Luke 13:22-30 (NLT)
22 Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he went, always pressing on toward Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?”
He replied, 24 “The door to heaven is narrow. Work hard to get in, because many will try to enter, 25 but when the head of the house has locked the door, it will be too late. Then you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Lord, open the door for us!’ But he will reply, ‘I do not know you.’ 26 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. Go away, all you who do evil.’
28 “And there will be great weeping and gnashing of teeth, for you will see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets within the Kingdom of God, but you will be thrown out. 29 Then people will come from all over the world to take their places in the Kingdom of God. 30 And note this: Some who are despised now will be greatly honored then; and some who are greatly honored now will be despised then.”
I believe that one of the greatest powers human beings can ever possess is the power of choice. I should know. It is in college where I used this power quite extensively. I chose to take classes that started after 10 am only. I chose to take the minimum number of classes each quarter, graduating in five years instead of four. I chose to acquaint myself with the taste of alcohol when I was in college. I chose whether to attend class based on my given mood that day (more likely my laziness played a role in this). I even chose to grow my hair long in college for no reason at all.
Though my examples above are trivial at best, one thing is clear: the power to choose impacted my behavior in life. Can you now imagine why issues such as abortion are hot buttons? It all comes down to a person’s right to choose. This seduction for choice has even crept into the church today. Some churches conduct surveys to see what congregants want their pastors to preach on. As church leaders decide on the church budget, tense conflicts arise between the various ministries as they fight over a piece of the financial pie. The power of choice is such a fundamental value of a person’s life. We love to make our own individual decisions; we dread having somebody else make the decisions for us.
The end of a year with the inauguration of a new one is normally a time when choices become important in a person’s life. Many of us have been involved in making New Year’s resolutions. We promise to lose 20 pounds this new year. We make a pact to stop smoking and drinking. We choose to spend more time with our children instead of at work. Why do we involve ourselves with resolutions? The simple fact is we are not proud about how our lives have turned out this past year; in fact, we are ashamed of it. Hence, making resolutions gives us the power to turn things around. To choose to change gives us security that all will be better this upcoming new year.
This is also a good time to reevaluate our spiritual condition. As much as other areas of our lives are not pleasant to look at, our relationship with God must be our first priority to receive attention. And as in other cases, our choice whether to change or not will impact our roles in the kingdom of God.
This message will focus on one choice we all need to make, not just for the upcoming year, but for the rest of our existence. The choice is this: will you decide to follow God all the way? What this means is are you willing to sacrifice all of your heart’s desires and dreams and live for the very purpose of God? Will you choose to abide in God’s just ways or choose to walk in your own imperfect footsteps? Your decision will be a dangerous selection; whether you humbly submit everything to Jesus or you prefer to go your separate way, your life will never be the same again.
This is a choice you cannot avoid because God will hold you accountable to it. You cannot take your time pondering about this. God wants to transform your life now; thus, he is expecting your response now. If you are to wait towards the end of your life before choosing to follow God faithfully, you have already made your choice not to yield to him in the present.
Luke 13:22-30 gives us a proper perspective on choice. The story begins with Jesus passing through the different towns and villages on his way to Jerusalem, teaching the people all along the journey. Now a question is posed to Jesus: “Lord, will only a few be saved?”
What an interesting question! Of all the questions to ask Jesus, this person chooses to inquire about salvation. Now what was the prevailing thought of salvation during that time?
