The Great Benefits of Our Gracious God – Psalm 103

A career with benefits. Some of you have a job which has benefits (perks) which you enjoy: maybe a company car, expense account, retirement stuff, bonuses, etc. Maybe you don’t have a career with benefits and want one. As Christians we have a career with benefits: our career is our Christian walk which we daily engage in and the benefits are manifold from our gracious God. Someone has called Psalm 103 “Heaven’s benefits package.” Our gracious God is worthy of praise for His great benefits He gives. What are the various benefits of our gracious God? In Psalm 103, David highlights several benefits YHWH provides His people.

1Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!

2Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,

The Psalmist calls on “all that is within me” to remember “all His (Gods) benefits” (1-2). “God’s all cannot be praised with less than our all” (Spurgeon 2: 276).

Benefit #1: Salvation (3-5)

3who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases,

Forgiving (3a): certainly God has forgiven in the past, but He continues to forgive (pres. Tense). It’s continual – He is still forgiving. The scope of forgiveness is “all iniquity.” All wrongdoing is removed. From His immense steadfast love (v.12) He removes all our sins, transgressions, and iniquity (v.13).

Healing (3b): the term “diseases” is used figuratively (poetically) for the sickness of sin. Further, the parallelism of this verse combined in the larger context of v.3-5 and Psalm 103 generally points to spiritual sickness & healing.

Note: I do not, though, wish to minimize the healing power of YHWH, the God of health. “Among the greatest blessings which we receive of God is recovery from sickness” (Pulpit 8.2.382). Whether by natural or supernatural means, God is able to work healing (See Psa 30.2). That’s why, when we one of us gets sick, we pray. And there is NT precedence for this (James 5.14).

4who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

Redeeming (4a): “redeems your life from the pit” seems to be language that would be familiar to the Jewish mind concerning the patriarch Joseph. God redeemed Joseph from the pit thru the Ishmaelites. Rescue by ransom.

Adorning (4b): with steadfast love and mercy. More in #2…

5who satisfies you with good so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Satisfying (5): “good” things come from our good God and He “satisfies” us with them. The people of God are the only satisfied people on earth. While unbelievers search in vain for satisfaction, Christians have found true satisfaction from the only source of satisfaction. See 1 Timothy 6.17.

Benefit #2: Steadfast Love (4b, 8, 11, 17-18)

Intentionally in the middle (of the sermon) because this is the lynch-pin to this Psalm.

4who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,

The Crown of Steadfast Love (4): exclusively reserved for His people who enter into covenant with Him (“us”). Not a crown of jewels and gems, but of grace and “lovingkindness” (ASV, KJV). This is something which God continues to do (“adorning”), He is continuously pouring our His steadfast love (and mercy, too!) upon our heads.

8The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

11For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;

The Cornucopia of Steadfast Love (8, 11): He’s got lots of it! So great is His is love, it is inexhaustible! Like the horn with all the food and vegetables coming out we often see at Thanksgiving, so God’s love is pictured as overflowing. What’s it like David? Verse 11.

17But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children,

18to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.

The Conditions for Steadfast Love (17-18): 1) Fear YHWH – that reverential awe and respect of the one true Creator. 2) Faithfulness (keep covenant) – even as God keeps covenant; God says, “I will be your God” to which the people say, “We will be you people.” Involved in this is a standard of conduct shaped by principles and values established by God. 3) Obedience (remember commandments) – perhaps some parallelism here; we remember His commandments when we keep covenant.

Note: Nelson Glueck on Heb. Hesed “in its secular usage as ‘conduct in accord with a mutual relationship of rights and duties’; he also emphasized the mutual or reciprocal and the obligatory character of the term in its religious usage for persons in relation to each other and to God.” “Israel understood God to be committed to the community in covenant relationship as the One who provided for all needs, yet One also always free and uncoercible.” This Hebrew term “compactly incorporates all three of these dimensions (commitment, provision for need, freedom) in a single word” (ABD 4: 377). Unconditional? Hardly! See Ex 20.5-6, 2nd commandment.

