An airline captain was breaking in a new stewardess. As often happens, the route they were flying had a layover in Chicago. Upon their arrival, the captain shared with the stewardess the best places for airline personnel to eat, shop and stay overnight.
The next morning, as the pilot was preparing the crew for the day’s flight, he noticed the new stewardess was missing. He knew which room she was in at the hotel and called her up wondering what happened. She answered the phone immediately, crying, and said she couldn’t get out of her room.
“You can’t get out of your room?” the captain asked, “Why not?”
The stewardess sobbed: “There are only three doors in here; one is the bathroom, one is the closet, and the last one has a sign on it that says, ‘Do Not Disturb’!”
Doors are an amazing invention. Whether they be screen doors, lifting garage doors, revolving doors, sliding doors, or even folding doors; doors mark or direct entry or exit into a particular place and they can also provide protection.
Doors open. Doors shut. Some doors let us in, and some doors keep us out. Have you ever wondered what goes on behind closed doors? What doors have opened or closed for you? And how does it feel to stand at a door and knock, when you know someone’s home, and yet no one comes to let you in?
Jesus had been traveling and teaching for nearly a year and a half. Many had heard him speak, but few actually understood what he said and took it to heart. They were interested in him – but not motivated enough to change or become faithful disciples. Even many of those close to him misunderstood what he said.
Over time, some of those that followed Jesus began to feel a little superior to others in the communities around them. They noticed how people came and left. They figured that because they followed steadily; they were the true disciples.
With this in mind, one in the crowd dared to ask, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” (Luke 13:23)
This same question has been asked over the years in many ways by people of different faiths. The elite think that they alone know the way to heaven. From the Jews, to the Muslims, Catholics, Baptists, United Methodists, and Mormons; many believe that they have ‘the only way’.
But the truth is no denomination affiliation will get you to heaven. Let me repeat that again, no denomination affiliation will get you to heaven. There is no secret you can know, no task that you can provide that will guarantee success.
Those following Jesus thought they had found the method to get to heaven. The process was to listen to Jesus, follow him along, and hang with the right crowd. They thought that simply being in his presence was enough.
I have actually heard people say, “What does God want from me? I go to church, I pay my tithe, I help others, and I spent time with other Christians. What more is there?” Like going to church and sitting through the service is going to allow us to understand God by osmosis; with minimal effort.
Or that by giving to the church is somehow going to qualify us for heaven. I have heard people say, “I gave more than others!” They believe that sets them above others. (Maybe they should read the parable about the Pharisee and the tax collector in the Temple.) Luke 18:9-14
Jesus knew what the man meant, when he asked this question. But we don’t know what prompted his question. What was the real question behind the question?
Maybe, what he actually meant when he asked; “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” was; I am concerned, Will I make it? Do I qualify? Or maybe he was just being judgmental, “will all the other riffraff hanging with us, get in Jesus?” Or maybe he was proud, how many others, – like me, will get in? It could be that he was looking to put God on trial. He wanted to accuse God of being too lax or too tough, – or maybe it was just ideal curiosity.
Whatever the motive, Jesus responded not only to him but also to the crowd. He said to them, “Make every effort (or Strive) to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” Luke 13:24
When the door closes, many will say, “We ate and drank with you and we stood by as you taught in our streets, you in affect have seen us as we have seen you so how can we be turned away? We were part of the crowd. We were there. Luke 13:25
Then Jesus adds this final blow, “People will come from the East and West and North and South and they will take their places at the feast in the Kingdom of God.” Luke 13:29
Now wait a minute Jesus, how can this be? Those who are far away will be admitted, while others close are denied. What kind of God are you? We want the door to heaven narrow – when we are part of the group passing through – but it better not keep us out! We have rights! We were here first!
Jesus told the crowds in John 6:26, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me not because you saw the miracles and truly believe in me and what I have done, but because I satisfied you at this particular moment with fish and loaves.”
That is the way that many in this world come to believe in Jesus.
If they can answer the question, what has God done for me lately, then apparently God exists. But if they are not satisfied with God and what has happened to them, then maybe he is only a figment of their imagination, they reason.
Maybe, they think, I made a mistake; maybe God isn’t associated with this church. Maybe I should go somewhere else where the answers are easier to understand and less is required.
On some emotional level, no matter how wide the doors are, for some they will always feel quite restrictive. The church, or God, is always going to be too vague, too judgmental, too boring or too out of touch (in their minds).
Many stand at the doors of religion and ponder…Welcome to “Which denomination is Right?” Today you will have your pick, Choose: Door #1, Door #2, or Door #3. Behind each is a wonderful prize; no one goes away a loser. Wouldn’t it be great if it were that easy? I pick Methodism, I’m a winner!
But Jesus says, it isn’t that easy. Many may follow but only a few will be chosen to enter the kingdom of God. Some people, that say they are associated with Jesus, may not really know or are known by him. He just might say, “I don’t know you”. (Luke 13:27)
Jesus said, “Make every effort” or “Strive” to enter through the narrow door. Don’t just try and give up. In the Greek, “Strive” means to literally agonize about it.
So, I must ask myself this question, the same one I ask you. How much time have we really put effort into listening and building a real relationship with Jesus? How often have we pushed ourselves to pray, read the Bible, or truly seek the Lord?
How many times have you heard someone say, I don’t want to bother the pastor with that question? Or say, God is too busy to listen to me. Like God has a “Do not disturb” sign on His door. (He Does Not!)
Instead of going to God with our problems, we seek out Oprah, Dear Abby or Dr. Phil. We find a good self-help diet instead of trying God’s plan of abstaining and moderation. Then, we wonder why we don’t feel close to God.
Jesus knew that the crowds were close in proximity, but knew they were far away in their hearts. He knew that they would never be saved at that distance. The distance to God isn’t a matter of space from here to there (out there – to me)…but the distance from here to here (head to heart).
“How many people would be saved?” The man asked. Jesus response was… stop looking out there. Stop worrying about them and feeling superior to others and begin by looking in the mirror. Ask yourself, “What am I doing to move closer to Jesus?” The answer doesn’t come from the outside – but from within.
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
One final illustration;
From the outside, he didn’t look like much. Anyone who knew him didn’t trust him. He had been in trouble most of his life. Sure, he had had great potential but he had thrown it away.
Now look at him. He was soon to be crucified. One of two criminals on either side of Jesus. He was a hopeless case, a lost cause. And yet, when he saw himself in light of who Jesus was something clicked inside.
While the other Criminal badgered Jesus and mocked him, saying, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39)
This man, this thief, defended Jesus saying, “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are being punished justly, for we are getting what we deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong. He is innocent.” (Luke 23:40-41)
And at that moment, he was facing death and the way for him was very narrow. But he saw the door and it was Jesus. And it was a gut-wrenching plea. A grasp at the truth, that didn’t come easy for him.
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus rewarded him with life eternal. He said, “I tell you the truth, today, you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:42-43)
Seek That Door. Strive to find that narrow path, the hard way, and hold on with all your might. When the world mocks you and laughs at you, don’t give in. Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come to me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily.” (Luke 9:23)
That is the narrow door, the only way to heaven. If you wander too far, you might miss it by a mile. Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be open to you. When you seek a real relationship with Jesus, you will find the door!
Your assignment is…to take this coming week, the week before Holy Week and pray, seek and search your heart. Don’t trust in what you have heard or what you’ve accomplished. Don’t even trust me, instead, trust solely in Jesus Christ. He is the answer. He is the Door!
May you be successful in your search,
And all God’s People said, Amen.