Not long ago a friend wrote me this:
"I forgot to tell you that there comes a time when Church becomes a narcotic and you realize you are hooked. Your whole life becomes wrapped up with church people. You have no good non-Christian friends and in fact you don't even see that it is realistically possible. You put on the Christian mask so much that you lose your own face. You have piled an abnormal amount of pressure on yourselves to the point where you actually have a love/hate relationship with being seen as the perfect Christian couple. You have divided the world into two completely separate compartments.
"Instead of life being a unity, there are the two: the secular and the spiritual. Each category has its own unspeakable description. It's not really conscious, but it's definitely there in your mind. Secular is bad. Spiritual is good. Then you have this measuring tape and this set of weights. You spend most of your mental time measuring and weighing everything. Straining gnats, swallowing camels. You try to control everyone and everything. People don't dress modestly. This means you have to avoid them. People use words in the wrong ways. People don't have enough devotion. People don't like what you like as much as you like it. And no one can fault you. You have a reason for everything. When people confront you, you smile that Christian smile and say the right Christian words and then disappear into your brooding. Isolation becomes the means of preservation of the false self. Finally, you get so sick of it that you just run away..."
These remarks became relevant that same week when my men's group, the Wednesday Brothers of Thunder, was plodding along in Luke and came to Chapter 13. One brother asked some hard questions that night and so triggered a closer look at the passage at hand than any of us had probably intended.
Luke records the last visit of a Jesus to a synagogue while He is on his final trip to Jerusalem near the end of his ministry.
Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, "Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity." And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, "There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day." The Lord then answered him and said, "Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? "So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound--think of it--for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?" (Luke 13:10-16)
During our discussion we came to the conclusion that Jesus was doing all sorts of "ordinary" things in Israel--things which believers in God should have been doing routinely all the time. In this case, a dear woman,--a believer with an illness that was easily cured by prayer--had gone unnoticed and ignored for 18 years by the townspeople and by the leader of the synagogue as well. Apparently no one really cared about the woman (or hurt oxen or thirsty donkeys). No one really cared about God either. The religion of the day was all mechanical--just for show. The leader of the synagogue was not interested in the fact that someone was wonderfully healed in his synagogue, instead he was infuriated because this act violated his own legalistic rules. The man was paying no attention to the law of Moses which allowed for watering animals and care-giving on the Sabbath--the "system" was more important to him than the individual.
A theme running through the later chapters of Isaiah goes as follows: First, God announced that the nation of Israel is the chosen servant of Israel. Next, the prophet tells us that the nation Israel has failed badly in her calling. But, finally, Israel's Messiah would come and by Himself would fulfill all the requirements God had required of the nation. This Messiah, the faithful servant of Yahweh, would make possible the final redemption of Israel--when they at last placed their full faith and trust in Him.
Christians understand this great principle of Scripture in their individual lives. It is the great doctrine of "justification by faith"--justification apart from works and apart from the law--a doctrine which Paul outlines carefully for us in Romans.
Thus, Israel will one day come to a place in her history when there will be a final wide-spread acceptance of Jesus as their long-rejected Messiah. When that happens the righteousness of Messiah will be imputed to Israel's account and the nation's sins will be taken away--in one day. (Zechariah 3:9, 12-13, Romans 11). Right now Israel as a nation is far from that ultimate goal.
To return to Luke, Jesus took the occasion after the healing at the synagogue to speak to the crowds who were following. His warning was an ominous one.
And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.
Then He said, "What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? "It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches." And again He said, "To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? "It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened."
Using two negative figures, Jesus described the typical course of the work of the kingdom of God among men. What starts out healthy, vibrant, and life-giving, almost always ends up decadent, dead and phony.
When God gives men truth which we fail to act upon, we soon lose that truth. We also become immune to further truth. Furthermore, we grow progressively insensitive to the God of truth and fail to recognize Truth--even when He is standing in our midst. In a church or a nation where God has been gradually marginalized by the people, God eventually takes away truth altogether. This removing-of-truth by the Lord has been going on in our nation at a rapid rate in recent decades. (For a development of this important theme in the Bible see Ray Stedman's analysis of the parables, Behind the Scenes of History, http://raystedman.org/behind/).
Next Jesus warned the crowd that the way into the kingdom of God was narrow and most would miss it. Also the "window of opportunity" for entering that narrow gate leading into the kingdom of God was definitely limited. After a certain point in time even those who wanted in would be turned away.