Benefit #3: Slow to Anger (8, 13-16)

Does He get angry? Oh, yes. We read about the wrath of God. But of His slowness… 2 Peter 3.9; Romans 2.4

8The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

13As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

14For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.

15As for man, his days are like grass; he flourishes like a flower of the field;

16for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.

YHWH the Father (13): While Jesus would come to show us God the Father, even in the OT, the concept was there. David recognizes the paternal patience of YHWH, like a father is patient and compassionate with his children.

YHWH the Creator (14): He knows and remembers certain things about us (our frame, we are dust). How does He know these things? He’s the one who created us! And since He knows us, He knows we are “frail children of dust” (esp. seen in 15-16) and cannot withstand His holy, righteous anger.

Since God is the Father and since He is the Creator, He is slow to become angry. He treats us, His children, with compassion, mercy, and grace.

It’s the greatest benefits package in the world. And it’s ours! So it’s no wonder David closes this with a doxology of praise to God. Everything needs to praise God because He’s given us salvation, shows us steadfast love, and is slow to anger.

WORKS CITED

Freedman, David Noel. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. New York: Doubleday, 1996. CD-ROM.

Spence, H.D.M. and Joseph S. Exell. The Pulpit Commentary. 23 vols. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1962. Print.

Spurgeon, Charles. The Treasury of David. 2 vols. Nashville: Nelson, n.d. Print.

Grow in the Work of Christ, part 1

Some say that all of chapters 1-3 is a prayer of Paul (see 3.14; 1.15). So this section (2.1-10) is a recitation of the spiritual history of the Ephesians and all who come to obedient faith in Christ. This text can be seen to track with Genesis 1: We have the chaos (v.1-3) out of which God brings order (v.4-9) and a new creation (v.10).

Access to His Grace (1-10)

God made us alive in Christ when He saved us by grace through faith unto good works.

1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins

And you were dead: And indicates this section is connected with the previous verses in ch.1. You is emphatic. Paul is using a historical present tense (lit. you being dead) to remind these Christians of the filth from which they have come, that is spiritual death.

All people outside of and away from Christ are the walking dead. They are spiritual zombies, “dead even while [they] live.” Isa 25.7, they wear casket clothes. Those we walk by every day, who we work with, eat, with, commute with, perhaps even live with – they are dead! Just like you used to be. But God…even as God worked a work in your life, so He is able to work a work in theirs!

In the trespasses and sins: Two terms for offenses against God. 1) Trespasses—a term which points to boundaries set by God which we are not go beyond or barriers set up to keep us from harm (esp. the Law and conscience). 2) Sin—”missing the mark” by failing to do what God said to do or doing something which God said not to do. Both trespasses and sins have the same killing effect.

2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—

In which you once walked: Or how they lived, going about with their dead lives. Walking is a figure used later in this epistle (v.10, 4.1; 5.2, 8, 15) and elsewhere in the NT (Col 4.5; 1 Jn 1.7).

Following the course of the this world: Here is the 1st antithesis to life with God. This is “earthbound motives” which are typical of the world. It is an ethic which stands juxtaposed with “the coming ages” (v.7). This system does not consider God and is opposed to God (cf. 1 John 2.15-17).

Following…of the air: Here is the 2nd antithesis to life with God. “Satan is here pictured as the ruler of the demons and other agencies of evil” (Robertson). Formerly, these Christians had their lives shaped by the master of evil as they followed his bidding. That these beings are of the air indicates that they are immaterial, spiritual beings, not necessarily that they “haunt” the atmosphere.

The spirit…the sons of disobedience: present tense, the devil is still working in the world, namely in “children in whom is no faithfulness” (Dt 32.20). He fans into flame their dislike for the will of God. Though he fell like lightning from heaven (Luke 10.18), is judged (John 16.11), and will soon be crushed under our feet (Romans 16.20), Satan energizes those not surrendered to God.

Those who are not surrendered to God are subject to Satan. There are only two energizing forces in this cosmic battle for the souls of men: God and Satan. And if a person is not surrendered to God, he is surrendered to the forces of darkness of whom Satan is the head. “And if people are surrendered to the power of evil, they become those whose habit of life is contrary to the living God, and so they are rightly called the sons of disobedience.

