Tell me, have you ever thought to yourself, “I wonder, out of all the people in the world today, how many will actually end up in heaven someday? Out of all the people sitting in Christian churches, how many of them are actually Christians? Out of all those who say they believe in God, how many of them will God actually acknowledge to be his own? I mean, if you or were to die tonight and go to heaven, do you think we’d find that there are more people in heaven than we expected, or less? Would we be surprised by how many of our friends and family are there—or how few are there?
If you’ve ever thought about questions like these, you’re not alone. Over 2000 years ago a man had the opportunity to bring one of these questions to Jesus. Today we turn to Luke’s gospel, chapter 13, to hear Jesus’ answer to this question: Lord,
Are only a few going to be saved?
Now, I have to tell you that Jesus doesn’t come right out and say, “Yes, there will only be a few people in heaven.” He doesn’t give us an exact head count of the number of people who will be saved. There’s not this little sign over heaven’s door that reads, “Capacity: such and such.” But he does give the impression that the number of heaven might be less than we expect; or at least less than the world would expect. And why is that? Why will only a few be saved? Jesus gives us two reasons:
- Because the door to heaven is narrow
- Because eventually, the door will be closed
First, the door to heaven is narrow. Isn’t that how Jesus describes the door to heaven here in our text? When the man asks, “Lord, are only a few going to be saved?” what is Jesus’ response? He says, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and not be able to.” Jesus made a similar statement in the Sermon on the Mount when he told his disciples, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”(Matthew 7:13-14) Now, why does Jesus say that the door to heaven is narrow? A number of things come to mind. First of all, a narrow door is designed to let in one person at a time. Think of Lambeau Field. Even though the gates are very wide, you still to pass through a very narrow turnstile. It’s one person at a time. You’re not going to get into a Packers game by huddling together with all your buddies and forcing your way through the gate. Everybody needs to go through security. Everybody needs to show their ticket. So it is with heaven. It’s every man for himself. There are no group passes to heaven. You’re not getting in on the credentials of your parents or the good record of your spouse. No, the gate to heaven is a narrow door because every man, every woman, every child, will be judged by God on an individual basis.
But there another reason that Jesus calls the door to heaven a narrow one. It’s narrow in the sense that there’s no room for you to bring anything with you. Again, think of the gate to Lambeau Field. If you came up to one of those narrow gates pulling a rolling cooler of beer, and you say to the attendant, “I just want to bring this in with me,” what’s he going to say?” He’s going to say, “You can’t do that.” And when you say, “but I really like beer. I paid for this beer; I can’t enjoy the game without this beer,” he’s going to say, “It doesn’t matter. You can’t bring that beer with you. You need to leave that cooler behind.”
Isn’t the same thing true about heaven? And don’t tell me, “Yeah, it’s that ‘in heaven there is no beer; that’s why we drink it here.’” No, the fact that the door to heaven is narrow means that there is no room to bring the things I’m tempted to hang on to here on earth. And I’m not talking about my car or my boat. I mean my sins. You know, “I’m going to pretend that God doesn’t know that I’m living with my boyfriend outside of marriage.” Or, “I don’t want to give up this grudge I’ve been nursing.” Or, “I don’t want to let go of my pornography.” “I kind of like getting high.” “I want to hang on to my pet sin—even if it prevents me from entering the door to heaven.”
Tell me, do you know how the natives in Africa catch monkeys? They take a clay pot or a jar with a narrow neck and they bury it in the ground. Then they put some peanuts in it. When a monkey sticks his hand in to grasp a handful of peanuts, his hand becomes too fat to fit through the narrow neck. He’s trapped. He’s trapped, not because the jar closed on him. No, he’s trapped because he refuses to let go of the peanuts.
My friends, you realize, that’s why a lot of people are not going to make it through the narrow door of heaven. Not because the door is closed to them, but because they refuse to let go of their sins. Instead, they are determined to defend their sin, determined to persist in their sin, determined to live in their sin. But what does Scripture say about living in sin? After cataloguing the acts of the sinful nature (things like sexual immorality, idolatry, hatred, drunkenness, fits of rage, etc.), what does St. Paul say in Galatians 5:21? I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. St. Paul makes it pretty clear. A Christian can’t live in sin and live with God. You can’t simultaneously cling to sin and cling to the cross. Which is why God invites us to let go of our sins, and give them to Jesus. How does wise King Solomon put it? He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy (Prov. 28:13).
