Striving for Jesus: Luke 13.22-30

Growing up in Dallas, Texas with the city skyline in my front window, there were things I didn’t know about blessing and bounty. There was the time when, as an older elementary-aged student, I got it into my heart to plant a garden. I plowed (by hand), sowed, and waited. Nothing happened. When, after a time, nothing had happened some more, my mother got involved.

“Bryan,” she said, “Maybe, October isn’t the right time to start a garden.” (I wonder still today what she—having been raised on a farm—had been thinking while standing in the kitchen window, watching me miss my window of opportunity all those golden-brown weeks of autumn.)

Luke 13.22-30 is about the narrow door of blessing and opportunity that Jesus instructed His followers to enter. Ah, but not just to enter—to strive for!

The setting of this often-overlooked little parable is in the midst of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. The major theme of this section of Luke’s gospel, between chapters 9 and 19, is the nature of discipleship, and that in light of both Jesus’ death and His approaching kingdom. In this passage, somebody raises a question: Lord, will those who are saved be few? (:23, ESV).

Now, somebody is finally thinking! The Rabbis of the day taught that at the coming of Messiah all Israel would be saved. It’s those rascally Gentiles who will be rejected! But, while enduring continual opposition from the religious leaders of the day, Jesus will transform the question. Instead, He will point to the narrow door of opportunity that His very presence offers and, in effect, ask: Are you among the saved?

One Present Imperative (:22-24).

In the key verse of this teaching unit, Jesus responds to the initial question: Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able (:24).

This verse contains one of my favorite Greek words: agonizomai. It means “to strive earnestly, fight, struggle, serve as a combatant in the public games.” Picture two Greco-Romans wrestlers, naked, covered in dust, grasping at body-parts, biting even. This is serious. But, that’s how serious Jesus says that we ought to be in seeking salvation. The narrow door pictures the way of salvation that is only open for a short time. Do everything necessary to get through that door! Jesus says.

Two Future Responses (:25-27)

Then, Jesus expands the parable. He pictures the time when His kingdom will have come in fulness. It’s the restoration of all things. The dead have been raised. All wrongs have been made right. Those fit for salvation have entered through the door of blessing and bounty. But, here come those who weren’t trusting in Jesus. And, you know what, the master (standing in for God the Father in the word picture) doesn’t even recognize them.

Lord, open up! They will shout. But, you know what, the Father won’t even recognize them (:25).

Then, in another attempt, those who weren’t fit for blessing will recall all those times they ate and drank with Jesus. But, they will be cast out (:26). They learn, too late, that the issue isn’t familiarity with Jesus, but their response to Him.

Those of us who await Jesus’ second coming—not His first, like those in the passage—should be likewise sobered at Jesus’ warning. How many of us put stock in our church involvement rather than our actual relationship to Jesus by faith. Children’s ministry, youth ministry, small groups, adult education—everything gets cranked up at Woodland here in the next couple of weeks. Outstanding stuff, and I’m all in! But, hanging around Jesus, associating with Jesus and His people, won’t, in the end, substitute for having trusted in Jesus and His work.

Three Surprising Outcomes (:28-30)

The final section of the passage gives three surprising outcomes—one negative, one positive, and one just plain ironic. Verse 28 is the very picture of blessing to every son of Israel in Jesus’ day—a sumptuous banquet with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the founding fathers of the nation. But, the door will be closed for many who missed their invitation because they missed Jesus. Weeping and gnashing of teeth is stock imagery for extreme anguish (:28).

In contrast, there will be those from all nations—north, south, east and west—who will be invited. These are Gentiles, who have no business being there, except that they responded to Jesus and strived to get through that door of opportunity (:29).

And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last (:30). So ends the passage in irony. It isn’t that there won’t be many who join Jesus in the end, it’s that there will be many missing who thought they’d be included, but who strived for the wrong thing, missing Jesus.

That’s what the passage means. But, as I drive around on our country roads and dig up Northwoods potatoes this week (planted in season, back in the spring), I’ve been asking how this teaching ought to work in my life.

