ESV Luke 13:22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
The Christian life is a journey that parallels Jesus’ journey to death and resurrection in Jerusalem. This theme is found in many parts of Scripture, such as Israel’s journey to the Promised Land and Paul’s race to the finish line. Paul knows that the path to be traversed with Jesus is a journey to death and resurrection. His goal is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the communion of his sufferings in order to be formed like him in his death so somehow he may attain the resurrection out from the dead. (Phil 3:10-11).
The Christian participates in Jesus’ death and resurrection through baptism and the Lord’s Supper. We are part of God’s new creation in the world and Luke’s journey narrative instructs us how today we too participate in Jesus’ kingdom in anticipation of his kingdom fully come.
Jesus was talking about the kingdom of God and salvation when someone asked him, “Lord, will those who are being saved be few?” So Jesus begins to discuss salvation and entering the kingdom of God.
We first notice the question uses the present participle of the world save: those who are being saved. Salvation is not a once and for all deal. It is not at some specific point in history done and over with. It is ongoing, continuous, a life-long process. We are being saved. It began at our baptism and it will be finished at the resurrection of the dead. Therefore, we continually receive the Sacrament and hear and learn the Word. We continually pray, “Lord have mercy,” and ask that he preserve us in the faith until the day he calls us home.
Jesus answers: “Struggle to enter by the narrow door, for many will seek to enter and not be able to.” But the imperative struggle is in the second person. “You struggle.” The question was framed in the third person as if a hypothetical question. But Jesus does not leave it a mere hypothetical. Jesus will not let us examine others without examining ourselves first, so he responds with direct warnings in the second person: “You struggle…” This puts us in the position of having to consider our own standing in relation to the kingdom of God. We are forced to ask the question, “Am I one of the few who are being saved?”
The Jesus in our text is not a tolerant, inclusive, politically correct Jesus. He is not saying that if you’re a nice person you will be saved. He does not say God is a loving, tolerant God who will overlook what you do and would not punish anyone. He does not say that there are many paths to God, and many doors that all lead to the same place. That is what the world wants to hear today, and what many people believe. Jesus says there is only one door, and moreover, it is a narrow door. Few will enter, and once the door is closed those standing outside will forever remain outside. The narrow door is Jesus. There is no other door into the kingdom of God, no other way to come to the Father but by Jesus. John 14:6.
Jesus begins with an imperative: struggle to enter in through the narrow door. The command to struggle does not mean that moral effort is necessary in order to enter, nor that entrance is gained by exercising human responsibility. Rather the struggle through which one enters is repentance from sin. The struggle is produced when the word of God calls one to repent and trust in Christ, but sinful human nature wars against God’s word. The struggle is resolved as the old Adam is put to death by the law and the person of faith is raised to new life with Christ by the power of the gospel. St. Paul offers us a window into this inner struggle in Romans 7. “The good I wish to do I do not, and the bad I don’t want to do, this I do. I delight in the law of God in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind. Wretched man that I am!” “Those who live according to the flesh, set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put off the things of the flesh, you will live.” Rom 7-8. This ongoing lifelong struggle characterizes the lives of all who are believers in Christ. The Christian life is a continual struggle against sin in our flesh. If there is no struggle against sin, then you are no longer a Christian.
Entrance through the narrow door is gained by those who repent and see in Jesus the Lord of the eschatological banquet, for Jesus is the door that opens up into the house in which the end-time feast is about to be celebrated. The struggle is repentance; the fight against sin in your own life.
Therefore the answer to the original question is “Yes, few indeed.” But the hearer need not despair. Luke in his writings provides us many examples of those who pass through the door by grace. One of the clearest examples is when the crowds asked, “What should we do?” The answer given is that baptism in the name of Jesus provides all that is necessary for entrance. Acts 2:37-39. These people also remained steadfast in the apostle’s doctrine, in the fellowship, in the breaking of the bread and in prayer. Acts 2:42. The regular reception of the Lord’s supper anticipates the end-time feast in our text.
The focus is now on the one, final door that is the goal of the Christian life. Soon to come is the moment when the door is closed and the opportunity for entrance is over. Many will seek to enter and not be able. The many who try and fail are contrasted to the few who will be saved. The time is near when the master of the house will rise to close the door. Jesus is the master of the house. He is the one who ate and drank with them and taught in their streets.
