hard as he can.

If a runner wants to win the race,
He has to get rid of everything that could slow him down (Hebrews 12:1).
It’s the same in the race of life to get through the narrow door.
Jesus said,

“If you want to be my disciple, you must, by comparison, hate everyone else—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters.”  (Luke 14:26)

That doesn’t sound nice.
But if I love anyone more than Jesus,
I’m not really following him.
And I might not get to the door in time.
Is there a relationship that is leading you away from God?

And Jesus said,

“You cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.” (Luke 14:33)

That 80 inch LED TV or Toyota Corolla.
Your cool clothes or your MP3s.
The door is narrow.
They won’t fit through. [8]

Are you too attached to material things?
In Jesus’ story of the man who gave a feast in his house,
Everyone was invited, but some people didn’t come. (Luke 14:15-24)

One man was buying property.
Maybe land by the sea to build a home with a view.
One was at work,
Training new animals on the farm.
One was just married,
Driving away on honeymoon.

They had excuses.  They were busy.
So they missed out on God’s free feast.
What a waste.

What fills your mind and heart?
What keeps you from the narrow door?  [9]
What stops you from knowing God more?

Jesus said,

“If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand or one foot than to be thrown into eternal fire [hell] with both of your hands and feet.”  (Matthew 18:8)

Hard words again, because it’s serious.
It might hurt.
It could be agony.
But it’s worth losing everything,
Even giving up our whole life.
To win the race and be there at God’s eternal feast.
Nothing.  Nothing.  Nothing in this world,
Is worse than missing out. [10]


As Narrow As a Needle

A few chapters later, a man asked Jesus,
“What should I do to get eternal life?”  (Luke 18:18)
Or “how can I get to the kingdom of heaven?”

He thought he had kept all God’s laws. [11]
He thought he was pretty good.
But we need to be more than good to get through the narrow door.
Jesus said “You are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”  (Matthew 5:48)

Be as perfect as God!
Can you do that?
Impossible!
Not a chance.

The man could never get to heaven on his own.
Jesus pointed to his weakness.

“Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22)

This man was very rich.
He was holding on tight to his money and he couldn’t let go.
So he walked away feeling sad.
Like those guys who were too busy to come to the feast,
This poor rich man missed out.
And Jesus said,

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”  (Luke 18:25) [12]

You might think,
“I’m not rich.  I’m a poor student.  So that doesn’t worry me!”
Not so fast!
In Jesus’ time they thought rich people were blessed by God,
The closest to God, the first ones to go to heaven.
So if a rich man can’t get in, none of us can.

The narrow door to heaven is as narrow as a needle.
Could you diet enough to fit through that?
Impossible!

When Jesus said this, the people were shocked.
They understood.  “Then who in the world can be saved?”  (Luke 18:26)

How many people get in?
Look at the eye of a needle.
What do you see?
A round number zero.


The Manger and the Cross

How many different doors have you walked through in your life?

Have you counted?  Maybe thousands!
Which was the most important to you?

What is the most significant door you can imagine?
Maybe the door of a prison when it slams shut.
The door of the church on the day you get married.
If you like sci-fi, the door of a spaceship.
Or the Tardis in Doctor Who.
These doors have a big difference between inside and out.
Very different worlds.
When you step through, everything will change.

The Narrow Door is more important.
Inside are food and friends and fun.
The everlasting feast of God’s kingdom.
Outside is the cold dark night.
This door separates heaven and hell.

We’ve seen what Jesus taught about this door.
Everyone is invited to enter, to come to the feast of heaven.
And no one possibly can.[13]
It’s harder than pushing a camel through the hole in a needle.

Those who heard this said, “Then who in the world can be saved?”
Jesus replied, “What is impossible for people is possible with God.”  (Luke 18:26-27)

So how does God make the impossible possible?
Here are two more pictures of this strange door.

First, a manger – a place with food for cows and sheep.

None of us can get in through the narrow door to God.
So 2000 years ago, in the little town of Bethlehem
God came out through the door to us.
When Jesus was born in a manger.

