March 18, 2001
After hearing Jesus speak on repentance, someone in the crowd asked a single question: “Are only a few people going to be saved?” Jesus’ response—that one day the door to heaven will be closed and those who did not know Him will be shut out—is one of the most chilling in all of Scripture. In this message, Alistair Begg considers Jesus’ reply and exhorts us to repent before the opportunity to do so has passed.
Sermon Transcript: Print
The apostle Paul said that he had learned to glory in his weaknesses because it was in his weakness that he discovered God’s strength. And so, as we think this morning about the study of the Bible, we’re going to glory in the weakness of our ability to preach it, and glory in the weakness of our ability to understand it, and glory in the weakness that we have in ourselves to respond to it and actually obey it—in order that we might discover God’s strength. Let’s just ask him to help us as we study the Bible:
Father, we pray now that you will come to us in our most obvious weakness and that instead of us trying to bolster ourselves up with self-assertiveness, that we might humbly acknowledge that we can’t do anything as we ought without your help—neither study the Bible or preach the Bible or listen to it taught or obey it, live it. We’re completely dependent upon you. So come, then, to us in our weakness, and show yourself strong, we pray. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Can we turn together, then, to the portion that we read just some moments ago, beginning in Luke 13:22? For those of you who are visiting, we’re simply making our way through the Gospel of Luke in a series of systematic and consecutive studies. And so some of us have the advantage of already being able to pick up themes and see the development of things. And certainly, as we come to this opening verse of the portion this morning, in verse 22, where Luke reminds us of where Jesus was going and of what Jesus was doing, this is in direct accord with what we’ve seen from the very beginning.
Way back in the early chapters of Luke, after Jesus had been involved in the healing of many people, he’d gone out to a solitary place to pray. And at daybreak, when his disciples came and found him, the people along with them were looking for him. And as soon as they came to where they found him, they tried to persuade him not to leave. And his response to them is very clear: he said, “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to … other towns also.” “It’s very nice of you to ask me to stay, and I know that we’ve had a wonderful time, but I must keep moving, because that is why I was sent.” And this, of course, has been a recurring theme through these chapters. And here in the twenty-second verse, Luke reminds us of it: that “Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching.” He was doing exactly what it was that he’d been asked to do by his Father.
Also, we’ve seen—and this particularly from 9:51—that Jesus has a direct line now to Jerusalem. In 9:51: “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” And so it is that Luke is not simply giving us here a geographical note—helping us to understand, if you like, how we could look for Jesus on the map—but he is rather pointing out as a reminder to the readers that what he had mentioned back in 9:51 concerning this destiny-journey of Jesus to his appointed place in Jerusalem is now actually moving closer and closer to that time.
And in the course of all of this, we’ve discovered that the crowds were just gathering and increasing with each passing day. The crowds had reached such a large number at the beginning of chapter 12, as it is recorded; there were many thousands that had gathered, and as a result, they were all trampling on each other. So you have this wonderful picture of Jesus, the Galilean carpenter, moving through this area of the well-known region for him and people just coming from all directions—some who are sick, hoping that he might heal them. Somebody had said to them, “You know, I realize that you are bent double, and Jesus just healed somebody the other day who was bent double like that.” And so they said, “Perhaps if you can find your way into the company of those who are around Jesus, he may heal you too.”
A lady and her husband and their children sitting at a very meager breakfast table and finally scraping together what they had for their morning meal—looking across the table at one another, as husband and wife, and realizing that frankly, the larder was bare, and they had nothing, and they were poor and oppressed. And one of their neighbors had said that Jesus had been quoting from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. He’d done it in the synagogue at Nazareth, and he had said that, from the portion there, six hundred years prior to this time, where the Word was that “he sent me to preach the good news to the poor and tell prisoners that they’re prisoners no more and set the downtrodden free.” And then the neighbor had said, “Jesus said, ‘Today the scripture is being fulfilled in your hearing.’” And when they had ushered the children out, the husband looked at the wife and said, “I’m poor, and you’re downtrodden, so why don’t we go and try and join the crowd? And maybe Jesus will deliver us too.”
