Work hard to enter the narrow door to God’s kingdom, for many will try to enter, but fail.Luke 13:24-27 NLT
Jesus was always teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven. He clearly indicates that for those of us who are his followers, this Kingdom is to be our first priority. Seek first the Kingdom, Jesus says, in response to recognizing the other priorities that many of us have – food, clothes, shelter, material wealth. But what does it mean to Seek the Kingdom? Simply this, to look for it, and to work for it. Here in Luke 13 he again emphasizes its importance: “work hard to enter the narrow door to God’s Kingdom.” It is about where we place our energies in this life. Do we use what we have been given for God’s Kingdom, or for something else? What are we working hard for? Hard work is sometimes seen as part of the Protestant work ethic. But it is not simply working hard that is important. It is working hard to enter the Kingdom.
This command comes after some illustrations of the Kingdom. The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, Jesus says. It starts off as something small, but grows into something large which provides a home and shelter for the birds. The Kingdom of God is like yeast, he says. It is something invisible which changes the whole consistency of the dough, and permeates every part of the bread. Jesus encourages us to be part of this kingdom, to enter this kingdom. It sounds as though it should be an easy thing, but Jesus exhortation to work hard to enter the narrow door into the kingdom implies that it is a significant task. It is, I believe, our lifelong assignment as Christians, something we continue to work at from the time we choose to follow Jesus. It is, in fact, at the very core of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Jesus goes on to explain that many will try to enter but fail, because they have left it too late. Is that not what we often see? People procrastinate. We know deep down that this is important, and we think, I will just sort my life out, get established, get a house and a job and a spouse and a family, get established in my profession, store up a little wealth, and then I will focus all my attention on the kingdom. But such people can miss out, because they have left their run too late, they have focused on the wrong things during their time on earth. Think of another story that Jesus told, about the man who built bigger barns to hold his wealth. Then he died before he got to enjoy the fruit of his hard work. By contrast, if we work hard for the kingdom, death makes no difference, because our treasure is in heaven. Sell your possessions and give to those in need, Jesus says, because this will store up treasure for you in heaven (Luke 12:33).
Entering the kingdom is not a one off act, nor is it an add on, an optional extra to all the other tasks of life. It permeates our whole existence as believers, giving shape to every other activity in our lives. It should not be put off till later. It is something for today, and every day, throughout our lives.
When Jesus speaks of the latecomers it is frightening:
When the master of the house has locked the door, it will be too late. You will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Lord, open the door for us!’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ Then you will say, ‘But we ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ And he will reply, ‘I tell you, I don’t know you.Luke 13:25-27 NLT
What does he mean really?
I can’t help thinking of that part of the world which was once called “Christendom” but is now called “The West.” This is the part of the world where the values of the Kingdom have over many centuries become established. Of course few secular thinkers ascribe these values to Jesus and his kingdom. They tend to see them as the result of social evolution, education, civilization, “common humanity,” human enlightenment. In our post Christian world, it is fashionable to see the good things in society as the result of human wisdom and understanding, and to see the bad things as a result of religious ignorance and oppression.
But a careful examination of world history I believe bears witness to the transforming power of Jesus and his teaching, the effect of his Kingdom being established in society, as unseen and unacknowledged as it often is. We do not give credit to God, or the kingdom, but take it for ourselves. But at the last day many who never gave God a second thought will realize that so much in society that was so good was the result of God and his kingdom, which had been there like yeast permeating society the whole time, but they had never seen it. That is when they will say, “but we ate with you and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.”
But that is not enough, Jesus says. These people have seen Jesus, they have even enjoyed company with him, heard him speaking in their streets. They are acquainted with Jesus and his Kingdom. But they have never embraced him, or made his kingdom their focus – their number one priority – even if they have enjoyed the effects of the kingdom in their lives. They never prayed, “your kingdom come, your will be done,” because they were too busy pursuing their own kingdom, their own will. They never even realized or acknowledged that so much in their society that they have seen as good is actually the result of God’s kingdom come, rather than the kingdom of humanity, as they believed.
But in the end when all is revealed, they realize that the kingdom is their in their midst, and it is the place they want to be, and they rush to get in, but Jesus says to these people that it is too late. He says to them, “I don’t know you.” They may have worked hard their whole life, but it was for the wrong thing. The realization that after all their efforts they have got nothing, makes them desperately sad. They mourn, they weep, they “gnash their teeth,” to use the quaint but evocative language of the Bible. It is a tragic picture, because the kingdom was always there in their midst, but they ignored it until it was too late.
I am often distracted by the things of the world. I am guilty of prioritizing other things, setting my heart and mind on my own kingdom, where I am king, rather than God’s kingdom. Perhaps you are too. But there is still time. Let’s refocus where we put our time, our money and our energy. Let’s start seeking the Kingdom first, start working hard to enter that kingdom. For Jesus says clearly that those who seek find, that to those who knock the door will be opened. “For it gives your Father great happiness to give you the Kingdom.” Luke 12:32