If you look at the classical literature salvation deals with being delivered from something that is threatening life. The hazard could be war (Homer, The Iliad 15, 290 f.), danger at sea (Lucian, Dialogi Deorum 26, 2), or even illness. But, salvation can also has a positive twist in the classics, sometimes designating a safe passage home. (Homer, The Iliad 9, 393)
The meaning of salvation as deliverance can similarly be found in the Old Testament. The saving act could come from human initiative, as in David and Israel saving the people of Keilah from the Philistines. (1 Samuel 23:5) The king of Israel is seen as the deliverer of salvation to his people. (Hosea 13:10) Of course, ultimately, it is God who is behind these human saving acts. Putting one’s trust in mortal humans is not wise; but, blessed is the one whose hope is in God alone. (Psalm 146:3, 5)
It is interesting that the Old Testament also warns about turning to worldly things for safety, whether it is a human army (Psalm 33:16-17), wealth (Job 20:20), or even trusting one’s own wisdom. (Proverbs 28:26) Only those who cling to God will be saved. (Joel 2:32)
It is therefore very clear from the examples above that salvation imparts the notion of freedom and deliverance from a treacherous situation. Life is valued and every act of rescue must be used to save a life in danger. This is the context we need to grasp in our text: the question posed to Jesus is uplifting the worth of life. Here is our first principle:
1. Choose to understand the significance of your life. (verse 23)
Your life is very precious to Jesus. He cares about the most intimate details of your existence. And while Jesus is concerned about your financial difficulties, relationship problems, etc., he is ultimately concerned about your spiritual reality. The person who asked the question in the story understood that Jesus’ teaching emphasized the spiritual connection between God and human. The person could have asked countless other questions, but he chose to focus on what counts the most – an individual’s relationship with the Creator of life.
You are very important to God, and God does not want to lose you. He values you so much and wants your life to have meaning and purpose. But, the only way we can have true meaning is to have a personal relationship with God through Jesus. God is in the business of saving lives, and he does this by sacrificing his only son, Jesus, on the cross so that we may have the opportunity to be reconciled back to God.
Note that God made this sacrifice for you! If you were insignificant do you think God would waste his time on you? That is how precious and beloved you are to God. Amongst the craziness and busyness of life, God sees you; God knows you; and, God wants you. Do not just ask, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” Make it personal: “God, do you want to save me?” You will be pleasantly surprised at his response.
Jesus’ reply to the question is interesting as well. Because the door to heaven is narrow, people would need to work hard to enter since many will try to go through such a limited path. But, the head of the house will lock the door someday, and when he does, many will be left outside of heaven.
It is obvious that Jesus is speaking about eternal life with God. As stated above under the first principle, God values your life and wants to offer you eternal life through Jesus. Our submissive response to God is the “door to heaven” that Jesus is describing. When we offer our lives to God through Jesus Christ, we have now entered through the door to heaven.
But, not all people will respond to God in this manner. Many will choose to live for their own selfish desires and wants, rather than living for God’s purpose. Yet, all want to enter heaven. Can you now imagine why the door to heaven is narrow? If we choose ourselves rather than choosing God, we will be left outside of God’s kingdom. Here is the second principle:
2. Choose to make every effort for God. (verses 24-25)
Entering heaven and spending eternity with God is a simple concept but really not that easy to attain. For you to choose this path you must decide to give your life to God and follow his ways all the days of your life. You cannot experience true life in Jesus with your self-centered wants. Jesus is all that matters now and his purpose becomes the only calling for your life. You either make every effort to follow God’s decrees, or, you continue to go after the desires of your heart. But, do not fool yourself to think that you can enter heaven without a personal relationship with God. Like Jesus said, many will try to enter, but God, the head of the house, will prevent those who have strayed away from him from entering heaven. At this point, everything will be too late.
The ironic thing about this image of the narrow door is that all of us assume we have an invitation to enter heaven. We presume God will grant all of us access into his kingdom. But, this is surely not the case. God, the head of the house, will determine who gets in and who stays out. Our assumption alone will not get us in. God will make the judgment based upon whether or not we have completely submitted our lives to Jesus. He will examine whether we have made every effort to carry out his purpose here on earth. Have we shared the love of Jesus to others? Have we been merciful to those less fortunate than ourselves? Have we forgiven those who have hurt us? Have we sacrificially offered our whole life up to the Lord?
We are entering a new year that can very well make us into a new creature in Christ. But, it will demand a choice from us. Will we make every effort for God, or, will we make every effort for ourselves? Will we choose to work hard in fulfilling God’s will, or, will we choose to work hard to satisfy our selfish motives? Again, you have a choice to make and you will be responsible for any decision you declare. But, remember three phrases from verses 24-25: “narrow”; “locked the door”; and, “it will be too late.” Consequences will be laid out in any choices you make. For those who think there is still time to correct their mistakes and make amends for their sins, keep in mind that it is God who decides the timing, not you. He is the one who will lock the door to heaven; it is he who will determine when it is too late for us. Do not take the chance of waiting. Make your decision now: choose to make every and all effort for God alone.