Some that were present on this occasion would’ve found it hard to explain why they were there at all, except that, again, the news of the deeds of Jesus and the summary of the words of Jesus had intrigued them enough that they decided they would get amongst the crowd and see for themselves just what was happening.
Now, in that real sense, it’s not particularly different from the average Sunday morning congregation at Parkside. Some have, most recently, undergone tests, and whereas up unto the day that you walked out with that pathology report in your hand you thought you had the world by the tail, now you realize that you are very mortal, you’re feeling very insecure, and although you’ve had no interest in religion or in Jesus for some time, you’ve decided that it is time for you to come back and at least get amongst the crowd and see if Jesus is actually able to do anything at all.
Some of you, although you have done very well in business, have found that the last year was dreadful, and this year has not been any better at all. And while you would not be classed amongst the downtrodden and the poor, the very fact of the uncertainty of everything has caused you to say, “You know, I think I need to consider this dimension of spiritual things, which I’ve really given no credence to at all.” And you’re in the crowd.
Others of you are here, and you’re frankly just curious. People have said things, or you’ve heard things, and you said, “Well, let’s go along. We’ll give it a week or two. I’m sure there’s nothing in it at all, but we don’t want to find ourselves on the outside looking in if there is, so let’s just get close enough and see if there’s anything from this Jesus, as people say.”
And some of you are here because you’d like to ask Jesus a question of your own. You’ve actually said to yourself, “If I had the chance to walk right up to Jesus, I’d ask him a question. And I know what question I would ask him.” And maybe some of you would want to ask the question that the unidentified individual asks here, as is recorded for us in verse 23. You can imagine this man saying, “You know, if I ever get up to the front of this crowd, I’m just going to ask…” Actually, it could have been a lady; I beg your pardon. It’s not identified as a man or a woman. Because when Jesus replies, he replies in the plural. We would know by his reply if he’d replied in the singular, because then Luke would’ve said, “He said to him,” or “He said to her.” But since it says, “He said to them,” we don’t know, actually, whether it was a man or a woman. (So you see how sensitive I am to these things, that I would identify them. Yeah.) Said, “If I ever get up there, I’m going to ask him this question,” and suddenly he is up there, and he asks the question: “Jesus! Jesus! Question! Are only a few people going to be saved?”
Now, in my notes, I just have three headings. The first heading is “The Inquiry.” “The Inquiry.” That is i-n-q-u-i-r-y, as opposed to enquiry, which is e-n-q-u-i-r- (right?) y. In English, as opposed to American English, to enquire—to enquire—is to ask a question. To inquire is to conduct an investigation. You do not have that distinction in American English. So this is an inquiry; it’s not an enquiry. This is not simply a question; this is an investigation: “I want to know, Lord Jesus, will there only be a few people that are eventually saved?”
Now, it may well be that the person had been present for the healing of this lady in the synagogue. Perhaps he had heard Jesus explain the kingdom in terms of a mustard seed—a tiny seed, the tiniest that Palestinian farmers planted and that grew into this plant form—describing it as a mustard seed and then describing it as a bit of yeast. The person may have put that together, ignoring the expansive qualities of the mustard seed and the way in which yeast works its way through the totality of the dough, fastening just on the smallness of it. And so he put two and two together, and he said, “Well, Lord Jesus, on the basis of what you’ve just been explaining here after that marginalized lady in the synagogue was converted, I mean, is this the kind of thing that we can expect, that salvation is going to be negligible? Because when you started out with this news of ‘The kingdom of God has come,’ many of us were assuming that this is going to be dramatic, and it was going to be huge, and it was going to be impactful. But some of us have been following for a while now, and it just seems to be that, you know—for example, in the synagogue, this lady is changed, and that’s a wonderful thing; we’re not saying it isn’t. But it’s not really huge. Are there only going to be a few people that get saved?”
Now, the question is understandable, and the question is not uncommon. But the question is at the same time largely theoretical and speculative. It is, if you like, an arithmetical question. And if this questioner had been around long enough, he would have known that when people from the crowd or even from the immediacy of his disciples interrupted Jesus with a question or with a situation, they discovered that Jesus did not always answer in the way they expected or hoped.
