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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