The Lord's Day Morning
October 31, 2010
“The Narrow Door”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
The Lord is our rock and shield and deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge; He is our shield and the horn of our salvation and stronghold; we call upon the Lord and He saves us. In our distress we call upon the Lord, we cry to God for help and He hears our voice out of His temple and our cries for help come up to Him before His ears. He rescues us because of His delight. Let us worship Him.
If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Luke chapter 13 as we continue our way through the gospel of Luke. We’re going to be looking especially at verses 22 to 30. And as you’re turning there, let me ask you to allow your eyes to look back to the beginning of Luke chapter 13. One of the things that we said when we got to Luke 13 was that the subject of repentance would return repeatedly to view as we made our way through this passage.
And the passage, if you look at Luke 13:1-9, begins with an emphasis on repentance. Jesus is speaking in the midst of a multitude and someone gives a report about these Galilean Jews who had come down to Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice at the temple and who had been killed by Pilate. And either someone makes a report of this and asks Jesus to comment on it, or someone asks Jesus a question about it and wants Him to comment on it – Jesus’ response to them is to address them about repentance. You see it in verse 3 and 5 in that passage. They ask Him, “Lord, what about these Galileans? Were they exceedingly wicked and is that why God judged them through Pilate when they came down and hypocritically engaged in offering temple sacrifice?” And Jesus completely ignores that question and zeros in on the question of repentance.
Well, He's back to that again. You’ll notice another question is asked in the passage that we're going to look at today in verse 23. And Jesus’ response to that question is to direct our attention again to the issue of repentance. He will also, in this passage, focus us on faith, on the judgment of God, and on the great reversal. There is a theme that runs throughout the gospel of Luke in which the kingdom of God turns things upside-down so that the last are first and the first are last. And this is one of those passages where Jesus says just that. And we’ll explore a little bit together about what that means, but it's very appropriate that we do so.
It's very appropriate that we would be looking at a passage on Reformation Sunday about repentance, and you’ll see why in just a few moments.
Let's pray before we read God's Word.
Lord, this is Your Word. We acknowledge that Your Word is powerful and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword. We acknowledge that we need Your Word just as much as or more than we need food because we do not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. We acknowledge, O Lord, that Your Word is not only inspired, it's profitable for reproof and correction and training in righteousness and it equips the man or woman of God to be able to live the Christian life, to do every good work. And so we ask that by Your Spirit that You would do those things through us even as we hear Your Word attentively. In Jesus' name, Amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it:
“He (that is Jesus) went on His way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to Him, ‘Lord, will those who are saved be few?’ And He said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 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.’ And he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from Me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast you. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.’”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth on all our hearts.
Four hundred and ninety three years ago today, an Augustinian monk and professor of theology, who still at that time considered himself a good Catholic, went to the church door, the castle church door in Wittenberg, which functioned somewhat like a public bulletin board, and he nailed a document of ninety-five theological statements or propositions that he wanted to debate publically. That Augustinian monk was Martin Luther, a master of sacred theology, a professor at the local theological faculty in Wittenberg. And little did he know that the posting of those ninety-five theological propositions was going to light a match to a smoldering fire that had been waiting to burst into greater flames for about two centuries in Europe because an enterprising printer — and the printing press that had been cultivated and developed just about forty years before this event and was just now coming into its own — an enterprising printer there in Wittenberg got a hold of a copy of those statements and he spread them all over town. And there was a general uproar.
Now you may be asking yourself, “Why would Luther have nailed these ninety-five statements to the church door in Wittenberg on Halloween?” I'm sure that some of you are asking that question. And it's actually a good question. Probably, one of the reasons that he nailed these things on the door on October 31 is All Saints Day was kind of like Easter is in the American church. You could pretty much bet that even the people who were irregular attenders were going to be there at church on that Sunday on All Saints Day.
But that still doesn't explain why he did it. The reason is, in the Catholic church calendar, November 1 was All Saints Day and the pope had declared that Catholics that made pilgrimages to special sites where holy relics were on display could pay a certain amount of money and receive from the pope an indulgence – a forgiveness of their sins for a certain period of time. And then the money that would be garnered for the pope from the sale of those indulgences would be sent back for the building of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. St. Peter's had been being built for a number of years and it required a lot of money and one of the ways that the papacy raised money for it was through the sale of these documents that announced that the bearers sins had been forgiven by the holy father in Rome.
Now there was a particularly effective indulgence seller in Wittenberg named Tetzel and his activities really vexed Luther's soul. Luther considered Tetzel kind of the way you consider charlatan television preachers that are always preying on people trying to get money to enrich themselves. Well, that's kind of how Luther viewed Tetzel. And what had happened was, the man who was the ruler over that region of Germany in which Luther lived and ministered, had a very large collection of, not just icons, but religious artifacts and various things that would draw people to come to pilgrimage, and Tetzel was selling indulgences and people would be granted full forgiveness of sins if they made a pilgrimage to see these various religious relics. And this gave Luther an opportunity to engage in a theological debate about whether all of this stuff was right to do or not and whether all of this stuff was Biblical or not. And as you might imagine, Luther thought that what was being done was not biblical.
