Luke XLVIII: Lk. 13:18-36
Hebrews says that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen (Heb. 11:1). Here, in these three scenes, Jesus challenges His followers to truly believe in Him.
Summary of the Text: Jesus begins by comparing the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed that grows into a tree to be a home for birds and leaven that works its way into three measures of flour (Lk. 13:18-21). Both images underline the rather invisible and mysterious growth of the Kingdom, as well as its ultimate success and power.
As Jesus continues journeying toward Jerusalem, teaching in towns and villages, someone asks Him whether those who are saved will be few (Lk. 13:22-23). Jesus turns a rather theoretical question into a direct admonition: “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Lk. 13:24). In effect, Jesus introduces a third image of the kingdom: a feast in a house and at some point the master of the house shuts the door and refuses admission (Lk. 13:25). Jesus says that even though they claim to be friends with the master, having feasted with him previously and heard him teach, the master insists he doesn’t know where they came from and calls them workers of iniquity (Lk. 13:26-27). Clearly, Jesus is speaking to the Jews themselves about His own time with them, as He says very pointedly that there will be great weeping, “when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out” (Lk. 13:28). But the gentiles, and others the Jews think of as being “last,” will come from all the corners of the earth to be “first” to feast in the kingdom of God (Lk. 13:29-30).
Finally, some Pharisees come warning Jesus not to go to Jerusalem because Herod wants to kill Him, but Jesus tells them to tell Herod that He is coming anyway and plans to die (Lk. 13:31-33, cf. 9:22, 51). Jesus laments over Jerusalem’s violence to the prophets, God’s many attempts at gathering His children to Himself, and Jesus announces that for this reason the temple is empty. And it will remain empty of God’s presence until Jesus arrives on Palm Sunday (Lk. 13:34-35, cf. Lk. 19).
Conformity vs. Faith
Jesus is the mustard seed and the leaven, and He is going to Jerusalem to die in order inaugurate the Kingdom of God. On the surface, this doesn’t look like the way you establish a Kingdom, but if you look more closely at Scripture, God has always built His Kingdom with a bloody altar at the center (e.g. Abraham, Moses, David, etc.). So the question is whether the Jews will trust God’s way of Kingdom building or not. Jesus says that many will seek to enter but will not be able (Lk. 13:24). Why not? Because they are not willing enter the Kingdom through the narrow door of faith. Like the rich young ruler, who had a great deal of external conformity to the law, many Jews are unwilling to let go of the things that are actually giving them security apart from God (Mt. 19:16-30). If the young man’s obedience had been driven by true faith in God, selling everything to follow Jesus would have made sense. In other words, there is a world of difference between true obedience that is driven by faith and religious conformity driven by sight. Religious conformity calculates the trade offs and plays it safe; true faith rests in the promises of God. Religious conformity is offended by not seeing immediate results or offended by hardships, but true faith knows that wherever Jesus is the Kingdom is present and growing. If the seed of Christ is in the ground, the tree will grow. If the leaven of Christ is in the flour, the bread will rise.
A Liturgical Example
Jesus specifically warns the Jews about thinking that eating and drinking with Him and sitting under His teaching is sufficient to be saved (Lk. 13:23-27). We are a Reformed Church, and with the Protestant Reformers we gladly affirm the centrality of Word and Sacrament as means of grace. God ordinarily saves through the Word and Sacrament in the Church. Nevertheless, we are also an Evangelical church. That means in part that we believe in the absolute necessity of a personal relationship with Jesus. As Jesus told Nicodemus, an intelligent Jewish scholar, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God (Jn. 3:3). As Jesus tells the disciples about the rich: with man this is impossible but with God all things are possible (Mt. 19:26). In other words, this requires the gift of faith (Eph. 2:8-9). Not faith in the bread, wine, or teaching, but honest, humble faith in Jesus whom you cannot see.
A Cultural Example
The two images Jesus uses for the Kingdom include one with a man and one with a woman: a man in a garden, a woman making bread (Lk. 13:19-21), and they remind us of the Garden of Eden, where the first man and woman were commissioned to build God’s Kingdom in the world together (Gen. 1:26-28). Yet even in the new creation this requires great faith in trusting God’s Word about the respective glories of man and woman. For example, Tim Keller has argued that a husband’s role as “head” of his wife means that he has “tie-breaking authority” in the home and that “a head only exercises authority to over-rule when he believes his spouse is doing something destructive to her or the family.” It sounds so reasonable! But it is simply not true. Paul says, “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands” (Eph. 5:24, cf. 1 Pet. 3:1-6). Does Christ merely have “tie-breaking authority” over the church? Does Christ only over-rule when we are doing something destructive? No. Christ lovingly leads and overrules routinely and so do faithful husbands. This requires faith to say out loud, more faith to embrace enthusiastically, and even more faith to live out, because it is the way of sacrificial death (Eph. 5:25, 1 Pet. 2-3). The narrow door trusts and obeys God even when the Kingdom seems hidden.
We could multiply many more examples where Jesus calls us to “strive to enter through the narrow door” (Lk. 13:24), where He calls us to trust Him, when we can’t see the future, when it’s hard to see the Kingdom. People still come to the followers of Jesus offering ways to avoid Jerusalem, to avoid following Jesus to the cross and grave. But it is there and only there that Jesus spreads His wings to cover us.