Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children for ever, that we may follow all the words of this law.”
There are secret things that belong to God; he has chosen not to reveal some things to us and I want to consider one other such matter. It came to the surface when someone asked Jesus, “Are only a few people going to be saved?” (Luke 13:23). How many people are going to be saved? Now there are men of the old school like John Calvin, and Martin Luther, and Thomas Boston, and Samuel Davies who would all answer that question by saying, “Yes, very, very few are going to be saved.” They would point to Scriptures that talk of a narrow way going to heaven and only a few finding it. They would quote Jesus’ other words describing the church as a ‘little flock’ that again he compares it to some salt and to a light, just a small presence, a tiny minority, a remnant. Those are men who would never say to us that Christ will have the majority. And when we look around us at the spiritual state of Wales and Europe today then we must nod our heads and say, “Yes, that seems correct to us. Just a few people saved and the vast majority apathetic or even hostile to Christianity.”
Then there are others who have given a very different answer. Men like Jonathan Edwards, and B.B.Warfield, and Marcellus Kik, and Lorraine Boettner claim that the direction of the Scripture is in the way of greater optimism. We are told that “where sin abounds grace does much more abound” – even arithmetically. We are given a great vision of the church triumphant that it is a multitude which no man can number, called out of every nation and kindred and tongue. God made a great promise to Abraham that his seed would be as vast as the sands by the seashore, and I must say that I would deem it very strange in the light of that kind of language if the serpent’s seed was more numerous than the woman’s seed.
So we are told that an anonymous person once raised his hand one day and put this question to the Son of God: “Are there only a few people going to be saved?” (v.23). Let’s read the passage in Luke 13:23-30 to find the answer. “He said to them, ‘Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 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.” Then you will say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.” But he will reply, “I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!” 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. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.’”
How did Jesus answer this person? He doesn’t say, “What an interesting subject; some believe many and others believe a few.” He says, “You, and everyone listening, ‘Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to’” (v.24). You ensure that you yourself belong to the people of God. Jesus’ great message is that whether this community is a large village or a small town don’t worry about the size when the gate to heaven lies open. Whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, the gate is open. Whether you are an atheist or a Muslim, the gate is open. Whether you are an infamous sinner or a moral man, the gate is open. Make sure you are through the gate. Whether you are in the majority or in the minority you are certainly invited to be one of those who has passed through the gate. We don’t know whether the majority are going to be saved or not but we do know that whosoever will may come to Jesus Christ and be saved, and that we are all sincerely commanded to come to Christ, and begged to come to Christ, and pleaded with to come and join the people of God.
At the heart of the Christian faith there lies not a set of principles, and not a list of commandments and laws or some kind of moral code, but there lies at the very centre of Christianity a message, a message of good news, a positive affirmation, a statement of certain great facts. Someone has been born, and the person born has a unique identity. His name is Jesus, he is the promised Messiah, his coming first made known to the world when man fell in Eden. He is the Lord from heaven, and this is his singular work, to be the Saviour. That was the great message first preached by the angel to shepherds, “To you is born a Saviour who is Christ the Lord.” And whenever the gospel church finds one person whose life is not right with God – just one person – then we can say to him, “I’ve got a Saviour for you.” If I can find one needy soul then I can say to him, “I know someone who can help you.” If I can find just one . . . some single soul somewhere who has no contact with the living and true God then I can say to him, “I know a Saviour who can reconcile you to God.” I tell you if any of us Christians are brought by the providence of God into the orbit of one life who that day knows he is on the road to a lost eternity, who is under the wrath of a sin-hating God, and liable to perish, then we have all the authority of heaven to say to that person, “I have a Saviour here for you.”
How hard it is for us to find people who admit that they are sinners, people who will acknowledge that all is not well between themselves and God. I sometimes feel that my whole calling is so futile, and that all my message is vain, and absurd, and anomalous, because it depends on my finding men and women who acknowledge that they are sinners. There is no place for a man like me in a world without sinners. Often I wish that God would make sinners, that he would strip the veil from the eyes of men and women and show them the state of their hearts so that they could see their need.
