Luke 13:22-35: “Blessed is…”
Sunday morning worship, November 18, 2018
For my own assurance and from the responsibility I carry as a pastor, I’ve continually searched the Scriptures for some specific standard by which we can all know where our eternity rests. Sometimes when I read various Scripture passages it all seems so easy—“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Other Scriptures make me a little nervous—“For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
This kind of pattern occurs with some frequency in Scripture which has led to some of the greatest theological debates in history. Some passages seem to leave everything up to God while others seem to lay the responsibility on us. Some passages seem to say everything is predetermined while others seem to say things change based on whether or not we pray or act in obedience or disobedience. Some people seem so self assured of their salvation while others struggle with varying levels of insecurity all their lives. Some people know they know everything while other struggle with knowing anything.
So when I came across this verse: “Someone asked [Jesus]. “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” in Luke 13 my curiosity was peaked. I waited for a straight-forward answer from Jesus. As I read on, I was disappointed. Listen carefully to what Jesus says and doesn’t say:
[Jesus] said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ “But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ “Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ “But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’ “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last” (vv23-30).
Luke doesn’t identify this “someone,” but in the next verse “some Pharisees came to Jesus.” So I wondered if Jesus was speaking to them specifically warning them they shouldn’t be as self-assured of their relationship to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as they thought they were. But the Scriptures aren’t clear. If the someone was an honest seeker asking an honest question, insecure in his or her relationship to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then I wonder why Jesus wasn’t more reassuring.
As I looked more and more closely at what Jesus actually said, I felt Jesus never gave a clear, straight-forward answer. Jesus says there will be some who try to enter the ‘narrow door’ but the owner of the house will close the door to them. Jesus says some will say they communed with this owner, they ate and drank with him. Jesus says some will say they listened to His teachings. But Jesus says this owner will say “I don’t know you or where you came from.” This owner even calls these self-assured people “evildoers.”
But then Jesus turns around and says people from all over—the east and west and north and south—will come and take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. That makes me think this road isn’t so narrow if there are roads leading to this door from every direction. Then Jesus goes on to say the first to receive the gospel message—the Jews—will be the last ones to enter the kingdom and the last ones to receive the gospel message—those who are not Jews—will be the first to enter the kingdom of heaven.
So I didn’t get the answer I was hoping to find. So I read on:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”” (vv34-35).
So from shutting the door in peoples’ faces and calling them evildoers, Jesus is now weeping over them, longing to hold them close, to gather them up in His arms and love them. I’m struggling…
In Luke 14, the next chapter, I found this verse in the middle of a really scary set of verses: “whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple” (14:27). So now I’ve got this picture in my mind of a bunch of people carrying literal crosses on roads coming from all directions toward this one door with some home owner sitting in a chair and getting up and moving toward the door. Is he going to close the door in their faces or is he going to open it and invite all of them in? I still don’t have an answer. I’m struggling…
A thought flashed into my mind and I turned to Luke 23 and read: “As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed him…” (vv26-27). Simon from Cyrene, he’s my answer. He was the clue I was looking for. Look again with me. The soldiers seize Simon “who was on his way in from the country.” Maybe that doesn’t make much sense at first, but think along with me, please. Simon was just coming home from working in the country. Another person seizes him, here a soldier, and now Simon is headed in the other direction, he’s headed out of the city carrying Jesus’ cross. I don’t know how much choice Simon had. I guess he could have refused the soldiers and probably died on the spot. But Simon must have appeared strong and healthy.
The soldiers were only concerned about getting their job finished. They were to put Jesus on the cross and watch him die. They wouldn’t have looked for someone weak and wimpy to carry the cross. Simon, by God’s will or by happenstance, was in that spot with the right gifts and abilities to carry the cross of Jesus when called upon by the soldiers. Simon chose to make a u-turn and use his gifts and abilities to carry the cross of Jesus to Calvary in the opposite way his life was heading to that point in time.
That’s my answer. We go about the days of our lives doing whatever our natural gifts and abilities enable us to do. Maybe we are successful in the ways of world or maybe we’re not. But one day Jesus is passing by and something, someone seizes us and hands us the cross of Jesus to carry. The cross we are each given immediately to carry is a cross that matches our natural gifts and abilities. The choice we have to make makes sense. We understand what we are being asked to do. Do we accept the cross and fall in line behind Jesus all the way to Calvary or do we refuse and continue on with our own plans.
Either way we die. We either die on Calvary’s tree or we die by the hands of this world. There’s not a lot of time to make a decision when Jesus passes by. He’s headed in the opposite direction. If we keep going our own way like we have done on every other day of our lives little changes. But if we stop, pick up that cross and follow Jesus others, too, will follow. So maybe how many make it to heaven depends on what we do. Maybe it doesn’t matter because if the soldiers kill us, they will grab someone else. I don’t know. All I can know is whether or not I will pick up my own cross and follow Jesus to Calvary. Maybe that’s all I’m supposed to know, the decision I must make.
So this Thanksgiving I ask, “What is our own individual cross that we need to pick up when Jesus seizes us with an invitation to pick up that cross?” On that special day we don’t know; Jesus asks us simply to follow Him. That’s the cross. Its’ the not knowing, living by faith. The cross we all must choose to carry is our willingness to follow Jesus where He leads each one of us. All of those roads from the east and the west and the north and the south all lead to Calvary, but each of us have our own road to travel.
Each one of us has our own setting—our own gifts, talents, abilities, family, friends, neighbors, time, and place. Each one of us has our own cross to carry. For some the road we carry that cross will be a long road, a road that takes many years to travel. Others of us will be asked to carry our crosses for a shorter period of time, maybe even a single day. It doesn’t matter. What matters is whether or not we follow Jesus when we are asked to carry Jesus’ cross.
But what really excites me is that as I follow Jesus carrying my cross, the Holy Spirit is my paraclete, the Greek word for one who walks along beside someone. I don’t have to carry my cross alone. Jesus leads the way. However many others follow me is not up to me. But the Holy Spirit walks beside me and keeps me company all the way. I’m never alone. I’m never without the ability to complete my tasks.
I have my natural gifts and talents all of the time and I have the superhuman abilities of the Holy Spirit and special spiritual gifts when I need them. I’m always capable. I’m never alone. I’m headed in the right direction because I’m following the right person. I guess that’s enough of an answer for me. For that, I am truly thankful. I hope and pray you find your own answer when life’s events and Jesus seize you.