If you’ve been with us for a while you may have just had something of a deja vu experience. You might have wondered if I read the right passage. It wasn’t that long ago that we studied a passage that is almost identical to this one. Back in chapter 13 we encountered another controversial Sabbath healing. There was a woman who was bent over whom Jesus straightened.
So today we have another opportunity to talk about the Sabbath. You might be wondering what else there is to say since we covered that ground already. I have to say that I was kind of wondering that myself! For Jesus it was easy. He’s moved on to another city. So he can preach the same message again. Just like itinerate preachers, he can pull out the same message. I still got a lot of the same faces. I don’t have that luxury.
But I think you will agree that when it comes to the fourth commandment, there are some things that bear repeating—especially given the trends in our day. To be sure, there are a number of things that we can consider from this passage. Yes, there is certainly going to be some overlap. There are a number of lessons that we can draw from it. And perhaps a good place to start is by simply remembering important the fourth commandment is. As we look at this passage we cannot help but see how the principle of Sabbath Rest is reiterated.
I. Sabbath Rest is Reiterated by God’s messenger (Luke)
I just said that this is the second story that we’ve looked at where a healing takes place on a Sabbath. But the gospel of Luke has at least 4 stories that deal with the issue of Sabbath and how it is to be properly observed. And if you take into consideration all of the gospels, you will find that there are at least 8 passages which deal with the Sabbath.
I think that this is important to see. For I think this is the NT’s way of affirming the fourth commandment. It is true that the day of rest would change, but the principle is at least recognized as a true and enduring Christian principle.
Now, remember Luke’s audience. He’s writing to a Gentile, and he is seeking to disciple him. And it is likely that this Gentile needed to have some clarification on the importance of the fourth commandment. It’s likely that, like most Gentiles, he didn’t have a concept of setting aside his labors and giving over one day to the Lord.
It is also likely that he had a rather bad view of the Sabbath. The Gentiles didn’t like the Jews and their Sabbath. It was bad for business. They were often annoyed that these Jews wouldn’t come out and deal with them in the marketplace. They wouldn’t sell or buy that day. And so a lot of Gentiles thought these Jews were fools and they looked down on their religious observation.
So, I do not doubt that Luke wants to help his Gentile listeners recognize that the Lord Jesus upheld the fourth commandment. In repeating these things and showing how Jesus honored the Sabbath principle, he was communicating to his audience that they needed to do the same.
We need to recognize too that the fourth commandment is still incumbent upon us. A lot of people read this as Jesus’ way of saying that there is no Sabbath. They think that Jesus is telling these Pharisees to take the Sabbath and be rid of it once and for all.
I hope you recognize that is not what he is doing at all. He’s not abolishing it, he’s showing the proper place of the Sabbath. He’s clearing away all the junk that came to be associated with it, so that we might understand the propriety of Sabbath life.
I know I touched on this a few weeks ago, but given our society’s tendency to downgrade the Lord’s Day and corrupt everything that Sunday stands for, I think it is good to reiterate how we need to be obedient to this command.
Our day is a lot like Luke’s. We are surrounded by the hustle and bustle. We are tempted to disparage the Lord’s day at every turn. They’ve got the marketing that is trying to lure us out to the shopping malls. We have bosses who would like to see us get a few more hours in. Or we have bills that need to be paid, and oh, wouldn’t it be nice to have a little extra cash on hand.
But we have to remember that God calls us to unplug from all that one day a week. He commands us to rest.
Think about that. Usually it’s the other way around, isn’t it? Usually we hear the command to “work, work, work!” But God says, “Hey, take a minute here. Come sit with me. Let’s spend some time together.”
It’s interesting too that this was the significance of the Sabbath in the life of Israel.
If you are familiar with the Bible you know that the Sabbath was instituted way back at the creation. God rested on the 7th day, and he set it as a pattern for us. But you know, the Sabbath doesn’t really become a big thing until the time of Moses. You don’t hear a lot about the Sabbath until the book of Exodus. That’s not to say that it didn’t exist prior to the Exodus. But it didn’t become a big issue until Moses’ time.