My own personal life cannot stand the truth. There is not a good word to be said for it. You think that I am guilty of false modesty. You don’t know me. I often sigh and groan and cannot answer my best friend when she says, “What’s wrong?” The memories are all too painful. If there is anyone else here like me, with a bruised conscience, and a broken heart, and some fear of God, and an awareness that in themselves they are not ready to die and meet God, even if there were only one such person here now (and there are many more than one), then I can say to them, “I have a Saviour for you. His blood can make the foulest clean.” I tell you, it’s a great thing to be sinner, because a sinner who comes to the narrow gate causes all of heaven to look down with delight. “Look!” cries one angel to the rest, “there is a sinner!” “A sinner?” replies the vast host of angels focussing on him with astonishment and joy! And there is a boy, a girl, a man, a woman who knows he is a sinner! No angel bats an eyelid at just another person who’s righteous, but a sinner . . . approaching the narrow gate . . . causes joy in heaven. He makes God glad. It is such a great pity that we can’t be sinners, that we don’t feel any need to pass through a narrow gate, but if I might find one somewhere, who in the secrecy of that person’s heart is listening to his conscience and is saying what a man said long ago as he looked down to the earth, “God . . . be . . . merciful . . . to . . . me . . . a . . . sinner,” then I have a Saviour for you. I am saying that you are a very, very privileged and fortunate person if you are a sinner, because here with us at this moment is the Saviour of sinners. And he is saying to you, “You come to me.” You tell God that you are appalled, and your life is indefensible. You want it covered in the name of Jesus, the sinner’s friend.
You come to him through this narrow door. One of the reasons that it is a narrow door is because it’s not wide enough for your sins as well as yourself to pass through. It’s like a turnstyle. It is only wide enough for you to get through. You must leave behind your unbelief. You must leave behind your love of money. You must leave behind your lusts. You must leave behind your pride. You must leave behind your idols whatever they might be. You must leave behind your popularity in the world. You must leave behind your prayerlessness. You must leave behind your Sabbath-breaking. You must count the cost as you approach this door. Written above it are the words, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved,” and then under them, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is here.” There is a turning from and a turning to, from sin and to the Saviour. No salvation without coming to Christ; no salvation without turning your back on your sins. It is like a surgeon who scrubs for surgery. That activity makes sense as a preparation for a lifesaving procedure. Surgery without it can be fatal, but scrubbing and scrubbing without the prospect of surgery is pointless and costly, even pathological. Both procedures are necessary for the surgeon, as both separation fromunto Christ are necessary for salvation. sin and separation
So the way of salvation is through the narrow door and Jesus does not suggest it is easy-peasy. Certainly it is simple to grasp, but it’s not a breeze. See how he describes it; “Make every effort,” he says (v.24). In other words, you asked Jesus into your heart when you were seven. Good. But it hasn’t made a lot of difference to you, and so as a teenager you make another effort. You ask him again. Good. Say to him, “Show me myself and show me my Saviour” and you don’t stop saying such words until you know that God has answered you and you are through the narrow door. As a student you might pray them again, and as a young adult. It is a quest for assurance. Or perhaps you have come very near in the past. You have come all the way up to the door, but at the last moment you have thought what it would cost you in terms of relationships with your family and with your friends, and you have finally turned back. “Make every effort!” You have come again to that open door, and then you have thought what it will mean for your Sundays, and for your ambitions with your work and again you have turned back. “Make every effort!” Don’t give up. What will it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his own soul? There are sins that you love, and it will be such a sacrifice to end them. “Make every effort!” You are addicted to alcohol and to nicotine and to drugs and you know that there is no way that you can go through that narrow door bringing those addictions with you. “Make every effort!” You have made some effort, but that is not enough. You must make every possible effort you can. Cry mightily to God.
Then Jesus warns us of leaving it until it is too late. He says, “many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to” (v.24). There were many who were touched by the life and testimony of Noah and his sons, that steady persistent commitment to building that ark, year after year. They were moved to join Noah for a few days, but then the cost was too great. Then one day the heavens opened and the fountains of the deep poured out their floods and the waters rose. Then, when they got wet and cold, and out of their depth, and when they had to swim then it was they tried to enter the ark, but they couldn’t. The opportunity was gone. God had shut the door and they were not able to enter. They had had 120 years of Noah building the ark and preaching the righteousness of God to them and they mocked him, and then ignored him. Then when the day of judgment came they tried to enter the ark to escape but they weren’t able to do so. The Red Sea opened for the children of Israel to cross safely but when Pharaoh and his host tried to cross then the sea came crashing in on them and they weren’t able to escape. It was all too little, too late.