Now, we could go all the way back through Luke, but we won’t. Let me just illustrate it. If you turn back a page into chapter 12 and in verse 13: “Someone in the crowd [shouted out], ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’” He said, “If I get up to the front, I’m going to get this thing sorted out. I got a legal problem here, and I’m going to get this resolved once and for all.” And, of course, what does Jesus do? He uses this as an opportunity to provide a discourse on the dreadful nature of greed and to point out to the crowd—choosing to set aside the individual’s question—the absolute necessity that they would understand, each of them, that “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Now, the individual thought that it was imperative that he had his question answered in the way he asked it. What Jesus knew was that the crowd needed a different discourse, which that question gave rise to.
You find the same thing even with his own disciples. Still in chapter 12, verse 41: “Peter asked, ‘Lord, are you telling this parable to us, or to everyone?’” And then look at the answer: “The Lord answered, ‘Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time?’” You can imagine the other disciples looking across at Peter and going, “Hey, hey! Good question, Peter. That was nice!” you know.
Those of us who were adept at getting our teachers off track by asking questions so as to prevent the lesson ever getting to the section in the book about which we knew absolutely nothing found our match in the teachers who were completely able to turn the tables on us. So we’d put up our hand and say, “Excuse me, I wanted to ask about such and such.” And the reply comes back: “It’s got nothing at all to do with what we said.” And all of our friends look at us and go, “She got you.” Now, here’s the thing: teacher knows best. The discriminating teacher knows, “That’s a red herring from Begg. That’s the fourth one this week. I don’t need to go there, for I have a whole group here that need instruction, and he’s not going to get me off track with that stuff.” And the answer, of course, on the teacher’s part is right.
And when the teacher is divine and the teacher is Jesus, then although the person may say, “That’s not the question that I asked!” or “That’s not the answer that I expected!” Jesus never, ever gave the wrong answer. It may not have been the answer that the individual wanted, but it was always the answer that those who were present needed. And that is why, you see, although it is an individual who addresses the question to him, the response is in the plural. “Someone,” singular, verse 23, “asked him…” “He said to them,” plural! “Thanks for your question. Now let me speak to the whole group.” It’s a reminder to us that we may think to examine Jesus intellectually, and we find that he examines us spiritually.
So what Jesus does is just this: he takes a potentially speculative dialogue on the nature of salvation, and he turns it into a very pointed challenge that demands personal evaluation. The person puts up his hand, says, “I’d like to ask you a question: Are there only going to be a few that are saved?” Jesus takes something that is speculative and theoretical, and he turns it into a consideration of that which is practical and personal. And as we move from “The Inquiry” to “The Challenge,” let me essentially summarize for you what he’s saying to the group: “Whatever the number may be of those who are saved, what should concern each of you in this group,” says Jesus, “is that you should ensure without delay that you are actually part of that company. Make sure before the guillotine falls, make sure before the door closes, make sure before death snatches you that you don’t allow yourself to be sidelined by speculative discussions while you are ignoring the intensely necessary practical implications of the message of the kingdom which I have brought in your hearing today.”
Now, let’s just look at what he says in verse 24: “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.” Now, why does he speak to all of them? Well, because all of them need to be spoken to. It’s interesting, isn’t it? I mean, somebody comes and asks a question; you don’t have to speak to the whole group, do you? Say, “Come over here, and I’ll answer your question for you.” No, Jesus recognizes that someone has got a concern here, but the greater concern is that this great company of people that gather in his wake, they need to recognize that there’s going to come an end day for every journey they take.
There isn’t much hymnody about this now. I searched, really in vain, for anything that would be helpful. But I can remember growing up in Scotland and ending services with hymns that had lines in them like:
Life at best is very brief,
Like the falling of a leaf,
Like the binding of a sheaf,
[So] be in time.
You know, and then:
If in sin you longer wait,
You may find no open gate,
And your cry be just too late,
[So] be in time.
And I can still remember, as a child, the awesomeness of that thought reverberating through my young frame, thinking that after this individual has explained to this great company of people the nature of Christ and what he’s done and why he’s come—it was immense to me to consider that there may be individuals sitting there who, by dint of their pride or by dint of whatever it may be within them, determined that they would go away and they would deal with it tomorrow.
