A sermon delivered August 15, 2021 at New Creation Church (Anglican), Hagerstown, MD. Part of our continuing series on the Parables of Jesus. By Fr. Justin Clemente.
Today, we continue in our series on The Parables of Jesus. We’re looking now at our third parable of salvation: The Narrow Door. It can be found on page 873 of your Pew Bible.
O Lord, you have called us to enter your kingdom through the narrow door. Guide us by your Word & Spirit and lead us now and always into the feast of your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.
Narrow and Wide?
In his book Seeking Allah Finding Jesus, Nabeel Qureshi recounts how the Lord used both the witness of friends and several powerful dreams to bring him to truth of the Christianity. Here’s one of the dreams. He writes:
“I am standing at the entrance of a narrow doorway that is built into a wall of brick. I am not in the doorway but just in front of it. The doorway is an arch. I would say the doorway is about seven and a half feet tall, with about six and a half feet of its side being straight up from the ground, and there’s one foot arched part of the top capping it off. The doorway is slightly less than three feet wide and about three or four feet deep, all brick. It leads into a room, where many people are sitting at tables that have fancy and good food on them. I think I remember salads, but I am not sure. They were not eating, but they were all ready to eat, and they were all looking to my left, as if waiting for a speaker before the banquet. One of the people, at the other side of the door just inside the room, is David Wood. (David Wood is an apologist who was instrumental in Nabeel’s conversion). Nabeel continues, “I am unable to walk into the room because David is occupying the other threshold of the doorway. He is sitting at the table and is also looking to my left. I asked him, “I thought we were going to eat together?” And he said, without removing his eyes from the front of the room, “You never responded.”
Nabeel continues, “When I woke up from the dream, I immediately had an interpretation: the room was heaven, the feast was a feast in the kingdom of heaven, and it was a wedding feast of sorts. In order to get into the room, I had to respond to David’s invitation. If there was one thing I did not get about the dream, it was the door. It was the most dramatic symbol in the dream, but what did it mean? Why was that the most vivid image? And why was it so narrow?”
When Nabeel told his friend David about the experience, he said, “this dream is so clear it doesn’t need to be interpreted…he told me to read Luke 13:22.” (Seeking Allah Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi, p. 269)
Well, I think it’s fair to say that our culture is not a fan of narrow things. We like wide aisles, wide lanes, more options on the menu, and more leg room. But what if the thin way is the widest? And what if the humble entrance is open to all? Friends, in the Cross of Jesus Christ, God has made one way that is sufficient for all. Let’s unpack that together.
The Narrow Door That is Wide Open (vs. 24, 29)
Let’s press in to this dynamic a little more. Jesus tells this parable in response to a question. “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” While, Jesus doesn’t here give a direct answer to that question, his answer seems to be yes.
That the door is narrow tell us of the precarious and urgent need of people. That a person can fit through the door, tells us that our Savior has perfectly covered our need and is able to take us into the kingdom of God. For he says, “I am the door of the sheep.”
By the end of the parable, there is tension here. Because although the door is narrow, people are coming from everywhere: north, south, east, and west into the kingdom of God. Friends, these are the dimensions of the Cross! In Christ, the door has been flung wide open to all who will receive it!
Here’s where we need to just reaffirm yet again: faithfulness to the gospel is the most inclusive option for the church today ! It affirms that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and all may enter through the shed blood of Christ himself. When any agenda eclipses the Gospel, the church becomes a small place, and souls are left in a perilous condition.
The Danger of Presumption (vs. 24-25)
But second, this parable exposes the danger of presumption with God. Let’s continue with verses 24-25.
24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’
Some time ago, Oprah Winfrey interviewed Betty Eadie, author of the book Embraced by the Light. In the book, Eadie claims a near-death experience with God that affirms universalism. In the interview, Oprah asked her, “I believe that there are many paths to God. … I certainly don’t believe there is only one way. … Did Jesus indicate that to you?” “Absolutely,” she answered. “I was experiencing something that was absolutely different than I had been taught in any of the churches.” Oprah responded, “Well, I’m glad to hear that, because if Jesus is as cool as I think he is, he would have had to tell you that.” (Oprah Winfrey Show, as quoted in Saving Christianity by Michael Youssef)
(Just a side note here: I know I referenced personal experience earlier in the sermon with Nabeel. We don’t pit experience against experience. We submit our experience to the Word of God.)
Oprah’s comments though demonstrate our default thinking apart from God. How many people are presuming upon God in this way? How many people assume that they have no need of repentance and faith in Christ? How many people are functionally universalists in their outlook on life? Rather than taking Jesus at his word, how many people say, I guess I’ll find out about God find I die?
Yesterday, I got to do the best kind of funeral. I know, we know, who Joyce’s shepherd is, and therefore we know she is well. Who is your shepherd today? Who are you going to entrust yourself to? Are you really going to DIY your religion or are you willing to hear Jesus’ word, accept him as God’s provision for your need, and then be amply provided for by him?
The Danger of Familiarity (vs. 26-27)
Third, this parable exposes the danger of familiarity with God. Look at verses 26-27.
26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’
Hanging around the church is not the same thing as being part of the Body of Christ. Hearing Jesus is not the same thing as listening to his Word. Owning a Prayer Book and a Bible is not the same thing as knowing God through Christ. How we need to be reminded, when in our culture Bibles pile up, that we must be sure to listen to and digest the message of the Scriptures. Isn’t it interesting here that Oprah’s thoughts on Jesus could be a paraphrase of what these people say. Well, Jesus we hung out with you, we thought you were cool with that!
No, entering the narrow door means forsaking all other trust, casting ourselves on Christ alone, grace alone, through faith alone. It means, as I heard one pastor put it, not simply saying, “I was baptized” but “I am baptized.” It means embracing the promises of God for ourselves. It means walking through the narrow door of the Cross.
In October, we’re going to quite a few people Confirmed and Received into the church. That’s what this is all about! It’s not about paper membership or pleasing your parents, it’s responding to and personally confirming yourself in the promises that have been poured out upon you in Baptism. That’s what we’re celebrating – living faith and not just familiarity!
The Urgency of Jesus’ Plea (v. 28)
Lastly, we see the urgency of Jesus’ plea:
“In that place 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 but you yourselves cast out.”
Listen to the urgency and the direct appeal from Jesus here. The question that was originally asked is answered with a direct appeal from Jesus. Jesus isn’t kicking around comparative religion here. He isn’t saying, “Well maybe it’s this or maybe it’s that. Who knows!?”
It’s the same this morning. C.S. Lewis was right, Aslan only ever tells us our own story, not someone else’s. We may want to have all our questions answered and our knots tied up before we respond. We may ask, well, what about those who haven’t heard? What if I hadn’t grown up in America, isn’t my faith just cultural? (as if God isn’t sovereign over those things, too!) Those questions have a legitimate a place, but they can also become a smokescreen for avoiding the claims of the Gospel. They become a way of shifting responsibility to respond to what we ourselves have heard from the Lord.
But the urgent plea remains. And the narrow cross-shaped way remains open and generously furnished for all who will receive it. In a week where we have been dealt our first real blow, our first real loss, as a congregation, I can’t think of no better parable to meditate on and receive anew. Strive to enter through the narrow door, church. Amen.