The Door Will Shut
Not everyone will make it, said Jesus. Not everyone will succeed. Not everyone will make the team. Not everyone will make Aís. Not every marriage will succeed. Not everyone will enter the kingdom of God. The door will shut, said Jesus. "Many, I tell you," said Jesus, "Many will seek to enter and will not be able." The door will shut.
Why? Why do some not make it? Why are there winners and losers? What makes the difference?
Itís not a question of birth, or nationality, or race. Success is not a matter of where or what you come from. God plays no favorites. Biblical scholars seem to agree that the people asking Jesus the question, "Lord, will those who are saved be few?" were assuming that they were among the saved. One of the reasons Jesus alienated the Jews of his day was because Jesus gave no special consideration to their so-called privilege. It mattered not that they were the chosen people. They may knock on the door and claim special treatment, but the householder will say, according to Jesus, "Depart from me; I do not know where you come from."
People who think they have special privileges because of their family name, or because of their color, will be disappointed. Success is not dependent on your birth. Success is not dependent on your religion. You can claim: my parents reared me in the church. Iíve always gone to church. Iím a member. But that carries little weight in whether you make it or not. Entry into the kingdom of God is not a question of who you are. God plays no favorites.
Success is not a matter of whom you know. In the lesson today, Jesus says some will knock on the closed door and plead, "We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets." But, even those who knew Jesus, even those who claim special privilege because of whom they know, many not make it. God plays no favorites.
God astounds us, and turns the worldís values upside down. Jesus concluded the lesson, Luke 13:30, "Some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last." Those who are seemingly in glory now with lots of money, fame, and acclaim may be quite unhappy and unfulfilled underneath the glittering exterior. Outward success is no guarantee there is inner success. And, outward success rarely lasts. The first may be last.
The story is told of a wealthy woman who died and was met by an angel who was sent to conduct her to her new home. They passed through lovely neighborhoods with green grass, beautiful gardens, and mansions. She recognized her black maid now living in a beautiful mansion. The woman could hardly wait to see her home. She thought, "If my maid is living in a place like that, think what mine must look like!" The angel led her past the mansions, through the tract neighborhoods, across the railroad tracks into the poor section, and at last stopped at a tiny house on the edge of town which was little more than a hut. "That is your house," said the angel. "What!" exclaimed the woman, "I canít live in anything like that. Itís not fair that my maid gets to live in a mansion! How can I live in that hut?" "Iím sorry," said the angel, "but that is all that we could build for you with the materials you sent up."
The first will be last, the last will be first. God plays no favorites, and that is good news for you and me. Everyone is on equal footing. No one is ahead of you, and no one is behind you. Success is not guaranteed to those who think they have special privilege based on where they come from and who they know! So, what makes the difference? Why do some make it, and others donít?
There are many reasons of course. Jesus gives us one in this lesson. You are not going to like Jesusí answer. I donít like Jesusí answer. The difference between winning and losing is one word. The difference between making it and not making it is one word. Strive! The Greek word translated "strive" is also the root word of agony. Those who make it, strive; they agonize.
Jesus said, Luke 13:24, "Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able." The corollary passage in Matthew 7:13-14 reads, Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Strive. Follow through on your commitments. What is important to you? Clarify your goals. How and where do you want to succeed? Make your commitments wisely, and then do what you have to do to discipline yourself and follow through.
Do you want to be married? Then make the commitment to one another, and keep that commitment. Strive to accept the responsibilities, as well as the joys, of marriage. Strive to be loyal.
Do you want to be a parent? Then make the commitment to be a parent, and keep that commitment. Sacrifice, strive, agonize to accept the responsibilities as well as the joys of parenting.
Do you want to be a student who eventually graduates? Then make the commitment to study, and keep that commitment. Strive, agonize. Keep your priorities straight.
Do you want to enter the kingdom of God? Do you want to be among those few who will be saved? Do you want to engage in a saving, freeing, loving relationship with God? Make the commitment. Accept Jesus as Savior and Lord, and offer your life to God in response to the covenant God has made with you.