3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

Among whom…our flesh: We all once lived points to Paul including himself with the Ephesian readers as among the sons of disobedience. Lived (or “conducted ourselves,” NKJV) stresses daily behavior. So the daily behavior of the unregenerate person is the gratification of “the longings and impulses of the self-centered life” (Foulkes 79). This is the pattern of life which emerges when left to our own natural desires and proclivities. Neither Jew nor Gentile are exempt.

We “all” did this before Christ. If you say you did not, there is no hope for you. We all gave into the base, carnal, earthy, selfish desires and appetites. That’s sin in its basic definition – gratify the selfish desires.

Carrying out…the mind: our habitual practice was to fulfill the will of the flesh and mind. “Lusts lead to acts” (Lenski). So not only self-centered passions, but the actual doing of those desires, both in the flesh and in our thoughts. Indeed, from our thoughts issue forth our fleshly practices.

Were by nature…the rest of mankind: Before becoming the children of God or light (see 5.8), we were by nature children of wrath. There was a Jewish thought that the Gentiles were ignorant of God “by nature” (see Wisdom 13.1). Paul affirms that all men—Jew or Gentile—are subject to divine wrath due to disobedience. Because of what they did, they were under the judgment of God. Like the rest of mankind could speak of Gentiles, but it seems best to understand it as the former state of these Christians before coming to obedient faith in Christ. All men, if left to themselves, develop the habitual practice (i.e. nature) of self-gratification (i.e. sin).

We see here three (3) fatal guides: 1) The world (v.2, “the course of this world”), 2) The devil (v.2, “the prince of the power of the air”), & 3) The flesh (v.3, “the passions of the flesh”). When one follows these guides, heeding their voice to “trespass” and “sin” against God, it leads to a very dark condition for man: 1) Morally dead (v.1, 5, “dead in trespasses and sins”), 2) Practically worldly (v.2, “following the course of this world”), 3) Satanically ruled (v.2, “following the prince of the power of the air”), 4) Wickedly associated (v.3, “the sons of disobedience among whom we all once lived”), 5) Carnally debased (v.3, “the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind”), & 6) Perilously situated (v.3, “children of wrath”). Here is the bleak picture of life outside of and away from God and Christ.

4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,

But God: When the night was darkest, in broke the light! God entered the fray.

Being rich in mercy: Mercy is not getting what we deserve (wrath, v.3). No doubt God’s mercy is immeasurable like His grace (v.7). It is our in abundance and overflowing.

Because…He loved us:  It is God’s infinite love which is the ground of our salvation.

“Mercy takes away misery; love confers salvation” (Bengal). God sees our deadness and offers us life in Christ. There is longing in the heart of God for us to be restored to life and vitality. You cannot have verse 4 without verse 1-3.

5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—

Even when we…our trespasses: Repeat of the reality of verse 1; spiritual death by trespassing. There were “No Trespassing” signs up and we crossed the line, climbed the fence and we paid the penalty for trespassing – spiritual death.

Made us alive together with Christ: As Christ was raised bodily by the power of God, so we are raised spiritually by God’s power. So we have new life with Christ, even eternal life (cf. Rom 6.4).

By grace you have been saved: At the heart of spiritual resurrection is God’s grace., i.e. His unmerited favor. The construction of this phrase (also in v.8) reaches forward & backward in time while also touching the present. We have been saved, are in a saved state, and are being saved—all by God’s grace. This is ubiquitous in the New Testament: Acts 15.11; Romans 3.24; Titus 2.11.

6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,

And raised us up with Him: Having been revitalized (v.5) with new life we have also been resurrected with Christ. As Christ walked out of the tomb, so we vacate our spiritual sepulchers. As Christ ascended after His resurrection, so the Christian ascends out of the “domain of darkness” and into “the reign of the Beloved Son” (Col 1.13).

