‘Strive to enter by the narrow door, for many, I say to you, will seek to get in but will not be able’. Luke 13:24
Tourists visiting Tainan in Taiwan will sometimes seek out the Narrow Café; it is something of an oddity on the tourist trail. It is an upstairs café in an old building opposite the Confucian Temple which, incidentally, dates from 1666. The entrance is only 36cm wide, 15 inches. You might easily miss it, and just as easily might risk getting stuck in it! Tainan is the oldest city in Taiwan; it was founded by the Dutch in the 17th century. Some of you may recall that we had Taiwanese visitors at the time of the independence referendum. I had an email from one of them, TK, just a couple of days ago.
Jesus speaks of striving to enter by the narrow door; for some would try but would not be able. He was following up on a question put to him, ‘Lord, will the saved be few in number?’ Jesus answered; and I tell you’, an indication he was saying something important. The time to respond was now; the period of response was time-limited. There was coming the day of judgement when people could find themselves excluded, if having received the message of salvation, they have rejected it. Jesus was aware that many in his generation were not heeding his words.
The most important question for us isn’t how many are saved, but do I know I am one of them.
Strive to enter God’s Kingdom, Jesus is saying, make faith the number one priority.
That word strive to enter was used in various contexts, including for competing at the stadium, where a person would strive to win a prize.
The word suggests make a supreme effort to attain a goal, or win a prize, or fight a battle, make every effort to go for something and get it as in a race or contest. Jesus is saying, use that amount of priority, effort, struggle, determination in matters of faith.
That Greek word (agonizo) also gives us agony or agonize: faith is important enough to agonize over.
If a person finds faith difficult, puzzling, or confusing, the answer isn’t to lay it aside for another day. It is to look at it now. I have heard people say, When I retire I’ll have more time for my faith, but now I put it off for a rainy day. But the rainy day might never come.
The door is narrow because there is not unlimited time to respond. Behold, now is the acceptable time of salvation. The door into God’s future, is open, but we have to choose to enter. Today is the day to make salvation a lived personal experience.
If you send a letter by post, and the letter is extremely important, you would probably not use a second class stamp. You would send it first class, perhaps by recorded delivery, or pay extra for some other form of express next day delivery. The question for our faith, is how important is it: is it low priority. As Christians we should regard faith, prayer, worship, church, as high priority: and yet for many people it is away at the bottom of the list.
Most people would not set out on a day without certain things being in order.
You look at your hair, clean your teeth and so on: but of equal importance: have we started the day with Jesus?
Jesus is saying, consider God, salvation, faith, God’s purposes and kingdom a matter of urgency; but his words are not meant to induce panic.
I remember my school days when we had a fire drill. It was great, because we got a break from our lessons; and in a big school it took about half an hour to get everyone assembled and counted. In a big school with classrooms over three stories high and narrow spiral staircases there had to be an orderly system for exiting the building when the fire bell rang. In a real fire exiting quickly would have been a matter of urgency. It would have been awful if people panicked and stormed out.
On Friday in India there was a stampede at a railway station when people ran for cover when there was torrential rain.
Urgency is different from panicking. Panic means you don’t stop to think. Jesus is not asking that of us. The response of faith, the response to God’s love is to be willing, thought out, offered freely, it is to come from the heart, it is to be a whole orientation of our minds, desires and our being.
Jesus was sorry that so few of his generation had responded to him. They had heard him speak, they had been around him, some had shared in feasts or food with him, but few had fully heard what he was teaching them about life, faith and God: too few had applied it to their lives.
Christian experience and Christian maturity don’t come through just being in church and soaking up the atmosphere.
True, often something rubs off as we spend time with other Christians, but there has to be a willing spirit in us for that to happen.
Christian maturity and Christian faith require the sort of effort and application you would put into passing exams, or getting to an important job interview, or making sure you got to the airport in time for a flight departure for an important event.