That’s because the Lord made it a big issue at that time. The Sabbath was kind of repackaged and reintroduced at Mt Saini. It became emblematic of the covenant God made with his people there. Why? Because it was an emblem of their freedom. They could finally rest!
Imagine what it would have been like living as a slave in Egypt. Every day was Monday! You worked, and worked and worked, and it is likely that you never had a day of rest. Imagine, for the first time in your life, you were commanded to rest. Every day you up to this the only command you were given was “WORK!” Now, your master was commanding you to “rest.”
No wonder it became the chief expression of God’s covenant at Saini. Sabbath is a sign of freedom. It is a sign that they were not in bondage.
The same is true for you. God wants you to know that you are not to be bound to your work. God has given you the liberty to stop. You are free! You are free to rest. And most of all, you’re independence means you can have fellowship with the Lord.
So that’s the first thing we need to do. We need to understand that Sabbath rest is mandated by God. And you might want to take some time this afternoon, while you are resting, to think more about what that implies.
But I want you to see something else. When we look at this passage, we not only see how the Sabbath is reiterated by this text, we see how it is regulated by God’s law.
II. Sabbath Rest is Regulated by God’s word
The first three verses of our passage remind us of this. It begins by telling us that Jesus was at this dinner party and behold, there was a man with dropsy. Now, he might well have been planted there by the Pharisees. It says in verse 1 that “they were watching him carefully.” In other words, they wanted to catch him.
The word here for watching carefully has something of a sinister intent to it. It is like a state trooper out on the highway. The trooper isn’t out there because he likes to watch cars go by. He’s watching with the intent of catching them. Anyone spotted going over the speed limit is going to be pulled over immediately.
That’s they way the Pharisees were watching Jesus. So it may likely be that these Pharisees planted this man here because they knew Jesus would be moved to compassion and would likely heal him.
What does Jesus do? He heals the guy. But prior to that you’ll notice that he puts a question to them. In verse 3 He asks them, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” And you will notice that they do not answer him. Verse 4 says that they remained silent. One might make a case that it could be translated, “They remained motionless.”
Now these guys were the experts in the law. They knew what the law said. They also knew what their traditions said. Over time, they came to say that if one was not in danger of dying, then you should refrain from doing anything to help him until the next day.
You understand that their intention was originally good. They had tried to keep people from breaking the law. They wanted people to rest. But they took it too far, and they ended up adding to the word of God. And the commands of man overshadowed the commands of God. It took away from the liberty that God grants in his word.
That’s why I say that the Sabbath rest is regulated by God’s word. It is not regulated by man’s word. Our consciences are not to be bound by any rules other than the Lord’s.
The word of God grants us a great deal of liberty. There is freedom in God’s restrictions. But whenever we go beyond the Scriptures, we begin to intrude on that liberty.
This whole ordeal with the mandated healthcare is one example of this. God doesn’t require you to have health insurance. It may be a good idea, and, depending on your situation, it might not. But God doesn’t require it of you. You are free to buy it, and you are free to do otherwise.
But along comes lord Obama and he says, “Thou shalt have healthcare.” Now, you’re liberty is lost, isn’t it? You are now bound to his law.
We have to understand we have a tendency to do this. We overstep our bounds and intrude upon God’s law and the freedom that it offers. For instance, we all know that family worship is important. It is important for a man to lead his family by having devotions with them—praying with them and reading the Scriptures. But if I came along and said, “It’s got to be after dinner every night.” Then I’ve gone too far. I’ve overstepped my boundaries. I’ve just put a restriction on you that God does not permit.
When we do that kind of thing, we are sinning. It is called, “becoming the lord of someone’s conscience.” We are setting ourselves up as god and becoming a tyrant. And Scripture does not allow us to play God.
What Jesus does here is really re-emphasize the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. No traditions, no personal whims, no “good ideas” are allowed to supersede Scripture. In everything we do we need to make Christ the Lord of the conscience.
We are coming up on Reformation Day, and you will remember that this idea of binding the conscience was part and parcel with that. Martin Luther, when he looked into the Word of God, he saw things like, “Justification by faith alone.” And so he began to speak out against things like indulgences and penances and all the other theatrics associated with the Catholic Church. Then, when he was summonsed to the Diet of Worms, he was threatened and told to recant. And this is how he replied, “Unless I am convicted of error by the testimony of Scripture or by manifest evidence...I cannot and will not retract, for to act contrary to our conscience is neither good nor safe. Here I stand. God help me! Amen!”
