Calvary Road Baptist Church


Turn to Luke 13.23-24:

 23     Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them,

24     Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.

 Careful study reveals that this conversation took place in a region on the east side of the Jordan River called Perea. It was a locale whose residents had repeatedly heard John the Baptist preach, had heard the disciples of Jesus preach, and had heard the Lord Jesus Christ preach. Yet, verse 23 reveals that there had been a very paltry response to the gospel by the folks who lived in the region. In other words, the people referred to in this conversation were in many respects very similar to your unsaved loved one. For whatever reason they conjured up to justify their unwillingness to seriously consider and respond to the gospel, they remained unconverted. Judging from the Savior’s response to the question posed in verse 23, the sinners being referred to, responsible for their own unresponsiveness, could not count on God’s dealings to providentially bruise them after the fashion of Isaiah 42.3 and Matthew 12.20. From our Lord’s comments in Luke 13.24, His directive followed by His warning, the preparation that was shown in Matthew 12.20 to be so necessary as a prerequisite to Christ’s dealings with a sinner, cannot be counted on by those who have without conversion heard and heard and heard again the good news that Jesus saves. There were necessary steps such resistant sinners would have to take themselves in order to be prepared for the Lord’s dealings, so that they could become like the bruised reeds and smoking flax scripture refers to. What do sinners who have grown up in church without being converted have to do? What is required of those who have heard the gospel any number of times without saving response? What must take place in the life of someone who has experienced false hopes, thinking he was, but then discovering he is not, saved? According to Jesus, he must strive to enter in at the strait gate.

I set this before you who know Christ so that you might know what your unsaved loved one must do until God bruises him without breaking him. To put it another way, your unsaved loved one must not stand idly by, but must step up and take responsibility for his own soul, doing what Jesus said must be done in such a case as this. Why do you who are already believers need to know these things? So you can do something other than pretend all is well, or pretending all will be well. So you can pray, so you can encourage, so you can observe with understanding, and so you will grasp what is taking place, and what must take place for your lost loved one to come to want Jesus for his Savior.

To recapitulate, it was predicted in Isaiah 42.1-3, and Matthew pointed out in his gospel in 12.18-20, that the Savior ministers to those who are likened to a bruised reed. That description created a mental picture of a sinner whose stiffness and natural (which is to say sinful) rigidity has been dealt with so that he comes to be like a reed that is bruised, so that it will not be broken. What characteristic is desirable in a bruised reed? Does one bruise a reed for the exercise, or to introduce a foreign characteristic? Once a reed is bruised it is flexible rather than stiff, and when required can bend to the craftsman’s requirements rather than suffer a catastrophic break. Proverbs 29.1 persuades us that we have the proper understanding of what is intended by our Lord, where a warning about such stiffness and stubborn rigidity declares, “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.”

Do you want your unsaved loved one to persist in his unbelief? No, you do not. Do you want your unsaved loved one to bend the knee, bow the head, and confess with his tongue that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of the Father?[1] I am sure that you do. Understand, then, that most sinners are so hardened in their hearts, so seared in their consciences, so resolute in their defiance, that they must be bruised in this fashion by God before they will be spiritually flexible enough to yield to God’s will and come to Christ. Yes, there are some who are like our beloved Lydia, whose heart the Lord opened. However, do not be so presumptuous that you would deny that the hard knocks of her life, which might explain her abandoning her people’s idolatry in favor of worshiping the one true God with the Jewish people of Philippi, left her a bruised reed by the time the Apostle Paul arrived to tell her the good news that Jesus saves. On the other hand, what about those who have repeatedly heard the gospel message without coming to Christ, or who may have thought that once upon a time they came to Christ but learned by bitter disappointments that they had embraced a false hope on one or more occasions? That is the life’s situation Jesus was addressing in Luke 13.24, when He said, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”

