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WHAT WILL YOU DO WHEN THE DOOR IS SHUT?

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, May 16, 2010

“Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are” (Luke 13:24-25).


My text is a very solemn one tonight. Jesus told the people that gathered around Him these very serious words. We might well call them “frightening words.”

“Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:24).

He told them to “strive to enter in at the strait [narrow] gate.” The narrow gate is Jesus Himself. He said, in Matthew 7:13-14,

“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it”
       (Matthew 7:13-14).

In John 10 Jesus used the figure of “the door” in place of “the gate.” Both refer to Him. In John 10:9, He said,

“I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved…”
      (John 10:9).

So, in our text, Jesus said, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate” – strive to enter in to Him – “if any man enter in, he shall be saved” (John 10:9). But Jesus said you must “strive to enter in” to Him, or you will not be saved. The exact Greek word translated “strive” is “agonizesthe.” It is a word that was often used by the Greeks in military struggles, and in athletic struggles. It means earnest struggle, even “fight.” We could put it, “Earnestly struggle, even fight, to enter in” to Christ, “seize” the opportunity to enter in to Christ! Make every effort to enter in! The Puritan John Trapp said, “Strive even to [the point of] agony…as they did for the garland in the Olympic games [in Roman times]…but let none think [he can] dance with the devil all day and then sup with Christ at night – [or go] to heaven in a feather-bed” (John Trapp, Commentary on the Old and New Testaments, Transki Publications, 1997 reprint, volume 5, p. 326; comment on Luke 13:24). Matthew Henry said it even more strongly,

All that will be saved must enter in at the strait gate, must undergo a change of the whole man, such as amounts to no less than being born again…those that would enter in at the strait gate must strive to enter. It is a hard matter to get to heaven, and…will not be gained without a great deal of care and pains, of difficulty and diligence. We must strive with God in prayer, wrestle as Jacob, strive against sin and Satan. We must… strive with our own hearts. Agonizesthe – “Be in an agony; strive as them that run for a prize; excite and exert ourselves to the utmost” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson Publishers, 1996 reprint, volume 5, p. 586; note on Luke 13:24).

Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are” (Luke 13:24-25).

Ah, how many there are who only “seek to enter in.” “Seek” is a much weaker word than “strive.” The Greek word is “zeteō.” It means “to casually learn, or inquire,” to dabble in it, to learn a little here and a little there, without any real zeal or struggle to actually fight to enter in to Christ! Ah, what a sad fate awaits these dabblers, these superficial triflers, who merely play at it, who only want to learn a little more about salvation, but have no desire to fight their way in to Christ! They will fiddle, and dabble, and play at religion – and merely “seek to enter in, and shall not be able”! They are only “playing” at religion!

Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are” (Luke 13:24-25).

Dr. B. H. Carroll (1843-1914) was the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Carroll said,

…strive now to enter in at the strait gate, for many shall seek to enter therein later and shall not be able when once the master of the house is risen up and the door is shut. The thought then is this: that there is a limitation as to time; that…there is a time when if one were to put forth all the exertion in the world it would make no difference at all. That certainly is the thought of our Saviour here. It is Isaiah’s emphasis:

“Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6).

…It is the [predominant] thought in the parable of the ten virgins. Those five foolish virgins tried to get in, tried hard to get in, and knocked and said, “Lord, Lord, open to us” [Matthew 25:11]…[Their] inability consisted in striving after it was too late to strive, when no good could be accomplished by it, when the door was shut, when the opportunity was gone. Then they wake up; they are aroused, and with eyes wide open [see] one appalling sight, the eternal importance of the question, feeling that outside is darkness and death and banishment, and that inside is life and glory. Realizing at last the great importance of personal salvation they do then seek him, they do try, they do strive, they do knock and pray, but in vain. “Too late; too late; you cannot enter now”…What is meant by the inability of people to enter [in to] Christ? That… we may easily understand. God gives us here upon the earth an opportunity; [the length of] that opportunity he measures himself. We cannot measure it ourselves. God measures it out himself. How [long the time of opportunity is for] any particular person only he knows. He may to one school girl give a measure of three weeks. He may to a wicked man give a measure of sixty years. I don’t know. It is wholly, absolutely, [known only to God]. Herein is divine sovereignty. This much we do know: there is a time in which Christ may be found, and there is a time in which he cannot be found. Because of that I say, “Exert yourselves, seek ye the Lord while he may be found…” The passages which I have cited show that these people were trying to enter [in to] Christ, but Christ had then withdrawn. One thing shuts the door, we know, and shuts it forever. If death finds us out of Christ there never will be another opportunity [for] us…we know that the door is shut then. [But] our Saviour tells of a case when it is shut before that time [of death]. He says that if one should blaspheme against the Holy Spirit he has committed eternal sin which hath never forgiveness, neither in this life nor in the life to come, which means that while people are yet alive, before [their bodies die] they may have the door shut, and that shutting is eternal, and though they may live ever so long after that time, the door is shut and forever shut against them. Rising up early, sitting up late, knocking by day and by night, weeping as Esau wept, they then find no place for repentance (B. H. Carroll, D.D., The Four Gospels, Baker Book House, 1976 reprint, volume I, pp. 131-135; notes on Luke 13:24-25).