And Jesus went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem.
Then one said to Him, "Lord, are there few who are saved?"
And He said to them, "Strive [Greek: agonizomai] to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. "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,' and 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. "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." (Luke 13:17-30)
Jesus Himself is of course that "narrow entrance way" into the kingdom as He often reminded men, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to Father but by me." Knowing God is always about a personal relationship with Him--never about ceremony, ritual, or mechanical religion.
Luke's gospel shows that the coming of Jesus at that time in their national history was to give Israel one final chance to embrace their Messiah then and there, or to become by default a "flock doomed for slaughter" which Zechariah had prophesized about some 500 years earlier. Except for a small remnant, the nation as a whole failed that great test. Jesus was rejected as Messiah and King, and as one consequence the national redemption of Israel was put on hold for two millennia.
Thus says the LORD my God, "Feed the flock for slaughter, "whose owners slaughter them and feel no guilt; those who sell them say, 'Blessed be the LORD, for I am rich'; and their shepherds do not pity them. "For I will no longer pity the inhabitants of the land," says the LORD. "But indeed I will give everyone into his neighbor's hand and into the hand of his king. They shall attack the land, and I will not deliver them from their hand." So I fed the flock for slaughter, in particular the poor of the flock." (Zechariah 11:4-7)
Even worse than Israel's long dispersion from her land out among the nations, Zechariah spoke of an antimessiah yet to come. That false shepherd would lead Israel into her final "time of Jacob's trouble." This terrible trail would nearly destroy Israel and much of the rest of the world as well.
And the LORD said to me, "Next, take for yourself the implements of a foolish shepherd. "For indeed I will raise up a shepherd in the land who will not care for those who are cut off, nor seek the young, nor heal those that are broken, nor feed those that still stand. But he will eat the flesh of the fat and tear their hooves in pieces. "Woe to the worthless shepherd, Who leaves the flock! A sword shall be against his arm And against his right eye; His arm shall completely wither, And his right eye shall be totally blinded." (11:15-17)
Jesus Himself reiterated that this antimessiah, Paul's "man of sin," would come to deceive Israel one last time in a future day. Speaking to the Jews in Jerusalem during the last days of His life He said,
"You do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe. "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. "But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. "I do not receive honor from men. "But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you. "I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. "How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God? "Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you--Moses, in whom you trust. "For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. "But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?" (John 5:38-47)
True religion in America--knowing and serving Jesus wholeheartedly--is much discussed today, but little practiced. If Jesus walked in our midst, as He once did in Israel, would we not be found living and acting much like the Jews in Israel of old? Jesus was much more angered and incensed at hypocrisy than by any other sins He encountered. That's obvious from all the gospels.
After our men's group discussion the other night I went off to bed. But thankfully several of the men stayed up late that night to talk and pray about the reality of the narrow gate and the grave dangers of the empty, mechanical religion in our own day. Was it possible that there was but a small remnant in our day, as had been the case in Israel? Are we now as bad off as Israel was--or worse--as a nation, in the sight of a holy God? How could we find out what our true situation really was?
The Apostle Peter wrote, "Therefore, brothers, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 1:10-11)
Now Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, "Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity." And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, "There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day." The Lord then answered him and said, "Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? "So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound--think of it--for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?" And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him. Then He said, "What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? "It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches." And again He said, "To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? "It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened." (LUKE 13:10-21)
We are still following our Lord in the last six months of His earthly ministry, and most likely this incident occurred on the other side Jordan, where He spent so much of that final period. Luke does not name the locality, nor state the exact time. The record of the incident is peculiar to him. The place was a synagogue. The time was a Sabbath day.
There are two movements in the narrative. First the action of Jesus when He came into the synagogue, which occupies verses ten to thirteen; and then the attack upon Jesus by the ruler, in verses fourteen to twenty-one. Simple though the incident is, it is full of light, full of colour, full of revelation.
Let us first look at the woman at the centre of the picture. Eighteen years, says Luke, she had been "bowed together." That is a medical term, and it is not found anywhere else in the New Testament. The Greek word might be translated quite accurately as, "bent double." We are told, moreover. that she "could in no wise lift herself up." "Lift herself up" is again a medical term. It occurs in one other place in the New Testament, in John eight, where it speaks of Jesus in the Temple, and the woman taken in the act of sin. There John says He lifted Himself up. She was quite unable to look up. If you had met her she could not have looked at you; bent double, her eyes were always on the ground, and she "could in no wise lift herself up."