Now, is that easy to do? To let go of our “favorite” sins? No, it involves a real spiritual struggle. In fact, that’s why Jesus uses the terminology he does here in our text. Notice that Jesus says, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.” The Greek word there refers to an athletic contest or a military battle. We need to beat back our Old Adam. St. Paul talks about crucifying the sinful flesh, not letting it rule over us. Luther says that we need to drown the Old Man by daily sorrow and repentance.
Now, again, does that mean that we earn a spot in heaven by our struggle against sin? If we do a better job of suppressing our sins than the next guy, then we have enough righteousness to qualify for heaven? that we earned a spot in heaven? No, what does Scripture say? All our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isa 64:6). In fact that’s the third reason you can call the door to heaven “narrow. There’s really no room for our own self-righteousness. You can’t stand at the door of heaven and say, “God, look at all the good stuff I’ve done. I’ve got this box of merit badges for doing my duty to God and my country. I’ve got my confirmation certificate. I’ve got this trophy for being “the world’s greatest dad.”
When it comes to qualifying for heaven, all those things are good for nothing. Remember what St. Paul said? After listing all his qualifications, (e.g. circumcised on the 8th day, Hebrew of Hebrews, student of the Law, zealous for the Lord, etc.), what he say? I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ (Phil. 3:8-9). My friends, that’s why the door to heaven is narrow—because there is no room for our righteousness. There’s only room for Christ’s righteousness. And that righteousness is what God gives as a free gift, purely through faith in Jesus. In fact, that’s why Jesus can say about himself, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.” (John 10:9)
Make no mistake about it. Jesus is the only door to heaven. And in his mercy, God is holding that door open for you. Or should I say, he’s holding it open for you, for a certain amount of time. For you see, here in our text Jesus makes it clear that:
- Eventually, the door will be closed.
How does Jesus put it? “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.’” The facts are unmistakable, aren’t they? Jesus is making it clear that the time will come in the life of every human being when the door to heaven will be closed—whether that happens at the time of one’s death or it happens at the moment of Jesus’ return. And when that happens, Jesus says that there will be a lot of people who will be taken by surprise. In effect, they’ll come pounding on Jesus’ door, saying what? ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’
Tell me, who do you think Jesus is referring to when he talks about these people pounding on the door? Well, notice, what they say. “We ate and drank with you.” In other words, “We hung out with you. We were very familiar with who you are.” But they don’t say, “We put our trust in you as our Savior from sin.” They say, “You taught in our streets.” In other words, “You were around where we lived.” But they don’t say, “And we listened and believed what you said.”
Who is Jesus referring to? Certainly the unbelieving Jews of his day. We heard in our epistle reading today, that even though God had given the Jews every advantage—they had the Law, the Prophets, the covenants, the temple, yet still the majority of Jews rejected Jesus as their Savior and therefore found themselves on the wrong side of the door. Jesus describes what their hell will be like when he says, “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.”
But could Jesus also be referring people today? People who are familiar with the name Jesus. People who in a sense, have spent time with Jesus. People who assume that just because they attend a Christian church, they are therefore Christians. People who assume that because they’ve had every advantage of a Christian upbringing, or received a Christian education, or are a member of a church that holds to the Word of God in its truth and purity, therefore, they’ll be a shoe-in for heaven.
My friends, let’s not miss our Savior’s warning. “Many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” In other words, there are going to be a lot of people who think that they are going to get into heaven by knowing something about Jesus, being affiliated with a Christian church and by doing their best to follow the rules. And they are going to be shocked to find that none of those things will get them into heaven.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that there is no value in a Christian upbringing or receiving a Christian education, or being a member of a solid, Bible believing church body. What I’m saying is that not one of those things can save you. Only Jesus can save you. In fact, he already has. By his perfect life and innocent death, Jesus has paid for your sins in full. He has purchased a place in heaven just for you. Believe it. Believe that God has shown you mercy in Christ. Believe that you belong to God. And know that in that sense, you are not alone. You are part of a multi-national church body from all over the world, believers who are all looking forward to one major event. How did Jesus put it? People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. By God’s grace, you will be there, my friend. And by God’s grace, there will be more than just a few with you. No, there will be millions and millions of believers, people who have given their sins to Jesus, who have washed their robes in the blood of the lamb, and who enjoying an eternal feast in the mansions of glory. God keep us all to that blessed end. Amen.