The Shepherd entered our darkness.
He came to our hopelessness (1 Peter 3:19).
He searched the wilderness,
To find his lonely lost sheep. (Luke 15:4ff, 19:10)

The narrow door is a manger.
And the narrow door is a cross.
A man on a cross outside Jerusalem.
Jesus said,

“I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved.”  (John 10:9)

“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”  (John 14:6)

Look at Jesus on the cross.
And you’ll see the narrow door.
The only way to reach the feast of heaven.
The only gate from earth to everlasting life.

So how can we get through the narrow door?
How can we fit through the needle’s eye?

For us, it’s impossible.
For God, it’s quite simple.

Just say yes to Jesus.
Once you know him, you are saved.

You don’t have to do a thing.
The Good Shepherd will put you on his shoulders and carry you back home.

Jesus is the only man who was as perfect as God.
So he alone can enter the narrow door.
When you die in Jesus, you’re totally safe.
He will carry you through the door in his death.
And raise you to his life on the other side. [14]

Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was… since we died with Christ, we know we will also live with him.  (Romans 6:5,8)

Life forever in the kingdom of God.
No more tears, no more death.
Just a wonderful feast.


Knocking at the Door

Are you knocking?
Do you want to enter the narrow door?

It’s the most important door there is.
And it won’t stay open forever.
So run the race.
Give up everything that holds you back.
Follow Jesus and get to know him.
Get through the door before it’s too late.[15]

What have we learnt about this door today?

It’s as wide as the world.
Everyone is invited.

It’s as narrow as a needle.
Impossible to enter.

It’s the manger in Bethlehem.
Where Jesus came to earth
To find his lost sheep like you and me.

It’s the cross in Jerusalem.
Where Jesus gave his life
To bring us all home to eternity. [16]

And one last thing.
The narrow door is the way to heaven.
It’s also the way to your heart.
Jesus said,

“Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” (Revelation 3:20)

It’s a warm, bright room, full of happy people.
On the table is a feast that smells so good.

On a cold, dark night, he is standing at your door.[17]
He knocks.  He waits.  He knocks.


Questions

How many doors do you walk through each day?

Why is the Narrow Door so important?

What could stop you getting through?

How can a manger and a cross be the door?

How can we die and live with Jesus?


[1] The Jewish Mishnah said, “All Israelites have a share in the world to come”, while 2 Esdras taught this world is for many, but the world to come is only for a few.  Many are created, but only a few shall be saved.
[2] See the delightful Taster’s Unique Food Map of the World here. Or animated on YouTube.
[3] Though Jesus didn’t give them any numbers.  1000 people, 10 million people?  “Will those saved be many, or few?”  He turns the question around.  “Will those saved include you?”
[4] God wants everyone to repent and not be lost (2 Peter 3:9).
[5] At the marriage supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9).
[6] Unlike the narrow door, the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem are never shut (Revelation 21:25).
[7] The word is used in “I have fought the good fight and finished the race” (1 Timothy 6:12, 2 Timothy 4:7) and for athletes in 1 Corinthians 9:25.
[8] I once heard it said, God’s grace is big enough to save a man, but not a man with his idols.
[9] Unforgiveness can also stop us getting through the narrow door (Matthew 6:15, 18:35).  And we have to be humble, like a helpless child.  “Unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven.”  (Matthew 18:3).
[10] “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”  (Luke 9:23-24).  “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”  (Jim Elliott)
[11] “I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the religious leaders, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!”  (Matthew 5:20).  Nothing unclean can enter the city (Revelation 21:27).
[12] The stories about a needle gate in Jerusalem so camels just to be unloaded, et cetera, seem to be urban myths.  See Wikipedia
[13] I think a lot of Jesus’ teaching could be summed up as opening the door of God’s gracious invitation more and more wide, often shocking the religious leaders, at the same time as raising the bar of holiness impossibly high-especially in the sermon on the Mount.
[14] Paul said, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).
[15] As Esau found (Hebrews 12:17).
[16] I can also picture the narrow door as a birth canal: to be born again, first you have to die.  (John 3:3)
[17] For a poetic expansion on this idea, see Song of Songs 5:2ff.  As CS Lewis said, the doors of hell are locked on the inside.

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