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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
 frckelmscott.org
 
Title:Strive to enter through the narrow gate
Text:Luke 13:23,24 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Obedience
 
Added:2015-03-01
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Old Book of Praise (2004)

Ps. 93: 1, 4

Ps. 37: 12, 13, 15

Ps. 19: 4 – 6

Ps. 119: 1 – 3

Ps. 139: 1, 13

Scripture reading:       Mt. 7: 13 – 27; Luke 13: 22 – 30;

Text:                          Luke 13: 23, 24

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


STRIVE TO ENTER THROUGH THE NARROW GATE

Ps. 93: 1, 4

Ps. 37: 12, 13, 15

Ps. 19: 4 – 6

Ps. 119: 1 – 3

Ps. 139: 1, 13

Scripture reading:       Mt. 7: 13 – 27; Luke 13: 22 – 30;

Text:                          Luke 13: 23, 24

 

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

 

Someone who goes on a hiking tour in the mountains, or through a large forest, can easily get lost if he fails to stick to the trail that has been marked out.   

You know how it goes.   Once you lost the track, it usually goes from bad to worse.   At first you may not even realise that you are wondering off.  You may still be walking in approximately the same direction as before.   But your feet are no longer on the right track.     And the further you proceed on a wrong path, the harder it becomes to find the correct path back again.

 

Yes, when you change course – only a little bit – your feet may at first still be close to the original path, but because your direction has altered, you will end up miles away.

 

Congregation, the Lord commands us to walk in His way, the way of truth, stipulated in His Word.   When anyone deviates from this road, even a slight deviation soon becomes a big deviation.  

 

The way of the Lord is a straight and narrow way.  

In order to walk in the way of the Lord we must closely watch our footsteps lest we turn to the right or to the left.  

 

The Lord commanded His people Israel, saying:

 

“Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.” – Deut. 12: 32.

 

You shall not add or take away.   You shall not try to alter the way of the Lord – not even a little bit – but be careful to observe His commandments exactly as you received it from Him.

 

Now, it never happened that Israel took the Book of Moses and tore some parts out.   And it never happened that they sat down and wrote a few chapters of their own fancy and added that to the Book of Moses.   But, it did happen, and it happened even very often, that they took away and added to the Word of the Lord in their daily walk of life – bending the way either to the right or to the left.

 

You may have a complete Bible, while some parts of it have been deleted from your daily walk of life.   Or you may acknowledge all 66 books of the canon as the Word of God, and nothing more, but, in your daily walk of life add your own ideas.    Taking away from the Lord’s Word, or adding to it, is not something that happens only on paper; it also happens in the way we live.

 

In our own day it is presently happening especially by means of a new hermeneutics.   Is the book Genesis true history, or is it simply a sort of parable?  

Does the law of God still apply to us, or has it become outdated, applying only to a bygone time and culture?  

 

These kinds of questions are today very much in the foreground.   People are looking for different ways of interpreting Scripture, so that the Scriptures may be adjusted to suite the prevailing opinions of our own time, and to suite man’s own desires.  

 

And so, by providing new and different interpretations of Scripture, which are foreign to Scripture itself, men are in reality adding and taking away from the Bible as they please.

 

Man’s sinful nature has not changed.   By nature we tend to deviate from God’s Word – like sheep – and to wander off.

 

Now, to illustrate how carefully we have to stick to the Word of God, the LORD compared His instructions to a straight road from which no deviation is allowed.   His commandments are a narrow road.  

Yes, the way in which we are to walk is difficult and narrow.

Anyone desiring to stay on this road has to exert himself and be very careful not to deviate.

Just a little twist to the right or a little bend to the left ends in death.

 

The Lord repeats the warning many times over: be careful to obey everything that I have commanded you; “do not turn to the right or to the left”.  

 

These words which are very often repeated in the Old Testament are also repeated and confirmed in the New Testament.   The apostle Paul writes to the Ephesians, saying:

 

“See then that you walk circumspectly…” – Eph. 5: 15.  

 

The Greek word which our translation translates “circumspectly” could also be translated “strictly” or “accurately”: “See then that you walk strictly...”   See that you walk accurately.

 

Dear congregation, Christian freedom does not mean that we have now more room in the New Testament to walk as we like.   The road has not become broader in the New Testament.  

The road is still just as narrow as in the Old Testament.   Our feet may still not turn to the right or to the left.   We still have to walk on this road circumspectly, strictly, accurately, taking great care lest we deviate from the Word of the Lord, lest we add or take away even a little bit.