And seated us…in Christ Jesus: Or enthroned us. What happened to Christ (1.20) has happened to the Christian also. “We are joined to him so that we are where he is” (Snodgrass 102). The heavenly places refers the spiritual realm where we “reign with Christ” (Revelation 20.4, 6).

Salvation is presented as an event which has occurred in the past (i.e. baptism) and a present possession and reality experienced by those in Christ. To enjoy salvation requires being joined to the Savior. The gift cannot be separated from the Giver.

7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

So that in the coming ages: that is, those periods and times from apostolic days until the second coming of Christ or the church age. Indeed, God’s grace has flowed freely and fully in history.

He might show…in Christ Jesus: throughout church history God has made known His grace in the example of the Ephesians and Paul (“us”). The riches of his grace must be immeasurable if He can show kindness (or love in action) toward such sinners! Grace is only found in Christ Jesus.

If God can show mercy, grace, and love toward the Ephesians and Paul, then couldn’t He show us the same? Haven’t we tasted the immeasurable riches of God’s grace in our own lives? God in kindness has freely and fully given us miserable, wretched sinners His grace.

8For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

For by grace…through faith: Here Paul expands upon what he mentioned parenthetically in v.5. Here divine sovereignty and human responsibility meet in the rugged realm of redemption. Grace is God’s part; faith is ours. God’s grace appeared and brought salvation and teaches us the appropriate and right response to all that God has done on our behalf (cf. Titus 2.11ff).

This is…the gift of God:  That is, salvation by grace conditioned upon faith is a gift from God.  Man is unable to save himself. Further, man neither initiated nor accomplished salvation. God did and He offers the gracious gift of salvation to man who receives it unto himself by obedient faith. We were saved, are in a saved state, and are being saved by God’s continued favor upon us as we continue to trust Him for all things.

9not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

Not a result…no one may boast: If salvation were by works grace would no longer be grace (see Romans 11.6). Whether the works of the Law of Moses or any works man might attempt to perform to placate the divine fury—it does not matter. All man’s righteous works are filthy rags before holy God (see Isaiah 64.6). It is the law of faith by which boasting is excluded (Rom 3.27).

There are a lot of people today who believe that “if you’re just a good person, God will overlook all the bad you do and take you to heaven.” This heresy is straight from the pit of hell! Salvation by grace through faith is not of works. No amount of good deeds can atone for even one sin. “I’m basically a good person” is the statement of someone who does not know that Jesus says “No one is good except God alone” (Mark 10.18). Further, the Bible says, “None is righteous, no not one…no one does good, not even one” (Rom 3.10, 12). So, according to God’s word, no one is “basically a good person” and no amount of good works will save us because our good works are really polluted garments.

10For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

For we are His workmanship: Or His masterpiece. Lit. We are that which God has made. This is language which harkens to God’s creative power. But though the creation of the world was grand, the new creation is grander! To bring a world out of nothing is great; to restore that world from chaos is greater! We have been made anew by God (cf 2 Cor 5.17). So we are His people, possession, prize, (see Psalm 100.3).

Created…for good works: Good works will not save us. But in Christ Jesus we are made to engage in good works. Having been spiritually renewed we can fulfill God’s purpose in our lives.

Which God prepared beforehand: From eternity, God purposed that those whom He would create new in Christ would engage in good works (as opposed to evil works). “Before the foundation of the world it was ordained that whoever should be saved by grace [thru faith] should walk in good works” (PC 64).

That we should walk in them: In time, God has a blueprint for our lives which we are to live by. This walk is the habitual practice, the career of those saved by grace. “He who is not holy in his life is not saved by the grace of Christ” (Adam Clarke). “If we are not living a life of good works, we have no reason to believe that we have been saved by grace” (PC 64). “Boast not of Christ’s work for you, unless you can show the Spirit’s work in you” (Ryle 47). One cannot claim to be saved but refuse to serve.

If we would become the masterpiece of God (“His workmanship”), we must be “in Christ Jesus” and “saved by grace through faith.” Further, to truly be God’s masterpiece, we must engage in the works He has prepared beforehand for us to walk in.

