As Jesus was making His way to Jerusalem to give His life to save the world, someone came up to Him with a question. “Lord, are only a few people going to saved?”
You wonder sometimes, don’t you, when you look around at the world as it is. When you look at the state of the Church as it is. When churches have become houses of entertainment or personal therapy or anything but repentance and forgiveness in the name of Jesus. When you look at the diminishing impact that Christianity seems to have, especially in our place and time, you begin to wonder yourself. Will only a few be saved in the end?
Perhaps the person who asked the question noticed something similar. He saw the large crowds hanging around Jesus, pushing Him for a miracle, demanding favors, looking to get something from him. And the guy wonders out loud, “Does anyone actually trust Jesus around here?” Or perhaps the question comes out of a self-centered kind of security: “I know I’m in, but look at all these losers. You’re not telling me they’re in too, are you Jesus?” Maybe he’s worried about the seating at the heavenly banquet; will he need a reservation to ensure a seat? Or perhaps he’s like the safety-minded guy on a boat who sizes up the life raft and his fellow passengers. Is the life raft big or small? Will few get on or many?
Whatever his motives, he assumes that salvation is for the few and not the many, that the kingdom of God is an exclusive country club, a refuge for the religious, a sanctuary for the salvageable, a health spa for the spiritually fit, the winners.
Ever catch yourself thinking that? Thank God I’m not like other people who don’t have the decency and common sense to worship on Sunday morning, who don’t seem to get or even want to get the good news that their sins are forgiven freely for Jesus’ sake, who don’t even seem to care about the sins and even laugh at the notion that there is such a thing as “sin.” Ever catch yourself thinking of the church as the religious equivalent of a political party where the like-minded all get together and talk about how everyone else is too stupid to see it our way?
Are only a few people going to be saved? How would you answer?
Jesus rarely answers questions posed to Him. He usually answer a question with another question or starts talking about something completely different, which He does here today. Andin doing so, gets to the heart of the matter. Are only a few people going to be saved? Jesus’ answer is a paradoxical “yes” and “no.” It all depends on how you look at it.
“Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” The way into the kingdom of God is incredibly narrow; everything else is a brick wall. There is only one, narrow door. You hear it all the time, in our politically-correct, multi-cultural, inclusive age: All roads lead to heaven; we all worship the same god only in different ways; it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you believe something. The opening to eternal life is a thin cross-shaped opening in a solid stone wall of the Law, the Law that bars a sinner from God’s presence. That wall says “Be perfect, be holy, keep every commandment in thought, word, and deed or you can’t enter.” And it doesn’t matter how hard you try, or how hard you throw yourself against that wall, or take a running start and try to climb or jump, you can’t make it. There is only one way through the Law to God, and that is through the narrow opening of the perfect life and death of Jesus, the Son of God. He is that narrow door in an otherwise impenetrable wall that leads to life.
Religion, this business of trying to deal with God by doing good, is really trying to knock down the wall of the Law or climb over it by your strength and will (with God’s help of course, but you always wind up doing it or it wouldn’t be religion). And that’s not the way to be saved. To be saved is to be saved. It happens to you; it’s something done for you by another. You cannot save yourself, by definition. You can’t save yourself from drowning, from a fire, from being trapped. If you could save yourself, then you wouldn’t need to be saved.
This is what makes Christianity the joker in the deck of religious playing cards. It’s the one “religion” that doesn’t have you work your way in. You simply trust that you are in by virtue of the death of Another. You trust that you are righteous before a righteous God, not for what you have done but because He says so, but for what Jesus has done and has given to you. You trust that you are baptized, forgiven, clothed with Christ, united with Him in His death and life, that in Him you are free from the Law, that in Jesus you have been pulled through the very narrow door of this one dark death on a cross that embraced you and will not let you go.
The way of Christ is a narrow, exclusive way. “No one comes to the Father, except through me,” Jesus said. And His death and resurrection are the only way that leads to life. There is no other way. All other paths, no matter how pious, how religious, how rigorous, how full of works and rituals and disciplines, run head long into the brick wall of the Law and come to nothing but destruction.
The window of opportunity is short – one lifetime. The door shuts at your death or at the day of Jesus’ appearing, whichever comes first, and you do not know the day or the hour. The smart money says, “Don’t delay when it comes to Jesus.” There will be those who find themselves on the wrong side of that narrow door, who bang on it and plead, who argue that they are entitled to be let in, “We ate with you, we drank with you, we heard you teach in our streets.” But it’s not about what we did, but who we are in relation to Jesus. “I don’t know you or where you come from,” is the word of judgment to all who would credential their way in. Too little, too late.
Jesus is speaking to the religious of his day. Those who were working hard to please God; those who religiously kept the fasts and feasts and tithes and traditions. But they did not trust the mercy of God toward sinners. They looked down on their fellow sinners and judged them unfit for the kingdom. They were the winners. But in the end, the religious winners weep and grind their molars at the grace of God toward sinners, when people from the four corners of the world dine with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the Lamb’s high feast.
There’s the inclusive part, “catholic” or universal of salvation. Will only a few be saved? No, not a few, but many. Many who had no inherent “right” to be there. Many including the Gentiles, the goyim, the nations, the ancient enemies of Israel, from the north, south, east, and west. Isaiah spoke of it when he said that prophets would go out from Israel to Tarshish, to the Libyans, the Lidians, Tubal, and Greece, to distant islands, to those who had not heard the name of YHWH. And they will bring them all together and gather the nations on YHWH’s holy mountain.
Jesus commanded His disciples to make disciples of “all the nations.” As many as Jesus died for. And how many did the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world die for? Not just a few, or even a lot, but “the many,” the whole lot, all. “For He bore the sins of the many, and made intercession for transgressor.” “This is my blood of covenant poured out for the many for the forgiveness of sins.” “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
The narrow door is also a wide door, embracing all of humanity in one perfect life, squeezing the world through one perfect death, one resurrection from the dead. Just as one man, Adam, dragged all of humanity into sin and death, so one man, Jesus, pulls all humanity into His forgiveness and life by His own cross and tomb. The question is: Will we trust it? That’s the question Jesus asks: When the Son of Man comes, will He find find on the earth?
So back we come to the original question on our menu this morning. Will only a few be saved? It depends entirely on how you look at it. If you look at it from our perspective, from our inability to find the narrow door and squeeze our way through it on our own, the answer is yes, only a few. And then you can’t really be sure that you’ll be among the few. Fewer than you would like to imagine. So few, it’s not worth considering. In fact, only One. One perfect Jew who makes it in on His own merits, and you are not Him. His name is Jesus.
But if you look at it from God’s perspective, lensed through the narrow door of Jesus’ death, the answer is no. Not a few, but many, a great multitude no one can count from every nation, tribe, people, and language. The narrow door of Jesus’ death is wide enough to include the worst of sinners, the chief of sinners, even you.
Will only a few be saved? The key to getting the question right is to get it Jesus-right. He is the narrow door that leads to life. And looking to Him, you don’t even have ask the question.
In the name of Jesus, Amen