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Luke 13:22-30 1

22 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “LORD, are only a few people going to be saved?” He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ “But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ 26 “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’ 28 “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.”

Background

This lesson falls on World Communion Sunday. Around the globe, Christians have chosen this day to gather around common prayers, shared music and the communion table. Although Christians are scattered, we can all gather around the communion table, to renew  our commitment as a global church, as a worldwide body of Christ. Our Our Gospel lesson for this day is from Luke. It is preceded by the Parable of the Mustard Seed (vv. 18-19) and the Parable of the Yeast (vv. 20-21). Both of those parables compare the kingdom of God to a seemingly insignificant substance (a tiny seed and a bit of yeast) that turns out to have great power. The tiny seed grows into a tree, “and the birds of the sky lodged in its branches” (v. 19), and a pinch of yeast leavens three measures of flour (v. 21). These parables provide the lead-in to the principle question we look at in our study, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” 

Luke is reminding us that Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, where He will die. He has been on this journey since  v. 9:51 and will continue on it until his Triumphal Entry ( v. 19:28). We are not told who asks Jesus the question, nor is it clear exactly what the person is asking about God’s kingdom. We can only assume that the person asking the question has come concerns: Is it small? Is there enough room for me? Jesus responds by telling them who will be saved through the use of two metaphors using the examples of doors. In the first one (v. 24), the door (to the kingdom or to salvation) is narrow, but allows admittance—at least to those who are spiritually fit. In the second one (v. 25), the door is shut. These are not mutually exclusive metaphors, because a narrow door is to be open for a period of time and then to be shut. The metaphors work together for our message.

However, the two different images—narrow and shut—require us to be careful. Luke uses the words “Make every effort” (agonizesthe) to enter in by the narrow door” (v. 24).  We find elsewhere in the New testament, the Apostle Paul using this same word, agonizesthe, to speak of athletic competition (1 Cor. 9:25), training intensively in Godliness (1 Tim. 4:10), and fighting the good fight (1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 4:7). While salvation itself is a gift of God, it is clear that God expects us to cherish it the same way an athlete cherishes their victor’s crown.  This suggests that we need the  discipline and determination of an athlete when pursuing the open and narrow door.

The door is narrow, and “many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. ” (v. 24). Those  who are spiritually undisciplined cannot expect to make it through the narrow door. To the Jewish audience hearing this story, it would appear to fit with their idea that they have been chosen by God. The door is not for every human on earth but for God’s chosen people. The surprise in Jesus’ reply is not that getting in may be limited, but who gains entry”. In Matt. 7:13-14, Jesus contrasts the narrow gate that leads to life with a wide gate and easy road that lead to destruction. Like physical conditioning, spiritual conditioning requires discipline, and many people are unwilling to work hard enough to go through this door.

With all of our efforts on diversity and co-existence, many people believe that all roads lead to God if we just are loving and kind. There is today a general belief that all efforts to believe in God are equally valid and that it doesn’t matter what you believe in as long as you are sincere. Our Scripture verses, however, teaches something different. Society tempts us with  subtle sins against our God  along with a persuasive argument that our beliefs don’t matter all that much and there is no urgency to the spiritual life.  If we allow ourselves to become convinced that it’s easy to get through that door, to find salvation, we find ourselves on the gentle slope that leads downward to a disappointing conclusion. It is not up to mankind to define what God considers sinful. It is up to us to seek those answers from God through a disciplined life.

God gives us a period of time when we can prepare for His kingdom, then to be followed by a time of judgment. However, Jesus reminds us that once the door shuts, there is no longer room for preparation or negotiation.  Life is not predictable:

  • For some people, death will come suddenly and without warning. At that point, their eternal future will hinge on their spiritual disciplines and the relationship that they forged with Jesus during their lifetimes.
  • There is always the possibility of the Second Coming occurring during our lifetime. Best to be prepared.
  • But there is one last possibility that is less dramatic, but which can be equally conclusive. We are faced daily with temptation. How we respond depends on our spiritual conditioning at the time of our temptation. Often, a minor temptation starts a person down that slippery slope.  Our spiritual conditioning, our relationship with Jesus, is the safety net to avoid succumbing to such temptations. What are the temptations? Anything that pulls us away from a disciplined life with Jesus, anything.

“We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets“ (v. 26) is  just a reminder that Jesus demands more than regular church attendance, partaking of Communion and all of those Bible Studies that you have attended. The person who shared a table with Jesus and heard his teaching had been given every opportunity to become His disciple. In the prior chapter of Luke, Jesus warned, “To whomever much is given, of him will much be required; and to whom much was entrusted, of him more will be asked” (12:48). As we partake of the “soul food” on World Communion Sunday, everyone must ask themselves if they are truly a disciple of Christ?

Jesus is now speaking to the Jewish nation, especially to those who believe that because they are “sons of Abraham,” that they have nothing to worry about. Jesus says “and yourselves thrown outside” (v. 28). Jesus warns that some of them will find themselves on the outside looking in at great heavenly banquet. They will see the spiritual greats, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the prophets, but will not be able to sit at table or converse with them. That has to be even more difficult than never seeing them at all. To be so near and yet so far has to be heartbreaking,  Someone who had considered themselves to be a  shoo-in for salvation will instead find themselves on the outside looking in. Those who make it ( vv. 29-30), will enjoy full fellowship. Verse 29 is an obvious reference to Gentiles. In Luke’s sequel to this Gospel, the Acts of the Apostle, he will record the slow awakening of the church to God’s intent that Gentiles will also be given full admission to the church and entry through the narrow door (see particularly Acts 10).

Items for Discussion

  • What do you find the hardest part of being a disciple of Christ?
  • How would you describe disciplined discipleship?
  • Not all people who believe in God will have eternal life with God. Some will be separated from God forever. How do you feel about that?
  • What are the mistaken attitudes you personally have seen about how hard it is to enter “that door?”
  • What are the “slippery slope” temptations you can think of that are affecting our world today?
  • Why do you think that people who universally love Jesus and celebrate His life and resurrection through communion, can also be divided and hate each other?
  • How do you think God feels about someone who outwardly claims to be part of a religion, takes part in communion but has no regard for Jesus’s commandments to love one another and love them as we would love ourselves?
  • What does Jesus say that happens when you are a good disciple? Is that fair?
  • Why is celebrating communion good for the soul?
  • There are many variants to communion – all celebrate Christ – What parts of communion are the most meaningful to you?

Discussion Challenge

  • If you could, how would you change communion to be more special within the church?

Notes:

  1. NIV New International Version Translations
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