Are you concerned about the specter of works righteousness being insinuated into the gospel of God’s grace? Do you fear that striving is somehow tantamount to working for one’s salvation? If you have such a concern, you can put it to rest. Keep at the forefront of your thinking the fact that it was Jesus who directed sinners to strive to enter in at the strait gate, and He would never teach or command works righteousness. Therefore, so long as we are diligent to understand what striving is, what striving properly seeks to accomplish, and what the proper result of striving happens to be, we can be fully assured that striving to enter in that the strait gate in no way conflicts with the truth that salvation is only by grace only through faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, let us shed light on this avenue that the Lord Jesus directs heretofore stubborn and resistant sinners to pursue so they might arrive to the threshold of that place where He will meet them, so that as a bruised reed and a smoking flax your lost loved one will be dealt with ever so gently by the compassionate and tender Savior.

Five major themes need to be explored, themes that will seem foreign and strange to contemporary church going people, but themes those in centuries past were used to experiencing as they were ministered to by conscientious pastors:


 Let me begin by once more reviewing the historical and geographical setting of Christ’s command to strive. It is very important that our foundational understanding of striving is solid. As Jesus with His disciples preached and taught through Perea on the east side of the Jordan River, intentionally beyond the reach of the religious leaders in Jerusalem who sought His death after He raised Lazarus from the dead, the Savior was asked, “Lord, are there few that be saved?” It seemed strange to him, as he accompanied the Savior in cities and villages on their way to Jerusalem, that so few were responsive to the Master’s gospel message. It may even have been observed that, in this area where John the Baptist had preached, where the disciples had preached, and where the Lord, Himself, had previously preached, some had seemed to embrace the gospel but had now fallen away. Reasonably expecting genuine fruit to remain, what the disciples of Jesus saw in the lives of those who had heard anointed preaching on numerous occasions was unimpressive. Hence the question. “Lord, are there few that be saved?”

Point of fact, there are few that be saved. Time and time again, Jesus had taught about the broad way taken by most people that leads to destruction, in contrast to the narrow way that leads to life everlasting, the direction in life that few truly take. However, that understood, Jesus did respond to the man’s question and answered him so others could hear. “Strive to enter in at the strait gate.” It is astonishing to many when Luke 13.24 is pointed out to them and applied, since this directive may be the most ignored in all scripture in our day. Most contemporary church going people have never heard a gospel sermon or a Bible lesson based upon our text, and would find the concept of pressing into the kingdom or striving to enter in at the strait gate altogether foreign, yet such was not always the case. “The Soul’s Humiliation” and “The Soul’s Preparation For Christ,” both by Thomas Hooker, “The Bruised Reed And Smoking Flax,” by Richard Sibbes, “The Whole Sum of the Cases of Conscience,” by William Perkins, “Of Conscience, and the Cases Thereof,” by William Ames, and a number of books by Richard Baxter, reveal that such matters as we are presently dealing with were familiar to folks whose pastors were Puritans in 16th and 17th century England and New England. Sadly, most contemporary pastors have no interest in these men of God, or in this important topic that plays an important part in bringing hardened sinners to Christ. I point this out to emphasize that though Christ’s words in Luke 13.24 are neglected today, and so seem quite strange to professing Christians, such was not always the case. Heart work such as could be achieved by striving is important in scripture, and was once recognized to be important by men of God. Sadly, neglect of this matter has greatly harmed the cause of Christ.

We now turn to the (mostly) parabolic context leading to Christ’s command to strive. It would be a mistake to project onto Christ the kind of linear thinking that is so characteristic in the west, where thought proceeds always in a progression, A, B, C, D, and so forth. Our Lord did not approach matters in precisely that way, and Luke was not inspired to write his gospel in precisely that way. However, there is a progression of thought that leads through Luke’s gospel to our text, and I would like to lead you along that progression of thought that ends up at our text dealing with striving:

We begin with the most important of our Lord’s many parables, the parable of the sower. Turn to Luke 8, where we read verses 4-15:

 4      And when much people were gathered together, and were come to him out of every city, he spake by a parable:

5      A sower went out to sow his seed: and as he sowed, some fell by the way side; and it was trodden down, and the fowls of the air devoured it.

