Calvary Road Baptist Church


Luke 13.24


At this point a caveat is needed concerning this matter of striving to enter in at the strait gate.

What is required of every sinner with whom Christ will deal is that he be a bruised reed.   Isaiah predicted it, Matthew referenced Isaiah’s prediction in explaining Christ’s actions toward some men, and Jesus demonstrated His requirement when confronted by those who were not bruised reeds and turning to those who were bruised reeds.[1]  Some sinners are bruised by the providential circumstances of life.  Some sinners are bruised by the convicting work of the Holy Spirit using God’s holy Word.  However, a sinner who has grieved the Spirit by his repeated refusals of Christ and resistance to the truth can become so hardened by such sins that Jesus prescribed special means to condition such a sinner for a ready consideration and reception of the gospel, so he by such means can become a bruised reed.  That is where striving comes in.  Stubbornness, pride, and repeatedly grieving the Spirit of God produces effects to the sinner that leaves him stiff, rigid, and calloused.  Striving is the remedy prescribed by the Savior to deal with such a sinner’s hardness of heart, callousness of conscience, and distortion of mind.

This clearly understood to be what is usually and typically insisted upon by the Savior for such sinners, let me hasten to say that God is not bound to follow the same pattern in His dealings with sinners, but has the liberty of a sovereign to engage any individual in a way He chooses.  Remembering that God will not contradict Himself or violate any of His decrees, it is also well to remember that what God usually does when dealing with sinners is not what God always does when dealing with sinners.  Though God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance, recognize that the great majority of sinners will die without Christ.  Jesus informs us that they travel the broad way that leads to destruction.  He also informs us that some small number of sinners will hear the gospel and will turn to Christ.  However, some of those sinners who will hear the gospel and turn to Christ do so only after rejecting and refusing for a season.  Such sinners will then come to Christ only after they have first strived to enter in at the strait gate.

With that description of the pattern followed by most who die without Christ and most who come to Christ, there are some who repent of their sins and turn to Jesus in faith believing who seem not to fit the pattern of either turning to Christ when they first hear the gospel or of needing to strive in order to become a bruised reed after first rejecting the gospel repeatedly.  These are sinners God has chosen to deal with in an exceptional manner.  Three examples:

First, there was Manasseh, the wicked king of Judah.  Manasseh, of course, was the son born to good King Hezekiah during the extra fifteen years of life granted after he pleaded with God to extend his life.[2]  Becoming king when his father died, Manasseh reigned from the age of twelve for 55 years of astonishing wickedness, including gross idolatry and the sacrifice of at least one of his own children by passing him through the fire.[3]  I would not say that God’s dealings with Manasseh qualify as being what I normally think of as providential, since I understand providential dealings to be anonymous events, occurrences that appear to be coincidences.  Notice the LORD’s dealings with Manasseh, in Second Chronicles 33.10-13:

10     And the LORD spake to Manasseh, and to his people: but they would not hearken.

11     Wherefore the LORD brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon.

12     And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers,

13     And prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God.

Manasseh would not hearken, verse 10.  God then used the despised and feared Assyrians to capture, humiliate, and transport him to Babylon.  In his affliction (which we are not remiss in saying was very bruising to him), “he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, And prayed unto him.”  Did Manasseh strive?  I think not.  Striving is what sinners do to address their own callousness, while in Manasseh’s case we see God powerfully intervening to penetrate his callousness in order to humiliate him.

Next, there is Nebuchadnezzar, proud king of Babylon.  Anyone who reads the book of Daniel can see evidences of Nebuchadnezzar’s pride.  In Daniel chapter three, Nebuchadnezzar became enraged when the three Hebrews refused to worship him.  However, when they survived the fire in the furnace and the king saw a fourth in the fire with them that was like unto the Son of God, he quickly calmed down.[4]  Daniel chapter four is Nebuchadnezzar’s autobiography.  There we are told he saw a vision of a great tree that was cut down.  Daniel interpreted the vision as being about the king, himself, and warned him.[5]  The vision was fulfilled twelve months later, with Nebuchadnezzar in all of his pride losing his mind for a lengthy period of time.  Turn to Daniel 4.33:  “The same hour was the thing fulfilled upon Nebuchadnezzar: and he was driven from men, and did eat grass as oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till his hairs were grown like eagles’ feathers, and his nails like birds’ claws.”  Read verses 34-37 with me:

34     And at the end of the days I Nebuchadnezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation:

35     And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?

36     At the same time my reason returned unto me; and for the glory of my kingdom, mine honour and brightness returned unto me; and my counsellors and my lords sought unto me; and I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me.