And one thing that he especially saw was wrong with it was that it had a wrong understanding of what was involved in repentance. Underneath the indulgence system was this — that you could commit a sin and you could be forgiven of that sin by doing penance, by doing some sort of a ritual, ceremonial action — in this case it might involve giving money to the church, which would then be used for the building of the basilica back in Rome – but you could give money for the church and then the church could dispense to you forgiveness because of this act of penance that you had done, rather than stressing the very straightforward teaching of Scripture about repentance.
Instead of doing a ritual act of repentance in hopes of your sin being forgiven, why not repent of your sin instead?
And so it is interesting that the ninety-five theses that Luther nailed on the church door there in Wittenberg begin with the discussion of repentance. You might have guessed that they discussed justification by faith alone – but they didn't. They focused especially on repentance.
Let me share just a few of them. Here's the very first one. Luther begins the ninety-five theses with these words: “Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to life, the following propositions will be discussed at Wittenberg under the presidency of the Reverend Father Martin Luther, master of arts and of sacred theology, and lecturer in ordinary on the same at that place. Whereof he requests that those who are unable to be present and debate orally with us may do so by letter. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.” And then here are the first few of those theses:
“Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said, ‘do penance’” — now he quoted from the Latin vulgate that rendered that passage from Matthew 4 “do penance.” A better translation of it would be “repent” but in the Latin it's been rendered “do penance.” “When our Lord and Master said, ‘do penance,’ He meant that the whole life of believers should be repentance.”
Second — “This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance which is administered by priests. It does not mean only inward repentance. There is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work out into the mortification of the flesh. The penalty of sin, therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues, for this is true inward repentance and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven. The pope cannot remit any penalties other than those which he has imposed, either by his own authority or by that of the Canon. The pope cannot remit any guilt except by declaring that it has been forgiven by God and by assenting to God's forgiveness, though to be sure, he may grant forgiveness in cases reserved to his judgment. If his right to grant forgiveness in such cases were despised, the guilt would remain entirely unforgiven.”
And so as you can see, the first of these statements that he wanted to debate has to do with the subject of repentance. The main topic of the ninety-five theses is what the Bible has to say about repentance as opposed to the medieval practices of indulgences.
Now you see why that's such an appropriate passage for us to be studying on Reformation Day. If the Reformation began with a study of repentance, and historians look back to October 31 of 1517 as something of the impetus for the spread of the Protestant reformation all over Europe, if it began with a focus on the topic of repentance, that's exactly what Jesus is focusing our attention on here in Luke chapter 13.
I. Who will be saved?
He wants to talk to us about repentance and once again it begins with a question. Jesus is going through the villages and towns teaching, He's on His way to Jerusalem to die on our behalf for our sins, and someone, if you look at verse 23, asks Him a question — “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Now, I don't know who's asking the question and I don't know what spirit the question was asked in. It could have been a Pharisee and it could be the Pharisee was asking the question in this sort of spirit — “Lord, You know how zealous we Pharisees are for the Law. You know that we obey the Law with a scrupulosity that is matched by very few. Will there be few, like us, who are saved, whereas there are many like them, who are not like us, who will not be saved?” It could be that a Pharisee asked the question in that spirit. It could have been that the question was asked in an entirely different spirit. I don't know. But the question that was asked was, “Are there few that will be saved?” And Jesus’ response, just like in the beginning of the chapter when the question of the faith of the Galileans who had been slaughtered was raised, Jesus’ response is to zero-in on our responsibility to repent.
Therein, by the way, Jesus teaches us once again that theology is not ultimately speculative. It's practical. The truth of God in God's Word is not given to us so that we can speculate about abstract things. It's given to us to change our lives and to guide us in the way that we should go and so that we might be saved according to the truth of what God has done.
And in this passage Jesus says, “Here's My response to your question, ‘Are there few that would be saved?’ — “Enter through the narrow gate.” If you look at Jesus’ words, “Strive” verse 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door, for many, I tell you will seek to enter and will not be able.” He immediately turns the topic of discussion to repentance. If you look back at verses 3 and 5 He's picking up again on this exhortation — what? “To repent or you will likewise perish. Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” And notice the language again — “Strive to enter through the narrow door” and elsewhere in the gospels that narrow door or narrow gate is directly connected to repentance.
So Luke is picking up language that Jesus uses elsewhere to talk about repentance. And he says, “For many will seek to enter and will not be able.” So the questioner is asking about the fate of many and He immediately says, “You need to be thinking about repentance.