Some of us would attend a boxing match as a spectator; fewer, I guess, if participation was the expected outcome. I say that despite the fact that boxing is quite popular locally. Jesus is not looking for spectators. He is looking for recruits.
Jesus is offering us himself to us in his power to change lives. He knows that our lives are often troubled. He knows and we know that our lives are affected by our own failings and weakness. He knows that we face all sorts of worries, about our security, our futures, our relationships, our health or our reputations sometimes. Jesus is offering himself to us as Saviour.
The disciples called him Master and Lord. They were recruits, disciples, participants, workers in Christ’s mission to the world. Jesus wants this of us.
His life, offered to us upon the cross, is our hope, like a medicine for our souls.
When you take medicine or have an inoculation or a flu jab: and it starts coursing round your veins and reaching the parts of the body.
As we receive Jesus in our receiving him in faith, his life comes into our life, and it starts reaching into our body and soul, changing how we think, how we react, giving us a new strength to resist wrong. We discover that we are being forgiven. We find that we are being upheld and given a new sense of our own worth as God’s children.
We talk of Christ’s body and blood: for the Hebrew mind the blood contained the life of the person. When we talk of the blood of Jesus we think not so much of the physical blood shed on the cross but about his life.
The cup we use and the bread we brake, Paul writes, means we are sharing in the blood and body of Christ.
When we receive Christ by faith we share in his saving life, in his power to renew, forgive, restore, and make whole.
His life enters ours. At the Lord’s Supper there are visual representations of Christ’s body and blood, his suffering on the cross for us. Seeing we are moved to respond. We say to Jesus, thank you for you did it for me; I receive you; I worship you. By faith we receive not just elements of food and drink but Jesus, he is our spiritual food and drink.
Communion is also thanksgiving. We share in the thanksgiving prayer that comes before receiving.
So we can give thanks: he did it for me, and he is offering me now his saving power in my situation.
It is like a feast or banquet, and heaven will be like that too.
Royal banquets in British history were typically lavish affairs consisting of about seven or eight courses mostly of different sorts of fish and meat; and on the sideboard there was a selection of cold and hot meats as well just in case you got hungry in between courses....
The picture that Jesus gives us is of God’s heavenly party, or banquet: with people coming to recline (as they did) at a meal, from east and from west, north and south.
And God’s mercies are offered generously, abundantly.
It is not about being good enough to receive. We never will be good enough; certainly not by our own merits. The point is that Jesus came into the world to save sinners, to seek and save the lost: so, actually, to receive is a badge of humility, a sign that we recognise our need for his forgiving mercies; and receiving is a mark of discipleship.
Jesus knows our brokenness and our troubles. He does not want us to remain without hope in this world or the next. Jesus is offering to us the grace of God, the mercy of God, the love of God, belonging in God’s house. He is here through his Spirit to pour out his forgiving and renewing mercies upon us.
In past days the communion season was a grand occasion in Scotland. Believers went wherever communion was, not just in their own parish, and visiting ministers were drafted in. It was not just one service but a whole series of them and various meetings as well where the whole of salvation and Christian experience was gone into.
The whole season was tinged with deep emotions. Hearts and lives were touched as people became aware of the gracious power of God.
Jesus has set before us an open door which no-one is able to shut. The entrance may be narrow. We choose his way; there are other ways in life – the road to destruction is broad – but if we choose the narrow way we are welcomed as God’s family.
Jesus offers us the joy of God’s presence, the joy of heaven, of which we get a taste now in fellowship with his people.
We need not struggle on without the mercy of God for it is offered to us.
For those who are truly seeking him God in his mercy brings at times the purging, but healing gift of tears; a new awareness that we are held in his love; a renewed awareness that the salvation of God is not a far-off hope but a real experience.
We can hand over our lives into his hands.
Jesus said, ‘fear not, little flock for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom’.
May we hear his words, to us, come and be satisfied; receive his life; come to him and hand over your burdens; experience God’s forgiving mercies, and let God’s healing and comforting power flow in you.
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