Oh, how often the Bible gives illustrations of people who waited too long – and God shut the door – and they were never saved. Even though they lived long afterward God gave them up. In the Bible we read case after case. I can only give a few of them tonight.

Cain was jealous of his brother Abel, because God accepted Abel’s blood sacrifice, but rejected Cain’s vegetables. Cain became angry. God said to him, “If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted?” (Genesis 4:7). But Cain refused to repent and come by blood to God. Time ran out for Cain. On a day, and on an hour, God gave up on Cain. His mind snapped, and he murdered Abel. Cain lived on for years, but it was too late for him to be saved. God gave up on him! He had committed the unpardonable sin!

“Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:24).

In the days of Noah, God said,

“My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years”
       (Genesis 6:3).

The days went by. The pages of the calendar were torn off and thrown away. The decades passed – but the people did not repent and seek the Lord. The years flew by. Finally, the last day of the last year, of those 120 years came. Noah had preached long and hard to them about the coming judgment – but they went right on with their lives, as though there were no danger, “eating and drinking,” without fear, “until the day that Noah entered into the ark” (Matthew 24:38). Mark those words! – “until the day that Noah entered into the ark”! On that day, “the Lord shut him in” (Genesis 7:16). Then, on that day, they woke up and tried to enter in – but it was too late! God had given up on them. They had committed the unpardonable sin! They lived on for seven days before the Flood came (Genesis 7:10), but it was too late for them to enter in to the Ark – too late for them to be saved! I can see them in my mind, clawing, and scratching and screaming for God to let them in – but it was too late! Every one of them drowned in the Flood. God brought down “the flood upon the world of the ungodly” (II Peter 2:5). Too late! Too late! They fiddled, and dabbled, and played at religion – until “the master of the house [rose] up, and…shut to the door” (Luke 13:25).

“Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are” (Luke 13:24-25).

Esau “for one morsel of meat sold his birthright” to his brother (Hebrews 12:16). He said, “What profit shall this birthright do to me?” (Genesis 25:32). “And he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright” (Genesis 25:34). The years went by quickly. At last Esau saw that his birthright was important after all. But it was now too late. He had committed the unpardonable sin forty years earlier! Now he screamed and cried – but it was already too late!

“For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears”
       (Hebrews 12:17).

It was now too late for Esau – forever! And God said,

“Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Romans 9:13).

“Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are” (Luke 13:24-25).

I can’t remember where I read this story. It is in one of Dr. John R. Rice’s books. I wrote it down, but I can’t remember where I read it. I will give it to you as I wrote it down years ago.

Dr. Rice once told about a man who came to hear him preach night after night in evangelistic meetings. The man sat at the back and laughed and mocked after the sermons. Then the evangelist moved on and the meetings were over. The years passed but the man never did get saved.

One night Dr. Rice spoke with his sister on the telephone. She said, “John, do you remember Mr. (So and so)?” He said, “Yes. I remember that he came to the services, but he didn’t get saved. He mocked and joked and laughed about the sermons.”

Then Dr. Rice’s sister told him what happened to that man. He got sick to the stomach and they took him to the doctor. The doctor said, “It’s too late. There’s nothing I can do. Go home and write a will. You won’t live long.”

It was hot that summer in Dallas. It was before they had air conditioning. They left the windows open to let in a little breeze. That man lay in his house dying for weeks. No one could comfort him. They sent for the Baptist preacher, but he couldn’t seem to lead the man to Christ. The dying man kept saying it was too late, he had waited too long. They say you could hear him screaming for blocks during those hot summer nights in Dallas. They say you could hear him screaming, “Oh God, I need more time! Oh God, I’m not ready to die! Oh, God, I’m not ready to die! I’m not ready to die! I’m not ready to die!” It was too late. He had committed the unpardonable sin. He died like that, screaming, “Oh, God, I’m not ready to die!”

“Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are” (Luke 13:24-25).

Do not wait! Do not postpone the matter any longer! Christ has died on the Cross to pay the full penalty of sin. Come to Him and He will cleanse your sins by His Blood, and clothe you with His righteousness. “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found; call ye upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6). “Strive to enter in” to Christ now, while He is near – before the gate of salvation is closed to you forever! Dr. Rice said,

You have waited and lingered still refusing the Saviour,
   All His warnings so patient, all His pleadings so kind;
Thus you ate fruit forbidden, you believed Satan’s promise;
   Thus your heart has been hardened, sin has darkened your mind.
Then how sad facing judgment, you’ll recall with no mercy
   That you tarried and lingered till the Spirit was gone;
What reproaches and mourning, if when death finds you hopeless,
   You have tarried and lingered and have waited too long.
(“If You Linger Too Long” by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980).

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on “Sermon Manuscripts.”

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Luke 13:24-28.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“If You Linger Too Long” (by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980).