Jesus says, “Listen: don’t let’s get sidelined on this speculative question. Let’s deal with the practical question. What about you?” he says. “What about you in relationship to these things? I want you, mister, miss, madam, sir, to make sure that you are agonizing to get through that narrow door. Because let me tell you this: there will be many who try to, and they will be unable to when the householder rises up and shuts the door.”
And some of the people in the group would say, “Sounds like Noah and his ark, doesn’t it?” Yes, it does. Noah was “a preacher of righteousness.” He exhorted the people again and again. The people said, “Forget it! It’s a crazy idea, Noah.” And by the time they came to bang on the sides of the ark, with the rain beginning to beat down upon them and the water beginning to rise at their ankles, suddenly the cries of their hearts were unheeded, because it was too late! You see, the individual comes with a question that has to do with quantity; Jesus answers and turns the issue to the matter of chronology, or to time, or to brevity.
Now, the narrow door is not explained; it’s not interpreted for us. But it is plainly the door into salvation. Jesus has already addressed this. Matthew records it in Matthew 7, where, in a very similar statement, he says, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.” Now, I recognize that this is a stumbling block to many in our day, living as we do in an age of pluralism, where the idea is that every idea is valid in its own right—that if you’re going to be tolerant, then you have to agree that everybody’s angle is the right angle and everybody’s way is the right way. Any idea of contradiction is completely ruled out.
I’ve told you before: we need to distinguish between legal tolerance, which is, of course, something that we affirm within the freedom of our democracy, and social tolerance, which is something that we must affirm in relationship to our diversity within the democracy. People dress differently, live differently, worship differently, and our democracy demands that we are tolerant of that within the social framework. But intellectual tolerance, whereby we want to argue the idea that every reason is valid and every road leads to heaven like it leads to Timbuktu, is not a sign of anything other than mental insufficiency. Those of you who play soccer know that the only way you get a goal is when you kick it between the posts and underneath the crossbar. It’s not recorded as a goal simply because you kick it down into your opponent’s end of the field. If that were the case, then nobody would know who was winning or who was losing. Everyone understands that. The game starts, it’s played within certain framework, and there are goals towards which you move. It’s either in or it’s out. It’s either a goal or it’s a miss.
When the pilot lands the plane, the objective is not to land it somewhere in the vicinity of Cleveland. Last night, coming down through the snow at about four thousand feet or whatever it was, I was very, very glad to think of all the things I’ve been told about the way it all funnels down, and this 737-800 can get to seven hundred feet at 160 knots, which is virtually zero-zero, and they can still pull it away at that point. I was reminding myself all of that as we came down through those clouds. And I was glad that I hadn’t heard from the cockpit, “Hey, we’ll be landing the plane somewhere in a field somewhere in Cleveland sometime in the next little while.” That’s not reassuring. No. We want to know that there is a field (that it is the Cleveland Hopkins field), and that there is a runway (whether it is three right or left or whatever it is), and we’re going down on there for safety. Everybody understands that. And everybody longs for that.
You go in to have your tonsils taken out… In fact, I overheard a conversation yesterday of physicians from the Staten Island hospital explaining why it was that the Staten Island hospital had taken on board the man from another New York hospital who lost his license because he had removed a tumor from the wrong side of the guy’s brain. (If you remember that, he got a lot of press.) Actually, he removed an imaginary tumor, because the tumor was actually on the other side of his brain; and he went in, and he excised part of the brain that had no tumor. And then the guy was back, and he was practicing in the Staten Island hospital. And I said—I didn’t say, but I was about to say… But I was tuned in enough to the conversation to listen, and fortunately, one of the guys said what I wanted to say, was “How in the world did that happen?”
And apparently, what happened… (And you’re all interested in this now, I can tell.) But apparently how that happened… (It’s got nothing at all with Luke 13, but it’s a great story.) How that happened was that there were two men of foreign descent with unpronounceable names in the hospital in the same time period for brain surgery. The CAT scans were reversed. The surgeon, who for twenty years of his life had trusted all of the pre-op team, all of the nurses, all of those doctors that scramble to make him look like a genius, walked in as he’d done for the previous twenty years and assumed that they had the right name and the right scan and the right person and the right circumstance. And on the strength of that he made the incisions. He was operating to an absolutely defined, unique, categorical standard which is implicit in surgical procedures. Everybody understands that.