Here’s two questions I’m thinking about:

  1. Am I striving for Jesus? Make no mistake. We’re saved by Jesus and His work on the cross—that’s the gospel. We receive the benefit of the gospel by trusting Jesus. But, the evidence that I’m trusting in Jesus is NOT that I work to be saved, but that I strive to listen to Jesus through His word … I strive to respond to what He wants for my life … I strive to understand how the gospel works in every part of my life … and, I strive to care about Jesus and His things. This is what Paul referred to as “living by faith”. As Romans 1.16-17 goes, For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith”. 
  2. Am I focusing on the gospel, so other people will strive for Jesus? I don’t actually know anybody who’s driven by a desire to lunch with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But, I do know lots of people who think they’re being saved apart from Jesus and His work. Every worldview has its picture of blessing, bounty and salvation. Our wider, post-modern culture is no different. Opposing gun violence, combating climate change, increasing literacy—depending on your political persuasion, some or all of these causes are good. But, they won’t open the door of God’s blessing once Jesus returns. That door will close.

But, until it does close … it’s open. And that ought to motivate me to be laser-sharp clear about the gospel in my interaction with others. Jesus isn’t messing around in this parable. He’s urging, persuading, and offering blessing and bounty to those who enter God’s kingdom through Him.

Those who will enter God’s blessing soon strive to enter through Jesus today.

Enjoy the blessing and bounty outside. And have a great week, in the LORD.



Movements and the Master: Thoughts on Joshua Harris

This week Amanda and I joined many others in being sad over the divorce and spiritual defection of another Christian leader. I’m a bit too old to have been influenced much by Josh Harris’  I Kissed Dating Goodbye  (1997) or Harris’ account of his own courtship in Boy Meets Girl (2005). My (forever) young Amanda isn’t so old as to have missed out on the target demographic of the books, however. And, we’ve been aware ever since of Joshua Harris’ contributions as a former homeschooler, a senior pastor in his church, and a mover-shaker type in the Sovereign Grace network that forms a stripe of the, so-called, Young Restless Reformed movement—which in turn gave birth to the Gospel Coalition.

Not much is private anymore. When a leader goes down, there’s usually announcements on social media. Such was the case a few weeks back when Josh Harris announced on Instagram that his marriage had failed and shortly later announced that he was undergoing a “deconstruction” of his Christian faith. Since then, leaders like Al Mohler and Janie Cheaney have weighed in, together with friends of Harris like Kevin DeYoung and Collin Hansen.

Like everybody else, Amanda and I have tried, just between the two of us, to talk some sense out of the tragedy. How could this happen? How could Josh touch off such a movement, but then fall so short?

We expect other announcements to come and much public finessing of anything Josh writes about his spiritual adventure. But, the point that comes through for Amanda and I (and the one we ought to heed in our own Woodland Community Church) is that following movements isn’t the same as following the Master.

That’s important for us at Woodland at this juncture of our church’s history. It would be super-easy for us to get whipped-up over the growth of our dynamic, little church up here in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. We might even float some talk about the “Woodland brand,” whatever that would be. Amanda and I might share some thoughts from the Classical Christian homeschool movement, which fascinates the two of us. We might take a group to the next Gospel Coalition conference and all come back with matching TGC tee-shirts.

But, following these movements isn’t the same as following Jesus!

Popular Bible study curricula, RightNow media, blogs, ministries that help us study the Bible or rear our kids, popular or historic schools of theology. Much of this (if not all of it) is great. But, none of these movements will save us. And, none of these little eddies in our wider Christian culture will produce guaranteed results.

Jesus will and does produce guaranteed results! That’s what Paul said when, after visiting Athens, he wrote to the less-complicated than Athenian citizens of Corinth:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2.1-2).

So, we need to be careful at a lively, happy, growing church like Woodland. We need to be careful that we aren’t mixing up some secret sauce, some magic Kool-aid that will leave us far short of Jesus Himself.

Next time you see us, let us know what you think of this thought. Let us hear from you about how following Jesus, the Master, has taken you to better places than following any movement ever could.