The question about what will happen to the many is not nearly as important a question as ‘Have you repented?’”
Why? Because our fundamental problem, my friends, is sin. I don't know all of you equally well. Some of you I hardly know at all. Some of you are visitors that I've never met before. But I know this without knowing anything else about you — if you are a son or a daughter of Adam and Eve, your biggest problem in this world is sin and you need to repent.
The Lord Jesus Christ is on that road teaching and preaching, journeying towards Jerusalem in order to die for sins, and what was the very first message of His ministry? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
You may be a person here today who has lived, in the eyes of many around you, an upright life, and you may have been the victim of injustice. And we would stand with you at that experience of injustice and we would seek justice for you. But even if the story of your life is injustice done against you, sin is still your biggest problem. Or you may be here working your hardest to look like you’re living a moral life when in fact you’re living a double life and there's something going on in your heart that even those closest to you around you don't know. Your biggest problem is sin and you need to repent.
And Jesus is saying to this questioner, “Repent. Enter through the narrow door, through the narrow gate, for there are so many people who claim to know God, there are so many people who claim to follow God, there are so many people who claim to have a relationship with God, but if you have not repented you don't understand your fundamental problem, you don't understand the provision of the Lord in Jesus Christ for your sins, you have not responded in the way that everyone must respond to Jesus’ message who will be saved.”
So, broadly the topic of how many will be saved is raised.
And then Jesus zeros-in like a laser beam on this point — “Only those are saved who repent.”
And so instead of speculating about how many there will be, let's think about who is in fact saved. And Jesus’ answer is, “Only those who repent.” It's an exhortation to us to repent just like He began this chapter.
And this is such an important thing. You understand that in the whole of verses 22 to 30 there's something very interesting going on. Jesus is speaking primarily to whom? Jews. These are the Jewish people, these are the descendants of Abraham, these are those who are the heirs of the books of Moses and of the ministry of the prophets and of the faithful preserving work of Ezra and the scribes and the reading and the teaching of God's Word in synagogue every Sabbath Day after Sabbath Day after Sabbath Day. And yet though they have been given all these privileges, they are not responding in repentance of their sins and faith towards Jesus the Messiah. And so Jesus is urging them, these people who have so many religious privileges and religious advantages. They have heard things which other people who lived in their world in their day had never heard. Had you gone to Egypt or had you gone across the coast of north Africa along all the places where the Berber people lived, had you gone up into northern Europe, had you gone east to India and China, you would not have found people who had heard the things that they had heard, been exposed to the Word of God that they have heard, and yet they had not repented. And Jesus, with all tenderness and with all urgency, is pressing on them the issue of repentance.
And isn't that important for us today? We are the inheritors of a congregation that has been populated by faithful, God-fearing, Christ-loving, Gospel-believing, Bible-teaching and studying and hearing men and women since 1837. Many of them have taught us on their knees the truth of the Gospel and of God's Word. But my friends, we are not Christians because we occupy the same pews that they once occupied. We’re Christians if we have repented and believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. And we are just as apt to spoil and waste and take for granted our religious heritage and inheritance as these Jewish people were in Jesus’ own time. So Jesus’ word is very timely for us.
II. Faith — trust in Christ.
And then notice what He goes on to do. He goes on to press home to us the importance of faith in Him. And listen to the language that He uses. Verse 25 — “Once the master of the house is risen and shut the door and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then He will answer, ‘I do not know where you have come from.’” Now think how striking that is, because God had chosen the children of Israel to be His people, to manifest His glory in the world, and yet they had not repented and they had not believed. And so, when in faithlessness and in unrepentance they knock on the door and say, “Lord, let us in,” what's the response? “I don't even know where you came from.” And then it's repeated again for emphasis. Look at verse 26 — “But we ate and drank in Your presence and You taught in our streets.” How true that was for Israel, how true that was for Judah, how true that was for the Jewish people. God Himself had invited them into His presence to eat and drink the Passover meal and Jesus Himself had taught in their streets, and yet what's the answer? Verse 27 — “I tell you, I do not know where you've come from.” It's the language of having no personal knowledge of that person.
You see, when you have faith in Jesus Christ, you have faith in Jesus Christ because you know who He is. You know that He's the Messiah. You know that He's the Son of the Living God. And you know that He died for sinners like you. You know Him and because you know Him, you trust in Him.
But you know what else the Bible tells us? The reason that you know Him is because He knows you. And so when the word comes, “I don't even know where you come from,” it's the language of saying, “You didn't have faith in Me. You didn't know Me and I don't know you.” And then the terrifying words of verse 27 — “Depart from Me, all you workers of evil.” Jesus is not only calling them to repentance, He's calling them to faith and He's speaking of the faith of those who attempt to come into the presence of God without believing on Him, without trusting on Him, without knowing Him and without being known by Him.