6      And some fell upon a rock; and as soon as it was sprung up, it withered away, because it lacked moisture.

7      And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprang up with it, and choked it.

8      And other fell on good ground, and sprang up, and bare fruit an hundredfold. And when he had said these things, he cried, He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.

9      And his disciples asked him, saying, What might this parable be?

10     And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand.

11     Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.

12     Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved.

13     They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.

14     And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.

15     But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience.

It is not my intention to carefully teach through the parables we read, but to point out several important truths worthy of our consideration as they relate to this issue of striving to enter in at the strait gate. Notice, first, that the passage we have just read divides neatly into two segments. The first segment contains the Lord’s presentation of the parable, with the second segment containing the Lord’s interpretation of the parable. Of the four kinds of soils representing four kinds of responses to the ministry of the Word, only the final kind of soil represents real conversion, in that it is good ground representing proper reception of the Word that leads to fruit bearing, described in verse 15 as they who have an honest and good heart, who heard the Word, and who keep the Word. The first kind of soil represents those who have no reaction at all to the seed of the Word. The devil takes the Word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. The second kind of soil represents those who receive the Word with joy, but have no root, believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. The third kind of soil represents those who heard the Word, go forth, but end up choked with cares and riches and the pleasures of this life, bringing no fruit to perfection. Thus, the three kinds of soils which are used to illustrate those who remain unconverted include two kinds of soils which exhibit some type of seemingly affirmative response to the gospel, either receiving the Word with joy or hearing the Word and going forth in some fashion. Thus, some hear the Word and are saved. Others hear the Word and react in no discernible way. However, two other examples in this parable give evidence of some type of positive response to the gospel without real conversion taking place. Thus, in this very important parable taught by our Lord, we see behavior described that we can properly label false hopes. Add to that the whole subject of soil needing good preparation so that the seed of the Word will be properly received, and it is easy to see the importance of striving as a way to prepare the soil of the sinner’s heart, especially those who have experienced false hopes, to the end they will be bruised reeds who are flexible to Christ’s will.

Though the next passage we consider is not a parable, it is a true history with the effect of a parable, that begins our journey through Luke chapter 13, on our way to Luke 13.24. In Luke 13.1-5, Jesus rehearses Pontius Pilate’s Galilean victims and the Siloam tower tragedy:

 1      There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.

2      And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things?

3      I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

4      Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?

5      I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

Parables are abbreviated stories featuring ordinary details of common life for the purpose of teaching spiritual lessons. Here the Lord Jesus Christ does not resort to a parable; because He has at His disposal real events His audience was aware of that served to accomplish the same purpose as a parable. Jewish people tended to think that bad things happened only to bad people, while good things happened to good people. Such thinking is only logical to people who do not think themselves to be particularly sinful, and who embrace some sort of salvation by works or salvation by goodness. Not so, according to the Lord Jesus Christ. Those executed by Pontius Pilate in Galilee were no worse than any other Galileans, and those who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them were no worse than those who survived. The requirement to repent of sins is the responsibility of all men, not just those upon whom tragedy strikes. However, those whose lives are relatively free from tragedies tend not to be ready to admit the need to repent. Our Lord’s two recent history accounts illustrate that survivors, those untouched by tragedies, tend to think that others need to repent. What convinces sinners of their need to repent? Bruising. Bruised reeds are flexible, while reeds not bruised are stiff and inflexible. In the case of the person who has long exposure to the gospel, whose stubbornness has proven immune to bruising? The answer to that question is not provided in Luke 13.1-5, but will be provided in Luke 13.24. That stiff and inflexible sinner needs to strive so he will see his need to repent of his sins.

[1] Isaiah 45.23; Romans 14.11 ; Philippians 2.10-11


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