Lord, Lord, Open Unto Us!
Based on Series of Sermons on the Repetition of Name and Titles
Preached in PCC Worship Service, 1 September 2013
Part 1 of 3

We are continuing in our study of the repetition of names and titles that are found in the Bible. In this next series of articles, we will be looking at Luke 13:22-30 – a passage that may be entitled, “The Narrow and Soon-Shut Door.”

In verse 25, we read these words, “When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are:”

We may divide this passage into four parts: the context and question (vv. 22-23), the command of our Lord (v. 24), the caution of our Lord (vv. 25-27), and the change that will take place (vv. 28-30). In this article, we will consider the first two parts.

The Context and Question (vv. 22-23)

First then, the context and the question leading to our Lord’s teaching in the text. Verse 22, “And he went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem.”

Earlier in chapter 9 verse 51, Luke tells us that the Lord Jesus had stedfastly set his face to go to Jerusalem because He knew that the time for His departure from this world was drawing nigh. This marks the beginning of the end of His earthly ministry and it marks the longest section in Luke’s gospel from chapter 9, verse 51 all the way till chapter 19, verse 44. This section may be described as the Lord’s final journey to Jerusalem.

Here in verse 22, Luke reminds us again that the Lord was making His way to Jerusalem and as He made His way there, He went through the many cities and villages of Israel in order to teach and preach to the people there. While He was on this teaching journey, someone raised a question to Him about the number of those who would be saved and whether that number would be small.

Verse 23, “Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved?” We are not told who this person was. Perhaps he was one of those self-righteous Jews who believed that only the physical descendants or children of Abraham could be saved and that there was no hope of salvation for the uncircumcised Gentiles.

Or perhaps it was someone who simply enjoyed speculating and asking curious questions about the future and the state of things in eternity. As an aside, there are quite a lot of people like that. They are not really concerned about the spiritual health and well-being of their own souls or of the souls of others. All they are interested in are theological debate and speculation and discussion on an abstract and theoretical level.

Or perhaps this person did have a genuine concern for himself and for others. He desired that he and they might be brought into the kingdom and kept in it until the end.

We don’t know the exact motivation for this question and we are not told specifically what the Lord was teaching at that time which led to it. But the question itself was important enough for the Lord to stop and address it. This brings us to the Lord’s command.

The Command (v. 24)

Verse 24, “And he said unto them, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”

Notice that the Lord did not directly answer this man’s question. He didn’t say, “Yes, the number of saved will be few” or “No, there will be many who will be saved.” Instead He issues a command to strive to enter in at the strait gate, and this command is given in the plural, which means it is not just for this man who is asking the question but for everyone who hears His word, including us. All of us must strive to enter in. 

Now the Greek word “strive” is quite striking. It is the word from which we get the English word to agonize. Paul uses the word in 1 Corinthians 9:25 to speak of athletes at the games striving with all their might in order to obtain the prize. It is also used in John 18:36 to speak of loyal soldiers fighting to defend and protect their master from the enemy. Furthermore, the command to strive is given in the present tense which denotes continual and persistent effort as opposed to a one off attempt or a one-time effort.

So the word “strive” indicates that entrance into the kingdom would not be easy and that much attention needs to be given to it. After all, why would you need to strive for something that is easily done?

The phrase “at the strait gate” confirms this understanding. The word “strait” can be translated narrow. And we know that narrow gates or doors are never easy to get through. The strait gate thus speaks of many difficulties and obstacles that stand in our way hindering our entrance into it. 

The Lord goes on to say, “for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” The idea is not that there are many people trying to squeeze through the narrow gate all at the same time thus making it difficult to get in. Christ is not in any way suggesting that we are competing with many other people for a limited space in the kingdom. There is no competition involved in entering the strait gate. Rather, He is saying that every person is confronted with the strait gate himself and every person of his own must resolve to enter in. The question is not about limited space in the kingdom. There is plenty of space. The only question is whether we are willing to make the effort to enter it and whether we are seeking it in the right way or not.

The reason why the many people who are seeking to enter in will not be able to do so in the end is because they are seeking the kingdom in the wrong way and with a wrong attitude. 

Now someone might ask the question, “Isn’t salvation and entrance into the kingdom of God entirely by God’s grace and not by human works or effort?” Yes, that is true. Ephesians 2:8-9 makes it clear, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” If anyone will be saved, it will be entirely due to God’s grace and not any works or merits on man’s part. No one will ever enter into His kingdom by his own effort. Nevertheless, the Lord’s command to strive to enter in is clear and indisputable. How do we reconcile the two?

Well, we must understand that Ephesians 2:8-9 and Luke 13:24 are not contradictory because they are dealing with two different aspects of salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 is speaking about the basis and the ultimate reason or cause of our salvation, which is the grace of God in Christ Jesus. In Luke 13:24, the Lord is speaking about the means that God has ordained for our salvation.

To be saved entirely by the grace of God does not mean that a person is totally inactive or passive in the way of salvation. God has appointed and ordained that, in general, people are saved by way of seeking and striving to enter into His kingdom. Their seeking and striving is not the cause of salvation and it does not in any way merit salvation. But it is God’s appointed means and way of bringing them in.

JC Ryle puts it well when he says, “Whatever others may think in religion the Lord Jesus would have us know that we are responsible for exertion. We are not to sit still in sin and worldliness, waiting for the grace of God. We are not to go on still in our wickedness, sheltering ourselves under the vain plea that we can do nothing till God draws us. We are to draw near to Him in the use of means of grace…The command is express and unmistakeable, - Strive to enter in.”

And RC Sproul writes, “What Jesus is saying is that there must be passion, real effort in striving, not that human effort would ever get anybody into the kingdom of God, but the person who had been quickened by the Holy Spirit, who has caught a glimpse of the reality of Jesus, must make the seeking of the kingdom of God the main business of his life.”

There were many in Christ’s day and indeed many in our day as well who think that entering the kingdom of God requires little or no exertion or effort at all on their part. They think that they can simply relax and take a slow and easy stroll into the kingdom with all the baggage of this world still in their hands. And so having given the command to strive to enter in at the narrow gate, the Lord goes on to give the caution or warning from verses 25-27, which we will look at next time.   

…to be continued, next Issue

—Linus Chua