Good Gifts from a Good God

Having presented the reality of temptation, the root of temptation, and the results of temptation, James exhorts his brethren further: be not deceived or lead astray. About what, James? About the sin! And about the origin of sin and temptation. In other words, do not believe the lie. This is serious business and to attribute temptation to God is a gross error! God is far from the one who entices to sin. And so verse 16 acts as a type of transitional sentence to move into the next section, especially about the nature of the good God Christians serve. “Far from enticing to evil, God is the source of every good gift (v.17), one of the greatest of which is the new birth (v.18)” (Moo 74).

James 1.16-18 (ESV)

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers.
17 Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

You will note that James addresses his readers as “my beloved brethren” (v.16). As mentioned in the introductory material, it is maintained that the James who wrote the epistle of James was the half-brother of Jesus. He was converted when he had a post-resurrection appearance from Jesus (see 1 Cor 15.7). Following his conversion, he became a leader in the Jerusalem church of Christ (Acts 15.13-21). In fact, because of the close similarities in language between the letter sent forth from the Jerusalem council and the epistle of James, in all likelihood the author of each of these is one and the same. Further, according to tradition, this same James went on to become one of the bishops (elders) of the Jerusalem church. This language used here in James 1.16 indicates that James had a shepherds heart with a deep concern and care for the flock of God. He loved them and desired for them to have a proper understanding about the true nature of God. So what is God like?

God is good

If God were not good, then there could be no good giving which is what the Greek indicates “good gift” means. Two different words are used for the same English word (“gift”) – dosis and dorema. The former is used with the adjective “good” to describe the act of giving which God engages in. Everything God gives is good or beautiful. Hence, there is no evil or bad in it. By the way, even in situations that we classify as “bad,” if they are given by God, they are good for man does not dictate and define what is good; God does.

God is perfect

Next, the gifts (Gk. dorema) from God are perfect. If God were not perfect there could be no perfect gifts. James has already used this same word (v.4) to describe a Christian who is steadfast in trials: they come out “perfect” when perseverance runs its course. As mentioned there, more than maturity is meant with this word and that is especially highlighted here with its connection with God’s gifts – they’re perfect, complete, lacking nothing.

It is interesting to note that in the original language the phrase “every good gift and every perfect gift” is in perfect hexameter. What this may indicate is that this is some kind of poetic line James is using to communicate what should be a well known principle to his readers, perhaps even using a line from a well known hymn sang regularly by the church to remind them about who God is. At best, it is possible.

Another point of interest: these Jewish Christians probably would have recognized and distinguished between these two words used for “gift” and also known from their Bible (the Septuagint, LXX) that these words appear together in Proverbs 21.14. That helps to identify that these are different words and therefore different concepts of giving which are being communicated, yet nevertheless, when they come from God they are good and perfect.

God is above

These gifts which are given by God come “from above.” This is a common phrase used to describe the location of God: He is in heaven. So these gifts come from the realm not only above but also beyond our finite, material universe. It points us to the spiritual nature of God. Indeed, “God is spirit” as Jesus taught (John 4.24). And since He is above, the giving and gifts flow from on high and are “coming down” from Him who sits on the throne. This present tense participle indicates that it is the regular habit and career of God to bestow good and perfect gifts and cause them to flow from the spiritual realm into the physical realm.

God is unchanging

James uses the “lights” of this physical universe of which God is the Father inasmuch as He created them to contrast the unchangeable nature of God. The sun seems to change when during the year its course is changed as the earth tilts on its axis; the shadows cast by the sun change as the day draws out; sometimes the sun is eclipsed for a time; the moon during the month seems to change as it rotates in its course, even apparently disappearing; the stars and constellations from night to night shift; stars and planets can sometimes not be seen. James uses the constant shifting and changing of creation to show God as unchanging. God is different since He is the Father (Creator) of these lights. There is no variation or change in God. He is constant, indeed the only constant in a universe of change. There is no shadow, “no darkness” whatsoever in God. As God has stated about Himself: “I, YHWH, do not change” (Mal 3.6). He is not a capricious being who one day is one way and the next He’s completely different.