On that day many will stand outside and knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us.” But he will answer, “I do not know from whence you come.” In their culture, when you meet a stranger, you first determined where he was from, what tribe, what family. This would identify him to you. In this case, saying “I do not know where you are from,” is equivalent to saying, “I do not know you.” This warning focuses on the future experience of those who are standing out-side when the door has been shut. The baptism of John and the preaching of the kingdom by Jesus had provided them with a narrow but opened door. Because they refused to repent and recognize Jesus as the master of the banquet, they now stand on the outside. He denies that he knows them even as they have failed to confess him. Once the door is shut He will not open to them, for the time of patient forbearance, of preaching and catechesis is now over. Will you be one of those standing outside the door?
Then they will begin to say, “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.” Notice these were not pagan, non-churched, immoral people. These were not atheists, agnostics, people who had rejected Jesus and the gospel. These were church members, people who had eaten and drunk at the banquet of the Lord prepared every Sunday at the altar. Even some who partake of the Lord’s Super may do so to their own condemnation, because they do not recognize the body and blood of the Lord for unrepentance or lack of faith. These were people who sat in the pews and heard him preach and teach. These were people who thought that once they were Confirmed and grew up in the church that it was all over and done, that they were finished being saved. These were the one who stood at the front of the church praying, “Lord, I thank you that I fast twice a week and give my tithes, and that I am not like those other sinners.” But Jesus says, “I do not know you.” After Jesus’ ascension, the preaching, teaching, and table fellowship of Jesus continues in the worship life of the church. Jesus is still present to teach. But for those who now ignore this open door it will be too late to enter when the final feast arrives at the Son of man’s return. Here Jesus reiterates that they had no true communion with him during this life. To such as these, Jesus will command, “depart from me all you workers of unrighteousness.” They did not discern the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ, even while sitting in the pews on Sunday mornings. Do not be one of those who stand outside the door, peering in through the window, watching as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the prophets, sit at the banquet table to dine in the kingdom of God.
On the other hand, the feast will be a time of joy to those who repent of their sins because of the consummation of the kingdom. This feast is also a time of joy because it includes even gentiles from north and south and east and west. It will include the outcasts of Israel, the poor, the disabled, the lame, and the blind. Those who are considered the least and the last. Those of us who suffer and struggle. Those of us who are caught in the ongoing battle against temptation and sin. Those who are weak and stumble along the path but who repent of their sin and trust in Jesus. These are the last. Not the high and mighty. Not the rulers and those in charge. They are the first. But at the banquet feast will be people like you and me, the last, the least of all, the lowly. Those who struggle with sin and repent. Those who look only to Jesus for forgiveness and life.
This is the great reversal motif where the last will be first and the first will be last. To human eyes, the rich, the powerful, the luminaries in the church appear to be the most fit for the kingdom. The unfit appear to be the unclean gentiles, the outcast Jews, the poor, the weak, the humble, the sick, the elderly, the cripple. But it is these who repent of their sin and have faith in Jesus Christ who will sit at the banquet table in the kingdom, while the proud, the strong, the ones who have it all together will be shut outside when they seek a seat at the final banquet, because Jesus does not know them.
Yes, God’s ultimate hospitality will be shown when Jesus is rejected on the cross in order to open the eschatological banquet door to all humanity. In Jerusalem God’s firstborn shall be last and God’s exalted one shall be humbled. Who are the last? First and foremost, Jesus is the last. He made himself the last so that he could make us the first. He was shut out for us when he cried out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But three days later, came the great reversal. The door of the tomb was opened and Jesus came out alive so that all of us who are the least and the last, we who were dead in our sins, who struggle against sin and who repent with faith that we are forgiven, shall be raised up at the resurrection and through Jesus, who is the door, and we shall enter into the banquet in the kingdom of God.
Now, we who are baptized believers, have one great concern, and that is for the many who will be outside knocking at the door. Many of those who today sit in churches, many of your friends, relatives and family members are among those many. The day is near when the door will be shut. The time is short to show those people the Christ. Now is the time to be busy inviting them to come to Jesus, to hear his word, to repent of their sins and trust in forgiveness. For soon the door will be shut and it will be too late. Now is not the time to be turned inward on ourselves. Now is not the time to focus on our own self interests. Now is the time to take the gospel into the streets and homes of our neighbors and bring them to hear and see Christ and his forgiveness and salvation, for only by our witness will they come from the north and south, and from east and west to dine at the banquet feast in heaven.