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
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
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
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,
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
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
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,
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.
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.
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