Those words were his way of saying, “No pope or king can tell me what to believe and do, save king and head of the Church: Jesus Christ.”
Jesus basically does the same right here. He’s reacting against the tyranny of the Pharisaical order. No one can regulate your conscience except God. It is his word alone that must govern our thoughts and actions.
The Sabbath is a sign of our liberty, and no one has the liberty to bind our conscience.
But look what comes next. In the next part of the passage we see more liberty. We see the truest form of liberty in the healing that occurs. Or at least a picture of it. We might say that the principle of Sabbath rest is not only reiterated and regulated, but it is also demonstrated by God’s Son.
III. Sabbath Rest is Demonstrated by God’s Son
Think about this poor fellow and how he is a perfect demonstration of the rest that the Lord affords. He’s been suffering from dropsy, what we call enema today. It is when certain parts of your body swell with fluid. Oftentimes it occurs when your internal organs are beginning to shut down. So this man, is likely dying. And, back in that day, people would have associated this with some sort of sin.
Here is a man who has been in bondage to this affliction. He’s no doubt in pain. Likely, he wouldn’t have been allowed to go into the temple. He is probably seen as one who is cursed of God.
In every way this man is a picture of who we are in our sins. We have an internal problem—we call it evil. Because of it we are cut off from the presence of God, and we are under the condemnation of death.
And what does Jesus do? He heals him. He sets him free. That’s what the text says in verse 4. My version says that Jesus “took him, and healed him and sent him away.” But literally it could say that Jesus took him passionately, made him whole and set at liberty. He was a free man. He had been delivered from his bondage. He had become a living demonstration of the Sabbath.
Really, I like what the original language says a lot more. I’m not sure our English versions do this justice. Mine says that Jesus “took him and healed him.” The word actually means “to take vigorously” or “to seize upon.” He grabbed him passionately. I think it means he hugged him.
That’s really getting at the compassion that Christ is trying to show here. The Pharisees used this guy as bait. To them this sickly fellow was nothing other than a lure to reel Jesus in on. He was a guinea pig for their little experiment.
But to Christ, he was an object of love. He was one who received compassion and mercy.
And the words that he speaks in verse 5 are something of a confirmation of this. He says, “You guys wouldn’t hesitate to help your animals if they got caught in a hole. You’d do everything in your power to set it free. You have compassion there. But here’s a man who needs compassion.
And that is what Jesus affords to sinners like us. Jesus is one who has compassion on people like us; people who have offended him and rebelled against him. And he came to set us free from the bondage of sin and death. He offers us liberty from our sins. Through him we can live life the way it is supposed to be lived and have the chains of death broke. He gives us the freedom to live for eternity.
If you’ve been living in bondage to your sin, look at Jesus here. And know that he can liberate you.
There is one more lesson we need to take from this passage though. When it comes to the Sabbath, we’ve seen how it is reiterated by God’s messenger, it is regulated by God’s law, it is demonstrated by God’s Son. But our text reminds us that the Sabbath is repudiated by God’s enemies.
IV. Sabbath Rest is Repudiated by God’s enemies
It’s interesting how the Pharisees are presented in this passage. They seem to be “resting” throughout the passage. The first verse says they were watching him. They are not moving about, they are just watching. Then the very middle of the passage, in verse 4, it says that they remained silent. They were just sitting there, motionless. Now look what it says in verse 6. At the end of the passage it says “they could not reply to these things.” Literally it reads, “They were not able to reply.” They didn’t have the capacity to speak. Their tongues were completely immobile.
These Pharisees had a warped view of the Sabbath. And here they are shown to be “at rest”—completely unable to move or speak. You might say they are comatose. Their Sabbath is one of deadness.
That’s exactly what is going on here. You understand that in settings this trap, they didn’t question Jesus’ ability to heal. They had no doubts about his willingness to heal and the depths of his compassion. In other words, they recognized that he was the Son of God! He had divine power and divine attributes. But their tongues refused to confess him.
