The Few, the Humble, and the Righteous Enter God's Kingdom and Are Saved!
O Lord God, my dear heavenly Father, may I enter Your presence this day for worship with a heart true to You and not compromised by allegiances to this world. May I love You with all my heart, my soul, my mind, and my strength in view of Your great love for me in spite of my many sins and in view of the atoning work of Jesus Christ. May I confess my sins heartily, hear Your Word attentively, and sing Your praises joyfully. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
Isaiah looks forward to the coming of God’s Kingdom when His glory would be proclaimed to all nations, and people of all nations would be gathered into His Church. He speaks of the ultimate goal for believers—heaven and the unfortunate end for unbelievers--hell.
The writer to the Hebrews contrasts Mt. Sinai with Mt. Zion. Mt. Sinai’s law condemns man’s sin, while Mt. Zion’s gospel proclaims God’s grace. God’s grace justifies and brings us a new covenant based upon the blood of Jesus Christ, our Mediator.
Text: Luke 13:22-30 And He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. Then one said to Him, “Lord, are there few who are saved?” And He said to them,“Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’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, and yourselves thrust out. They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.”
In Christ Jesus, who calls us to faithfulness, dear fellow redeemed:
“The few, the proud, the brave”…those words reference the members of the United States Marine Corps. Indeed, relatively few men and women are able to meet the standards set for entrance into the Marine Corps. Those who do are justifiably proud, and those who enter the ranks of the Marines are often noted for bravery in combat. Anyone’s association with the Marine Corps, however, is limited in time. Whether one is talking about a single enlistment period of four years or an entire career, the longest serving Marines are limited in their time of service to the productive years of life on this earth.
Entrance into the kingdom of God is similar, Jesus says, in that few people actually enter God’s kingdom and are saved. But it is not the proud who enter the kingdom of God. Rather it is the humble; and it is not the brave who serve within the ranks of that kingdom, but rather the righteous. The greatest contrast, however, between serving in the United States Marine Corps and the kingdom of God is the term of enlistment. While any enlistment within the Marine Corps is limited, every individual who serves within the kingdom of God will do so forever! Let us consider this thought: THE FEW, THE HUMBLE, AND THE RIGHTEOUS ENTER GOD’S KINGDOM AND ARE SAVED! In view of that fact, I would urge you: strive to enter through the narrow gate; strive to serve rather than to be served; and strive to know God and be known by God!
Jesus’ words in our text are a response to the question: “Lord, are there few who are saved?” We are not told who asked the question or why it was asked, but it is an important question for all of us. Jesus responds affirmatively by saying, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” Why is it that most people who seek to enter God’s kingdom will not be able? That sounds both strange and foreboding!
Before we go any further, let me say that any problem here does not lie with God, but rather with man! The reason why so few people enter the kingdom of God is because the way into the kingdom of God runs contrary to the thinking of fallen mankind. Fallen mankind thinks that just as individuals must be exceptionally fit to enter the Marines Corps, so they must be exceptionally fit, that is morally and spiritually superior to others, to enter the kingdom of God. Yet, the Bible states categorically concerning all of mankind: “There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God” (Rom. 3:10b-11). There is no one who is by nature or through natural effort of sufficient moral and spiritual character to gain entrance into God’s kingdom. The Bible clearly says: “There is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:22b-23). Human beings, however, simply do not agree with that Biblical truth in spite of the evidence of sin all around them. How often do you not hear people saying things like: “There is a little bit of good in everyone,” thus softening Biblical truth and suggesting that ultimately everyone will make it to heaven because of their goodness? How often do not people substitute the Biblical teaching that mankind was originally created in the perfect image of God but that he has lost that perfection due to sin, for the unbiblical teaching of the New Age religions that within every man lies a spark of divinity? That is simply one of many variations of Satan’s original lie that Adam and Eve would become like God, if only they would defy Him! (cf. Gen. 3:4-5)
The fact that only a few will enter the kingdom of God, interestingly enough, is contrary to the will of God. The Bible says: “God our Savior…desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3b-4). How can this be? If God is omnipotent (all-powerful), how can His will be frustrated? The reason lies in this, that God invites and encourages us to come to Him, but He does not and will not force us to come. Think of Jesus’ appeal: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11:28). Jesus’ arms are open. He is “the way, the truth, and the life…” the only way back to our heavenly Father (cf. Jn. 14:6). He is the “narrow gate,” but He will not force us to come and to enter that kingdom which brings with it such great blessings. In fact, we human beings have the terrible ability to say, “No,” to God. In the verses immediately following our text Jesus laments: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Lk. 13:34) Yes, unfortunately it is THE FEW who ENTER GOD’S KINGDOM AND ARE SAVED! In view of that fact, I would urge you: strive to enter through the narrow gate!