III. The judgment.
And then He speaks of the judgment. Now He speaks of it repeatedly in the passage but especially here you see it in verse 28 — “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out.” Jesus pictures for these Jewish people their forbearers in the faith all gathered around in His kingdom, in God's kingdom, enjoying fellowship with Him, rejoicing in His great victory over sin, and His merciful provision for their own forgiveness, and He says, “And yet you,” listen to the language “you yourselves cast out.” Now that's consistent with the language of verses 23 and following. Listen to it again in verse 24 — “For many I tell you will seek to enter and will not be able.” They’ll be excluded.
Why? Because they haven't repented and they haven't believed. Listen again to the language of verse 25 — “They will stand outside and knock at the door and say, ‘Open to us,’ and He will say, ‘I do not know where you have come from.’” It's the language of exclusion. Why? Because they haven't repented and they haven't had faith. And again in verse 27 — “Depart from Me.” It's the language of exclusion. And then again in verse 28 — “Cast out.”
Now Jesus does not delight in speaking of this judgment. It does not give Him joy to think of those being eternally cast out, but what He is doing with all passion and tenderness is urging us to repent and believe so that we do not sit under the searching judgment of God and receive in our own bodies the eternal and just punishment for our sin.
And then Jesus says something so interesting. Look at verses 29 and 30. “People will come from the east and west and from north and south and recline at table in the kingdom of God, and behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.” Jesus is talking about us there. Most of us, not quite all of us, but most of us today are Gentile Christians in this room. There are some Christians in our congregation from Jewish backgrounds but most of us are Gentile Christians. Jesus is talking about us. He's speaking to Jewish people, He's urging them to believe on Him, but He's saying this, “Let me tell you that even Gentiles from the north and south and east and west, they’re going to come. They’re going to repent. They’re going to believe. They’re going to trust in Me and they’re going to come in and sit at My table.”
And so it's another way of saying to these Jewish people, “Why would you stand by while those who you think of as last become first and enter into My kingdom and sit at My table and enjoy fellowship with Me, while you yourself, who have been given so many privileges, so many blessings – the Word of God written from Moses and the prophets on, the Word of God read and explained in synagogue Saturday after Saturday, Sabbath after Sabbath — why would you fail to embrace the promises held out and to ask forgiveness of your sins and to seek repentance and trust in Me while even the Gentiles come to faith in Me?”
Well my friends, that's a good question for us to ask ourselves as well because again, we're a congregation with many religious privileges and advantages. It was my joy to be in South Africa for the last couple of weeks and to see Christians from over two hundred countries gathered in one place. They told us that it was the largest and most diverse assembly of Christians in the history of the world because of the number of nations that were represented and the number of people groups represented. And as I looked out and as I met and learned and got to know many of those people there, one of the things that struck me was so many of the Christians there were from nations and from people groups that have come to faith in the Gospel since the time that this land was evangelized. In other words, we were evangelized, we were exposed to the Gospel long before some of these nations, and yet they had great passion for Christ and they were ready to lay down many, many losses for Christ and they were willing to take up many, many burdens for Christ and they had a great zeal for the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. And I had to think about the apathetic, often passive and lethargic churches that populate our land in comparison to these younger Christians who had great zeal for the Lord.
Well, this can happen to us. We can have the same attitude as the Jewish people in Jesus’ own day. We can rest on our laurels, but my friends, entrance into the kingdom is not our birthright. We do not have that because we happen to attend a Bible-believing congregation that has been faithful for many decades and generations. We don't even have that because our names are on the membership rolls.
The question is — have we repented? Have we trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ? Have we believed the Gospel? Have we put our faith in Him? That was Jesus’ call to the Jews and it's His call to you and me.
John Calvin, many, many years ago, prayed this prayer:
“Almighty God, You set before our eyes the many evils by which we have provoked Your anger against us, and yet You give us hope of pardon if we repent. Grant us a teachable spirit that with becoming humility, we may pay attention to Your warnings and also not despair of the mercy that You offer us, but seek it through Your Son as He has once for all made peace for us with You by shedding His blood. So cleanse us by Your Holy Spirit from all sin until, at last, we stand spotless before You in that day when Christ shall appear for the salvation of all His people.”
May God make that our heart prayer.
Heavenly Father, grant to us repentance and faith. Grant to us, O God, not to trust in outward ceremonies or in rich religious heritages, but only in Jesus Christ and in His Gospel, and to see our need for forgiveness of sins as the towering need of our life, and so, live a life of repentance. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.
Now to drive this message home and deeper into our hearts, turn with me if you would to 473 — “Jesus Sinners Doth Receive.”
Receive now the Lord's blessing from the One who forgives our sins. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.