 

Christian freedom is not the same as lawlessness.  

We have been liberated – not so that we may walk according to our own fancy; we have been set free with the very aim that we may walk strictly and carefully according to all that the Lord has commanded us.  

 

It is a narrow road, and it is a difficult road to walk in the way of the Lord.

The road has not become broader or easier in the New Testament, as some imagine.

   

Our Lord Jesus repeats and confirms the same teaching here in our text.  

From this text I proclaim God’s Word to you with the theme:

Strive to enter through the narrow gate 

 

We will note…

  1. That few will be saved
  2. That it is a struggle to enter the kingdom
  3. That many will seek to enter, but will not be able

 

In the first place we note that…

Few will be saved

 

While our Lord Jesus went through the cities and villages teaching, journeying toward Jerusalem, someone came and asked Him this question:

 

“Lord, are there few who are saved?”

 

And the Lord’s answered them:

 

            “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek

             to enter and will not be able” – verse 24.

 

When we open Scripture we read from the very start that few people were saved, and that most people perished in unbelief.  

In the days of Noah only Noah and his family were saved.   For the rest: all men perished under the wrath of God.   

In the in the cities Sodom and Gomorrah only Lot and his family found grace, and the rest all perished under the terrible wrath of God.  

The Lord called Abraham and his family, but the rest of the nations He left to themselves for thousands of years.   He revealed Himself only to one little nation and showed them His salvation.  

The rest of the world was without God and without hope.

 

But even when we turn to Israel, the chosen nation of the LORD, we see that even most of God’s covenant people perished in unbelief.   

The apostle Paul speaks about Israel in the desert and says that the Lord had no pleasure in most of them, and killed them in the desert – 1 Cor. 10: 1 – 5.    Most of them did not obey the Lord and did not believe the gospel – Hebr. 3: 16 – 4: 3.  

 

Although He redeemed them from Egypt, He said of most of them: “…I swore in My wrath, they shall not enter My rest…” – Hebr. 4:3.

 

When we look at the rest of the history, we hear the prophet Isaiah saying that no one believed his preaching; the preaching of the gospel (Isaiah 53: 1).  

He does not say this of the heathen nations, but of Israel!

 

The prophets of the Lord repeated over and over again that only a remnant of Israel will be saved – only a small remnant!  

It does not refer to the multitude of heathen nations who all perished; it speaks of a small remnant that will be saved even among God’s covenant people.

Lord, are there few who are saved?

 

There is a reason for this question being asked.   Especially here in our text, because: just listen what Jesus is teaching!   He teaches in the synagogues and He goes through all the towns preaching the gospel of the kingdom, saying things like this: if you don’t hate your own life and deny yourself, you cannot follow Me and will not be saved!

And how many people are there who will actually do such a thing as to deny himself?  

 

The people of the kingdom turn the other cheek when they are slapped through the face, and show love to their enemies.   They are quick to forgive.   They are persecuted for their faithfulness.   They do not gather earthly treasures for themselves.   They are totally different from the rest of mankind.   Their lives shine like light in a dark world.

 

But – and here comes the problem – many people who call themselves believers don’t live this way.   Many profess to be followers of Christ, but do not walk on the way that He prescribes.

 

Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?

 

While Christ is busy with His teaching a man comes and puts this question to Him.  

Lord, we have listened to Your teaching, but we do not see many people who live in the way You prescribe!   Not even the leaders of the covenant people live this way.  

Do we then understand You correctly that only a few will enter the kingdom?

 

The Lord Jesus answers this question by saying:

 

“Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able”.

 

The Lord calls the entrance to the kingdom of heaven a narrow gate.  

It is called narrow because there are not many who enter through it, and because it is not easy to enter through it.  

It is also called narrow because it is so easy to deviate from it, and so difficult to stay on it.

This becomes even more clear when we compare the parallel passage in Matthew 7, where the Lord says:

 

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.   Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it”.

 

Many who will be lost; few who will be saved!

An easy road to hell; a hard and difficult road that leads to life!

And only a few walking on this narrow road.

 

The Lord indeed makes it known that most people will be lost.

It is a warning not to follow the crowd.  

It is a warning that anyone who wants to enter the kingdom must expect it to be a hard struggle, and often a lonely struggle, because: there are not many walking this road.