You know, the swelling that typically occurs in dropsy is usually malleable. It is really soft. If you push you finger into it, you can actually leave an impression in the skin.
But these guys here are presented to us as hardened— extremely hardened against Christ. They were the ones who were swollen--swollen with pride. They could not bring themselves to confess that Christ was their Lord.
As a result of their repudiating Christ, they were left in a comatose state. They were not permitted to take part in the rest—the freedom, the life!—that Christ affords.
Would you be careful not to let the same be true of you.
May your heart be soft towards Christ and receptive to his grace. And may you take possession of the true and eternal rest that he affords.
A young woman who regularly attended services at a particular church, was present one evening for the mid-week service. A neighboring pastor had come that night to fill the pulpit and the message he preached was particularly enlivening.
After the sermon the pastor of the church went down the aisle and he asked the woman, “Do you not wish to profess faith in the Lord?” She modestly replied that she was afraid that she was not worthy to make such a profession.
That put the whole ordeal in a completely different light. Her eyes were opened to understand that her sins should not keep her away from Christ. He was willing to save and ready to receive her.
It is often the case that some struggle with their “worthiness.” They believe that they are not welcome because they do not think that Christ would welcome them. But it is imperative that we understand that the focus should not be on us and our sins. Our focus should be on Christ. We must see him, not as a crachety old man who is ever disappointed with us. But rather, we must see him as one who is willing to save.
I believe that is the purpose of the text that is before us this morning. Last week we talked about “how many would be saved.” And we examined Jesus’ response to that question when it was posed. And, in sum, we said that that question was rather frivolous. The real question to be asked was whether or not the fellow who posed this question was going to be saved.
And for a number of weeks we have been pounding this topic of repentance. We’ve been saying that you need to recognize that you are a sinner who has violated God’s law. By nature you do not know or love him.
And after a few weeks of this, you might be thinking to yourself, “You are right. I am a wretch. My life is not in order as it should be. How is it that Christ could ever save me?” You might begin to shy away and think that Jesus would never save such a one like you.
If you are questioning your worthiness, you must recognize that you are welcome to come to Christ. Salvation may be yours because Jesus is willing to save.
You can tell that Jesus is willing to save by how he responds to the Pharisees.
I. His response to the Pharisees shows us he is willing to save [31-33]
In verse 31 some Pharisees come up to Jesus and say, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” Now, we don’t know the motives or the whole story here. Luke doesn’t tell us all the details. We don’t know if the Pharisees are making the whole thing up or if it is really true. They could be genuinely concerned that Jesus be protected, or they could be lying just to shut Jesus up. The idea being, “If we make him think that he is threatened with death, perhaps he will stop his preaching and teaching.”
All in all, we don’t know the whole story. What we do know is how Jesus responds. In verse 32 Jesus says, “Go and tell that fox, 'Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.’”
Essentially Jesus says, “Don’t worry Herod. You are going to get your wish. I’m going to Jerusalem and that’s where my road ends. I’m going to die there.”
He goes on in verse 33 to make it even more explicit. He says, “A prophet can’t die away from Jerusalem.”
What we are to understand is that Jesus has no mind to bail out on his mission. Back in chapter 9 we learned that Jesus had his face set towards Jerusalem. He resolved to go there. And now we see that nothing would dissuade him from this destination. Herod’s threats meant nothing to him. His purpose in life was to die and give his life up as a sacrifice to God.
Do you see him now? Is not this a demonstration of how willing he is to save? Every step he took southward was a verification of his intent to save.
If you are doubting whether or not Christ is a willing savior, this should be something that encourages you. When you see the conviction Christ has here, you should not doubt his intents.
Imagine if you were a child and you had asked to go to a ball game with your father. Your father says, “Sure I’ll take you, but first I have to finish these chores.” Now, if your father goes out and piddles around in the yard for the next hour, you would question his desire to take you. If every time you look out the window he was leaning on his shovel, chatting with a neighbor, then you would think to yourself, “I don’t know that my father wants to take me to the game. I don’t think his heart is in it.”
But if you see him out there intently going about his business, that is going to convince you that he does want to take you. If you hear him say to the neighbor, “Sorry Bob, I can’t talk now. I got to get this done.”, you would see that he is determined to go. He will not be dissuaded from the task at hand.