Many people say, “One day . . .” after they have first drunk deeply of all the sinful pleasures of the world, after they have had their fill of sex, and luxury, and drinking, and drugs, and keeping God out of their lives it will be then that they’ll decide to give that fag end of their life to God, as though they are doing him a favour in letting him have the ruins of a wasted life, but the narrow door will not always be open. “They will try to enter but will not be able to.” They will hammer away until their knuckles are bleeding. They will shout until they are hoarse, like the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, but God is under no obligation to show his grace to anyone. The exercise of mercy is optional with God. He hardened Pharaoh’s heart as well as softened it. What a fearful state, to come to the narrow gate too late! Will this be the portion of a few? Jesus says here, “I tell you, many will try to enter and won’t be able.”
Who is he? This is the King of Glory, the Lord of hosts; this mighty Colossus is the owner of the house. The door belongs to him. Should a group of ruffians and criminals and drunks at midnight on a Saturday come and start knocking on your front door are you under any obligation to let them in? If fifty teenagers armed with drugs and bottles of vodka want to hold a rave in your house late one night are you going to open the door and let them in?
What does Jesus say? “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’” (v. 25). Even if you were the friends of his teenage children he wouldn’t let you in, but you are not friends; you are strangers to him. “I don’t know you. I don’t know where you are from.” Have you come to the house of God on the Lord’s Day and listened to his word week by week? No. Have you been singing hymns to him along with a congregation of God’s people each Sunday? No. Have you been praying to him, “Lead me not into temptation and deliver me from evil?” No. Have you been asking him for wisdom in how you should live day by day? No. You have never come to him. You have never spoken to him. Then when you cry, “Sir, open the door for us,” then he will answer immediately, “I don’t know you or where you come from.” There will come an instant answer from the one whose door you want open and whose house you are trying to enter; “Don’t waste your time here. The door is not opening. It will never open to you. Never . . . never . . . never.”
They will yet protest: “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.” The Lord will not quarrel with them. He will not protest and say, “Oh no I didn’t.” He had done that. Among them were those Pharisees who had been invited by a man to his home for a meal to meet a special guest, Jesus of Nazareth, and they had come out of curiosity. They had had a meal one evening with Christ, eating and drinking with him, listening to him teaching, and he kindly answered their questions, but there was seething resentment in their hearts. They did nothing to prevent their leaders plotting his murder, or to stop the Sanhedrin bribing witnesses to lie and accuse him of blasphemy and to condemn Jesus to death. They were silent when they had the privilege of speaking up. They never committed themselves to him; they reluctantly knocked on the door too late.
Others heard him teaching in their streets. He was standing by the well in Sychar speaking to the Samaritans as they came to hear him, while others gathered in the road outside a house where he was teaching with the windows and doors open. They stood quietly and were deeply moved. They said to one another, “Where did Joseph’s son get learning like that? What eloquence! What authority! He could make you believe that black was white.” They were moved and impressed, but then they walked away and they carried on the same as they always had. It’s not enough to be stirred and moved by the preaching of Jesus. It is not enough to have had fellowship with him at the table if you have never made every effort to enter through the narrow door. Why did he come to your house and talk and eat with you and answer your questions? It was that you might enter through the narrow door. Why does he stir you by his preaching? It is that you enter in through the narrow door.
Jesus hasn’t finished speaking to you. He will say one more thing to you; “Away from me, all you evildoers!” I suppose the most difficult thing I have to do is to persuade you that you are not fair-minded, that you are not a neutral, uncommitted person. You have heard the Sermon on the Mount and rejected the preacher. You have heard his invitations to come to him for rest and you have shrugged. You have heard him tell you that you must be born again and you’ve said you don’t want to be born again. You have seen him raise Lazarus from the dead but you’ve said, “He was probably not dead.” You have seen him give sight to the man born blind, and cleanse the leper, and raise up the paralyzed man carried into his presence by four friends, and you’ve shrugged your shoulders. “They were all psychosomatic illnesses.” You have read the words of the men who witnessed him speak and the winds and waves obeyed him; you have noticed the change in their lives and how they went everywhere testifying of these things; you have seen the spread of the church like wild fire throughout the world, and yet you have responded, “So what?” You have heard many sermons about Christ, and talked to many Christians, some of them very often, but you will not bow to Jesus Christ. You are saying, “I will not have this man rule over me. He is not telling me how to live my life,” and so you are not neutral and undecided. You are very definitely biased against the loveliest and the best of men, the incarnate God. He that is not for Jesus Christ is against him.