 

Many who thought that they were children of God, and thought that they will enter easily, will be cast out into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

Great multitudes came to listen to the teaching of Christ, but most of the hearers were only hearers, building on sand.

 

If we count together all who are saved throughout all the centuries, then it will of course be a very large multitude; but in comparison with the enormous multitude that will perish eternally, only a few will be saved.

 

Dear congregation, we need to know this, so that we may not learn to follow the crowd.

 

“You shall not follow a crowd to do evil…” – Ex. 23: 2 

 

The Lord said this to His covenant people.   Even within the covenant people, even within the church, we may not follow the majority if the majority is going the wrong way.  

 

It applies also to the church in the New Testament.

Even if many church members will live in a certain way or do certain things, it does not mean that you may also live like that, or do the same.

The church is not the standard; God’s Word is the only standard.

We should not look at each other to determine our course, and feel ourselves safe in the agreement of a multitude.

For God’s one Word overrules all the voices and opinions of all men together.

His Word alone must determine our course.

 

Don’t do something because everyone else does it.  Our lives should be directed by God’s law even when everybody around us does differently.   Even if everyone laughs at you, and make jokes about you, and shake their heads because you are so narrow-minded, and because you are walking so narrowly.  

Even in such circumstances you have no choice, because the road that leads to life is narrow; and so is the gate.   There is no room on it, or in it, to turn to the right or to the left.

 

Yes, on the Day of Judgment even many church members will be excluded from the kingdom of God because they did turn to the right or to the left, or thought that the road was just a little bit broader.

 

We look at that in our second point, that…

It is a struggle to enter through the narrow gate

 

The Greek word which is here translated “strive” means “struggle”, “fight”, or it can also be used for something like a wrestling match where someone has to exert himself using all his power in the contest.  

It means: Fight with all your might!   Strive to enter!  

 

In Hebr. 12:1 the Lord tells us to run with endurance the race that is set before us.   And then He continues, and says:

 

“You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin” (verse 4).

 

That is: striving against sin to the uttermost in a struggle for life.

 

Dear congregation, it happens so easily that the church falls asleep and starts to live a comfortable life in this world.

But know for sure that if a church is no longer striving against sin and fighting to stay on the straight and narrow road, it has already departed from the narrow road.

 

Brothers and sisters, we all know this struggle striving against our own sin and the temptations of the world and the snares of Satan.   If anyone does not know this struggle to walk carefully according to all God’s commandments, if anyone is not fleeing from sin and the temptations of this world, and not striving to stay on the narrow road, then he has already left the narrow road.  

And whoever does not walk on the narrow road, will not be able to enter through the narrow gate.

 

Tribulation, persecution, self-denial, crucifying our own sinful desires – that is the normal Christian life.  There is no such thing as an easy Christian life. 

 

If anyone would say: “No, I don’t think so.  I don’t have to strive or fight, exerting myself to enter the kingdom, because Christ won the battle for me.   He has done so already, therefore I don’t have to strive to enter through the narrow gate!”, then such a person is totally deceived.

 

Because it is indeed true that Christ has already won the victory, and we in Him; it is true that we are saved only by His righteousness, and not at all by our own righteousness.  But it is just as true that we have to strive with all our might to enter the kingdom of God.  Whoever does not strive to enter, will certainly not enter.  

 

How then are we to understand this?   How do we understand it that our salvation is completely God’s work, but that we, at the same time, still have to strive and exert ourselves with all our might to enter into the kingdom?  

 

Scripture puts it so clearly to us in Phil. 2: 12, 13:

 

“…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure”.

 

We have to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, for this very reason: that it is God who works all in us to do His will.

 

Again, someone may ask: “But if our salvation is from beginning to end God’s work of grace alone, why do we still have to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling?”

Congregation, the Bible doesn’t know of any tension between God’s sovereign grace and our responsibility.   Scripture says: You have to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God who works in you!

You have to do it, because God does it!

 

Scripture doesn’t know any tension between God’s sovereign grace and our responsibility.   And if anyone sees a tension between the two, then it is a false tension.

 

The Lord does everything.   He saves us; and we remain 100% responsible for our deeds, and 100% responsible to strive with all our might to enter the kingdom. 

We remain 100% responsible to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. 

 

God does not save us by taking our responsibility away.   He makes His dwelling in us and renews us in such a way that we are from now on heartily willing and ready to live for Him, and exert ourselves to fight the good fight of faith.