37     Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment: and those that walk in pride he is able to abase.

Could we go so far as to call this Nebuchadnezzar’s conversion testimony?  I would like to think so.  In any case, as with Manasseh, we see God dramatically intervening in the life of someone with a very strong personality and a decided sense of entitlement in order to humiliate him.  God does not do this with most sinners who have been exposed to the truth and who have then rejected it.  Though most gospel truth-rejecting sinners need to strive, God reserves the right as our sovereign to deal with some sinners in this way instead.

A final example. Though I would prefer to think Manasseh’s and Nebuchadnezzar’s experiences concluded with their conversions, some commentators are not persuaded their experiences go so far as to be spiritual conversions.  Taking place prior to Christ’s coming, we need to be careful when drawing conclusions and making applications to our own situations.  However, we can be sure about the conversion of the man named Saul, who was a proud Pharisee.  Raised in Tarsus until he moved to Jerusalem to sit under Rabbi Gamaliel during Christ’s earthly ministry, it is not a stretch to think that Saul encountered Stephen at the Jerusalem synagogue of the Libertines, where Greek-speaking Jewish people worshiped God.[6]  How would Saul and the others resist godly Stephen’s knowledge of scripture, explain away the miracles that he worked, or demean the spiritual power evidenced in his life?  When Stephen delivered his anointed sermon in Acts chapter 7, and concluded by alleging, “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye,” Acts 7.51, they were enraged.  When he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God,” they stoned him to death.[7]  However, before stoning Stephen, “the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul,” verse 58.  Saul had certainly heard the gospel and rejected it.  He may even have disputed with Stephen prior to his martyrdom.  We are given evidence that after Stephen was martyred Saul was determined to stamp out the Christian faith, and was on his way to Damascus to persecute the believers in that city when the glorified Jesus Christ appeared to him.  In a blinding light on the road to Damascus, Jesus asked, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?”[8]  Saul of Tarsus was subsequently converted, later became known as the Apostle Paul, and is the single greatest example of the grace of God in the Christian era.  Did the Apostle Paul reject Christ?  Yes.  Did he resist the gospel?  No doubt about it.  Was he a willful, stubborn, and proud sinner?  Absolutely.  He would have been a prime subject for striving to enter in at the strait gate, but King Jesus intervened in that most dramatic way.  My own opinion is that Saul was not converted on the Damascus Road, but was saved three days later when he was ministered to by Ananias.  Thus, he had three days to reflect on the error of his ways and the reality of the glorified Savior.  However, Saul’s three days of reflection and consideration was not precisely the same as striving, since those who are directed to strive do not receive a glorious visitation from the enthroned Son of God in a blinding light.  This experience was unique.

Therefore, we ask, does God sometimes deal with thoroughly calloused sinners who seem to give no evidence of having strived?  Yes, He does.  To make a bruised reed of Manasseh, He used the Assyrians to enslave and humiliate him.  To make a bruised reed of Nebuchadnezzar, He turned him into a raving lunatic and humiliated him in that fashion.  To make a bruised reed of Saul of Tarsus, Jesus appeared to him in all His resplendent glory.  Despite these things happening from time to time, however, do not think based on these men’s experiences that God has any obligation to deal with your stubborn loved one in similar fashion.  Most who are calloused are required to strive to enter in at the strait gate, and those who are unwilling to strive will endure perpetual torment in the endless punishment in the lake of fire.

[1] Isaiah 42.3-4; Matthew 12.17-21; 12.1-16

[2] 2 Kings 20.1-11; 21.1

[3] 2 Kings 21.1-9

[4] Daniel 3

[5] Daniel 4.27

[6] Acts 6.9

[7] Acts 7.56

[8] Acts 9.4

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