So do you see how Jesus describes you? That you are an ‘evil doer,’ though you have never killed a person; you have never stolen something from another. You have not committed adultery or told lies, but you are an evil doer because you have been told much about Jesus Christ, you have been offered life and salvation through him and you have chosen your own self instead of him to be your God. You are an evil doer, and God will treat you as an evil doer, very justly and very fairly. He will put you in hell. What is hell? It is what Jesus says here, “Away from me!” You have lived your life saying to him, “Away from me! Don’t interfere in how I’m living my life. I want nothing to do with you. Away from me pale Galilean!” So one day he in turn will say to you, “Away from me. You did not want me, though I would have had you shelter under my wings, but now I don’t want you.” Am I making this all up? Isn’t this before us here plainly in the Bible, in the New Testament in Luke’s gospel, his record of the words of the man who preached the Sermon on the Mount and taught his disciples at the Last Supper in the Upper Room? Doesn’t he say here, “I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!”
You might try to be a poser and a smart aleck. You might say, “Well, I don’t want to be with Jesus. I never have and I never will. It will be OK being with people who live just like me.” Then I will disillusion you very quickly. Jesus said this, that “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth” (v.28). Isn’t it the Lord Christ who is speaking? Am I putting words in his mouth? He is describing no holiday camp for elderly agnostics. This is the place that is totally exposed to the character of God, but it lacks any mediator. This is God without atonement, God without the Lamb, the God before whom the seraphim hide their eyes at being exposed to uncreated holiness, the God who is a consuming fire, the God who is angry with the wicked every day. And you are there, never ever to be anywhere else, not after a million years, always gnashing your teeth in rage against God. You have rejected God’s Son. You have rejected his grace, and now what you have is weeping, endless weeping and frustration, opposing this God whom you hate. You did not want him through your life and certainly you don’t want him in the place of woe, but you cannot escape from him. There is no escape. There is no deliverance. The place you have chosen is eternal.
Others you admired and loved will not be there. The great leaders of the kingdom of God, the men of faith who worshipped and served God, they will not be where you are going to be. They will be in the kingdom of God with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. All the prophets who spoke to the world “Thus saith the Lord,” and told mankind of the message of God, who he is and what he has done, his invitations and promises to pardon and forgive, they will also be in the kingdom of God, but not you. You will not be allowed in. You will be thrown out, says Jesus. “Take them away,” the Lord will say. There will be people there from every part of the globe, from the north, south, east and west. There will be rich and poor; there will be those who once had been the most primitive head hunters and cannibals, there will also be those who were once the most sophisticated scientists; there will be illiterates and professors; artists, refuse collectors, miners and musicians, farmers and financiers from every part of history and from all over the world. They will be there, fascinated by everything in the new heavens and earth, and each of them will be there because of Jesus’ love for them, Jesus living for them, Jesus dying for them, Jesus rising for their justification. And all who are not there are absent because they didn’t want Jesus’ love, or Jesus’ life, or Jesus’ death, or Jesus’ resurrection. It all hangs on your relationship to Christ. It doesn’t hang on where you come from, north, south, east, or west. That is utterly immaterial. There are no favoured zones, and no holy lands, there is just God’s holy Son Jesus and the question is do you have him, and by him have you gone through the narrow door? Everyone who has taken him has a place at the great banquet God is preparing.
There is a feast in the kingdom of God. There is the celebration of God’s Son who is now highly exalted, given a name above every name, and his work of redemption will one day be completed and he will be holding a vast feast and everyone he loved and lived and died for, everyone who left their sins behind them and entered through the narrow door, will enter a huge banqueting hall, and there will be an uncountable number of men and women sitting to eat at this banquet. It is for all who have made Christ their prophet, priest and king. Many of the Jews who were the first in privilege rejected him and they are now the last, while we Gentiles who have been the last to hear of him are now first in our desire to serve him and take his message to the ends of the earth.