 

If the Spirit of God dwells in us, then we are also busy putting to death the deeds of our flesh.  Then we flee from the temptations of this world, and take great care to walk exactly as the Lord has commanded us.

 

Forget about the multitudes who call themselves Christian while they live like the world.   Don’t be deceived by them.   Because: not everyone who says Lord!, Lord!, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of the Father.

 

Do not be deceived by a false gospel which says that everything will automatically go well in your life because you are baptized, and because you attend the church services.  

No, strive, with all your might, to enter through the narrow gate.

 

Brothers and sisters, do you indeed live this way striving against sin and fleeing from it?

Do you maybe watch programs on TV in which the Name of the Lord is blasphemed; do you watch the violence and the fornication shown on the screen?  

The one who watches fornication has become a fornicator himself.

 

If it is a temptation for you to watch such movies, then you may not allow a TV in your house.   Or if it is a temptation for your children to watch such movies, then you surely have to throw the TV out.  

You may not allow something in your house which is a temptation and a stumbling block, which slowly but surely will draw you away from the narrow road.

 

You are not allowed to put your soul, or the souls of your children, in danger.  

Remove then the idol and throw it out of your house, so that you and your house may walk holy with your God.

And switch off that radio station which is constantly pumping worldly rubbish into your ears.

Fill your mind with the Word of the Lord, that it may govern your every step on the way, lest you deviate.

 

You shall not bring an abomination into your house (Deut. 7:26).

Yes, when you put on that TV, it is most of the time like a sewerage pipe that you open to fill your house with the dirt of this world.   Leave it on, and you will soon start to think and to act in the same way!

 

Of course we need to do much more than throw out TV’s.  

In every respect we have to be careful not be ensnared by the lusts of this world.  

There are programs that protect your computer from websites that contain pornography.  

Such a protection-program should be installed on your computer for the sake of your soul, and for the sake of the souls of your children.

Yes, it is a constant struggle to watch out lest we conform to this world and defile ourselves with its thinking and its practice.

We cannot befriend the world.   We may not make worldly people our personal friends.  

Neither may we enjoy the company of scoffers.

 

But our watchfulness should not only be towards the world outside.   We have to be watchful even within the church.

Even when we walk into a Christian bookshop, not every so-called Christian book is necessarily good reading material.  

And not everything that goes for Free Reformed is necessarily good.  

Yes, we have to be alert all the time.   Even within the churches we may not think that everything is okay, for we can easily exchange the narrow road for one that becomes a bit broader, and broader, as we nestle ourselves in this world.

 

The road is indeed narrow. 

And to the very end of the ages the way that leads to life will remain narrow.

 

When something is imported into the churches, which has previously been viewed to be harmful, the argument that you hear is often this: but everyone does it these days!  We are living in different times, you know!

Yes, we may be living in different times, but the way that leads to life has not changed.  

 

Brothers and sisters, there is only one right way, and it is still as narrow as before.  

If the road seems to become broader, know for sure that it is the wrong way.

 

Yes, by nature we try to make the narrow road just a little bit broader – a bit broader here, and a bit broader there, until it becomes quite comfortable.   In the end we think and speak and dress and do as the world; until the road is broad enough for everything that the world offers.

 

“Be very careful, then, how you live…” – Eph. 5: 15. 

 

Yes, if you live carefully, not departing to the left or to the right, people will call you narrow-minded.   But, you have no choice, for there is only one way that leads to life: a narrow one!  

 

And there is only one way to walk on it: walking carefully, strictly, exactly as the Lord has said.

 

Let us not sit in the company of scoffers, but let us meditate on the law of the Lord day and night.

 

Dear congregation, do you still know this to be part of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that He saved us and called us to live holy lives, and to flee from the defilement of this world, and that we have to walk circumspectly and carefully according to His commandments, without turning to the right or to the left?  

 

The road is narrow, because the gate is narrow.  

We note that in the third place.

Many will seek to enter, but will not be able

 

Only those who walked on the narrow road will enter the narrow gate.

 

But who are the many who will seek to enter and will not be able to enter?  

When we read further, Christ Himself gives the answer.   He uses a parable:

 

“When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying: ‘Lord, Lord, open for us’, He will answer

and say to you: ‘I do not know you, where you are from’, then you will begin to say: ‘We ate and drank in Your     presence, and You taught in our streets’.   But He will say: ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from.  Depart from Me, all you workers of

iniquity’.   There 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 yourselves thrust out” – verses 25 – 28.

