Enter through the narrow door – Luke 13:22-35

Jesus’ teaching about how we’re to enter through the narrow door is well-known. Equally well-known is that few will do so.

The alarming news is that many, many people think they are entering heaven through the narrow door but aren’t. That’s the shock in these verses, and that’s the warning you need to hear.

Are you sure that you’re on the right path? Do you really grasp how important it is that you enter through the narrow door? What might possibly hold you back?

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube delivered at Bromborough Evangelical Church Wirral in May 2023. You can find more in the series in our sermon index.

Our passage falls into two connected parts. First:

Take the narrow path (22-30)

Since Luke 9:51, when Jesus set his face to journey to Jerusalem, we’ve been following his journey south (from Galilee in the north). All sorts of teaching and healing was going on, and all sorts of questions were put to him. Read Luke 13:22-23.

We don’t know who was asking or why, but it’s an interesting question to think about.

  • There are some people who think that when we die we’ll all basically go on to a better life.
    • Except, maybe, the really really bad people.
    • In many ways, that’s quite the majority view in our culture. 
    • It’s what you hear people say when someone’s died: “They’re out of their pain now. In a better place. Reunited with family…” and so on.
  • Then there are lots of religious people, of many different faiths and religions. They (we) all think they’re right.
    • Some people follow their religion very seriously, believing that only they will be saved.
    • And many people think that all religious people are worshipping the same God but in different ways.
  • Christ was clear on his teaching: No-one would come to the Father except by him. All other religions are false.
    • But there are many people who claim to follow him who disagree strongly with each other about what that means: e.g. Evangelical protestants, Roman Catholics, or cults like JWs and many more.
  • What about you? Do you think many will be saved, or few?

Jesus’ reply was stark. It’s clear that few will be saved.

Few will be saved

Read Luke 13:24-25.

  • It’s a parable, with a picture of heaven as the feast that everyone wants to enjoy. But the homeowner is in charge.

“Will just a few be saved?” Jesus replied: “Many will try to enter.”

  • Why are there so many religions?
    • Because we have eternity in our hearts. We’re designed to live in praise and worship of our great, good creator. Worship is built into us.
    • Also, Satan will throw many, many counterfeit religions to suit all tastes to prevent you from seeing the needle in the haystack, the one true narrow door.

Many will try to enter, but the homeowner will shut the door. Once all his allocated guests are in, he will exclude all others. You’ll knock, kick and scream, and Jesus will shut you out.

There will be many people who actually think they’re Christians who are locked out of heaven by Jesus.

Read Luke 13:26-27.

  • “Evildoers”? Even people who have done so much in charity and kindness and love?
  • Satan masquerades as an angel of light. He will lead you to do lovely things for others – all the while keeping you from knowing Christ today.
    • That is evil.
    • And even good deeds done in a way that keep lost people from Christ are, in the end, evil.

Why such strong language? Because hell is real and awful.

Saved by association?

Read Luke 13:28.

Why does he mention Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?

  • Remember Jesus was a Jew, speaking to Jews.
  • They would know their genealogies, stretching back generation after generation.
    • They could trace their ancestry to Jacob (Israel), and to his father Isaac, and his father Abraham
    • That, the Jews believed, was enough. “We have Abraham as our father” they said, making them part of God’s chosen people destined for heaven.
  • So what Jesus is saying is shocking: “Even though you’re a descendant of Abraham, you may still be locked out of heaven – to hell, forever excluded.”

In fact, there will be plenty of people not descended from Abraham who will be welcomed in!

Read Luke 13:29-30.

Truth known too late

J C Ryle says that “Hell itself is nothing but truth known too late.”

  • It’s too late in hell to realise that your life did not consist in the abundance of your possessions.
  • It’s too late in hell to realise that you were kidding yourself with a bit of external religion.
  • How awful to realise it’s too late in hell to realise that you thought you’d be ok because of some association with others – family, culture, or a church background.
  • It’s too late in hell to realise that you’ve been conned by false religion, false teachers, false hopes.
  • Hell is truth known too late. Weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Jesus has brought all this to mind so that you will “share the banquet in the kingdom of God” (v29).

  • We’re told in 1 Timothy 2 that God wants everyone everywhere to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
  • What Jesus is doing here is a great kindness: It’s all an explanation to you so that you will make sure you’re at the feast.

Read Luke 13:24 again.

Strive to enter. Struggle and wrestle to enter. Make every effort. How? What must you do to be saved?

