Vol. X — No. 35 August 31, 1969
Then said one unto him. Lord, are there few that be saved? 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. 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: Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets, But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.
Beloved in the Lord:
“Seek ye the Lord while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near.” Is. 55:6. The business of being a Christian is urgent business; upon its transaction all other considerations must wait. Why urgent? Because there will come a time when the portals to eternal life will be closed, and the many will suddenly realize, to their bitter dismay, that it is too late. “Too late!” How that word, like an evil spirit from the nether world, ought to terrify men today, lest it horrify them, perhaps tomorrow! “Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.” Thus, with words of kind pleading as well as with words of electrifying warning, Jesus, the Good Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, would have all men realize that now is the day of salvation.
The cruel fact remains that few enter. Far less than half of the souls in our own land so much as profess any connection with Jesus, who calls himself the Door. Apparently it was likewise in the day that this questioner mentioned in our text came to Jesus and asked whether there are few that be saved. And Jesus had given some facts about those who are saved, which may well explain why the situation is similar also today. He had spoken recently about persecution and mistreatment at the hands of the unbelieving world. Luke 2:4ff. He had just shown that the faith will cause divisions within families, that is, where someone in the household refuses to believe and be obedient. He had referred to His followers as a little flock. Luke 12:32. And He had told some questioners that if they did not repent they would all perish. Luke 13:3. And by their own confession the same is true today: by far the most go the way to eternal death.
But It is also plain that Jesus does not want us to fall into morbid thinking about it. We could brood over this fact till we would never again experience another moment of joy and cheerfulness. We could let the faithlessness and the coldness and the indifference of men rob us of every happiness; but it is plain that Jesus will not have it that way. In this point, too, we must take our cue from Jesus, and not dwell in morbid curiosity upon the fact that few are saved, and do only that; but instead, because many will not f1nd the strait gate, we should strive to enter. Entering the strait gate to life eternal should be the uppermost interest in our life. It should be our first consideration upon arising in the morning; it must be the guiding principle by which we live the day; and it must be the last thought when day is done: that we are first, and above all, children of the heavenly King, who is holding us by the hand and leading us through the gate of repentance and faith into the kingdom of heaven.
For don’t think that heaven is closed, reserved to God and the angels, man excluded and forbidden because he disobeyed and sinned. It is not as with Eden, that it is guarded by an angel with a flaming sword, to keep the way unto the tree of life. Instead, Jesus says, “I am the door.” John 10:7. “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matt. 11:28. “Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” John 6:37. Yes, the portals have been flung wide for all the world to enter! Not one need go lost. Christ Jesus gave his blood a ransom for all. It was the world that God so loved that He gave His only begotten Son to be its Savior. In that respect the gate is wide. It is open to all.
At the same time it is a strait gate. And note the spelling of “strait.” It is a narrow gate. And it is narrow in only one sense: man can not carry along with him his self-righteousness and his sins. His baggage must remain behind; it must be disowned, completely repudiated and rejected! He can enter only by repentance, by a change of mind, by a turning away from his former life and from his sins. This, then, is the gate by which we must enter, and we want to consider in particular today—
Never has God’s Word pictured the life of a Christian entering the gate of heaven by way of the road of repentance as an easy undertaking. Entrance at the strait gate includes a constant striving against sin and all the onslaughts of the devil and our own. flesh. “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world.” Eph. 6:12. That requires determined striving, for there has never been the slightest hint that Satan has relaxed his cunning. Never does Scripture do other than tell us that repentance is a daily act of the Christian—that was the contention of Martin Luther in the very first of his ninety-five theses, in commemoration of which we have Reformation Day. If Satan can deceive us into thinking that the daily battle against sin is about won, so that we need no longer be vigilant, his victory is about won. The exhortation to “fight the good fight of faith” (I Tim. 6:12) refers to the warfare of penitent living. Bringing the body into subjection calls for determination—such determination as is found in him who sets the eye of his faith upon the goal, pressing toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. To say with St. Paul, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith,” (II Tim. 4:7) calls for determined intent upon entering the strait gate of repentance and victory over sin. Yes, if anybody is tired of striving the strife of daily repentance from evil, he is simply tired of being a Christian.
But he who is determined upon entrance at the gate of repentance which God has made possible,—whatever happens he will cling to Christ; however busy, he will use the Word and the Sacraments; it may cost him his employment, friends he may love, wealth he could have gained, position and power; but he will cling to Christ. Entrance at the strait gate calls for determination which counts all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord. It calls for the steadfastness of purpose that will not allow a looking back, once the hand is put to the plow. It calls for respect unto the recompense of the reward. That is the picture Scripture gives of him that overcometh, to whom it will be granted to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God; whom God promises that He shall not be hurt in the second death; who will receive to eat of the hidden manna; who will be given power over the nations, who shall judge the world and rule in glory.
Therefore I beseech you, strive to enter in at the strait gate! Enter in at the difficult gate of repentance, and fight the good fight of faith; lay siege to Satan’s citadels in the heart; make it an “all out” war upon evil in your life—and let the fruits meet for repentance grow in abundance. That is what our text speaks about. It does not refer only to the simple act of accepting the Savior as Redeemer from sin, as did the malefactor on the cross. It refers chiefly to the life now of the saved, who are saved in this life and who are saved eternally. It does not speak chiefly about coming to the cross; but it speaks of his life who has come to the cross. “Strive to enter in at the strait gate.” That is a life program. And it calls for a determined striving. And it is a message to those who should be believers, even as it is given as an answer to the question asked by one who was apparently a confessor of Christ.
