Not Just Any Old Way
Rev. Charles Westby, Pastor
Luke 13:22-30
August 25, 2019

As Jesus was going through the towns and villages teaching, somebody asked Him a question: “Will those who are saved be few.” In response, Jesus said: “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”

Let’s talk about three things here. Let’s talk about this “striving,” the narrow door, and what Jesus is saying to us overall.

The Greek verb translated “strive” in the ESV is agonidzomai. It has a related noun in Greek that is agon. Our English word agony is related to this, to the extent it involves the idea of struggle.

This verb and noun came out of the context of the athletic contests that took place in the ancient Greek stadiums at festivals. They reflected the idea and practice of competing, struggling, fighting to win the prize. Thus Jesus is saying, Compete, struggle, fight to enter the narrow door.

There is a sense of urgency and seriousness involved. There is an opponent involved, something to compete, fight, struggle against. The writer of the book of Hebrews uses a form of this verb when he speaks of “the struggle against sin” (Heb 12:4 ESV). Paul gives us the sense of what is going on with these words in his first letter to Timothy, where he says: “Fight the good fight of faith” (1 Tim 6:12): agonidzomai the good agon of faith.

Fight. Compete. Struggle to enter the narrow door. Do it in such a way that your life depends on it. Do it with the seriousness and dedication and the attention to the things that go with competing effectively, as if you are in a competition and you want to win the prize.

Be motivated with purpose. Pay attention to the fundamentals. Take this seriously.

Why? Because you are in a struggle for faith in Christ and against sin that lurks within you, that is, against pride, rebellion, meanness, unkindness, greed, lust, complacency, and accommodation when it comes to Jesus.

Why? Because you are in a struggle against the world and the devil that want to stamp out your faith in Christ by false teachings; you are in a struggle with the world and the devil that fan the flames of that sin that dwells within you, in order to destroy your faith and spiritual life.

Let’s turn now to talk about the narrow door.

The idea of a door is straightforward enough. It is that structure of a building that we pass through to get from outside to inside a building. You came through a door to get into the church building today.

The building we want to enter is heaven, eternal life, in peace and joy with our Triune God.

There is a narrow door we must go through to get there. This narrow door is Jesus and God’s Word.

But what does the word narrow add to this?

A place to start might be to compare a narrow door to a wide one.

Let’s think of this in functional terms for a moment. Think of a stadium on game day. You can get a lot more people through a wide door more quickly than a narrow one.

This now leads to realizing that this is part of Jesus’s point. To get into heaven, into the eternal mansion, we can’t go along with the crowd, the broad consensus. We just can’t go along with the world, which is not able to enter, because it does not believe in Jesus.

This can lead us to say that there is not just any old way into the mansion. There is a door, and it is a narrow one.

This leads us to say that there is a specific door, and it is not a door of one’s own choosing. It is not just any old door, any old way.

Jesus’s imagery of a narrow door really strikes home in our context today. We live in a culture of religious pluralism. What does religious pluralism teach? All religions are the same, at bottom. There is no real, substantive difference. Religious faith is subjective, up to one’s own preference, choice, feeling, or idea. No one has a right, therefore, to critique or judge somebody else’s religious preference, or some other group’s religious teaching. What we really need is an acknowledge that all religions are really one.

This idea was bred in thinking that peace in civil society is paramount. This peace must come about by universal agreement based on common sense and reason available to everyone, regardless of particular religious teaching. That common sense and reason is objective. Religion is a matter of subjective preference.

This idea is like a fog and noxious gas in spiritual terms, in relation to God. It hampers sight of the true faith and brings spiritual death. Jesus, the Gospel, and God’s Word, however, are like the clarity of the sun. But a culture of religious pluralism does not like such clarity.

So Jesus teaches that there is a narrow door through which we enter the kingdom of God. And we are to fight, compete, struggle to enter through this door.

The narrow door is a metaphor for spiritual entrance into Christ’s kingdom. It is a specific door, not a vague, nebulous one. It is not a subjective door, but it is the teaching of God’s Word, both in terms of God’s Law and the Gospel of Christ, depending on which one applies to specific circumstances. It is Christ Himself as the way of salvation. It is the Law of God in specific commandments and teachings as it shows us our sin, so we repent and are prepared to hear the sweet Gospel.

So what is Jesus’s overall teaching. First of all, Jesus is speaking to His people, to us, about our own lives. And Jesus addresses the problems of spiritual indifference and complacency with us. He says that a struggle exists, and we are in this struggle. Jesus rouses us to engage in the struggle. To fight the good fight of faith.

Be alert. Do what Christians do with respect to feeding on God’s Word, hearing it, learning it, struggling with it, taking it in to be shaped by it in faith, in thought, in life and conduct, and not going the way of the world in what we believe and hold to be true.

We see this in the parable, Jesus speaks of the master of the house who closes the door to the house. Some come and knock on the door. “Let us in.” The master of house tells them to go away, because he does not know where they are from.

They say, “But we ate and drank with you. You preached in our presence.” But the master of the house says, “Go away, I do not know where you are from. Because, though you at and drank with me and I preached in your presence, you are indifferent in your heart and life to the reality of sin and the truth of what I tell you and the absolute treasure that I am for you.”

Jesus speaks to our hearts: arise. Compete, Struggle. Fight. Do these against the tendency of our sinful flesh and our culture toward complacency and going along with the crowd.  

He is not teaching us works righteousness, such that we must get into heaven by the success of our fighting. That would overturn the Gospel. On the other hand, He is teaching us that faith in the Gospel is by no means indifferent to the teaching of God’s Word and the very real spiritual battle we are in.

So He calls us to fight indifference and complacency to engage the battle in the way Christians do so; engaging in God’s Word as a way of life, bringing ourselves and our children to church, engaging in prayer, and putting God’s Word into practice by faith; holding fast to Jesus.

But maybe you are tired. Maybe you are beat up in the fight. Maybe you feel you have failed. Maybe these words make us afraid that if we don’t fight perfectly enough, the door will not open.

So let’s wrap things up with this. As Jesus speaks to us today, He speaks as the one who has gone before us. He speaks as having already done it. He speaks as the one who is our power in the struggle, as the One who loves us without fail. He does not expect you to fight in your own strength.

He has redeemed you and risen for you. And now He fights within you, as you hear His call to the fight. He has given you faith. He has given you His Word. He gives you Himself and His Spirit. He has brought you to spiritual life. He forgives you when things haven’t gone so well. He has already opened the door for you. He has enabled you to engage in this fight. He Himself is the narrow door.

And He Himself has prepared for you the mansion, the place, the prize, toward which you fight on. And He Himself will give it to you in His grace, when in His grace He will say to you, well-done, my good and faithful servant. Receive the inheritance I have fought and won for you. In other words, you fight for it, because it is already yours.

Amen.



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