Then Jesus steps on the stage of human history, and he says, “Here are the goalposts. Here is the runway. Here is where the incision goes.” And people say, “Wait a minute, that can’t possibly be the case.” Why is that? Because of the perversity of the human heart. That is not an intellectual issue. That is ultimately a moral issue. And so Jesus says, “Enter in at this narrow gate, because I tell you, many will try to enter it, and they will not be able.”
Now, let me take a moment and explain to you that this expression here, “Make every effort,” is very important. It is agōnizomai, from which we get the English word agonize. He says, “I want you to agonize, I want you to wrestle, I want you to struggle to enter in.” “Oh,” says somebody who’s been attending for a time, “surely that’s not the case. We’re not supposed to struggle to enter the kingdom of heaven. That sounds as though we get ourselves in by the things that we do.” Very good. Go to the top of the class and tie that to a Bible reference if you can. Write it down and store it, because that’s good. Yes, we know that “it is by grace we are saved through faith—and that not of ourselves—not of works lest any man should boast.” We know that. We’re not saved by good works, but we do know that Ephesians 2:10 says that we are saved for good works. We know that the ground of our salvation is in what Jesus has achieved upon the cross. But we know, too, that the evidence of our salvation is that we then make every effort along the journey of our lives.
Now, I don’t want to belabor the point, but I don’t want to miss it either. The phraseology here in verse 23—the actual Greek terminology—is a present participle: “Lord, are only a few people being saved?” “Are only a few people being saved?” Remember, we’ve said in the past the story of the Salvation Army girl, when the bishop responds to her when she asks, “Excuse me, Bishop, is you saved?” And remember, he said, “Do you mean, have I been saved from sin’s penalty, will I be saved from sin’s presence, or am I being saved from sin’s power?”
Now, the point of emphasis here is this: Jesus says—and he’s speaking to his disciples as well, and the crowd—and he looks at the group, and he says, “Now, I want to make sure that every one of you is making every effort to see that you enter through that narrow gate.” This is, if you like, a precursor to what Paul finally gives us in Philippians 2:12: “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God [who is at work] in you both to will and do of his good pleasure.” It is the emphasis of the warnings of Hebrews. For example, let me just turn you to one passage so that it’s not tedious. But just look at this with me so that you get the emphasis. Hebrews 3:12.
Incidentally, you’ll find the same present participle in 1 Corinthians 1:18, in 2 Corinthians 2:15, and also in Acts 2:47, which is where it says, “And the Lord was adding to their number daily those who were being saved.” Now, how do we know who the people are who are being saved? Is it the people that can go in their pocket and say, “Here I have a thing, and on 22 February 1981, I raised my hand at a service that was held for young people in Akron”? Well, thank you very much for telling me that, and thank you for letting me see your card. Or is it somebody else, who says, “Well, I know that I’m being saved because I did this on such and such a day, and the person told me if I did this I would be saved. They told me to stand up, or they told me to sit down, or they told me to walk up, or whatever it was.” You ought to be very, very careful of that kind of thing, because that sounds dreadfully as if the reason you believe you’re being saved is because of something that you did, when being saved is all about something that God did—that salvation is utterly outside of ourselves, as Luther said.
So when the challenge comes, “Make every effort to see that you’re entering through the narrow door,” instead of the believer saying, “Oh, this is a great work for Mr. So-and-So five seats along the row; this is a tremendous evangelistic message”—loved ones, this is your message! This is my message! Jesus says, “Alistair, make sure that you are striving to enter through the narrow gate. Because it is by your continuance that you give evidence of the fact that that day and time when I grabbed ahold of you is reality and not spurious.” Remember that at least—well, that Judas was in the group as well, right? Judas did not strive to enter in at the narrow gate. He didn’t!