Luke tells us in a very significant phrase, that she "had a spirit of infirmity," and therefore was bent double, and therefore could not raise herself. The interpretation of that phrase, "a spirit of infirmity," is found in verse sixteen. Jesus said of her, "Ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan had bound." The spirit of infirmity was an evil spirit. This woman was held in the grip of a physical malady, described by this physician-evangelist and writer, as bent double, with no ability to straighten herself at all; and Jesus says, Satan had bound her.
Here, then, was a case in which an evil spirit had produced a physical malady that lasted eighteen years. There is no suggestion in this story, that there was anything of immorality in this woman's life. She was the victim of a demon activity, under what circumstances we do not know, producing a physical disability, and holding the woman in it for eighteen long years. There is no hint of this mastery having produced an immoral effect in her life. As a matter of fact, here she was in the synagogue. She had found her way to the place of worship, and when Jesus presently called her a daughter of Abraham, He did not merely mean she was a Jewess; that was patent. He was using the term in its full spiritual significance as revealing her faith in God. Here, then, was a case of physical suffering, that was directly produced by the power of Satan. I am not attempting to explain this. There may be many other such cases in the world. There are things we have not fathomed yet in life, concerning the mystery of suffering, and the power of evil. We take the facts as revealed, and proceed to consider the action of Jesus.
Jesus came into the synagogue, and we may tell the story in two or three very simple sentences. First He saw her. Of course He did. He always saw. As we go through these stories of His life, we find again and again that the persons He seems to have seen first, were those in direst need. On another occasion He entered a synagogue where was a man with a withered band. In that story we are told that the rulers watched Him, to see what He would do. They, too, saw the man with the withered hand. They had probably seen him come and go often in the past. They had not taken very much notice of him; but the very day Jesus came, unconsciously they complimented the Lord by knowing that the one man that He would see, would be that man. It is always so. He saw this woman. If there is a man or a woman in any assembly of human beings, more in need than any other, that is the man of the woman that Jesus is after.
Then He spoke to her, He called her "Woman." There are other occasions when He used the term, and on His lips it was ever a word of infinite and beautiful tenderness. Then He touched her, as He said, "Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity," and in a moment she was straight. A characteristic of the healing work of Jesus was that it was immediate, it was complete. There was no wondering whether the person was healed, when He healed. There was no hysterical delay. People may fling their crutches away, and have to pick them up again. They never picked them up again when He healed. The woman was healed, she was completely healed, immediately she was made straight."
Look again, and observe the spiritual significance of the action of our Lord. This woman was bound by Satan; and Jesus, by a word and touch, set her free. Thus we see the power and authority of Jesus over Satan himself. Satan had bound her, and she could not loose herself, and no one could loose her. Christ loosed her. He snapped the bond in which Satan had held her, mastered the power of the evil one. He was stronger than the strong man armed, and dispossessed him there and then, in that soul who for eighteen years had been in the realm of suffering. There are mysteries in the story that baffle us, things we do not understand. Why was such a thing permitted? How did Satan gain that power over this woman? These and many other questions may remain unanswered. But the fact remains; a woman, not immoral, but a worshipper, a daughter of Abraham in the full spiritual sense of the word, is seen bound by Satan, and Christ, passing that way, coming into the synagogue, broke the power of the enemy, and liberated the woman from her disability.
Now let us listen to the ruler of the synagogue. He was angry. In the words of Scripture, "he was moved with indignation." The ruler of the synagogue, devoted to the worship of God, angry Why? There was a woman who had entered the synagogue, a cripple, a derelict, a sufferer, now standing erect, and glorifying God. And the religious ruler was angry. What a revelation. What is the meaning of this? He was the ruler of the synagogue, and he was angry in the presence of the suffering daughter of Abraham, rest red to health. What was the matter with him?
Let us listen to him. He addressed the people in the synagogue, but what he said was an oblique attack upon Jesus. "He said to the multitude, There are six days in which men ought to work, in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the day of the Sabbath."