After we read about God locking the entrance to heaven, there will be people standing outside who are imploring God to let them in. They will be begging God to open the door for them. They will justify their lives by stating that they in fact spent time with Jesus eating and drinking with him. But, no matter what reasoning they use, God still offers the same response: he does not know these people. Because he does not know them, they will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
But, God does know these people: he knows that they are people who do evil. Heaven is not the place for evil people. Eternal life is not given to those who purposefully do not live according to God’s ways. Salvation is not offered to those who desire worldly falsehoods rather than spiritual truths found only in Jesus. This brings us to our third principle:
3. Choose to have an authentic relationship with God. (verses 25-27)
Do not just choose any kind of relationship with God. Choose a relationship that is permanent, committed, constant, sincere. Choose a personal authentic relationship with God! Choose to follow God with a devoted lifestyle. Embrace his calling and purpose. Do what he commands you to do.
Do not be spiritually superficial. We can easily justify ourselves by saying that we go to church regularly; we go to care group often; we attend all the prayer gatherings. But there is no spiritual depth at all; all we are doing is participating, but no personal transformation is taking place. Aren’t we like those people in the story who will claim that we ate and drank with Jesus, and hence, we should be allowed to go the heaven? But, God’s response will be the same: “I don’t know you. Go away all you who do evil.”
To choose that one thing means to choose God. But, it is not to choose God out of convenience sake. Some of us may get married so that we can have double income. Some of us might be in a relationship so that we can look good in front of people. Some of us might develop friendships because of a popularity contest.
We cannot approach God with this kind of mentality. God sees through our shallow nature. To choose God means cultivating a relationship with him in humility. It means genuinely recognizing our need for God; without him we are of no worth or value. Choosing God means approaching him in authenticity, distinguishing him as Lord over our lives, and submitting in faith and action under his perfect will. Anything less will not do.
Our passage ends with a stern declaration. The environment of those who are left outside of God’s kingdom will be one of weeping and lamentation. The gnashing or clenching of teeth signifies the sadness and pain of not experiencing salvation with God in heaven. Whereas people from all corners of the earth, as well as the faithful followers of old, enter God’s house without reservation, those who are not obedient to the Lord will not find eternal peace at all. Instead, they now belong in the eternal damnation known as hell.
Here is the final principle:
4. Choose to accept the consequences of your decisions. (verses 28-30)
All choices have consequences. If you choose not to maintain your car, your automobile will break down. If you choose to forget your wedding anniversary, your spouse will let you know his or her displeasure. If you choose to be late at work everyday, your company will let you go.
Let us not be surprised that this same principle also applies in our relationship with God. If we do not choose God, several consequences take place. First, we will be shut out from eternally living with God. Second, God will not know us. Third, we are considered evildoers in the eyes of God. Fourth, we will end up in a place of eternal torment and pain.
Remember that this text is meant to focus on life, not just the physical, but ultimately, the spiritual. “Lord, will only a few be saved?” is meant to stir you, the reader of the story, to seriously question the true significance of your own life. Will you be the one who will crave great honor now in your lifetime? Will you strive for all of the selfish acclaim that this world can offer you? Will you push Jesus aside in favor of the pursuit of riches, careers, and human dreams? Remember, those who are greatly honored now will be despised then.
But, Jesus says that those who are despised now will be honored in the kingdom of God. People who choose to surrender their whole lives over to God now will find true tribute in heaven. Those who choose to live according to God’s ways instead of human’s ways will receive eternal salvation. Those who choose to make every effort for God will be escorted into the house of the Lord.
As we approach this new year we have a great opportunity to make eternal-lasting, life-changing choices. Do not make selections that focus only on the temporary worth of life. Remember the question in the story is centered upon salvation not based on life here on earth, but on life after our human existence. Your decisions and how you act upon those very decisions will determine whether you will be invited into an eternal relationship with God or not.
Will you choose that one thing that will forever change your life? Will you choose the God of the heavens who truly cares about your life? Will you choose the Lord over all the earth by submitting everything to him in humility? Will you choose to follow Jesus this day? The choice is up to you.
© Arthur Hsu (2003)