 

When we look at the context, we see that Jesus was speaking to God’s covenant people.   He is teaching in the synagogues and in the cities and towns on His way to Jerusalem.   These Jews reckoned themselves to be children of the kingdom, because they are the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!   And did they not all receive the sign and seal of the covenant?

God has chosen them to be His people, did He not?  

Yes, all the promises of the Lord were made to them

And for that reason they reckoned that it is obvious that they will inherit the kingdom.

But the Lord makes it clear to them that many of the covenant children will be cast out into the outer darkness.   They were so privileged to hear the gospel, but did not obey.   They were hearers only, building on sand.

 

Brothers and sisters, we are the covenant people of the Lord.   Christ has made the new covenant with us and sealed it with His blood.   Yes, the church of the New Testament is the special people of the Lord.   Therefore these words are directed also to us.  We who grew up in the covenant, we who grew up in the church – the exhortation is especially for us.  

Don’t think that you will enter the kingdom of God just because you are a member of the church and are called a Christian, if you do not also live as the Lord commands.  

 

Because many, yes, many church members, many covenant children, will stand one day before a closed door, calling: Lord!, Lord! Open for us, we know You!, and will be sent away because the Bible was only for Sundays and for men’s clubs, and youth clubs, but the rest of the week they fed themselves with the food of this world and became part of this world in their thinking and actions.       

Therefore the Lord calls them “workers of iniquity”, that is: transgressors of His law.

 

Brothers and sisters, the narrow road is about being a doer of the Word, and not only a hearer, deceiving ourselves.   It is about building on the rock, and not building on sand, it is about listening carefully to the Lord’s instructions, not departing from it to the left or to the right.

 

Let us not look at the crowd who call themselves Christian, but do not live according to God’s commandments.   If anyone is not striving with all his might to stay on the narrow road, he will not be able to enter through the narrow gate.  

We will not be saved just because we were church members and knew the doctrine and teachings of Christ, or just because we listened to the sermons as one would listen to a piece of music, without acting on it.

 

This exhortation of Christ is a warning directed especially to His church.   Strive to enter through the narrow gate, because many will try to enter but not be able.

There is no such thing as an easy going Christian.  There is no such thing as an easy church, or comfortable church-life.   It does not exist in the dictionary of the kingdom.

 

Let us also note the last words of this passage: 

            “They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south,

            and sit down in the kingdom of God.  And indeed there are last who will be

            first, and there are first who will be last” (: 29, 30).

 

When the marriage feast of the Lamb has come, a multitude will sit down at the table from every tribe and nation and tongue – from north, south, east and west.  

But those covenant people who boasted of their heritage without living according to God’s Word, will be cast out.   

 

The Jews thought that they were the first, and that the heathens were the last.   And it was true also, because God showed His grace and mercy to Israel first, and it was many centuries later before He revealed the gospel also the heathens.  

His covenant was first only with Israel.  

But most of them rejected Christ, and therefore will be last.   And the heathens who were far from God repented and believed; therefore they will be first.

 

Dear congregation, let us not seek to follow a the crowd.   Let us not seek the approval of men, or even the approval of our friends, but ask: What does the Lord say? – and do exactly as He commands.

Let us not measure ourselves to other people, but to God’s Word only.

Don’t look for big numbers.  Don’t look around you to see whether the majority is following.  

If we want to follow Christ, it is often a lonely road despised by men.

Forget about the crowds who call themselves Christian, but who live like the world.   Don’t be deceived.

 

Yes, it is never easy to stand alone.   For which persecution hurts the most?   Is it not when it comes from false brethren from within the church?    Yes, the road may sometimes be very lonely, when all around you are shaking their heads:

  

“He thinks too black and white”, they say.   “He must just become a bit more relaxed!   He takes life too seriously.    He seems to be a square in a round world!”

 

They may call you a fundamentalist, a radical, and whatever.

 

When this kind of talk comes from your own brothers and sisters in the church, then the road may seem just too narrow!

But, brothers and sisters, let us patiently endure.  

Let us walk carefully, strictly, accurately according to the Word of the Lord, without twisting it to the right or bending it to the left.  

While we are indeed but a few on the narrow road, let us also encourage one another in the Lord, exhorting one another to persevere on the straight and the narrow. 

 

And the Lord, according to His promise, will hear our prayers and keep us.  

 

Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Mendel Retief

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