He was declaring that the procedure was irregular. It had broken in upon the correct order of things. Men ought to work six days a week, which means they ought not to do anything on the Sabbath. His objection was net to the fact that the woman was healed; indeed, that to him was so secondary that he did not seem to be touched by it. That was the calamity. His objection was to the violation of the ceremonial law of the Sabbath. He did not consider the healing of the woman, but rather that work had been done; and, according to him, work of any kind was wrong on the Sabbath, That is what he said. Men ought. "Ought" represents the thing that is necessary, the thing that is imperative, the thing that is a duty, the thing that is the true impulse of life, they ought not to be healed, or Jesus to heal on the Sabbath; because that is in the realm of work.
Thus, he was relegating a victory in the spiritual realm to the physical level. He only saw the physical act of the straightening of the woman. He was blind entirely to the fact that the physical was merely the result of a spiritual thing that had taken place in the synagogue. In that synagogue that day the power of evil in the spiritual world hid been mastered. He did not see that at all. He saw the hands of Jesus touch the woman. That was work. He saw the woman a cripple, with her face to the ground, suddenly stand erect, as she straightened herself. That was work. It would be amusing, if it were not tragic! To him, ceremonial was more than humanity. In order that the ceremonial rite of the Sabbath might not be broken in upon in any way, he would gladly have left the woman to suffer until the first day of the week. So he is revealed.
Now turn from him, and look at, and listen to, Jesus. The first thing I notice is that He, also, was angry. This we know by the way He addressed him, "Ye hypocrites." That is the language of anger. He then proceeded to justify His description. "Doth not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall?"
That, in view of the ruler's anger in the presence of the loosed woman, is the evidence of hypocrisy. By this question, our Lord revealed the fact that, in the last analysis, this man's objection was not to the violation of the Sabbath. Christ said in effect, If loosing this woman from her bond by the touch of My hand, is work; what are you doing when you loose your ox or your ass from the stall, simply to take them away to watering? You do that, said Christ again in effect, and it does not trouble you. But now you are angry.
Thus it is evident that while this man was professing to stand for the sanctities of the ceremonial law, there lurked in him hostility to Jesus, and that was the underlying reason of his objection. Thus the Lord unveiled his hypocrisy.
Then He took him on his own ground, and used his own word. This man said, " Ye ought." Jesus said, "Ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, b these eighteen years, to have been loosed from this bond on the day of the Sabbath?"
The ruler said, You ought not to do anything on the Sabbath. But, said Jesus, your "might" does not apply to your ox or your ass is thirsty. Ought not this woman, who is a daughter or Abraham, who has been bound for eighteen years, to have been let loose? Why does your "ought" apply in the case of this woman, when it does not apply in the case of your ox or your ass? As He said on another occasion, Is not a man of more value than a sheep? These men were presumably careful of their animals. They would not have objected to loosing an ass or an ox on the Sabbath. Neither would Jesus. But He did object to their setting up one law when property was in danger, and another law for a human being, when enthralled in suffering and agony. Over against the ought of the ruler, He put another ought. There is a necessity deeper than the one the ruler has named. With Jesus, humanity is of far more importance than the ceremonial law.
"The Sabbath is made for man, and not man for the Sabbath."
In saying that, our Lord was not relegating the Sabbath to an unimportant position, but putting it in its right position. It is a minister to the wellbeing of men; and if this woman, a daughter of Abraham, needs to be freed from the power of Satan in the realm of the spiritual, then the mastery of the evil one shall be ended on a Sabbath day, and she admitted into the realm of freedom and realization.
As I look at the ruler, I see that a man who has lost his sense of the worth of humanity, has lost his sense of the truth about God. He did not know God. On the contrary, Jesus, knowing God, knew the value of humanity. A man who has lost his vision of God, and does not know God, has always lost his sense of the value of human life. But a man who knows God, knows the value of every human life, and knows that the tithing of mint and anise and rue and cummin are trivialities by comparison with the necessity for righteousness and truth and justice and mercy.
Luke says that His adversaries were put to shame. I do not know quite how to interpret that. I should like to think that it meant in the finest sense, they were ashamed of themselves. I am afraid it does not mean that. But it is true that the multitude rejoiced in the glorious things He was doing.
Then what? Now mark the "therefore." That introduces the next phase. He repeated in brief form two parables which He had uttered in an earlier part of His ministry. We find them in fulness in the thirteenth chapter of Matthew. They were, the parable of the tree which was a false growth, and that of the leaven which is always a disrupting force.
