Luke 13:22–30 (& Isaiah 66:18–24)
He went on his way from one town and village to another, teaching, and making his way to Jerusalem. 23Someone said to him, “Lord, are only a few going to be saved?” He said to them, 24“Strive to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. 25Once the master of the house gets up and shuts the door, you will begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open for us!’ He will tell you in reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ 26Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27And he will say, ‘I don’t know where you come from. Depart from me, all you evildoers.’ 28There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown outside. 29People will come from east and west, from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God. 30And note this: Some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (EHV)
Dear Friends in Christ,
A man asks a math question. It’s a math question many of us have perhaps had at times. He asked Jesus, “How many are going to be saved.” But he asks it assuming the answer is “not many.” “Lord, are only a few going to be saved?” What led him to anticipate that answer? No doubt it was the things Jesus was teaching, and the intensity with which He was saying it. Jesus never gave the impression in His sermons that so many assume today, namely that just about everyone makes it to heaven. If you listen to Jesus’ sermons in the Gospels, or read them, you can’t help but realize that what He says is just “too much” for many—too exclusive, too “negative” some would say, too intense.
So did you listen closely to Jesus’ answer? In effect His answer was “Few” and “Many.” Few as a percentage of those who hear the Gospel, but many in total. Jesus certainly wants everyone to be in that number. But only those who want to spend eternity with Him—the actual Jesus of the Bible—will make it. So a better question than “how many will be there” is “Do You Want to Be in That Number When the Saints Go Marching in?”
“Few”: Narrow Door to Salvation
“Strive to enter through the narrow door,” Jesus says, “because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. Even back in the days of Isaiah in God’s special nation Israel the door was narrow and many were not able to enter. Our Old Testament Lesson began with these words. “As for me, because of their works and their thoughts, the time is coming for me to gather people from all—other—nations and all—other—languages. They will come, and they will see my glory” (Isaiah 66:18).
Because of what “works and … thoughts“ was the Lord turning to other nations? Isaiah’s laid it out two chapters earlier: In Judah, “There is no one who calls on your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you. So you hid your face from us. You made us melt by the power of our guilt” (64:7). So few in Judah believed. So few entered through the narrow door, that the Lord decided the time was coming for Him to send the Gospel to others: the time is coming for me to gather people from all nations and all languages. They will come, and they will see my glory.
Have the other nations, the gentile nations been more receptive to the Gospel than Israel and Judah? Yes and no. On the one hand, the Christian church spread out from Israel to all nations and languages. On the other hand, so many have turned their backs on their Christian heritage, the same way Israel got bored with the Gospel. But everywhere, whether in ancient Israel, in Palestine at the time of Jesus, or in modern day America, some believe and some will be saved. Which ones? The Lord tells us through Isaiah a few verses before our Old Testament reading: “Yet this is the person I will watch over: the one who is afflicted and whose spirit is crushed, the one who trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). Those are the ones who “want to be in that number when the saints go marching in.” That’s how to be saved, to believe God when He tells you a sinner and need a Savior, to despair of yourself and fall at God’s feet begging for mercy! And you will not be turned away! Just like those fathers of the faith in Israel Jesus mentions being in heaven, as He warns His listeners to repent if they want to join them: 28 “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown outside” (Luke 13:28).
And the patriarchs and prophets aren’t alone in believing in Israel. Every one of Jesus’ Apostles was a descendant of Abraham who believed. And it was they, these Jewish disciples who fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy:
19Then I will set up a sign among them, and I will send out survivors from among them to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, to those who are archers, to Tubal and Javan, to the distant coastlands, who have not heard my message and have not seen my glory. Then they will declare my glory among the nations (Isaiah 66:19).
The sign is the cross, under which they march like a banner. With the sign of the cross, they went to India and Persia. They went to Egypt and Libya. They went to Turkey, and Greece and Rome and Spain. Within a generation the Gospel was well on its way to being preached among every population in the world. And today there’s not a language into which it’s not been translated.
So how many will be saved? It adds up!
“Many”: Be in the Number of Those Who Enter
You will “see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God …. 29People will come from east and west, from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God.”
The Book of Revelation tells us that it’s a a number that no one can count who will be there with Jesus as saints, clothed in white. As one of our beautiful hymns describes it “From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast, Through gates of pearl, streams in the countless host. Singing to Father, Son and Holy Ghost: Alleluia!”
They come from every direction on the compass—from places all over the earth, but they all enter through the one door, and that door is Jesus—the real Jesus. He’s the only way in. That’s what makes the door narrow. In John chapter 6, Jesus said you have to take all of Him. 51“I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52At that, the Jews argued among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Amen, Amen, I tell you: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in yourselves. After this, many of his disciples turned back and were not walking with him anymore. 67 So Jesus asked the Twelve, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom will we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Jesus—the real Jesus, all of Him—is the Narrow Door into heaven. You can’t pick and choose what part of Him you want to believe, or which words of His you like. If you do, you’re just making up your own religion and inventing your own false Jesus, and you won’t make it in. To enter through the One Door that is Jesus, means despairing of yourself, and counting on Him entirely for salvation. Remember that passage from Isaiah I quoted earlier? “Yet this is the person I will watch over: the one who is afflicted and whose spirit is crushed, the one who trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2)
That’s the “how” of entering the kingdom. What about the “when”? Jesus continued, 25Once the master of the house gets up and shuts the door, you will begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open for us!’ He will tell you in reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’
There’s a deadline. It’s called our Time of Grace. It ends obviously when we die, normally. But we never know when that will be. It could be tomorrow. It could be today. And sometimes our Time of Grace ends earlier than when we die. Think of Pharaoh, who during the course of the 10 plagues that made it so obvious who the true and living God is, nevertheless hardened his heart again and again, until finally God hardened his heart and his Time of Grace was over. That happens to people more often than you think. People say “no” to God enough times, and finally God says in effect “you’ve had enough chances. Time’s up.” It’s no wonder Scripture repeatedly says the deadline for believing is “now.” “Now is the Day of salvation” as you hear the call of Jesus in His Word (2 Corinthians 6:2).
It would be interesting to randomly interview people in Southwest Missouri, like polling firms do, to ask them what they think about Jesus, whether going to church is important, whether they consider themselves Christians. I think the answers that many people would give would resemble what Jesus quotes people saying on the last day. 26Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27And he will say, ‘I don’t know where you come from. Depart from me, all you evildoers.’
It’s not enough to simply have heard Jesus talked about. It’s not enough to simply have thought of yourself a Christian. It’s not enough to have neighbors or relatives who go to church. It’s not enough to have watched some religious TV program now and again. It’s not enough to have counted Jesus among the many religious gurus from which you picked and chose various teaching you liked as though faith is a smorgasbord like Sirloin Stockade, nor is it enough to have gone to church but not really believed. You don’t want to “see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown outside.” Wouldn’t you really rather Be in That Number When the Saints Go Marching in? Then make it happen, that is, let God make it happen! Simply fall on your knees before God and ask for mercy. Look to Jesus alone for salvation. Put Him and His Word first in your life, and Keep them there! Join your fellow believers in hearing His Word and praising Him each week. And believe. And you will Be in That Number who enter by the Narrow Door. There is nothing more important than that. Period. Amen.