Make a commitment, and then, follow through. Strive. The door is narrow. Discard what wonít fit. You canít go through the door carrying lots of stuff. You just wonít fit. You canít get through the door into the presence of God carrying jealousy, greed, envy, hatred, bitterness, revenge, materialism, selfishness. You cannot get through the door with excess baggage.
Consider the narrow door as an open ended triangle. Narrow is the entrance, but when we enter we find that life opens up for us more and more. We experience joy, fullness, love, splendor. The opposite door is the wide door Jesus described. This triangle has the wide base at the top. Itís easy to enter. Anything goes. Everything is allowed. Take what you want. Itís easy, but as you journey through this wide door, the walls close in, until there is nothing, just the point of the triangle, destruction, says Jesus.
And, once you have entered the narrow door, once you have made the commitment to follow Jesus, once you have repented and vowed to discard all that wonít fit; then, persist. Hang in there, strive!
Itís like dieting. How often I have made the commitment to enter the narrow door, and lose weight. I promise to follow the diet. I promise to discard the junk food, snacks at bedtime, and all those desserts. I make lofty commitments, but Iím weak in persisting and striving. I want to look like a Greek god, but end up looking like a Greek restaurant. I have Furniture Disease; my chest fell into my drawers. I read of one doctor who came up with what he called a miracle diet pill. He gave the overweight patient a large bottle of small pills. "Now," he instructed, "these pills are not to be swallowed. You just spill them on the floor twice a day, then reach over, pick them up one at a time, and place them on a high shelf." Persistence. Strive.
Like most churches, we have a long list of inactive people. We have members who have stood here at the altar, made a commitment to accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, pledge their allegiance to his kingdom, and loyally support the church with prayer, attendance, money, and service. They must have meant those words when they said them. What happened? Did they get their feelings hurt? Did they experience a disappointment and felt God let them down, or the church let them down? Did they squabble with someone? Did the church not meet their expectations? Or, did they just get out of the habit? Lots of reasons, but the basic one is they ceased to strive. They did not persist and hang in there when the road got rough.
Yes, there are setbacks on lifeís journey. There are setbacks on the faith journey. There are setbacks in every marriage, every job, every friendship. What do you do? Quit? Not everyone makes it. Those who make it, strive, said Jesus.
To succeed in your Christian life requires discipline and persistence. Be faithful in daily devotions. Set a time each day to make sure you are opening your life to God in prayer.
Read your Bible. Study. If you are not growing spiritually, you are dying. Join a small group where you can study. Be with like-minded people.
Put yourself in places where the Holy Spirit can reach you.
Worship regularly. Let nothing interfere with weekly Sunday morning worship. Give faithfully. Share the financial resources God has given you. "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also," said Jesus. (Matthew 6:21)
Serve. Volunteer in church and/or community service. Share your faith. Witness. Tell others what Jesus means to you. These are ways in which you grow. These are ways in which you strive to enter through the narrow door.
The good news this morning is that the door is not yet shut. There is not a person in this room this morning who canít make it. The door is not yet shut. You may have wasted time, even years, but the door is still open. In a nursery in Ontario, Canada, there is a sign in the tree section which reads, "The best time to plant a tree was 25 years ago." A sobering jolt that reminds us that trees do take a long time to mature, as do people in Christian living. But, that isnít the complete message on the sign. The complete message reads, "The best time to plant a tree was 25 years ago. The second best time is today."
The tree can still be planted. The door is still open. No matter what you have squandered, no matter what you have wasted, there is still time. However, time is running out. Donít wait too long, for the door will shut, and you may find yourself on the outside looking in.
Not everyone will make it, but the door is still open for you. God is waiting, calling, tenderly calling. Answer Godís call with a commitment to follow. Discard all that is garbage, and go through the narrow door which leads to life with a capital L. And, then, persist. Strive!
ã 1989 Douglas I. Norris