Christianity is something that is often portrayed as an easy thing to participate in and belong to. Just simply believe and you are a Christian. Or just be a good person and you are with the Lord. Further, the religious world accepts the idea that there are many paths that lead to God. People will say that there are all sorts of ways to find God. They say people can reach God through Jesus, through Mohammed, through Joseph Smith, through Zen, through the various eastern religions, through Judaism, and so forth. Is this true? Is it easy to be in a relationship with God? Is it just a matter of saying a prayer or wanting to be with God?
As Jesus is passing through the various towns and villages preaching, someone asks him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Before we read Jesus’ response we should consider what nature of Jesus’ preaching that would cause someone in his audience to ask this question. This question implies that Jesus was not teaching that coming into the kingdom of God was something easy. If all that Jesus is teaching is mere confession or prayer, then this question does not make any sense. However, Jesus must be teaching about the difficult nature of coming into his kingdom which would lead someone to ask this question. Let’s look at how Jesus answers this direct question: Will few be saved?
Strenuous Effort Required (13:24-25)
Jesus answers with three images to show the nature of entrance into his kingdom. The first word Jesus says is “strive.” The NIV and HCSB read, “Make every effort.” The NLT reads, “Work hard” and the NET reads, “Exert every effort.” These translations capture the idea of the Greek word. The BDAG lexicon says this Greek word means, “To fight, struggle” and of this verse, “Strain every nerve to enter.” With this, Jesus says to strive to enter through the narrow door. We cannot just easily stroll through this door to enter his kingdom and receive salvation. Entering the kingdom for salvation requires strength of will and a struggle to follow Jesus on the path of discipleship. The reason the door is narrow is not to keep us out, but to cause us to recognize that most will not accept his terms. Finding salvation requires more concentrated effort than most people are willing to put forth. Jesus does not say that being his disciple and entering into his kingdom is easy. The door to enter to receive salvation is narrow. The door to dwell in his kingdom is narrow. Exerting every effort is required of us. There is nothing passive on our end.
The third image is that many will seek to enter but will not be able to enter. Verse 25 contains a short parable of the master of the house shutting the door and being unable to enter. Wanting to enter is not enough. Earnest effort is required. Entry occurs on God’s terms, not ours. Further, there is not automatic entry. The striving that Jesus speaks of is not a metaphor for baptism. Jesus is not saying that you must strive to be baptized and then you are in the kingdom. This is a constant striving. This is not a point in time when you believed in Jesus, repented of your sins, confessed him as the Son of God, and then was baptized. Those who enter through the narrow door continually exert every effort to enter. Notice that these people want to enter. Jesus says that they will seek to enter. In the parable the people are knocking on the door and asking for the Lord to open the door. Just because we want in the kingdom does not mean we are in the kingdom.
Proximity Is Not Enough (13:26-27)
The master of the house says that he does not know where these people who are knocking on the door came from. The point is that you do not belong in this kingdom. The master does not know who you are or where you are from. You have no relationship with the master that he would open the door. Now the people think they do have a relationship with the master. Notice their response: “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.” They are saying that they know him. We ate with you and drank with you. You came to our city and taught in our streets. Yet the master repeats the same words. “I do not know where you come from.” We do not have a relationship. You may have heard of me and you may think you know me, but I do not know you.
These words will surely sound familiar on the day of judgment. We sat in your pews. We heard your word. We went to church. But you did not go through the door. You may think you have a relationship with him, but proximity to Jesus is not enough. It is not enough to say you went to church. It is not enough to say you spent some time with Jesus. Jesus is not looking for a casual relationship. He does not know what that is. People who are in his kingdom are those who are striving to enter through the narrow door. The master continues, “Depart from me, all you workers of evil!” There are only two camps. Either we are working to enter through the narrow door or we are working in evil. Jesus does not offer a third choice. You are either working for him or you are working for yourself, which means you are working for Satan.
Eternal punishment is not being in the eternal kingdom of God. There is no other alternative. Either we are in the eternal kingdom of God or we are choosing eternal punishment. Listen to the description that Jesus gives of hell, this eternal punishment, in verse 28. “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This is a common description that Jesus gives of hell. The point is that this is not a place you want to go. Notice in this text that the anguish comes from knowing on what you are missing out on. You will see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you are cast out. The exchange is not worth it.
You do not have to strive for the kingdom of God. You do not have to make every effort and exert yourself to enter the kingdom of God. But understand that you will be cast out to the place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Friends, this is not a good trade. Living for yourself now for 80 years so that you can live in punishment for eternity is not a good exchange. The giving of ourselves to enter the kingdom of God is worth it. Verse 29 describes people coming from the east and the west. All peoples have the opportunity to receive salvation and enter the kingdom of God. Make every effort to enter and you will be one of these who are at reclining at the banquet in the kingdom of God. Consider the contrast: weeping and gnashing of teeth or reclining at the table for a banquet. The choice is clear. Yet too often we are unwilling to make the sacrifice and dedicate ourselves to making every effort so that we can belong to that great feast.
Verse 30 is a surprising teaching by Jesus to this Jewish audience. Many of the Jews in the first century were rejecting his message. These that Jesus had come to save are rejecting the salvation message, refusing to enter the kingdom for salvation. These are the “first” but they will be last. That is, the message of salvation and the kingdom first came to them, but they will not enter because of their refusal to strive to enter. The “last” are the Gentiles who receive the message of salvation and the kingdom last of all, but they will strive to enter. They will participate in the feast of the Messiah. Those who seem close to the kingdom can be very far away and those who seem far away from the kingdom may be closer to entering than you think. The Jews would have thought they were all in the kingdom and the Gentiles were not. However, Jesus says the Gentiles are going to enter while the Jews will not.
Funerals are a sad occasion. They are sad because so many are comforted by false hope. Someone stands up and preaches about how this person has gone to heaven even when the person gave absolutely no effort or care for the kingdom of God. Foolish things are said at these funerals like, “The person has gone to a better place.” Most have not gone to a better place. The door is narrow. If they did not strive to enter through the narrow door, they do not inherit eternal life simply because they died. Friends, we are not entering through to salvation if we are not making every effort.
The words against Jerusalem in verse 34 are true words for us today. Jesus is trying to bring you into his kingdom. He came to bring us the hope of restoration. He established his kingdom and offers salvation from our sins. Yet we refuse to be gathered into our Lord. We do not want to give the effort. We are unwilling to trade the giving of our physical life to gain eternal life. Knowing about God is not enough. Sitting in pews is not enough. Being baptized is not enough. Believing in Jesus is not enough. Strive to enter through narrow door. Few will be saved. Many will not accept Jesus’ terms. Be saved and enter through the door.