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Luke 13:18-13:34
Key Verse: 13:24

We thank and praise Jesus who sets us free, whereas Satan binds us. People want to be free, but in truth they are kept bound by Satan. To a crippled woman who came to Jesus and listened to him, Jesus said, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” In the same way, when we come to Jesus and obey him, he sets us from anything that has bound us. Then, as a fish can freely swim in the waters, we can live a truly free life in Christ. Today’s passage is about Jesus’ parables of the mustard seed and the yeast to teach the essential character of the kingdom of God, and about Jesus’ urge to make every effort to enter through the narrow door to be saved and to take part in the feast of the kingdom of God.

First, what the kingdom of God is like (18-20). Matthew and Mark, in their gospels, both put this parable of the mustard seed at the early part of Jesus’ ministry, but Luke placed it here, as Jesus was heading toward Jerusalem, probably just a couple months before his death. At this time, his heart must have occupied with the thought of the kingdom of God, for it would soon be consummated through his death and resurrection--even though he had proclaimed the kingdom of God from the beginning. Look at verse 18. “Then Jesus asked, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to it?’” The word “then”, in other translations “therefore”, is related to the previous passages in this chapter: Jesus’ urging people to repent not to perish, setting free a crippled woman, and the ordinary people’s delight at the wonderful things Jesus was doing. The kingdom of God was growing and expanding. At this situation Jesus was eager to describe the kingdom of God in a way people could grasp. This heart desire of Jesus is shown in his double questions in this verse. The kingdom of God can be explained in many ways (e.g. the place where God is the king, so the place of utmost joy and happiness and true freedom, free from sin, Satan, and evildoers; a kingdom that can never be invaded and destroyed like worldly kingdoms, so is eternal (Lk 1:33), etc). But here at his own double questions, Jesus said, “It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches.” A mustard seed is very small, almost invisible, but it grows and becomes like a tree. The nature of the kingdom of God is that it grows and becomes a tree evident to all.

At the beginning it may be too small to be recognized, but it grows to be manifested to the world. At the time of Jesus’ birth, a few shepherds in the field of Bethlehem could hear an angel’s message, “Today, in the town of David, a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” However, the message included the words that the good news of great joy would be for all the people of the world. From that point, the good news of the kingdom spread. The city Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed by the Roman general Titus in 70 A.D.. However, after a period of much persecution, the gospel of the kingdom conquered the Roman Empire at the end of the 4th century. Since then, it has been covering all the continents of the world. Now people of every clime, race, and nation have found shelter in the kingdom--including you and me living in this 21 century--just as the birds of the air take shelter in the branches of a tree. In the Bible, a mighty tree symbolizes a great empire, and the birds in its branches are subject nations who find shelter and protection within it (Ezek 17:23; 31:6; Dan 4:20-21). Allegorically, a tree is mentioned to signify the truly great empire of Christ. However, 2/3 of the world is still currently unreached. When Jesus told his disciples about the signs of the end of the age, he said, “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Mt 24:14).

The kingdom of God is both personal and universal. We can recall various examples in the gospel story of how Jesus helped one soul after another. Jesus served one soul as if he or she was the only person in the world. It is meaningful that in Luke’s gospel the parable of the mustard seed is written right after Jesus’ healing a crippled woman, calling her forward and saying, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” That is the way the kingdom of God comes until it reaches the whole world. Here we newly see the meaning of our 1:1 Bible study. It is none other than taking care of one soul wholeheartedly. In this mass society our 1:1 study seems too small, time-consuming, and unproductive. But we believe that this is God’s way of working, and thus worthy of time and heart devotion. At the same time, because of the nature of the kingdom of God, in serving 1:1 we can have the bigger vision of campus evangelization and world mission.

That the kingdom of God grows and becomes a tree can be applied both to a church and to an individual. UBF ministry, for example, began with Dr. Samuel Lee and Sarah Barry in 1961. Now there are about 9000 active members in 99 countries. As a whole ministry, UBF's prayer topic is that we may evangelize all the major cities and campuses of the world in our generation. We believe God’s hope and vision for the whole UBF and our Toronto UBF.

We can also think of one individual, Abraham. He was a hopeless and fatalistic old man. But God called him with his words of promise, “You will be a blessing…all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Ge 12:2). When Abraham repented and accepted this word of God’s promise, God led his life, and after 25 years of undergoing many trainings, he became a big tree. As we studied, the seed of the kingdom of God is the word of God (Lk 8:11). When the seed is planted in one’s heart, it will grow and become a tree.

To Jesus, in his heart desire to describe the kingdom of God, the parable of the mustard seed was not sufficient. So he questioned again, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to?” At this time he answered, “It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” Jesus had said in Luke 12:1, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” In that case yeast represented bad influence, but here yeast is good influence. The parable of the mustard seed symbolizes the outward growth of the kingdom; the parable of the yeast, its inner expansion through a penetrating, transforming and wholesome influence. Yeast works quietly and is unseen, and likewise, the kingdom works through Christ’s influence in a person’s heart and life. Change takes place from one’s inside. This is the reason we need to struggle with God’s word deeply so that the word of God may be internalized and transform us.Especially when problems happen, we can hold to his words. As I meditated on Jesus’ words, “As I have loved you, you must love one another”, I repented of my poor love and asked his mercy that I may be moulded in his loving heart. Inner struggle is not easy, but through it, each person can be transformed in Christ’s image. Thank God for his work in Tracey. When God’s word nourished her soul, she was strengthened and encouraged, and volunteered to study the Bible with her cousin, who has a mental illness. May God continually nurture her with his word and bless her Bible study with her cousin. In Christ, one can be changed: from a shy and fearful person to a courageous and fearless one, the proud into the humble, the selfish to the loving, the prayerless to the prayerful, the idle to the industrious, the fatalistic to the people with God’s vision. We cannot expect a society change without each individual’s change. But when a person is transformed in Jesus Christ, that person has the power of yeast to change a family, campus and society. This is Jesus’ earnest desire for each of us. So he said in Matthew 5:13, “You are the salt of the earth.”