That is exactly what we see happening here. Jesus will not let any threats deter him. For him it is going to be business as usual and there are going to be no unnecessary pits stops along the way.
If you question whether or not Jesus is willing to save you, then the response Jesus gives to these Pharisees should serve as a confirmation that he most certainly will.
And what he says in the next verse should bolster your confidence too. In verse 34 we see him grieving over Jerusalem. And what he says reveals the depths of his compassion and his desire to save.
II. His grief over Jerusalem shows he is willing to save. 
He begins by saying, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem” The repetition is for the purpose of empathy, like when he says, “Martha, Martha.” “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to you.” You can hear his heart breaking as he says this.
Then he likens himself to a hen who gathers her brood of chicks under her wings. That is a sweet picture. A mother hen is very particular when it comes to her chicks. At night, she gathers them close to keep them warm and protect them from predators. When there is danger, maybe a storm, the mother bird will pulls her chicks close and spread her wings over them so that they may have a safe refuge. It is an act of pure love.
And Jesus says that’s exactly what he longed to do to his people, rebellious as they were! Despite how obstinate they were—despite how much they refused to come to him and heed his word, he cherished them. He loved them and deeply yearned for them. But they would not.
When you hear these words you have to understand how the Lord takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. We should understand that it grieves Christ when his offer of grace and salvation is repudiated.
This might be a shock to some of you. I understand that there is a strand of Calvinism that takes a rather stoic attitude towards the lost. They think that God is unmoved when his grace and salvation are rejected. And some Calvinist themselves tend to be rather cold when it comes to this issue. They’ll even put it in sterile terminology saying, “They are reprobates and they are just getting what they deserve.”
There may be some truth to what is said there. They may well be getting their just deserts. Just because they are reprobate, does not mean that God delights in their damnation or is indifferent towards their rebellion.
We see here that the Lord earnestly desires that men would embrace this offer and enter into a state of salvation.
And if you are hear and you are thinking, “I’m not sure that Christ would ever save me,” then you need to hear this. Christ is grieved by those who refuse him. He would much prefer it if you would come to him.
Later on in our study, if we get that far, Jesus tells the parable of the lost coin and the lost sheep. Both stories present something that is lost, a picture of a sinner who is lost in his sin. And both stories talk about a diligent search that is made for those items. The coin is sought by a woman. The sheep is sought by the shepherd. The woman sweeps the whole house looking for the coin. She will leave no part of the house unturned until it is in her possession again. The shepherd leaves the 99 sheep and risks life and limb to find the one that had strayed. At the end of both stories it says, “There is great rejoicing in heaven over the one sinner that repents.”
The woman and the shepherd are the Lord Jesus, and he rejoices greatly—his joy cascades in overwhelming proportions because that one is saved.
You cannot doubt that Jesus is willing to save sinners. Whether his heart is filled with grief at one’s rebellion or joy at their turning to him, both testify that Jesus is ready at any given moment to receive a sinner.
But it is not only displayed in how he responds to the Pharisees and in how he grieves over Jerusalem. His readiness to save is also seen in how he talks about his second advent.
III. His reference to his return shows he is willing 
In verse 35 Jesus prophesies that there will be a time when he reappears.
He begins by saying, “your house is forsaken.” He is describing the state of Israel here. They were a people who had turned from the Lord. As a result, the Lord was turning from them. They had forsaken God. Now he was turning upon them.
But Jesus goes on to say, “You will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” Now, what is this referring to? You know that when Jesus went up to Jerusalem that they began to sing this Psalm. We recognize it as Palm Sunday, when he rode the donkey into Jerusalem. But that cannot be what Jesus is referring to here. He never hid himself. He was always seen and conducted a very public ministry all through this time.
This is why most commentators believe this is a reference to his second coming. After he is resurrected, he will not be seen for a certain amount of time. He will not be seen until they say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”
Now there are many who think that this is a reference to when he comes again and how everyone, whether believing or unbelieving, will acknowledge him as Lord. Because of his majesty and the fullness of his power being manifested on that last glorious day, everyone will acknowledge him as Lord. Some will do it joyfully, others, because they are unbelieving, will do it out of coercion.
