22 Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 25 Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ “But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ 26 “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’
28 “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. 29 People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. 30 Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.” (Luke 13:22-30)
Five years ago I had the chance to go to my brother’s wedding in North Carolina. It was one of the most beautiful weddings I’ve ever seen. His in-laws have connections at Duke University, so they got married in the Duke University Chapel, which is a huge, stone church. It’s kind of like our church, except it seats 2,000 people! Having a wedding at a place like that meant there were some very specific rules. We had to park in a certain parking lot at 11:45 and enter through one specific door. The service had to start exactly on time, and we had to be out of there right away for another wedding to start. But nobody complained. We understand how weddings go. It wasn’t our wedding. We were just invited. So we did as we were told, and everything went great.
God describes heaven like a wedding—Jesus’ wedding banquet. The people in heaven are like the guests at Jesus’ wedding. So who do you think gets to set the rules? The guests? No! God, right? It’s his banquet! God gets to decide who’s going to be in heaven! But here’s what’s interesting: Just about everybody expects to be in heaven. Even people who have no connection to any religion like to think about heaven. How often don’t you hear, “He’s looking down on us…” “She’s in a better place…” It’s like we think we get to decide who gets to go to heaven and how we get there. But that’s not how it works at a wedding, is it? Guests don’t get to decide.
Somebody in Jesus’ day realized that tension. Everywhere Jesus went, he was followed by large crowds. Lots of people wanted to hear Jesus, touch Jesus, be around Jesus. But it didn’t seem like many people actually believed in him. That was troubling, at least to one person. So he asked Jesus, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?”
How would people answer that question today? “Are only a few people going to be saved?” I think most would say, “Of course not! God’s going to let everybody in! Because in the end, there’s a lot of different roads to the same god. It doesn’t matter what you believe, just as long as you believe something.” How often haven’t you heard that? It sounds good! “Are only a few people going to be saved?” “Of course not! There’s a lot of different paths to heaven.” Right?
No. What did Jesus say? “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” Jesus knows that just about everybody thinks they are going to heaven, but he says that “many will try to enter and will not be able to.” Isn’t that a shocking thing to hear? This is a difficult saying from Jesus! Every building has doors. So does heaven. It has just one door—one narrow door. Do you know what the door to heaven is? Jesus! He said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Many people who expect to enter heaven will be very disappointed.
That doesn’t sound right today, does it? Does Jesus really mean that many people think they will be in heaven, but they really won’t? Yes! He said, “Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’” Isn’t that scary? There will be some—many, Jesus says!—who when they arrive at heaven’s door will find it shut. Thinking there’s got to be another way in, they’ll knock on the door and hear Jesus say, “I don’t know you.” Isn’t that scary? Maybe we’re tempted to think, “That’s going to happen to all the bad people!” Except, Jesus wasn’t talking to the “bad” people. He was talking to the people who were following him.
Because here’s what he said next, “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’” Many of the people in Jesus’ day had literally eaten with Jesus. They knew his family. They walked around with him. And they won’t be in heaven. Because an outward connection to God doesn’t result in salvation. Wearing a “What Would Jesus Do” bracelet or even being a member of a church doesn’t save you or me. A lot of people are going to be surprised when they die. May we never hear from Jesus’ lips: “I don’t know you!”
So the real question isn’t, “Are only a few people going to be saved.” The real question is, “Am I going to be saved?” I hope you realize that’s the most important question in your life. What door are you counting on to get to heaven? Is it the door of good works—“I’m a pretty good person”? Is it the door of family connections—“Grandma’s faith will save me”? Is it the door of a forgetful God—“It’s okay that I’ve sinned”? Is it the door of human accomplishments—“Look what I’ve done”? Is it the door of church membership—“I’ve been part of this church my whole life!”? None of those doors end up in heaven. Heaven has just one narrow door—Jesus!
Can you imagine the disappointment of realizing too late that you focused your life on all the wrong things? Jesus wants you to imagine that, so that it never happens to you. He says, “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.” Imagine being in hell, and looking and seeing people in heaven. Could it get any worse? I don’t think so! That’s why there’s so much gnashing of teeth in hell. A painful, terrible feeling of frustration and guilt and sadness—forever. I don’t want that! I don’t want to go there. We need help. This is a big deal!
That’s why Jesus says, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” Jesus is not telling you to work harder. He’s not telling you to earn heaven, because you can’t! He’s telling you to make every effort so that you and those you love believe in Jesus. Remember his promise? “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Jesus and only Jesus opened the way to heaven by dying on the cross for all of our sins. He’s the door—the narrow door! Heaven is open to everyone who believes in Jesus our Savior.
Here’s what the Bible says: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household” (Acts 16:31). “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Our lives are not about how good we are. Our lives are not about how many connections we’ve made. Our lives are a daily cycle of confessing our sins and trusting in Jesus as our Savior. Because Jesus is the narrow door. The door to forgiveness. The door to peace. The door to heaven.
Because of Jesus, there are going to be people in heaven! He says, “People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.” Isn’t that great? There will be Germans and Irish and Americans and Mexicans and Puerto Ricans and Chinese and Indians and people from all over the world in heaven through Jesus.
The Gospel message about Jesus is at the same time both the most inclusive and the most exclusive message in the world. It’s the most inclusive message because it’s meant for everyone. Jesus died for all. God has forgiven all. Heaven is open to all. God wants all people to be saved. But it’s also the most exclusive message because that salvation is found through only one door—faith in Jesus Christ. Not Allah, not Buddha, not me, not you. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus is the narrow door to heaven!
Can you see how much this matters? If you can’t today, one day you will. Because you and I are going to face death—over and over again. The deaths of people whom we love and our own deaths. “Are only a few people going to be saved?” I hope you see how much this matters! I’ve been reminded just in the last two weeks. My mom just found out she has cancer—for the fifth time. Heaven matters! Emily’s uncle had never had cancer, until he went to the doctor for a bad cough and they found a huge tumor on his lung. Heaven matters! A special forces Marine who does the same job my brother does was just killed in Iraq. Heaven matters! A pastor’s daughter from Michigan just died in a car crash. Heaven matters! “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.” You and I and everybody else need to know the door to heaven. What is it? Jesus!
If that’s true—and it is!—than all that really matters is Jesus. Can you see that? Don’t let your family get distracted. This is why Jesus tells you to “make every effort to enter through the narrow door.” Don’t worship your job. Don’t worship a sports team. Don’t worship your car or your home or the lake. Focus your family on Jesus. All that really matters is Jesus! Don’t let any opportunity slip away. There’s too much at stake. Enter through the narrow door.
The oldest Christian church in the world is in Bethlehem in Israel over the place where Jesus is thought to have been born. It’s an enormous stone church, but it has just one little front door, no more than four feet high. To get inside, everyone must stoop down, almost to their knees, to enter it. The real reason they made the door so small is so that people wouldn’t ride in on horses and steal stuff, but there’s something special about bowing through this narrow door to enter God’s presence. The narrow door. Heaven is not about you doing more. Not about you trying harder. Not about you being stronger. It’s about you bowing to Jesus, believing in him, and trusting in him for your salvation. “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.” Amen!