Second, make every effort to enter through the narrow door (22-30). Look at verse 22. “Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem.” The beginning of this journey was indicated in 9:51, “As the time approached for him to be taken to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Even as he was on his way to Jerusalem, the final destination of his life on earth, he was teaching, going through the towns and villages. What a beautiful shepherd heart! At this point someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” Why such a sudden question at this time? According to a widely-held Jewish opinion, Israel as a whole was to be saved. On the other hand, according to the teaching of Jesus, the line of demarcation between the saved and unsaved was not nationalistic but distinctly spiritual (See Lk 4:25-27; 6:20-38, 46-49; 7:9; 8:4-15; 11:29-52). Similarly, Apostle Paul also wrote in Romans 9, “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel…It is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring” (9:6-8). So it is not surprising that someone asked Jesus whether the saved were few in number. We also may ask similar questions: Are those who grew up in a Christianity-based Western civilization like Canada saved? Are all churchgoers to be saved? Are only 144,000 people saved?

How did Jesus respond? Jesus did not answer the question directly. Look at verse 24. He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” First of all, Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow door.” In Matthew’s gospel Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Mt 7:13-14). What is the narrow door or gate? In Luke 13:3,5 Jesus said, “Unless you repent, you too will all perish.” So the narrow door can the door of repentance. It is true that without repentance no one can be saved. This is the reason Jesus preached from the outset of his earthly ministry, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Mt 4:17; Mk 1:15). Yet more specifically, the narrow door or gate is Jesus. Jesus said in John 10:9, “I am the gate.” Jesus is the only gate and the only way of salvation. We are living in pluralism. In Canada people are accustomed to live in a multi-culture with various religions. The diversity of culture and religion should be recognized in respect of other people. In our time there are many highways and open opportunities. Especially in materialistic society, there is little conception of one narrow way. However, we cannot compromise with our faith in the words of our Lord Jesus. He also clearly said in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” No one died for man’s sins, but Jesus. Apostle Peter also said in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Only the name Jesus is given for the salvation of mankind. So Apostle Paul said in Acts 17:31, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” In this relativistic generation, putting one’s absolute faith in Jesus is entering through the narrow door. Jesus said in Luke 11:8-9, “I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God.”

Noticeably, while in Matthew’s gospel it is written, “Enter through the narrow gate”, Luke wrote, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.” Entering through the narrow door is more than a one-time event in life. It is constantly going through the narrow road, while many people go through the broad road, which leads to destruction. It is to make every effort to fix our eyes on Jesus and to fix our thoughts on Jesus. It is to consistently seek him and remain in him (Jn 15:5). Apostle Peter wrote 2 Peter to help God’s flock of sheep watch out for false teachers at that time. He wanted them to have discernment to distinguish false teachers. The best way to fight against the false teachers was for them to guard and grow. So he said, “Be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Pe 3:17-18). For this, Peter encouraged them to, through God’s grace and precious promises, participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desire (2 Pe 1:4). As for Apostle Paul, he wrote, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” And these words of the Lord Jesus, “make every effort to enter through the narrow door” coincide with his words, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me” (Lk 9:23). We need to make every effort to enter through the way of self-denial and daily personal cross-taking to follow Jesus. It requires constant spiritual struggle. So the words “Make every effort” is translated to “strive” in many other versions (ESV, KJV, NRSV, NASB). From the Greek word for this (Αγονιζομαι; Pronunciation:ag-o-nid'-zom-ahee) came the English word, “agonize.” This struggle is to fight against our old self and sinful nature. Though it is a painful struggle, in that we can have the inner joy of keeping Jesus in our heart through a close relationship with him and thus being assured of being saved and entering the kingdom of God.

Look at verses 25-27. “Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’” Here we learn that the time given for one’s salvation is limited. Some may think, “I want to walk on the broad road establishing myself in the world and then go through the narrow door.” But sadly, it will be too late. To each one there will a time the opened door of salvation will be closed. And the most terrible and surprising thing is not to be known by Jesus. Not to be recognized and known by people is okay, but not to be known to Jesus is the greatest tragedy. Evildoers are none other than those who do not have personal relationship with Jesus but try to enter the kingdom of God. So Jesus said in John 17:3, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. It is more than having Bible study. It is to accept his words and put them into practice with personal faith in him.

Look at verses 28-30. “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last.” This is how God’s salvation work has been going on. Although many will try to enter and will not be able to, throughout history people from the nations of east, west, north and south will participate in the feast of the kingdom of God along with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and other servants. Though the door of salvation is narrow, it is wide open to all people of all nations. God wants to save as many people as possible. This is the reason the risen Jesus said to his disciples, “…repentance and forgiveness will be preached in his name to all nations.” According to Revelation, a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language will praise the Lord for his wonderful grace of salvation (Rev 7:9-10).

Thank God for the growing and expanding power of the kingdom of God, which cannot be stopped by anyone. Thank God for the clear teaching of Jesus about how to enter the kingdom of God and be saved: “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” And although we live in a world of pluralism, diversity, and relativism, may we keep these words of Jesus in our hearts and live by them without compromise.

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