Do you know what it's like to be standing on the outside looking in? That's another famous Australian song title – and it's an angry song from an angry band… but you don't have to know any of that to understand that feeling when you've been left out do you? I'm sure you know that feeling – perhaps you were one of the cool kids at school, but if not you'll know how cruel they can be and how small they made everyone else feel – they were the insiders and everyone else was excluded from their cool world… maybe it's your reality at work, maybe there's a social clique that you long to get into… maybe you wanted to be something in life that you can't, maybe you just never fit in…
And even worse are than just standing on the outside looking in, are those times when we're on the outside looking in and we know that we should have been on the inside.
There are a few times in my life that I can look back to and still feel the pain of being left out… silly moments that really don't amount to much, but somehow they still irritate me –for example our church ran a bike decorating competition at a yearly fair – over the years the rest of my family all won a prize, but I missed out. One year – aged about 6 – I was the only boy entered in the boys competition – I thought I might have a chance, and I had worked hard on decorating that bike – but they didn't give me the prize, instead they created a new category so they could give it to a girl – and I was devastated.
Maybe you know that feeling – the promotion you deserved went to someone else; the one you loved went out with your best friend; you work hard, but you never get the attention you're after; in a room full of people celebrating you're the only one feeling sad… there's something horrible about being left out, about standing on the outside looking in.
But it's even worse still if you're missing out and it's all your own fault. You know you could have been the one celebrating, it could have been your dreams coming true, but you blew it, you've missed out and it's all your fault. No one wants to be that person.
But in our passage this morning that is exactly what Jesus says is coming for everyone who does not turn to him in earnest. Did you see that? Jesus says make every effort to enter through the narrow door now while the way is open because if you leave it too long they door will be closed to you and you'll be left outside longing to get in, but never able to. And Jesus is talking about something a lot more important that a bike decorating competition, a promotion or even a significant other – Jesus is talking being saved – about entering into eternal life in his Kingdom. So it's heavy stuff from Jesus. Again.
I wonder if he thinks we're slow to catch on? Perhaps we are… so let's take a close look at what Jesus is saying. There's an awful lot in these two sections, (and we haven't got long), so we're going to spend most of our time in the first section – v.22-30, and our points are:
1. Get in before it's too late,
2. Standing on the outside looking in will be horrible
3. No bodies fault but yours
1. Get In Before It's Too Late (v. 22-27)
Big idea here – Jesus speaks with real urgency – the question is will a lot of people miss out? And Jesus says don't worry about other people; make sure you don't miss out.
I need to draw your attention to 6 things Jesus says:
make every effort
Requires a response, an effort – need to act now, and need to make every effort - it's hard to get in, it takes an effort (not saved by works, but not easy to humble ourselves to accept that we are saved by grace only; and not easy to continue to humble ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus wherever he leads).
b) V.24 it's a narrow door - the way in is narrow – there's only one way in and there's no flexibility around it, you have to conform to God's way in, he won't bend the rules for you – and it's easy to miss it, that's why we have to work at it
c) V. 24-25 Many people are going to miss out – some people will miss out through lack of response – they just don't respond in time, never get around to doing anything to get in; others will miss out through a wrong response – the way is narrow, they try and get in through another way, either way the result is the same – they're excluded
d) V.25 Time is limited – once the door is shut there will be no second chances. God is merciful, but not a fool, he won't wait forever. God has already shown this in the judgments of the Old Testament, remember the 2 Peter 2 reading – through the flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah God showed that his patience is not eternal, he will judge in the end. In both those times – in Genesis 7 and 19 – we read that God shut the door and judgement commenced, and once God shut the door there was no opening it again; Jesus promises that judgement will come and come swiftly when we don't expect it (see Luke 12.35ff) so do something about it now, while you still can
e) V. 25-27 Those who miss out can expect no mercy from God – listen to his fearful words 'I don't know you' and again 'I don't know you, away from me all you evil doers!' – this is the judgement that Jesus has already said is hanging over all of us, we are evil doers, we deserve that judgement, that's why we need to humble ourselves today.
f) V.26, 28-30 Many of those who miss out will be surprised to find themselves on the outside, they thought they were headed for the inside, but find themselves cast out.
This is a terrible sequence of facts. And it mounts up to a terrible conclusion – if, that is, you don't do anything about it. But the glorious truth is that there is time now, if we listen to Jesus and do what he says none of that need apply to us.
So Jesus says to you today, and to me and to everyone everywhere,
Make every effort to enter through the narrow door
– the time is short, the door it hard to get through, but it's open now, right now any one of us can get right with God. It will cost you, yes, but not half as much it will cost to miss out – and if you're willing to pay the cost now, you can enter into God's Kingdom, you can sit down at God's great celebration feast and enjoy all his goodness forever.
You know what this is like – when you've got a ticket for a holiday, you have to get there before the plane leaves without you. If the ticket cost a lot and the holiday is going to be fantastic, you'll make every effort to get there before that plane leaves. You'll run if you have to, you'll get yourself organised in advance, you'll make sure the bags are packed the passport up to date, you'll make a reservation for a taxi and you'll put the alarm on, and maybe the backup alarm too – because you don't want to miss out! We'll do all that and a whole lot more for something as small as a holiday, something as insignificant as an experience – how much more for a cancer treatment, an emergency surgery, or baby coming into the world – for a life and death situation.
And how much more again for an eternal life and eternal death situation – this is the sliding doors moment, this is the decisive decision that determines eternity. Don't miss the chance to go to heaven, don't delay, don't get distracted, don't miss out through lack of effort, make every effort to enter in – the door is narrow, the time is short and there is something wonderful on offer. Do it, do it now.
