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“And He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. 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. The same day there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto Him, Get Thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill Thee. And He said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to-day and to-morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected. Nevertheless I must walk to-day, and tomorrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see Me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord”—Luke 13:22-35.
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This portion of Luke’s Gospel brings us to a great crisis in the history of Israel. For three years our blessed Lord had presented Himself to the people as the promised King, the One who the Old Testament prophets had predicted would come in the fulness of time to reign here on the earth; but He had met with ever-increasing opposition. The leaders rejected Him from the very first. They would not recognize Him nor His credentials. They positively refused to see in Him the promised Messiah. For three years they had closed their hearts to Him, and the time had come when Israel, for the present, must be set to one side, and soon the call of God would go out to the Gentile world.
Jesus left Galilee and traveled slowly down the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River, through Decapolis and Perea, in order to reach Jerusalem in time for the Passover—the last Passover which He was to eat with His disciples. On the very day of the feast He was to die as the true Paschal Lamb. As they journeyed through the villages and talked together, one turned to Him and asked, “Lord, are there few that be saved?” This is a question that arises in many hearts. Will there be comparatively few in heaven, or will there be many? Now the Lord does not exactly answer this question here. There are several passages of Scripture which I think answer it very clearly. We know that all children who die in infancy will be saved, because our Lord Jesus definitely declared, “It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.” This, in itself, gives us some idea of the vast multitude of the redeemed. But of those who have grown to years of maturity, there have been far more who have spurned the Word of God than who have received it. None will be saved who reject the light which God gives them. All such are condemned justly. But on this occasion, our Lord, instead of answering the question, stressed the importance of being tremendously in earnest in view of the coming day. 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.” It is not that we are to be saved by our own efforts, for by these we would never be saved at all; but we must be in earnest when the door to life stands open, and we are invited to enter in; we must be sure that we heed the gracious invitation and do not pass carelessly by, lest we find at last that we have lost our opportunity.
Jesus adds, “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 well take these warning words to our hearts today for they are intended for us as truly as for the people of Israel of old. The door into the kingdom of God still stands open, but it is a narrow door. None can pass through that door with their sins upon them. But as Christ Himself is the Door, we may find in Him deliverance from our sins, and thus enter into the way of life. The narrow way is that of subjection to Christ; a way that involves denial of self and recognition of our responsibility to live for Him whose grace alone can save us.
I plead with you to give heed to the words of our Lord, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate.” Do not let anything keep you from making sure of your eternal salvation. But be like the man in Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, who, when he heard of the impending destruction of the city in which he lived and learned that life was to be found only through entering the wicket gate, refused to be turned aside by any of his own townspeople, and putting his fingers in his ears, ran from them crying, “Life! Life! Eternal Life!” and so made his way toward the shining light pointed out to him by Evangelist.
Jesus warns of the danger of unreality as He continues His discourse: “Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets.” Or, as many might put it, “We have attended church; we have sung gospel hymns; we have listened to sermons; we have given money to help in missionary endeavors.” But these things cannot save. So He adds, “But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.” You will remember in the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel, our Lord says: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand. My Father, which gave them Me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of My Father’s hand.” Now observe the contrast. His own sheep are those who entered by the strait gate and took the narrow way. They are all those who believed the gospel. He says of these, “I know them.” Notice the difference as to those mentioned here to whom “He shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from Me, all ye workers of iniquity.” There are none to whom He will say, “I used to know you but I do not know you anymore; I knew you once, but you have forfeited the right of all recognition.” He says to all who are lost: “I never knew you!” Not one soul will be found knocking on the outside of that closed door who was once saved and then forfeited salvation; but there will be thousands, I am afraid, perhaps myriads, who thought they were Christians, and their friends on earth thought they were, and yet the Lord will say to them in that day, “I never knew you!” They have never been really born of God.
The Lord was speaking particularly to those of Israel who had heard His message, who had been told He was the promised Messiah and King; yet the great majority had refused to believe in Him. He says, “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.” Notice the evidence of full recognition of those who had entered into the other world—they will know Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the prophets. They will behold them even though they are on the other side of the great gulf; they will see beyond into the heavenly aspect of the kingdom, the fathers of Israel, and the prophets whose Scriptures they had professed to cherish; but they, themselves, who had failed to recognize the Redeemer when He came to deliver them, will be shut out in the darkness. Oh, be warned lest the day come for you when you shall see in yonder glory, father, mother, friends, and dear ones who knew and loved Christ; yet you, yourself, be shut out because you did not receive the Saviour. Receive Him now if you have never received Him before, even as these words ring in your ears. You need His blood to wash away your sins. Receive Him now in faith. The moment you do so He receives you, and you pass through the strait gate. Israel had that opportunity but they lost it. They forfeited their privileges; therefore, the day drew near when they would be cast out and others would take their place. “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.” There are millions from the Gentile world who have come in to appropriate and enjoy that which Israel despised. So we are told, “And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.” Israel was first in God’s plan for blessing and now she is last. “The same day there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto Him, Get Thee out, and depart hence: for Herod will kill Thee.” They pretended to be interested in saving the life of our Lord, but they did not understand that no one could take it until He Himself laid it down. Knowing all that was before Him and perceiving their deceitful attitude, “He said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures to-day and to-morrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.” That is, perfected as to salvation. We read in the second chapter of Hebrews that He who was ever perfect as to His character; was made perfect as the Captain of our salvation by His death on the cross.
He had set His face to go to Jerusalem and finish His testimony there, where He was to lay down His life for our redemption. As He thought of that city—the city that was privileged above every other city on earth but which knew not the time of its visitation—He cried, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!” In these words He tells us the yearning that is in the heart of God, not only for Jerusalem and for the people of Israel, but for all men everywhere who turn carelessly and indifferently away from His message.
“From heaven His eye is downward bent,
Still glancing to and fro
Where’er in this wide wilderness,
There roams a child of woe.
“And as the rebel chooses wrath,
God wails his hapless lot,
Deep-breathing from His heart of love,
I would, but ye would not!”
If unsaved, I plead with you, do not hurt the heart of God by continuing to reject His Son. He loved you enough to give Christ to die for you. You could not insult Him more than by spurning that Gift, and saying, “I am not interested in Christ.” On the other hand, there is nothing you could do which would gladden the heart of God more than to say, “I receive Thy Son; I trust Him now as my Saviour; I own Him as my Lord.” It is written, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.”
We have next the Lord’s words directed to those who had spurned His testimony. With Israel it was final rejection. They did not realize that they had crossed the dead-line. The Lord said, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see Me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord.” The crisis had been reached in God’s dealing with Israel for that age. From that time on, as one may see by reading any of the Gospels, there was no attempt made to win the whole nation of Israel. They have closed the door upon themselves. So God gave them up to hardness of heart. Not until the Lord returns will the nation come to repentance. Ever since He said, “Your house is left desolate,” Israel has been set aside and is no longer in the place of a favored people. On the other hand He offers deliverance to every individual Israelite who will turn to Him and trust Him. There is no difference, for “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” “There is no difference between Jew and Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all who call upon Him.” In the book of Acts we see the Lord through Peter, pleading with the people of Israel to save themselves from that unrighteous generation by acknowledging the Saviour whom the nation, as such, has repudiated. But the day of Israel’s regeneration as a whole is deferred until the once-rejected Jesus is manifested in glory, and they look upon Him whom they pierced and bow in repentance at His feet.