Other people think that this is a reference to a time when there will be a mass conversion of Jews, just prior to Christ’s return. They think that Jesus is saying, “Jerusalem, even though you are a wicked and rebellious people now, someday you will turn to me en masse. And when you do I will appear in the sky, and you will begin to sing this Psalm with joy in your hearts.”
I tend to lean towards the latter interpretation. I think that fits with the flow of the discourse. Is Jesus willing to save? Absolutely! As a matter of fact, he will save! There will be a multitude of people who end up delighting in his coming.
But whichever interpretation you take, one thing is clear. There will be an interval of time where Jesus will allow sinners to hear the gospel. And that’s where we are right now.
The coming of Christ is still on the horizon, and he still allows you time to come to him and be saved. If you want to be one of that number who is saved—among those who say with a joyful heart, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”, then you should know that Jesus affords you that opportunity right now. He is willing to save.
My children sometimes dawdle in their chores, particularly with doing the dishes after dinner. And sometimes we will have to use some motivation to get them to do it. From time to time we will hold off on having dessert (kind of like holding their dessert ransom). My wife will set the timer on the oven. She’ll say, “Okay. I’m giving you 10 minutes to get these done. When the timer goes off, I’m going to come and see if you’re done. If you are, you can have your dessert.
At this point, my children have two options. They can either believe my wife’s promise or they can completely disregard everything she said. But they have exactly 10 minutes to do so, for the moment she comes back, the time is up.
When this is done, they never just sit there and wonder, “Will mommy give me my dessert?” No, they believe that she is coming back and they trust that she will make good on her promise.
That is what you must do too. Jesus is coming back. He has made a promise that he is ready to save. You need only believe that he will return and trust that he will make good on his promise.
One of the things that makes this church distinct is our commitment to what we call, “the doctrines of grace,” or the doctrine of election. It is our belief that God has, from the foundations of the world, has predestined those who will be saved and those who will not.
It reminds us that, when it comes to our salvation, we bring nothing to it but our sin. Our contribution is only the vile evils that we have committed, and the stern rebellion of a hardened heart. So God, and God alone, is glorified, for it is he who initiates our salvation and brings it to completion.
The doctrines of predestination has also been denominated “the doctrine of comfort.” For when you understand that you are saved by grace, and not by your works, you have more reason for peace. It affords you a solace that you cannot have if you believe that it is your responsiblilty and it is your works—or your faith—that must keep your salvation. I remember in college, when I began to embrace the truth that salvation was all of God, it was such a relief. I even call it my second salvation, because it was such a relief to know that I could rest securely in the mighty grip of God.
As a matter of fact, one of my favorite quotes by Charles Spurgeon is along these lines. He says, “I am more assured of God’s grip on me than my grip on Him.” If salvation were dependent upon my faith, I would be in a terrible state because I recognize how terrible my faith really is.
For these reasons and more, the doctrines of grace, or the doctrine of election as you may wish to call it, is certainly a worth while doctrine to contemplate. Meditating on it will bring great reward and allow your heart to soar to great heights.
But we need to remember that the doctrine of predestination is not a doctrine that you play with. While there is great benefit in meditating on what has been revealed regarding it, there is danger of which you must be aware. There is a danger in going beyond what God has laid down in Scripture. We have to understand that God has kept some things secret. He has not revealed everything. And so all of our curiosities will never be satisfied, and we need to realize that if we try to penetrate into the hidden secrets of God’s will, then we sin. And we will find ourselves lost in what John Calvin calls “forbidden labyrinths.” We will be in an endless maze of error.
We have to also understand that this doctrine can make us inclined towards vain speculations. And we need to understand that the Bible warns us against indulging in frivolous thoughts and vain arguments that profit nothing.
I say this because this is exactly what is happening in our passage today. Our text today starts off by telling us about a man who most certainly had an interest in the doctrine of election. And when he came up to Jesus he asked about the exact number of those who would be saved.
Now, think for a moment. Is this a question that has any real significance? What profit is there in asking this? Most commentators agree that this inquiry has no real life consequence to it. And I tend to agree. It seems to me that it was nothing more than a vain intellectual curiosity.