Hebrews 3: “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” Now, think about people who were sitting with us twelve months ago. Where are they? Think of all the people that were marching with us, that got baptized with us. Where are they? They have not been striving to enter through the narrow gate. They have not been seeing to it that they don’t have a sinful heart, because everything in the culture mitigates against a pure heart. Everything is working towards my taking on board that which is untrue and unkind and unnecessary. And the Bible says, “You better see to it that you don’t have a sinful heart and an unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.”
Do you recognize, believer, the great potential for turning away from the living God? If you don’t, you’re not alive. You’re dead! But if you’re alive, you know that the hymn writer was correct: “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” Prone to ignore the Bible, prone to ignore Christian fellowship, prone to get through on the least common denominator, and I always take as my salvation the fact that somewhere away in the past, you know, I entered in at the narrow gate. It’s interesting, Jesus doesn’t use that at all. He says, “I want to say to you folks, you’d better be striving to make sure you enter in at the narrow gate.” And that is where the encouragement of one another comes in: “Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by [the] deceitfulness [of sin].” Listen, loved ones: the deceitfulness of sin may harden any one of us. And then he explains, “We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly [to] the end the confidence we had at [the beginning].”
Now, for those of you who’ve been on the journey any time, what do we know? We know that it is an absolute mystery that we’re still alive. We know that it is an incredible mystery that we’re even still here, that we still sing Christian songs, that we still read our Bible, that we still gather with the people of God, that the same grace that has redeemed us has sustained us and has kept us—but it hasn’t happened in isolation. I mean, Jesus doesn’t drop me in the pulpit—you know, he’d pick me up on the average Sunday and say, “There you go.” You have to walk in. He doesn’t bring you to church by some special weird mechanism, does he? No, you have to get up and say, “Well, I’m going to have to see to it today that I don’t have a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. I’m going to strive today to enter into at the narrow gate.” And it is by our striving to enter in at the narrow gate that we give evidence of the fact that the Spirit of God is striving within us, which enables us, then, to strive with everything in us.
So, for example, you have a ticket in your pocket, you’re going to the Browns’ stadium, and you got seat 25F or whatever else it is. And the crowd is unbelievable. There’s people moving everywhere; they scramble all over the place. You just say to yourself, “Oh, well, I’ve got a ticket. Who cares, you know?” No, you don’t say that. Not if you’re a sensible person. Not if you want to be there for the national anthem. You’ve got your ticket in your hand or stuffed down your shirt or held somewhere safe, then you’re going, “Excuse me! Excuse me! Excuse me! Excuse me! Excuse me! Excuse me! Wait a minute! Excuse me!” “What are you doing?” “I’m striving to enter! I want to be there! I want to be there with a passion! And whatever it takes, I’m going to be there! I’m going to be in my seat, and I’m going to be on time.” Can you imagine you take fifteen hundred people with that kind of passion and commitment to enter through the narrow gate for Jesus Christ? “Excuse me, Jesus, are there only going to be a few people saved?” “Hey, cut the theory. Listen: Make sure! Because there will be people who will try, and they won’t be there.”
What does that mean? Does that mean somehow or another that earnest seekers who genuinely want to go to heaven can’t go to heaven? That they’re excluded from the kingdom of God even though in their hearts they longed to enter through that narrow gate? Not for a moment. What Jesus is emphasizing is the inevitability of a time limit on the offer of salvation. Those outside the door finally show up, and they show up too late. I think that’s the whole point.
I think the sentence structure in the NIV is not as helpful as it might be. Let me explain what I mean. If you look at verse 24, in the second half, beginning with “because many,” he says, “Many, I tell you, will try to enter … will not be able to,” full stop. Then a new sentence starts in verse 25. Remember, this punctuation is not actually in the Greek New Testament. I don’t think that’s the best punctuation. Of course, I’m not brilliant at this, but let me tell you what I think it probably is: “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 see the difference? “Many, I tell you, will try and enter and will not be able to once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door,” as opposed to “Many … will try to enter and will not be able to,” full stop. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, they will be pleading and so on.
