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Shut out of the Kingdom

Luke 13: 22-30 The Narrow Door

22 Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. 23Someone asked him, ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’ He said to them, 24‘Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. 25When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us”, then in reply he will say to you, “I do not know where you come from.” 26Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.” 27But he will say, “I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!” 28There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. 29Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. 30Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.’ (use as sentence)

 

 Shut out of the Kingdom

Over the past few weeks we’ve been following a section of Luke’s gospel addressing the tricky topic of fairness & justice – especially in relation to sin & its consequences – & eligibility for the kingdom of God & eternal life.

In today’s passage Luke records Jesus’ response to another question posed by someone who would have assumed that the kingdom of God was only for the Jews – that Gentiles would be shut out. Jesus’ answer must have come as a shock.

He declared that entry to the kingdom can never be automatic no matter how privileged or deserving we may think we are. Rather it’s a consequence of a struggle. ‘Keep on striving to enter’ Jesus said [v24].

The Greek word for striving forms the root of the English word agony. The struggle to enter in to the kingdom must be so intense that it becomes like an agony of the soul & spirit.

But there’s a danger here. It’s easy to think that once we have committed to Jesus we have ‘made it’ – we have reserved our seat in the kingdom. There is no such certainty in the Christian journey. We’re either going forward or we’re backsliding.

It’s like climbing up a slippery steep mountain pathway – like Mt Warning – towards a peak or lookout that can never be reached in this world. This image gives rise to the Spanish word ‘ultreya’ adopted by the Cursillo movement as a cry of encouragement meaning upward & onward! In the Christian journey there is no rest.

The mindset of the people questioning Jesus is clear: ‘But we ate & drank with you. You taught in our streets!’ [v26]       In other words, ‘You’re our friend! Surely that’s enough!’

There are some who think that coming to church – even regularly – being on every roster – involved in every community organisation however worthy – is enough to be counted among the saved. It’s what’s in our hearts that really matters.

We are all enjoying the benefits of a Christian tradition that we didn’t earn or create. The question we must ask ourselves is: “How am I nurturing these traditions? How graciously am I extending God’s kingdom on earth? How am I drawing others to Jesus?”

One certainty is that there will be both surprises & disappointments in the kingdom of God. Those who are prominent in this world may find themselves at the bottom of the pile in the next. Those who are invisible to the movers & shakers of this life may have great significance in the next.

A wealthy woman accustomed to the finest luxuries of this life died & presented at heaven’s gates where she was escorted by a cheerful Welcomer angel on roster that day to her new home. They passed along leafy avenues with large mansions & sprawling gardens – through the main streets – to the very fringe where they stopped at a tiny one-room donga or cabin.

“I can’t possibly live in that!” the woman exclaimed.

“I’m sorry” said the Welcomer angel, “but that’s all we could build with the materials you sent up.”

I’m not sure about the theology of this illustration  – but it makes for interesting reflection:

The topsy turvy standards of heaven are not the standards of earth. Earth’s first will often be last & the last will often be first.