God is Father

James calls Him the “Father of [the] lights.” Indeed, as Creator of sun, moon, and stars, He is Author or Father of the physical lights that we see in the sky. More than that, “God is light” (1 John 1.5) and if there would be any light whatsoever it must find its origin in God, the source of light.

But the definite article “the” can be inserted (Gk. ton photon). Hence, God is Father of the lights. Given the context in which we find this, this rendering is harmonious. God is pictured as the Father who brings forth or begets “us” (Christians) by the true word. Inasmuch as we are “the light of the world” (Matt 5.14) who reflect “the Light of the world” (John 8.12), God is our Father who brought us forth as His children. This is accord with the purpose and plan of God – He willed that this would be so. And it is!

As His children, we are “a kind of firstfruits.” For Christians today 2,000 years removed from this writing, the concept of firstfruits is primary lost on us. However, to a Jewish Christian to whom James is writing, firstfruits is loaded with significance. The Jews under the Law had a feast of firstfruits in which the first and best of the harvest were offered to God (see Lev 23.9-14). So a saved Christian who has been begotten by the true word has become a kind of firstfruit to God, set apart and holy, consecrated for offering to God. Paul would call us “living sacrifices” (Rom 12.1).

You sync all this up and James seems to be driving toward identifying Christian immersion as the good and perfect gift from the good and perfect God. These Jewish Christians to whom the gospel was first to go have, by obedience to the word of truth (the gospel), become a kind of firstfruits among the creatures of God. The harvest of God began on Pentecost and continues to today, but these Jewish converts who were the first to hope in Christ were the firstfruits of that harvest.

In one sense, this perhaps can reach even to today. When we hear the word of truth, the gospel, “which is able to save your souls” (1.21) and are obedient to that word, we are “born again,” “born of the water and spirit” in baptism. In this action, God begets us. Indeed, when Christians are pictured as being born of God (1 John 3.9) the verb is passive; here, with God pictured as the one doing the begetting, it is active. In other words, this is the work of God performed on those seeking Him out through obedience to the true word. These kinds of people (“we,” plural pronoun) become a kind of firstfruits of the creation, redeemed from the brokenness and lost-ness of creation (cf. Rom 8.18-25).

The Narrow Door

Doors come in all shapes and sizes. Most of the doors I have encountered are very regular, easy to enter for someone of average build. But there are soem doors that are simply too small. You have to duck to enter in or turn sideways just to squeeze your way in. Here at West Olive, we have a closet in the back of the auditorium that has just such a door: it is very thin and narrow. Fortunately, it is just a supply closet where we store batteries, flashlights, etc. No one could fit in there. In Luke 13.22-30, Jesus speaks of a door that very few will enter. Why? For it is “narrow” (v.24). Picture the door: perhaps tall enough for a person to enter without having to duck their head. But so narrow that should a person seek to enter, they would have to turn sideways. But even then, the door frame snags your clothes and presses in. You suck in your gut and hold your breath when you try to enter this door. Get the picture.

Question and Answer

What prompts this startling revelation from Jesus? A simple question. Jesus is travelling about to towns and villages. many people are hearing his words. Jerusalem is ever before him. He is deliberately heading there (see 9.51) but is making the trip rather leisurely, in no particular hurry to arrive. But he is on schedule for he is operating on God’s time table. Someone somewhere along the way asks the question in v.23: “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” A good question. Some have pointed out, though, that this may a question have come about because of the teaching of the rabbis of the day. They had theological arguments about the salvation of men’s souls and just who would get into glory. So the people hear their rabbis and then hear Jesus…I suppose it is natural that this question came out.

Jesus does not give a direct answer per se; but he does give a very plain answer. He urges all those present to “Strive to enter through the narrow door.” That is, fight with all your might to make sure you enter that narrow door. Don’t allow anything to hinder you for there is a prize to be gained. A similar word is used when our Lord is pictured agonizing in prayer in the garden. Indeed, our English word for “agony” is derived from this word. Though it may cause you pain or loss, though you may have to agonize over it, enter that narrow door.