In other words, the point that Jesus is making is this: “There is going to come a time, dear people, as you follow me and as you listen to my message and as I explain to you the kingdom—there is going to come a time in your experience where the door will be shut to you. And so I say to you, strive now to enter in at that narrow gate.” The interesting thing is that the people who came apparently just expected that they were going to be allowed in. And the staggering thing for them was the response of the householder. Verse 25: “Open the door for us, sir.” And he said, “I don’t know you or where you come from.” And then they said, “Well, we ate and drank with you. You taught in our streets. We’ve had associations with you, Jesus.” The householder said, “I don’t know who you are or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!”
It’d be like going to a wedding reception and looking for your name on that board on the easel. You go in, you look for your name; it’s not there. So your wife says, “It can’t have got on there. It must be at the place—at the place settings.” You go from table to table: “Excuse me, but is there an Alistair Begg there? Do you got a Begg in this?” Eventually, go through the whole big banquet: not on the list!
The Jews—you’ve got to read this in the Old Testament—but the Jewish people knew that everything was moving towards a fantastic banquet. Because God had set his love upon them, they just assumed, “We’re in! I mean, we’re definitely in, just because of who we are! We’re in!” Jesus said, “No, you’re not.” Now, you can get crucified for that, right?
Some of you are here today, and because of your status, you get into most places. Well, that’s wonderful, and nobody wants to gainsay that at all. It’s nice that you have access. But in the back of your mind, you got the idea that somehow or another, at the gate of heaven, you’re going to be able to say, “You know, I was a member of the Transport and General Workers’ Union, and I believe you got a special section for us here.”
And Peter says, “What union?”
Or someone says, “I was a member of the Union Club, Cleveland.”
“Yeah, I have the thing on the back of my car. It’s very nice. In fact, I think I brought it with me. I don’t know.”
Says, “No, we don’t have any special deal for the Union Club.”
“I was a member of the Parkside Church.”
“Yeah, Pettibone Road.”
“Never heard of it.”
“I listen to the radio. I mean, we listened to the sermons. We ate and drank with you. You taught in our streets.”
Verse 27; look at it: “I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers.”
Now, let me just wrap this by giving you my third heading. I don’t have time to expound on it, really, but you’ve got an inquiry, then you have a challenge, and then you have a statement of the final division. “The Final Division.”
Ultimately, there will only be two classes of people. There will only be two classes of people, and that is those who’re on the inside and those who are on the outside. Ironically, those who claim to be the children of Abraham are going to be forbidden access to Abraham’s table not because they’ve miscalculated their family tree but because status among those being saved is not an inherited status. And so they will weep and wail as an expression of their grief, they will gnash and grind their teeth as an expression of their anger, and you have, in verse 28, one of the most tragic and most descriptive depictments of ultimate frustration and ultimate disappointment. Their misery will be compounded on two fronts, because they will see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, their heritage and their heroes, combined with all the prophets—the prophets, to whom they would not listen and the prophets whom they stoned. Look at verse 34, just anticipating next Sunday, if God spares us: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you.” So God sends his prophets; they put their fingers in their ears. God comes to them and says, “Again and again and again, would I not draw you as a hen gathers her chicks? And you wouldn’t come to me. Do you think you’re going to be able to come to me then under some special dispensation on the basis of status or on the base of association?” He says, “Many will try, and it’ll be too late, and it won’t work. They won’t be able to plead the case.”
In Scotland as a small boy, they gave this to us, as with most things, in a little chorus. Most of the poetry—and the choruses—was not that great. The melodies weren’t particularly brilliant either, but somehow or another, the truth stuck with me. And it used to rivet me when we sang it on a Sunday morning. I don’t know whether I was more sensitive than most or whatever it might be. I sometimes wonder if I could go back and find those children from the Sunday school class. I’d love to know where they are. But it went like this:
One door, and only one,
And yet its sides are two,
[The] inside[, the] outside,
On which side are you?
One door and only one,
and yet its sides are two.
And then we used to sing, “I’m on the inside, on which side are you?” See, there’s people out there in that vestibule right now. They’re either in the room or they’re outside the room, and the thing that makes the difference is whether they’ve come through the door or not.
Go and buy yourself a copy of Pilgrim’s Progress, or ask for it for your birthday. Get it in the bookstore today, or order it. There will be now a great run and sell out all the three copies that we have or something. And you’re going to buy it… (Everyone’s going, “I’ve got to get through there.”) And you’re going to buy it so that you can read the section in which Formalist and Hypocrisy challenge Christian on the basis of the fact that he said that they shouldn’t be climbing over the wall to get into the narrow way—because, he said, the only way into the narrow way was through the narrow gate.