A grain of mustard seed never develops into a great tree, unless it becomes abnormal. The grain of mustard seed, developing into a great tree, is not the sign of the progress of Christianity, but that of an abnormal growth, so that there is room for birds to lodge in the branches. The birds are symbolic here of evil things.
We are familiar with the long-continued controversy about the parable of the leaven. The popular interpretation is that the leaven is a type of good. All expositors admit that everywhere else in Scripture leaven is a type of evil. I hold that this is no exception to the rule.
Why did He repeat these two parables? Because He saw and understood the attitude of this ruler of the synagogue, and of the people. He thus revealed His sense of the difficulties confronting His own work. He did not mean that His work was not coming to victory ultimately, but that in its process there would be admixture.
In the incident, taken as a whole, two kingdoms are seen, the kingdom of Satan and the Kingdom of God. The kingdom of Satan is there. Satan bound the woman, and blinded the ruler. The Kingdom of God is there. Jesus loosed the woman, and corrected the ruler. The kingdom of Satan binding and blinding; the Kingdom of God loosing and correcting.
Thus the Kingdom of God is seen mightier than the kingdom of Satan. God's anointed King is able to loose the captive that Satan binds, and He is at least willing to illuminate the blindness of their rulers. The victory was with the Kingdom of God as seen in the Person of His Son.
There is one little word in the narrative, which I have already emphasized. The compulsion that masters the kingdom of evil, and the compulsion that masters the Kingdom of God, are revealed in the word "ought." The ruler said what ought to be done, and in his "ought" there was utter disregard for humanity in its suffering. The devil must not be interfered with on the Sabbath. Nothing must be allowed to violate the conventionalities of ceremonial and ritual in religion. That is Satan completely unmasked. The "ought" which in the last analysis is callous in the presence of human suffering, is the spawn of hell.
Now listen to the other. "Ought not this woman, who is a daughter of Abraham, be loosed?
That is the compulsion of a compassion that sets man at his right valuation. What is his right valuation? It can best be stated in most familiar, but most sublime words:
"God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son."
That is the compulsion of the "ought" of Jesus, the master-passion, the loosing of those that are bound, the straightening of the woman, the breaking of Satan's power, the giving of liberty to the captives.
In that little word "ought" hell and heaven are seen. It depends upon what our "ought" is, as to whether we are loyal to the kingdom of Satan, or to the Kingdom of God.
Thus in the incident the two kingdoms are clearly seen; and we can, without asking the opinion of friend or neighbour, discover to which Kingdom we belong. We shall find the answer, if we discover the meaning of the "ought" that compels us.
And Jesus went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. Then one said to Him, "Lord, are there few who are saved?" And He said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. "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,' and 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. "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." (Luke 13:22-30)
In this paragraph Luke records another incident in the same period of the Perean ministry, "And He went on His way through cities and villages, teaching, and journeying on unto Jerusalem."
This statement takes us back to the fifty first verse of chapter nine, "And it came to pass, when the days were well nigh come that He should be received up, He steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem," which introduces the story of the last six months, during which our Lord was all the time moving to Jerusalem."
The present story has two movements; first the account of a speculative question, and the Lord's answer; and then that of a threat that was reported to Him, and the Lord's reply. The account of the question and answer occupies verses twenty three to thirty. "And one said unto Him, Lord, are they few that are saved?"
The question, in all probability, was perfectly sincere. I see no reason to doubt the sincerity of it. As to the reason for the asking, who can tell? Possibly the person who asked the question was a very discerning questioner, wondering at the winnowing process that was going forward, and the deflection from Jesus of multitudes in those last months. Probably this watcher was wondering whether there would be any success at all to the ministry of Jesus by the time He had done His work. The crowds were still about Him, but, in understanding, were evidently gradually dropping away from Him. Christ's ministry was one that was constantly winning men by His attractiveness, and win, towing the crowds, so that it was difficult to stay with Him; and by the time He had done, not one single human being stood by Him as a loyal disciple. One tragic sentence tells the story, not of the crowds only, but or the inner circle of the twelve, "They all forsook Him and fled."
I cannot help wondering whether perhaps this was a discerning person. He saw the crowds and their attitude, and he saw they were gradually drawing away; and he said, "Lord, are they few that are saved?"