The reason we should make such a great effort is because “many” will seek that door but will fail to enter it. Why? While the desire to enter the door may have been there, the agony was too great. The price was too high and they would not pay it.  How do we strive? I believe it comes in the form of striving in prayer. We also strive or wrestle with God sometimes. We strive against the evil forces, against sin, and Satan. We strive to fulfill our religious duties and we strive even with our own hearts. Get this: Anyone who would enter the narrow door must stirve to enter it and only those who enter the narrow door will be rewarded. But there is coming a time when the door will close. It is open for only so long and then “the master” will close the door into the house.

Parable and Warning

And so Jesus relates the sad picture for those who will not strive to enter the narrow door. When the master shuts the door, that’s it. There is no opening the door again. And notice, there are some people still outside asking that the door be opened. But Jesus says, ‘no.’ He does not knwo where they have come from. Some will try to bank on their supposed fellowship with Jesus. “We ate and drank in your presence…” But the answer is the same: Jesus does not know where they have come from. And these people who supposed they were “right with God” are identified by the Lord: “workers of evil.” These people were confident in their rightness with God but they were horribly mistaken. They were not in the house, in fact they have not even tried to enter the door. These people sought, but they did not strive.

All that awaits them is weeping and gnashing of teeth. They do this because they see the fathers of faith, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom, but they themselves are “cast out.” This is the same word that is used for those who are demon-possessed and Jesus would “cast out” the demon. So also the person who fails to strive to enter the narrow door will be “cast out” like a demon into the place of torment with the demons. Notice, though, that even Gentiles lay hold of the kingdom and enter the narrow door in front of the Jews. From “east and west, and from north and south” these people are seated at the great banquet in the kingdom of God. Here is the surprise in the final membership of that house. Someone has said there will be three surprises in heaven: seeing those you thought would not be there are there; not seeing those you thought would be there but are not; and finding yourself there. What a thing of wonder and astonishment when the Jews heard that the Messianic banquet seats Gentiles but so many Jews would not be there. Truly the reversal is comlete in that the first and nearest to the kingdom fail to enter but the last and lowest enter in. In the words of Matthew Henry: “why should not I strive?”

Signs of the Times

“The times, they are a changing.” I think that is how the saying goes. And this is the message Jesus told the people in Luke 12.54-59. Things are going to change – are you paying attention? Jesus has just given instruction to his disciples and now he addresses “the crowds” (v.54a).

Discerning the Way of God

Jesus, as is his custom, utilizes nature to make his point about the people. First, they can tell, but a cloud in the west, that rain is coming. It may begin small, but soon it will pregnant with rain and will open up for the land to receive it. “And so it happens.” Second, a wind will kick up from the south. Obviously, the people know, there is going to be a heat wave hit the land. “And it happens.” Jesus rebukes them for this ability to reconize the signs of the seasons but fail to see the signs of the time. They are hypocrites, two-faced, two-minded. They fail to see that prophetic word is coming to fulfillment even before their very eyes: the Messiah has come. They are weather-wise, but they are not Word-wise. For that, Jesus has nothing complimentary to say.

Making Peace with God

Because of their lack of preparation and inability to discern God’s way, Jesus admonishes them to seek peace with God, the supreme Judge. “Judge for yourselves,” Jesus says. Even without Jesus there before them they should be able to find their way with the light of Scripture. The way they are to seek is peace. Otherwise, there is bad news: the one who does not prepare to face the judge only has hard time to look forward to. There is still a debt before them, there are still charges unsettled. Therefore, the Judge has no choice but to throw the book at you.

The nation of Israel was marching toward certain judgment and destruction with both ears covered and their eyes squeezed shut. They refused to hear and heed the word of God and so they would face the full fury of God’s holy wrath. Indeed, we too are marching toward certain disaster if we act in much the same way, refusing to hear the word of the Lord. We can tell you the forecast for the next five days, but fail to acknowledge the coming storm of God’s anger because of our sins. God will have no choice but to sentence us, lock us up in eternal torment, and throw away the key. “Today is the day of salvation” – settle your account.