But it is interesting how Jesus responds. I do not doubt that Jesus could have launched a stinging rebuke of such idle babbling. There is a story—it is applied to different people, whether Calvin, Augustine, or Luther, I’m not sure. But the story goes that someone asked “What was God doing before he created the world?” And he responds by saying, “He was creating hell for people who ask such stupid questions!”
In other words, don’t try to think about such things!
But you’ll notice that Jesus doesn’t do that. Jesus uses it. He takes this question and redirects it towards a very practical end. He ends up preaching a sermon that is directed, not at the fellow’s mind and his vain curiosities, but at his heart. And you must see that in these words Jesus is seeking to break us. He is seeking to destroy the calloused unbelief of an apostate people so that they may be saved.
In order to do that Jesus answers this question with a qualified yes and no.
Now, when he is asked, “will those who are saved be few?” He first answers in the affirmative. He says, “Yes, but it’s not what you think.”
I. The number will be few because many will desire salvation, but won’t see it.
You have to keep in mind that the guy who was asking the question was most likely a Jew. And keep in mind the context, and the parables that Jesus just told. You remember last week how Mark talked about the kingdom of God and how it would undergo some amazing growth. It would eventually become quite sizeable. Now this guy, says, “Hey Jesus, are there going to be few who are saved?” In other words, “Is it just going to be the jews who are saved, right? After all, we are God’s chosen people. These Gentiles, I mean, they are not getting in, you know what I mean?”
So what does Jesus say? He says, “Strive to enter the narrow door, for many will seek to enter, but will not be able.” In other words, yes. Out of the totality of all the people in the world, there will be many who do not enter. That’s why you need to make every effort to get in. And you need to go in by means of the right entrance.
You can almost see Jesus poking this man in the chest as he talks. He is essentially saying, “Don’t think that you are secure simply because you are a Jew. You cannot rest in the fact that you have some favored position in God’s covenant or in your having been circumsized. You have to strive to get in.
That word strive is an interesting one. It is the word agonizomai, from which we get our word agony. Jesus is saying that getting saved is something that is hard. It takes great pain to get in.
That’s because it involves repentance. Keep in mind that is how our chapter started. “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Repentance is one of the toughest things a man can do. It means stiving against your pride and self righteousness. It means taking pains to humble yourself before the Lord and confess how you’ve offended the Most High God.
You know how hard it is to admit your mistakes? One of the things I can’t stand is when someone is wrong—I mean dead wrong, and he knows it! But still, he is so stubborn that he will not admit it.
Why is it so hard? It’s just the nature of our rebellion. And Jesus says, “you have to strive to enter.” You have to put forth every effort to bow down before the Lrod and own up to your sins—to recognize his lordship.
Jesus doesn’t want you thinking that your position in the church or in God’s covenant is going to get you anywhere. He’s trying to get you to see that salvation isn’t based on your nationality or your family ties. It makes absolutely no difference to God if you were circumcised or splashed with a little bit of water or dunked in a pond. You will not be saved if you do not repent and turn to Christ.
That’s why he tells this story about the master who gets up and closes the door. He’s pointing out the importance of a personal relationship with Christ.
In the parable Jesus says there are some people who are left outside. They say, “Hey, come on. Open up.” The Lord answers and says, “I’m sorry, who are you?” And they respond, “Well, you know who we are. We are you’re people. And the Lord responds, “Hey, I haven’t a clue where you’re from.” In other words, we never had a real relationship.
From time to time I will quote from John Bunyan and his most famous work, Pilgrim’s Progress. That is a classic that I cannot recommend enough. But Bunyan wrote a number of things, and he penned a famous little tract on this passage from Luke. Back in those days it was trendy to have very long titles for books (somewhat odd given our tendency to be pithy in our slogans). But the title of that tract goes like this “THE STRAIT GATE, or, THE GREAT DIFFICULTY OF GOING TO HEAVEN: Plainly proving, by the Scripture, that not only the Rude and Profane, but many great Professors, will come short of that Kingdom.”