On the other hand, it may have been the question of one anxious about himself, wondering, after all, in the presence of the teaching of Jesus, and the demands of Jesus, if it were possible that he could be saved. Jesus never suggested in the days of His flesh that it was going to be an easy thing to be a Christian. That heresy has been reserved for this soft age, in which we are more conceited about statistics than about spiritual power.
"If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me."
No suggestion there of softness. Moreover, His ethical standard was so high that honest men must have trembled, as they tremble still, if they read the Sermon on the Mount. So it is possible that the question may have been asked by one who was conscious that the ideals of Jesus were impossible of realization,
"Lord, are they few that are saved?"
Now, how did Jesus answer? We may speculate about the question as long as we like, but about the answer of Jesus there is no room for doubt. First, let it be observed that He gave no answer to the question. Secondly, let it be recognized that He very definitely replied to the questioner. That is not a distinction without a difference. The question moved in the realm of speculation, and our Lord did not reply to it That, in itself, is very suggestive. There are many things about which people would like a dogmatic answer; and there is a sense in which He does not answer that kind of inquiry. Some people always want to be sure. And there are certain things about which we must be sure; but speculative questions generally operate in the realm of the things not vitally important. Dr. John Hutton once said in my hearing:
"Some people are always looking for a dead certainty. Well, when they get it, the principal fact about it is that it is dead!"
What, then, did He say to him? "Strive to enter in by the narrow door." Observe the significance of that.
"Are they few that are saved?" said the man. To which Jesus replied in effect: Don't waste your time debating that question; look to yourself; are you saved? "Strive to enter in at the narrow door." That was the first emphasis of the Lord's answer. But He said more.
"For many, I say unto you, shalt seek to enter in, and shall not be able when once the Master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door."
A technical word at this point. There should be no full stop at the word "able." The statement was not merely that many shall seek to enter in and shall not be able, It marks the limit of opportunity as being reached "when once the Master of the house is risen up, and bath shut to the door."
Christ thus says that opportunity to enter the door is limited. There will come an hour when the Master of the house will close the door that is open today. Then He went on and told this questioner what many will say in that day. "Lord, open to us. We did eat and drink in Thy presence, and Thou didst teach in our streets." And He revealed what His answer would be; "He shall say, I tell you, I know not whence ye are; depart from Me, all ye workers of iniquity.'
The plea which many will offer in that day will be that of familiarity with Him. We know Thee, we sat down and drank in Thy presence. You came to our town, and taught in our streets. We know all about You. Yes, but Jesus will say, I do not know you. It is a dreadfully solemn word. The issue of individual salvation is. not to be decided by familiarity with Him, but by a personal relationship, and such personal relationship as can only be expressed as He says, I know you. Paul once spoke of knowing God, or rather being known of God. It was a significant change; knowing God, or rather known of God. Christ said in effect, You may be familiar with Me, have sat down at My table, have stood and listened to My teaching, but all that is not enough. A man's salvation does not result from familiarity. It must be based on personal relationship.
To all this He added another statement: "There shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the Kingdom of God, and yourselves cast forth without. And behold, there are last who shall be first, and there are first who shall be last."
In these words He revealed the fact that relationship with Him does not necessarily result from birth privilege. Men, then, were depending upon the fact that they were related to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. His declaration was significant, and far-reaching. Blood relationship means nothing. The thing that matters is spiritual kinship, which shares the faith of the fathers, and obeys the impulse which moved them.
Thus, as we listen to Jesus dealing with a speculative question, the motive of which we do not know, answering not the question, but the individual, we see that the one who asked the question was trembling on the very verge of hesitancy. Strive, said Jesus; quit your speculations on subjects that are not of vital importance. Strive to enter in, because there is a limit to opportunity. The day will come when the Master of the house will rise up, and shut the door. In that day familiarity with Me will be of no avail unless you have personal relationship with Me; and the fact of your descent from Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob will be of no value. They will come from the distances, the outsiders, the aliens, people you hold in despite, and sit down, if they have personal relationship with the Master of the house, and you be cast out.
Let us never forget our Lord's answer to this question; and when we are inclined to wonder whether many are going to be saved, or few, let us hear His voice coming to us across the years, and coming as the living voice of the living Lord saying in effect; I have no answer to speculative questions which have no moral value in them. Strive to enter in. The one business of life is that of getting into right relationship. Strive to be among the number of the saved, whether there be few or many.
(G. Campbell Morgan, The Gospel of Luke,