Imagine seeing Jesus with your own eyes, watching a withered arm morph to wholeness, a paralyzed man jump up and run, a bent woman stand up straight for the first time, a blind man revel in sight – or even a funeral procession disperse as the corpse was brought to life and returned to his mother. We do love the healing, forgiving, brilliant teacher Jesus. But there are also many hard sayings to grapple with. The danger is to isolate our concept of Him to our favorite stories and neglect the harsh ones. We could easily mold Him into a fictional character and make Him a false God. And we would not be the first to do this. The very men who literally walked the earth with Him were quite confused about His mission and wanted to make Him an earthly king. The devout religious leaders were highly offended at His unorthodox ways and impertinent disrespect for their perception of morality. They had sanitized their own greed and arrogance by making it look spiritual. How different are we so many years later?
Jesus is easily and perhaps subconsciously used as a prop for false spiritual ideals. Using Scripture we can make Him into a political pawn, the crusader for earthly campaigns. Or we can make Him into the benevolent advocate, too kind to ever punish evil. Many like to think of Him as a good moral teacher, an expert at storytelling with a lesson, but otherwise harmless. To reduce Him to any of these narrow identities is to put oneself outside of reality into a counterfeit universe. It’s fun to escape to fantasy worlds at times in books or movies, but reworking revelation is deadly. This same kind of misperception happened constantly during Jesus’ short three year stint in Israel. He was mistaken as John the Baptist by some, as Beelzebub by others, Elijah, a prophet, and even a gardener. The evil spirits, however, recognized and feared Him, knowing His cosmic authority. There is no less confusion today. It behooves us who have abundant access to copious writings, scriptural and historical alike, to be correct about our concept of the Jesus who we call God. To be wrong here puts us on an inescapable – and, as we will see, an unexpected trajectory.
What prompted these thoughts is the story in Luke 13. After demonstrating by mustard seed and leaven the true nature of God’s kingdom, hidden in the heart yet manifest in the attitude, He goes on to tell about those who wait too long to respond to His invitation. It is the story about the narrow gate, which requires effort to enter. In fact the Greek word is “agonize” to enter in. The narrative is a response to the question “Are there few who are saved?”. Many will desire but few will pay the cost to enter – many seekers, few strivers. He goes on to say that at a certain point the door will be shut. Appalled, people who avoided the narrow gate will beat on the door and demand entrance, only to be told that they must depart because they are unknown. This is shocking, as they remind Him that they ate and walked with Him while He taught in their streets. But their insistence is met with a stern rebuke, and they watch in anguish as those they deemed unworthy or unqualified were welcomed while they themselves are shut out. The Passion Translation has an insightful note on the quotation Jesus uses in the parable as He calls them out as ‘unknown’ to Him. ‘This is quoted from Ps. 6:8. Though they were acquaintances, they had not responded to his message with repentance. The word disloyal is taken from the Aramaic.The question to ask is not simply, “Will the saved be few?” (v. 23) but rather, “Will it be you?”’ Seekers are not only denied but called disloyal. This certainly does not fit the “nice Jesus” narrative.
Churches are filled with those who hear the teaching and rely on head knowledge for salvation – acquaintances so to speak. We know salvation is not something that we accomplish, but the act of obedience links us to God and His redemptive power. Faith without works is invalid. However, it would be another dangerous assumption to isolate this passage, doctrinalizing it to promote a works based salvation. What is Jesus saying then? His answers are often an enigma to the questioner, and this is no exception. With so many verses crystal clear about the finished work of Christ on the cross, His answer is puzzling. It does, however, make sense when placed alongside the mustard seed and yeast which highlight kingdom obscurity in contrast to showy worldly dominance. Kingdom citizenship requires a low humility like the King’s, and though it is a work of grace, it is a work of grace. Attain does not supplant atone. How often Jesus warns us to be careful how we listen, to be willing to displace our cultural and natural values with His, and choose the discipline of suffering for the will of God. He basically calls us to swim upstream because of (not to acquire) identity with Him. It is how you follow that He seems to be referencing.
So I ask myself, do my daily choices reflect His life or mine? Am I part of the family He invites to the feast or a mere Facebook friend? Am I merely seeking or am I striving to enter? The question is not ‘will the saved be few’, but will the saved be you?
Selah and Shalom