It simply is not true that “each one will be saved by whatever faith he has.” If that is Christian falth, it is true; but there are few words so mistreated as the word “faith” today. The word “love” and “faith” are twin sufferers. Many things are called “faith,” but they are frequently only such things as self-indulgence, egoism, conviction, and earnestness of purpose, yes, just plain zeal, and sometimes very blind zeal. The blind fanaticism of the Mohammedan is called “faith,” the self-mutilations, lashings, slashings and burnings of the people of Africa and India are called “faith,” and they certainty are zealous undertakings. Those people really “strive” in their religions. And our Modernist Christians in this country, like Dr. E. Stanley Jones and the Foreign Mission Boards of some of the Reformed denominations would lump all that striving together into one grand movement for establishing the kingdom of God on earth. This is the present ecumenical movement. It Is all an abomination unto the Lord, for Scripture says of Jesus that “neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.” Acts 4:12. And Jesus Himself declares that “no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” John 14:6. That settles it. There Is only one way of salvation, and that is salvation by the grace of God freely given unto us in Christ, who took our place before the law of God in order that we might live.
We do not deny the determination nor belittle the sacrifices of those who seek to usher In the kingdom of God by means of legislation, prohibition, Sunday laws, and social reform. We do not ridicule the pains of those who deny themselves, who punish and starve their bodies, who fast and live in damp dungeons that they may conquer the lusts of the flesh and try to please God. It is no amusing sight to see the young monk, Martin Luther, crying daily, “O my sin, my sin, my sin!” tormenting and torturing himself by fastings and prayers, robbing himself of sleep and freezing, groaning and weeping, and performing faithfully the penances imposed upon him. Nor is the Modernist who strives to keep alive what he calls mistakenly “the innate spark of divinity” in man a bad character; on the contrary, he is perhaps a model of uprightness and decency. But all such striving to enter the kingdom is, after all, a glorification of self, the worship of reason, the deification of character, the exaltation of the creature above the Creator, and the establishment of a kingdom of one’s own making,—a kingdom to be entered by the fulfillment of conditions according to every man’s choice. But all of it ignores the one and only way of entrance into life, the way of repentance from sin and faith in Christ Jesus. It is all just as with Israel: St. Paul testified that Israel did have a zeal of God, a burning desire to serve God, but in its zeal it went about seeking to establish a righteousness of its own, and on that basis it hoped to receive eternal life. The Pharisee in the temple zealously strove to be perfect before God. The rich young ruler certainly meant it that he had kept the commandments from his youth up. And who do you think was ever more serious in entering the kingdom than young Saul, the persecutor? But what was wrong about this striving? What is wrong about so much, so much!, of the zeal today? It is not directed at the strait and narrow gate, entrance through repentance from sin and faith in Christ Jesus, who alone is the Door unto life eternal!
Jesus says that many seek to enter in, but are not able. That is it! They lack the strength. They are dead in trespasses and sins. Only God can give them the strength.
Therefore I beseech you again: Let all your zeal be directed toward entering by faith in Christ! Let all the floodgates of God’s power be opened unto you whereby you shall be able to do all through Christ Jesus, which strengtheneth you! Give yourself over body and soul to him in faith, for that is the victory that overcometh the world. But direct your zeal to repentance and faith in Christ alone. No hell, no devil, no world, no law, no accuser, no judge—nobody shall keep you from entrance at the strait gate to life eternal.
But do it now! “When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut 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 you are.” For a long time the householder has sat up waiting for the guests for whom he has sent messengers to bring them. God, in His longsuffering and mercy, has from the very beginning of time invited the nations, sent forth His gospel into all the earth, implored every creature, wooed them with the humanity and blessed mercy of His Son Jesus Christ, sent His pastors and people to knock on their doors and invite them to come. Then, in God’s own time the strait and narrow gate shall be closed, and grace shall be no more. There will be no more opportunity for repentance. The Son shall appear with all His holy angels for judgment, and He shall take all those home to the eternal mansions who have heard His voice and believed.
Then, too, will being the frantic knocking on the door, the weepinq and the walling, the horror and dismay. Then shall begin the flood of excuses. Then will come the plea: Why, thou O Christ, thou hast taught in our streets, and we ate and drank in thy presence! Yes, some shall even declare that they have been very zealous doing miracles in His name and casting out devils. But all their zeal has not been directed to repentance and faith in Jesus. They had no time to turn away from their sin. They had no time to hear His word and follow Him as true disciples. They had no time to strive the strife of the Christian faith. Quaking and trembling they shall hear the voice of the Lord they despised: “I tell you, I know you not whence you are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.”
Thus God in His mercy and goodness comes to us today with a reminder, not to scare us, not to make us unhappy, not to discomfort us, but to draw us ever more closer to himself; yes, also to assure us that as surely as we enter at the strait gate of repentance and faith in Christ Jesus, so surely shall we sit down with Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, there to feast at the festal board of eternal life with the Lamb who was slain that we might have eternal life. Do but be faithful! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.