And in the dialogue that ensues—that I don’t have time, really, to go into—he chides them for the fact they had made a shortcut and climbed over the wall. And Formalist and Hypocrisy say to him in passing—this is just to whet your appetite and we’re done—but they say to him that custom for doing this kind of thing has a “standing as above a thousand years.” In other words, he said, “People have been climbing over the wall for a thousand years. Why are you making such a fuss about it? And we would doubtless be admitted by an impartial judge.” “And besides,” they said, “if we get into the way, what matter is it which way we get in?” It’s got a contemporary ring to it, doesn’t it? “I mean, you get to heaven. I mean, who cares how you get there as long as you get there.” Isn’t that what we all say? That’s what the people say: “Well, that’s what I always say: as long as you have faith, as long as you have faith…” The people go, “Yes,” and cough in their beard for a while, and they don’t know what to say. And those are just the ladies. If… (Sorry.) He says, “If we are in, we are in.” “If we[’re] in, we[’re] in”! “Thou art but in the way, who, as we perceive, came in at the gate; and we [are] also … in the way, that came tumbling over the wall: wherein now is thy condition better than ours?” Christian says to them, “You come in by yourselves without his direction, and [you] shall go out by yourselves without his mercy.”
So the devil has three apprentice devils, and they come to him, and they say, “We’re going to go out and ruin people in terms of their desire to respond to the message of salvation in Jesus.”
And he said to the first one, “And how are you planning on doing that?”
“Well,” said the apprentice devil, “I’m just going to go out and tell everybody there’s no such thing as heaven.”
“Oh,” the devil said, “that’s a silly idea. Everybody knows in their heart that there is a heaven. They all want to go to heaven.” The second one: “How ’bout you?”
He said, “Well, I’m going to tell them that there’s no hell.”
The devil said, “That’s not going to work either, because people know that bad needs to be punished. They do it all the time. They know there is a hell.” And to the third one: “What’re you going to do?”
Said, “Well, I’m just going to go out and tell everybody there’s no hurry.”
The devil said, “Go, and you will ruin them by the millions.”
“Many will try to enter and will be unable to once the master of the house has risen and shut the door.”
Life at best is very brief …
Like the binding of a sheaf,
Be in time.
Be in time.
Father, out of an abundance of words, we pray that we might hear your voice. Indeed, anything that is unhelpful or untrue or unclear we ask that, in your mercy, might be banished from our recollection, and that which is of yourself and tends to Christ and calls us to the wonder of his redeeming love may reverberate in our hearts and minds to such an extent that we can do no other than come and meet you at the gate. We love the words
I hear thy welcome voice,
That calls me, Lord, to thee
For [trusting] in [that] precious blood
That flowed from Calvary.
Grant, then, that your kindness may lead us today and all our days towards the repentance by which we so reveal ourselves to be those who are making every effort to enter through that narrow door.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest and remain with all who believe, today and forevermore. Amen.
 See 2 Corinthians 12:9–10.
 Luke 4:43 (NIV 1984).
 See Luke 13:10–13.
 Luke 4:18 (paraphrased). See also Isaiah 61:1–2.
 Luke 4:21 (paraphrased).
 See Luke 13:18–21.
 Luke 12:15 (NIV 1984).
 Charles Harrison Mason, “Life at Best Is Very Brief.”
 2 Peter 2:5 (NIV 1984).
 Matthew 7:13 (NIV 1984).
 Ephesians 2:8–9 (paraphrased).
 Philippians 2:12–13 (KJV).
 Acts 2:47 (paraphrased).
 See, for example, Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will 24.
 Hebrews 3:12 (NIV 1984).
 Robert Robinson “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” (1758).
 Hebrews 3:13–14 (NIV 1984).
 See Luke 13:34.
 “One Door and Only One” (1922).
 John Bunyan, The Pigrim’s Progress (1678).
 Lewis Hartsough, “I Hear Thy Welcome Voice” (1872).
Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.