Who, then, can and will enter the kingdom of God? At this point let us skip down to the last verses of our text. Jesus concludes: “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, and yourselves thrust out. They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.” As mentioned before, the thinking of God and man run contrary to each other when it comes to entering the kingdom of God. In fact, they are polar opposites. God rejects human pride and instead exalts humility. Pride deceives man into thinking more of himself than he ought—especially religious pride. This was true in Jesus’ day, even as it is in our own.
To whom was Jesus speaking in our text? While His audience remains unnamed, we can assume that it included His own Jewish people, most of whom did not believe in Him. These people placed a great deal of confidence in the fact that they were physical descendants of Abraham, that they were circumcised and so members of God’s chosen race. They boasted of their ancestral ties to the patriarchs Isaac and Jacob. The temple of the living God was located in their midst, and they participated in the external worship with all of its religious rites and impressive ceremonies. Yet, Jesus said that they would be “thrust out,” that they would be “weeping and gnashing…(their) teeth” when the day of final judgment would arrive. Others would come from the east and the west, from the north and the south to “sit down in the kingdom of God.” Indeed, the “last” would be “first” while the “first” would be “last.” Who are all of those people? Historically, they were the Gentile converts who would flock to fill the early church after Pentecost. Ultimately, they are those who confess their sins and utter unworthiness—the humble who find forgiveness, life, and salvation through the merits of the Jesus Christ!
My dear friends, it is still THE HUMBLE WHO ENTER THE KINGDOM OF GOD! Let us not take pride in our spiritual ancestors—Edmond Reim, C.F.W. Walther, or Martin Luther, as if somehow our connection to them is our ticket to heaven. We will not enter the kingdom of God because we are confessional Lutherans, although our confessional heritage should show us the way! Rather, we enter the kingdom of God on our knees with great humility, confessing our sins and acknowledging our dependence upon Jesus as our Savior. It is with that same humility that we are to approach our religious life within God’s kingdom—seeking to serve others even as they themselves have been served. Remember Jesus’ words to His first disciples: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:25b-28). Truly, it is THE HUMBLE who ENTER GOD’S KINGDOM AND ARE SAVED! In view of that fact, I would urge you too: strive to serve rather than to be served!
Finally, Jesus addresses the topic of true righteousness, for it is THE RIGHTEOUS who ENTER GOD’S KINGDOM AND ARE SAVED! Returning to the middle portion of our text we find Jesus describing a conversation between “the Master of the house,” who is Jesus Himself, and those outside the kingdom: “When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’”
Those stark words ought to give us all pause for reflection. Most of the people listening to Jesus that day assumed they were members of the kingdom of God, but they were not. They were people who knew the right words, and who often positioned themselves in the right places, but whose hearts were far from Christ. They knew of Him, but did not embrace Him. They assumed that everything was alright as they pursued their own goals and dreams, but whose lives were lived parallel to but outside of the kingdom.
Last Sunday evening while in Wisconsin, my wife and I visited her 92 year old Aunt Dorothy one last time. She passed away three days later of cancer. After greeting me she said, “Paul, you keep working with the unchurched. They need to know how important it is to go to church. They need to hear God’s Word and to believe in Jesus.” Dear friends, it is indeed important that we work hard to reach out to the unchurched, but, as I listened to Dorothy and pondered the words of our text, I could not but think of those who may well be lost right here at Immanuel.
We have approximately 950 members. Where are they? Our average Sunday worship attendance is just over 350. Where are the other 600? I do not say that either to commend you or to condemn them. I mention it, however, because the outward association with our congregation—or any congregation for that matter—does not mean you are a member of the kingdom of God. Possessing the righteousness of Jesus Christ by faith alone makes you a member of God’s kingdom. Participating in Christmas Eve services, attending occasional services, or from time to time coming to communion does not. Do not get me wrong—I want all of our members to attend Bible classes and worship services regularly. We all need the strength that comes from the reception of the Lord’s Supper. Those who are righteous in Christ will see the need and rejoice in those opportunities. Those who truly believe, however, will confirm their faith with good works that flow from faith. Those who truly know the love of God will love God and want to be with Him more than with anyone else!
The Master of the house told those outside His door, “I do not know you!” Does God know you? Do you know God? That is the condition for which we must all strive—“to know… the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom…(He has)…sent” (Jn. 17:3). My dear friends, let us not play at religion. Let us not straddle the fence with one toe of one foot testing divine truth, while the entire other foot rests firmly upon the supposed wisdom of this world. Let us not take the attitude that there will always be time for God at some later date. Rather, let us strive after faithfulness. Let us strive to know God and be known by God! It is, after all, THE FEW, THE HUMBLE, AND THE RIGHTEOUS who ENTER GOD’S KINGDOM AND ARE SAVED! Yes, let us strive to be among them, dear friends! Amen.
—Pastor Paul D. Nolting