Strive to Enter Through the Narrow Door (Luke 13:22-30)
Rev. David French
It’s an interesting question: “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” (Luke 13:23). And Luke doesn’t imply any kind of trap, just a question from someone who really wanted to know what Jesus taught about who will be saved.
Really the question is about the confidence any of us can have about our salvation. [Jesus] answers, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Luke 13:23–24). Now the Greek root word for strive can also translated as “to fight.” It’s the word Paul uses when he says, “Fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:12). It implies an ongoing fight. Clearly, fighting against sin is not a momentary struggle, something you conquer and then move on. No, this struggle is something that lasts a lifetime.
Now, I don’t know about you, but if someone told me that I’m in for a lifetime struggle, the first thing I would want to know is how am I supposed to do that? But Jesus talks instead about the kind of struggling that doesn’t work. “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!’” (Luke 13:25–27).
And that is the horror of eternity. I mean, it’s only after it is too late … after the door is shut … that these poor souls realize their mistake. They are on the wrong side of the door. Instead of being inside celebrating at the eternal feast with the Master, they are outside. And the master, he doesn’t even recognize them.
They plead their before the master, “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets” (Luke 13:26). Apparently, they believe that sampling knowing of the master gave them the right to enter into the banquet. But in the end, their own words condemn them. They admit they heard Him teach at the table while they ate and drank with Him. They heard Him teach in the streets. They had every opportunity to be on the inside, but they rejected the master’s invitation. They were with Him and they heard Him, but they did not listen. And reality is, it’s only after it’s too late that the unbelievers will realize their eternal mistake.
And what was their mistake? They only looked at themselves. They thought the Master should open heaven’s door because they went through all the motions. They believed they had earned a place in heaven by their actions.
Jesus said, “Strive to enter through the narrow door” (Luke 13:24). But what does fight or struggle or strive to get in through that narrow door mean? What does that look like? The first thing we need to understand about this command is that we can’t do it. When Jesus tells you to “Strive to enter through the narrow door” (Luke 13:24), He is, in fact, asking you to do the impossible.
Think about the explanation to the third article of the Apostles’ Creed: I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. The truth is, when it comes to salvation, God does everything that needs to be done. You, a sinner, simply cannot, by your own reason or strength, strive to enter through the narrow door.
The striving that Jesus speaks of is the work that the Holy Spirit does within you when He calls you by the Gospel and creates saving faith in you. He works in you to produce repentance as you confess your sin and trust in Christ for forgiveness. And, with forgiveness comes salvation and eternal life.
The struggle is real because your sinful nature hates the work of the Holy Spirit in you. When the Holy Spirit works faith in you, you become a battleground in the war that the evil one wages against God. You join the apostle Paul as he mourns over his sin saying, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15). You live the life of repentance that Luther described in the first of his 95 theses: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent,’ he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” A life of resisting and repenting of our sin is the struggle that comes as the Holy Spirit moves you through the narrow door into eternal life.
Jesus said, “Strive to enter through the narrow door” (Luke 13:24). His words teach us that the door to eternal life is open. He Himself opened it when He kept His appointment with the cross. As He hung on that cross in agony for you, He opened the narrow door. The blood He shed forgives you all your sin. It gives you eternal life. It earns you a place to recline at table in the kingdom of God.
Christ’s resurrection is the promise that you too shall rise. He has preceded you in order to prepare your place as He promised when He said, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3). “You shall be among the people who will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29).
“Strive to enter through the narrow door.” It is open now, but the day is coming when, just as Christ rose to open the door, he will rise to close it. On this very day, the door will close for some as death takes them from this world to the next. Someday, it will close for you. Someday, it will close for me. Which side of the door will we be on?
Fortunately, the answer to that question does not depend on us. How blessed we are that Jesus Christ saved humanity in all times and in all places. How blessed we are that the Holy Spirit delivers that salvation through faith in Jesus Christ to humanity in all times and in all places. For as Christ’s saving work extends back in time to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets (Luke 13:28), it also extends forward to include all of us. For as God’s Word and His sacraments spread from Jerusalem to East and West, and North and South, so also people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God (Luke 13:29). That includes people who come from Illinois.
Thanks be to the Father who gives us the kingdom. Thanks be to Christ, who strove for us through the cross and past the grave, to open the door through which we enter the kingdom. Thanks be to the Holy Spirit who enlightens and sanctifies us so we can, with confidence, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.” Amen.