Third Lenten Midweek

The Narrow Door

Saint Luke 13:22-30

As we continue in our Lenten devotion of Facing the Cross, we consider yet another episode in the time of our Lord’s journeying through the valley of the shadow of death after “he set his face to go to Jerusalem,” and to His suffering, death, and resurrection. The evangelist Saint Luke tells us that someone in the course of this journey asks Jesus, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” We aren’t told who it is that asks this question, or what prompts the question’s asking, but presumably, as this person travels along with Jesus “on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem,” he is witness to the growing hostility and open opposition that the devil is directing against our Lord. Or perhaps this person is just now becoming aware of the general depravity that exists in the world around him. Being in the holy presence of Jesus, walking with Him, would certainly open the eyes of anyone to the sinful corruption that stands in contrast to Jesus.

But just how bad were things at that time? A little bit further down the road to Jerusalem, Jesus would state, “Just as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man.” In the days of Noah, before the Flood, “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” And so it is again, in this time before the cross; and so it continues to be and is now, for the “days of the Son of Man,” begun in Nazareth with the virgin betrothed to Joseph coming to be with Child, will continue until the Son of Man returns to judge the living and the dead. It’s like it was in the days of Noah, but with one important exception, namely, that God now holds back on the execution of His judgment; He exercises patience toward the people of this world, as Saint Peter says, “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” The day will come, however, when God closes the door of His patience, just as the door of the Ark was sealed shut, and those remaining on the outside in their sin and unbelief will know, to their eternal torment, God’s wrath over sin.

In answer to the question, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Jesus does not say either yes or no. Rather, He says, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” The narrow door of which Jesus speaks is, of course, the way of salvation. That’s easy enough to understand. But, “strive to enter”? Try your best, work real hard to be good enough? At face value, this is what Jesus seems to be saying, but from what we know—from what God tells us about ourselves, and about the standard of righteousness that He expects, giving it your best shot, will not be good enough.

This truth is what Jesus illustrates with the little story that He tells in our text. He says, “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.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’” The master in the story is, of course, God, and the day in which the master closes the door is Judgment Day. The master tells the one on the outside, the one who knocks at the door and asks to be let in, that he won’t, because he doesn’t know where the one knocking at the door comes from. That one is not of his household; that one is not family; that one does not, therefore, belong.

And that one, Jesus says is “you”—well, not you sitting here before me, but the one who asks Jesus the question, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” In His story, Jesus says to this person, you begin to stand outside and knock”you begin to say.” This one asking the question evidently figures that he’s among the saved because he isn’t like all those others who actively oppose Jesus and who live wickedly, with every intention of their hearts “being only evil continually.” But this individual, who is the “you” of our Lord’s story, is not how he thinks he is. He actually reminds me very much of a character from another story told by Jesus—the Pharisee who prayed in the temple, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” The fellow from our text this evening is a hypocrite just like the Pharisee, for he puts forth a pretence of righteousness that does not exist.

Now, something I’ve noticed as I’ve been working through the chapters of Saint Luke’s Gospel, that cover our Lord’s processing steadfastly toward Jerusalem and the cross, is an emphasis from Him against the sin of hypocrisy. Of course, Jesus takes aim at other sins, but hypocrisy seems to be lined up in His crosshairs quite a bit more than the others. And the reason for this, I believe, is the greater danger posed by this sin. Unlike other sins that are clear to see in oneself, the sin of hypocrisy can sneak up on a person, like a silent, stealthy assassin, to deliver death—with that person having no clue at all of the great danger that’s coming. Sinful pride, upon which hypocrisy comes, blinds you to what is actually going on in your life, so that you think more highly of yourself than you should—so that you don’t see the sin and unbelief in you as it begins to take over.

In the story that Jesus tells tonight, of the master who closes the door to his house, the ones shut out seem to have no idea why the master won’t let them in, and that’s because of their pride and hypocrisy. When the master tells them, “I do not know where you come from,” they answer him by saying, “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.” In other words, “How can you keep us out when we’re such good friends?” They point to the wonderful relationship that they truly think they’ve had with the master. But what they think makes for a good friend, evidently is not what the master thinks, for again he tells them, “I do not know where you come from.”

What is it that makes for having a good relationship with Jesus, dear friends—a right relationship with Him that will have Him open to you the narrow door to heaven and everlasting life? Is it eating and drinking in His presence—listening to Him as He teaches and preaches? No, that is, not if faith is not involved. If you come to His Table and eat and drink His true Body and Blood, but have no faith, it will do you no good at all. In fact, Saint Paul warns against partaking of the Sacrament without faith, saying that, to do so, will bring forth condemnation. And hearing the Word of God apart from faith is not really hearing it, is it? The scribes and Pharisees listened quite intently to all that Jesus said, but not with the ears of faith. They wanted to use what they heard against Jesus. Their sinful pride and hypocrisy kept the truth from working its good purpose.

Saint John writes that, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” This is the way of hypocrisy—the broad door of sin and unbelief that leads to “that place” where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The narrow door, on the other hand, leads to where people from “east and west, and from north and south,” will “recline at table in the kingdom of God”—where Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets will be. All who confess their sins and rely only upon Him who is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” will be in that place to which entrance is gained by the narrow door of faith in Christ.

“Strive,” therefore dear friends, “to enter through the narrow door,” for as the dear Lord Jesus also says, No one comes to the Father except through me.” In the name of Christ our Saviour and Redeemer, in whom you are forgiven and have life without end. Amen.