I have explained to you word by word what Jesus has said. If you have been offended then you are offended with what the Son of God once said not with me. But we have not finished. Now I must speak even more directly to you.
i] I am commanding all of you to take this passage very seriously. No one can ever take from you the providence of God and today his providence has meant that you and these words of Jesus Christ have come together. I believe that it is because God loves you that he has caused you to hear and understand them. You have been confronted with them not that you might be made curious or have your fancy tickled by them or that you speculate whether many or few are going to be saved, but that you should take them as words from the Living God, and so words to be taken very seriously. More than that, I’m commanding you to do what they say. With whatever authority God has vested in me as a preacher of his gospel then I am urging you on behalf of my Master to enter into the presence of the Saviour. It is a movement of your heart and soul energized by the Holy Spirit as he takes these inspired words and stirs you to obey them. With whatever authority I have, I say, I urge, I command you to take these words very seriously. But more . . .
ii] I am pleading with all of you to enter through the narrow door. I am beseeching you in the name of Jesus Christ not to stop outside for a moment longer. The door is ajar, and you are confronted with the most blessed opportunity of coming to know God through his Son Jesus Christ, of having all your sins forgiven, past, present and future, of becoming a child of God yourself, a joint heir with Jesus Christ of a glorious, lasting inheritance and I am pleading with you to take this step. I have spoken to you very solemnly about the possibility of losing this blessing and one day of the door being closed and never being open to you again, of Jesus Christ not wanting you, not knowing you, telling you to go away, that you are an evil doer, and consigning you to a place of woe for ever. Take such warnings seriously. Think of these words I beseech you and enter through the narrow door now. I plead with you. I am stretching out my hands to you and gesture to you to come to the Saviour who speaks these words to you. But more . . .
iii] I am offering all of you this deliverance from judgment and this privilege of God’s blessing resting on you for the rest of your days. As I understand the mind and heart of God today he is sincerely offering to every one of you his Son to become your teacher to tell you how you should live for the rest of your life, to become your great high priest to live to atone for your sins and to intercede for you and thus save you to the uttermost. I am offering you this Jesus to be your Lord and King protecting and guarding and guiding you from this moment on until you see his face and are changed into his likeness. I am offering this Christ to you now. But more . . .
iv] I am asking you why you should delay. What are you waiting for? Are you waiting for the tingle factor? Are you delaying until the hairs on your neck stand on end? Are you waiting for religious goose-pimples and so are laying down the conditions to God in which you will agree to obey him? Are you demanding the tingle factor first? He doesn’t give you this option. The reason you are to obey him is that he commands you to do so, and nothing else. Enter through the narrow door. That is what he says. Are you going to defy your God yet again? It is extraordinary that you should even hear the gospel and that God should sincerely offer his Son to become your Saviour. You don’t deserve that. Millions have never heard it. It is even more extraordinary that that is not enough to you and that you want his free salvation to be tailor made for you, that it has to be accompanied by emotions or you will not receive it. Why should he not ignore you and put you in hell? But more . . .
v] I am exhorting you to enter through the narrow door. I am exhorting you to do it. Why should you die? God will take no pleasure one day in closing that door and locking it and telling you to go away. He will do it as sadly as any parent says to a child that he has rejected their offers of reconciliation for too long, that he has caused such grief and trouble to all the family that they don’t want his influence disturbing them any longer. But that time has not yet come to you. That line has not yet been crossed. This is a day when the door still stands open. The devil is whispering to you this moment that you’ve missed it, that God has closed the door and it is too late. No. No! The door is open. You are here and a great and effectual door is open before you. Enter through it while you may. It has been opened by God for you personally to come to the Lord now. This is the accepted time for you to enter through it. Come and enter through it. Come now. It is a movement of your heart and soul enabled by the Holy Spirit as he takes his word and leads you through the door. That is why you are here, to enter through the door. This is the day of salvation. Jesus ready stands to take you, full of mercy, love and power. He is able; he is willing; doubt no more. If you tarry till you’re better you will never come at all, not the righteous but sinners Jesus came to call. The door is open. Enter while you may.
8th August 2011 GEOFF THOMAS