Make every effort

  1. Determine to know the truth.
    1. Don’t settle for charlatans and liars. No counterfeit Christs or false hopes.
    2. God’s word is truth. Believe God. He is truth.
    3. Read Jesus’ own promises and trust him only.
  2. Repent of the sin that would keep you out of the feast.
    1. Be clear on that: Jesus will shut you out because of your sin. The sins you have chosen to do. It’s on you.
  3. Turn to Christ for forgiveness.
    1. This is the utter beauty of the gospel, the good news.
    2. So many religions will give you a list of rules to follow in the hope that you might be good enough for heaven.
    3. Jesus says, “Come to me and I will give you rest for your soul.” 
    4. He alone can say to you, “Your sins are forgiven.”
  4. Enter the kingdom ‘now’. It will be too late ‘then’.
    1. Remember what he said to those shut outside? “I don’t know you.” 
    2. You come to Christ now. He is the living Son of God, who has died to take the punishment our sins deserve and who waits for you to come to him.
    3. Today is the day of salvation.
    4. Don’t put it off a moment longer. He invites you. He commands you: Repent.
  5. Having done that, you live that kingdom life ‘now’.
    1. You live with Christ as your king today and every day.
    2. In fellowship with him, nourished by his grace and strength.
    3. You live ready for his return (eager for him, reconciled to God).
    4. You have no need to keep going back and wondering if you went through the right door: Jesus is the door, and you enter his feast and presence by coming to him.
    5. Remain in him; he will remain in you forever.

Do it now

If you have never come to him in repentance and faith, do it now. Strive, struggle, make every effort. 

Your eternity will be a feast of joy with Christ forever, or an everlasting agony of fully-informed regret.

Now: Christ knew all this and he set his face toward Jerusalem to bring salvation to you. How, then, did he feel about the lost?

Mourn for lost souls (31-35)

Read Luke 13:31.

He’s nowhere near Jerusalem at this point. Herod’s jurisdiction was up north near Galilee; Pilate was the Roman governor in Jerusalem. Why were the Pharisees warning Jesus?

  • Possibly as a genuine concern.
  • Or they might have just wanted Jesus out of their area (after all, he was humiliating them with his teaching).

Jesus would absolutely carry on his journey, but he won’t be hurried by Herod or anyone else: Read Luke 13:32.

Essentially the message is, “I’m going, but I’m on my own timeline, not Herod’s.” And, in fact, it is his own mission that drives him to Jerusalem: Read Luke 13:33.

  • Obviously, there were prophets who perished outside Jerusalem – so what does he mean?
  • Jerusalem was the heart of Israel, where the king’s palace and the Lord’s temple were. 
  • As long as the nation observed the covenant God had made, he would bless them.
  • But in Matt 15:8, Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13 This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.

Jerusalem lost

Instead of being the peak and home of Israel’s living relationship with God, it had become an empty shell. Outward religion and law-keeping had trumped love, compassion, and care. So Jesus’ approach to Jerusalem was bitter-sweet.

  • On the one hand he would give up his life there to save you.
  • On the other hand, the fact of the crucifixion confirmed the utter sinfulness of the nation God had blessed.
  • They had abandoned God, and he had abandoned them.
  • It was time for a new covenant.

Read Luke 13:34-35.

  • Jesus’ own disciples who travelled south with him would sing “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” on Palm Sunday.
  • But the inhabitants of Jerusalem would execute him a few days later.
  • When will they sing “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”?
    • When he returns in judgment to the earth.
    • When every eye shall see him and every knee bend to him, confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord.
    • Hell is a place of truth known too late.

But look at how Jesus feels about it. It’s a deep sadness.

God delights in the death of no-one

Ezekiel 33:11

‘As I live—this is the declaration of the Lord God—I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked person should turn from his way and live. Repent, repent of your evil ways! Why will you die, house of Israel?

The justice of God demands your sins be punished. The grace of God has come to take the punishment in your place. So why will you die for your sins?

  • You will, if you prefer to cling to this world and its trinkets rather than humble yourself before God.
  • You’ll die for your sins if you refuse to repent of them, refuse to ask God for forgiveness, refuse to acknowledge God’s right to judge.

So Jesus, Son of God says to you, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.”

  • Repent of your sin; cry out for forgiveness.
  • Submit to Christ as Lord of your life. 
  • Live for him and in him, and feast in his presence forever.

There’s no glee in Christ’s words. No triumphalism. Just urgency and sadness.

  • His people are to share those emotions with him.
  • Knowing the seriousness of sin, and the greatness of the gospel, and the narrowness of the door – you’re to mourn.
  • Feel the weight of the plight of the people you love.
  • Ponder them, outside knocking on the door.
  • Consider their horror and regret, truth known too late, appalled at you for knowing what you know but never really told them.

Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.

He is the narrow door.

Take the narrow door, and be sure to point others to it.