So how do it? All it takes is to humble yourself: the door is narrow and hard to get through because our heads are too big to fit – you need to humble yourself and admit that you can't get in by your own efforts, by how good you are; admit that you can never earn God's love or his grace; admit that you actually deserve God's wrath. And so you need to repent of living for yourself and ask God for forgiveness; and you need to turn away from wickedness and start a whole new life of living for him and not for yourself … There's a confession prayer in our service sheets – if you've never properly given your life to Jesus that is the prayer you need to pray. So Pray it now, don't even wait till the end of the sermon. Then come and talk to me at the end of the service so you can start to live a life of repentance.
And if you're already a Christian I want you to notice how Jesus says that many people will be surprised to miss out, and I want to urge you to make sure that you're not be one of those standing on the outside looking in. Jesus says make every effort – there will be many on that last day who thought making a one time commitment was enough, or who thought coming to church was enough, or even reading their bible and praying was enough. There is no enough, nothing is ever enough, only Jesus can save you, you'll never do enough to be right with him. So don't rest on complacency, pursue Jesus, like Paul in Philippians three put everything else behind you and pursue Jesus with all you have for as long as you have. Jesus calls us to take up our cross and follow him even to death – it's not easy to follow Jesus, but worth it, so don't turn back, don't think about the things you've left behind, push on, run in such a way as to get the prize. So point one, Get in while you still can… points two and three help to ram home the need to get in…
2. Standing On The Outside Looking in Will Be Horrible (v. 28-30)
There will be weeping there and gnashing of teeth
– Those who are locked out will experience the horror of missing out, of being on the outside;
– and worse there is the misery of seeing others taking their places on the inside – the Jewish fathers of the faith, and the prophets and Jesus and his disciples taking their places, and those from outside Israel – from North, South, East and West (from every language, nation, people and tribe), even those who seemed least likely - they'll be getting in, how hard it will be to watch them streaming in and to be left outside
– and worse again many on the outside thought they were in, they were the first, they looked important and thought were in. That will include the Jewish religious leaders who rejected Jesus, and from our day it will include many who spent years in church, who were moral and upright, who could quote the bible and tell others all about Jesus – but who never actually bowed down to Jesus as their Lord and master.
– And worst again they will all know that they could have been inside if they had just listened to Jesus and did what he said – what would they take back at that moment, when they door is shut, what held them back, what had they chosen over Jesus, how they will rue those things that kept them from trusting in Jesus. Can you imagine the regret and sorrow…
– And worse still they will know that they deserve to be outside – Jesus calls them evil doers, and that is what they are, that is what all of us are – how they will wish they could go back and undo the evil that they did, but now they are condemned to reap the harvest that they themselves have sown, to take the punishment they deserve and it will be a horrifying prospect indeed.
– And worst of all is the finality of it – once the door is shut nothing will make it open again – God knows how to preserve the ungodly for judgement – that's how Peter puts it in 2 Peter 2, he has done it before, he has shut the door and said no more of this wickedness, no more chances, no going back, that's the end and there are no more chances.
God illustrated this for us in advance so we could know that he means it. Noah's Ark wasn't just a nice kids story – Noah and his family were saved, and everyone else perished. A whole world wiped out; Sodom and Gomorrah missed their chance and God poured down fire from heaven and utterly consumed them. They'd had their second and third and fourth chances, and then time ran out. God is immensely patient, but he's no one's fool, he won't go on waiting forever, one day the end will come.
Have you ever missed your train, watched it pull out from the station and known that there was no way, no way at all that you could catch it up again. Do you know what it feels like to miss out and to know there is no going back? Multiply that by thousands, thousands of thousands. That is what it will be like when God shuts the door and there is no going back.
Do you see why Jesus says make every effort to enter through the narrow door? Don't presume on the mercy and grace of God, don't hope there'll be another chance, this right here might be the last chance you get, today is the day of salvation. Time will run out and you don't know when; when it does there's no going back. Don't wait, don't delay, act now before it's too late.
3. No-Bodies Fault But Yours (v.31-35)
There's more here than we have time for, but really briefly I want to point out to you two things.
– v.31-33 Jesus isn't worried about his own death, he knows it's coming and he goes to offer himself up willingly for you and for me, to take our punishment.
God cares if we perish, he doesn't delight in punishment, he has done all he can to save us … don't believe that God isn't fair or kind or generous, he loves us so much he deliberately goes to Jerusalem to die
– v. 34-35 notice the implication here - those who miss out on salvation have only themselves to blame – the people of Jerusalem should have welcomed Jesus, it would have delighted him if they had, he would have gathered them together like his precious children, like a mother hen with her chicks; but instead they called for his blood and shoved him out to be killed. So when he returns to bring judgement they will get only what they deserve, because they were not willing to humble themselves and accept the forgiveness that he offered.
So again Jesus rams it home to us – Make every effort to through the narrow door, because many 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 on our streets.' But he will reply 'I don't know you or where you are from. Away from me, all you evildoers!' There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth…
So says Jesus, what are you going to do about it – are you messing around with religion? Are you playing at following Jesus? Do you hope you might just find an easier way, or are you waiting for something, some better offer or some alternative salvation? Are you hesitating in the doorway because you don't want to pay the cost?
Are you willing to leave everything else behind and follow him? Or are you going to be left standing on the outside looking in, miserable and full of regret, with no one to blame but yourself? I beg you to hear the words of Jesus and be earnest and repent so that it never happens to you.