Despite the length, he does a great job of summing up what Jesus says here. There are going to be many who go to hell. Not only will it be filled with the heathen peoples, but it will also gobble up many people who have been intimately associated with the church. Why? Because they never demonstrated a real spirit of repentance. When it comes right down to it a lot of people who claim to be followers of Christ do not really have a genuine relationship with Christ. And that is because they continue in their sins and do not exert any real effort to do otherwise.
They might wear their religiosity on their sleeve. They may take great pride that they were dunked in a pond or got some water splashed on them at some point. But, in their heart of hearts, they are not truly submitting to his Lordship and recognizing the authority of his law. Sure, they might make claims to being a Christian or talk about a time when they once asked Christ to be their savior, but they are still not taking him seriously. His word has no place in their hearts and they are willfully refusing to obey his commands.
That is what this guy was doing. He was asking silly questions about the number of the elect, all the while thinking he was one of them. But he was wrong. He was terribly wrong! And he was in danger of being lost forever.
But you will notice that Jesus doesn’t stop there. In verses 24-28, Jesus says, “Yes, the number of those who will be saved will be limited to a great degree.” But in verses 29 and 30 Jesus goes on to say that despite there being a limited number, there will still be myriads of people who get to enjoy eternal life.
II. Many will, nevertheless, be saved
Look at verse 29. Jesus says, “They shall come from the east and west, and from the north and south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.”
He’s indicating something of the expansion of the church. He’s basically prophesying the book of Acts and all of history up to our day. People from all over the world are going to flood into the kingdom. And of course, this means Gentiles! Gentiles will be saved by the scores.
And he backs that with the last thing he says here, “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.” The Jews of his day were the first. They were given all the blessings of the covenant. They were the ones God initially called. But they rejected it and God turned to the Gentiles. They became the first.
So Jesus is, again, answering this question. Yes, there are going to be few. But few is a relative number! The number that are going to be saved in the end is going to be a rather sizable number because the gospel is going to go throughout all the world.
It is interesting that some scholars even see this as a prophetic announcement of how the gospel would spread through every nation. The gospel would spend time in the east, places like Syria and Asia Minor. Then it would move west through the European continent and along the shores of the Mediterranean. It would reach to the north in Brittan and then by its missionaries, flow south to places like Africa, Asia and South America.
Perhaps what was said here wasn’t intended to be a roadmap of the gospel. We cannot be sure of that. But we can say that there is no doubt that the gospel has been streaming throughout the world and many heathen lands have been converted to Christ and made recipients of his saving graces.
All of us are who are here are a testimony to that. We who are of Gentile blood are here because the Lord has given us the gospel.
And it should be known here that the Lord continues to send forth his saving grace. Today, if you have not yet been saved, you should know that you can be. You may escape the wrath of God which is due to you for your sin. God offers his salvation to you. All you have to do is what we’ve laid out here today: repent of your sin and enter into a saving relationship by putting your faith in Christ.
If you have not up to this point cultivated a relationship with Christ, if you have not loved him and submitted your life to him, then today is the day that you should. And the promise of the gospel is that the moment you do that, all your sins will be washed away. You won’t need fear being shut out of his kingdom. If you love him and seek to submit yourself to him, you can rest assured that he will welcome you into his heavenly abode. You will be one of those elect and have opportunity to be among that specified number that God has chosen from the beginning of time.
But let us also remember the purpose of these words. These words were designed to provoke this silly Jew. They were here to say, “Many will be saved while you are shut out if you do not repent.” If you want to be one of them, make sure you do.
 The discussion of Predestination—a subject of itself rather intricate—is made very … dangerous by human curiosity, which no barriers can restrain from wandering into forbidden labyrinths, and from soaring beyond its sphere, as if determined to leave none of the Divine secrets unscrutinized or unexplored . . . First, then, let them remember that when they inquire into Predestination, they penetrate into the inmost recesses of divine wisdom, where the careless and confident intruder will obtain no satisfaction to his curiosity . . . For we know that when we have exceeded the limits of the word, we shall get into a devious and irksome course, in which errors, slips, and falls will be inevitable. Let us then, in the first place bear in mind, that to desire any more knowledge of Predestination than that which is unfolded in the Word of God, indicates as great folly as to wish to walk through impassible roads, or to see in the dark. --Calvin
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.