Our Gospel lesson today begins with one of the more interesting questions we know was asked of our Lord. I have always thought the most important one was perhaps when the expert in the law asks, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” That one always seemed to be at the heart of what the people of God tend to ask, a question dealing with the certainty of eternal life. The question before us today, though, is quite a bit different. Jesus is making His way through the villages and towns on the road up to Jerusalem when an unnamed person asks Him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Will those who enter eternal life be small in number or great in number? Now, think about this question for a moment. What would cause someone to ask it in the first place? What sort of things are they seeing? What sort of experiences would you have to ask such a question? It is a good question, to be sure, but what gives rise to it?
At its core, the issue seems to be centered on the unique and exclusive claim that there is only one way to be saved. If there are many paths but only one leads to eternal life, what will happen to those on the wrong path? Even more so, if the path laid out for us proves to be too difficult, in fact impossible for any of us to endure to the end, then what happens? If you think about it, this question makes perfect sense when we are faced with the pure and perfect Law of God. If eternal life is achieved only after the Law is kept in purity and truth, how can we be sure if any of us gathered here today will be saved? Do you keep the Law? Do you walk faithfully in His command’s day-in and day-out? Do you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind? Do you love your neighbor as yourself? See, embodied in this question is the realization of our own failures. You know full well you fall short of the glory of your God. You know you have sinned in thought, word, and deed. So, the question is not only, “Will those who are saved be few?” but “Will I be saved? Will you be saved?” There is desperation in the question.
Because when we are honest with ourselves, when we take a good, long look in the mirror it is easy to see how we are disqualified from eternal life. Now, man has gotten surprisingly good at softening it a bit, changing the Law to make it more palatable to our ears and ability. We tend to turn inward and speak about our feelings or desires. What matters is the inward drive to live faithfully as the children of God. It is not so much that you must be perfect as your God is perfect, but rather that you need to work at it. You need to be in prayer and bible study and committed to various acts of discipleship. You need the burning desire to be better, to be wise, and to be just. But even in this softening of the demands of God we find we are lacking, or at least we are never sure. Are your works enough? Are they faithful enough, committed enough? We cannot know for sure. So, as we look around, we wonder, “Will those who are saved be few?” Will I be saved? Will you?
The response Jesus gives to this question is striking. He says, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” Now, for starters He seems to be saying there will indeed be few who enter eternal life. This is because the entryway to get there, to access eternal life, is through the narrow door. It is a door so narrow many will not be able to make it through. But why will they not be able to make it through? He does not say exactly, but we can safely assume it is not simply because of the size of the individual. Perhaps the image is the narrow door will not allow for any excess baggage. The door posts and lintel will not allow you to bring any of your own stuff through its opening. The stiving which comes by entering through it is the difficulty of having all your own things stripped and scrapped off you as you push through.
Our Lord continues by speaking a parable of sorts. He tells a story saying, “When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’” Notice what the master says to those locked out. He does not say “I don’t know you,” like in other parables. No, he says, “I do not know where you come from.” Where are you from? That is the question. You have either come through the narrow door or you have not. They respond saying, “‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you; I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’” He does not know where they come from. Since they have not come through the narrow door, they cannot enter eternal life. It does not matter if they ate and drank in his presence, it does not matter if they remember him teaching in their streets. All that matters is where they came from.
So, what is it about this door? The entryway to eternal life is not our works, not our effort. For we already know how every time we will fall short in our attempts. The narrow door as the only way to be saved can be nothing else but Jesus Christ Himself. His work, life, death, and resurrection are the only certain way to salvation. And when we speak about that way being narrow, when we speak about stiving to enter through it, we can begin to see the difficulty which comes with faith in our Lord as the only means of salvation. It will strip you of your own work, of your own pride, of your own cleverness, and selfishness. The narrow door is entered by humility, not by strength but by confessing you are weak, not by wisdom but by confessing you are foolish.
We might say the narrow door is also the door of repentance. That is, just as it scrapes off all our own pride and sense of self-worth, it also requires us to repent of our sinful ways, to trust only in Christ and what He has done. You are not going to make it through the narrow door unscathed. You are faced with your sin, faced with your failings. You will come through the door stripped completely bare as empty-handed beggars. Clinging to Christ alone you make it through. Trusting in His promises you press through the narrow entryway. This is the gift of your faith. This is the great working of God in your midst here and now.
This is why, when the Master looks out at you and asks, “Where are you from?” you can answer, “I have come through the gift of Christ Jesus my Lord. I have come through a washing of regeneration where I was claimed as a child of God and heir of eternal life. I have come through the condemnation of my own sin, through the confession that I have lived as if God did not matter, and I mattered most. I have come through the hearing of the Word of forgiveness, through the proclamation that Jesus was sacrificed in my place. He was offered up to do what I could never do. I have come through failure and shame to confess I am saved by grace, through faith in Christ alone. I have come not by my own work, not by my wisdom or strength, but only through the blood of the Lamb. I have come through the One who has fed me with His body and blood for the forgiveness of all my sins. I have come through the narrow door!”
And though the door is narrow, our Lord says, “People will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the Kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Perhaps those being saved will be few in the grand scheme of things for the door is narrow. But it will still be a vast multitude from all over the world, a surprising gathering where the first are last and last first. There you will be welcomed by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and dwell securely in the presence of the Lamb for all eternity.