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THE GREATER THE RESISTANCE THE GREATER THE AGONY

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Evening, May 23, 2010

“Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, 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 13:23-24).


What I am about to say on these two verses may surprise many people who hear or read this sermon, especially in these darkened days when “decisionism” has become so common.

In verse 22 we read that Jesus “went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem” (Luke 13:22). Dr. Lenski and Dr. Lange place Christ in Perea at this point in His journey to Jerusalem. Dr. A. T. Robertson, in his Harmony of the Gospels (Harper and Row, 1950 edition, p. 131), also places the events in these verses “in Perea, on a journey toward Jerusalem.” Dr. MacArthur also says the events in these verses took place “During His ministry in Judea to Perea” (The MacArthur Study Bible; note on Luke 13:22). The significance of Perea becomes clear when we realize that this was the very place that John the Baptist had done so much of his ministry, where Jesus

“…went away again beyond Jordan into the place where John at first baptized; and there he abode. And many resorted unto him, and said, John did no miracle: but all things that John spake of this man were true. And many believed on him there”
       (John 10:40-42).

This event happened a little before our text, in the same region. It is the same area spoken of in Matthew 19:1-2,

“And it came to pass, that when Jesus had finished these sayings, he departed from Galilee, and came into the coasts of Judaea beyond Jordan; And great multitudes followed him; and he healed them there” (Matthew 19:1-2).

Again, this region is spoken of in Luke 10:1,

“After these things the Lord appointed other seventy also, and sent them two and two before his face into every city and place, whither he himself would come” (Luke 10:1).

All of these verses tell us that Christ had preached there before, that John the Baptist had preached there before, and Jesus had even sent 70 of His disciples to preach there two-by-two (see Luke 10:1). Dr. Lange said, “The chief purpose…was a new attempt, in order to influence to decision at least a part of the people” (John Peter Lange, Ph.D., Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, Zondervan Publishing House, n.d., p. 166; note on Luke 10:1).

Now, my purpose in giving all these verses is to show you that Jesus, as well as John the Baptist, had preached there, as had the seventy, and this man who asked Jesus the question in our text had already heard John the Baptist, Jesus’ disciples, and Jesus Himself preach many times. Isn’t that exactly what Jesus told him and the rest of these people in verse 26?

“Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets” (Luke 13:26).

Now this man comes forth from the crowd. These are people who have heard sermon after sermon from the greatest preachers of all time! from John the Baptist; from the Disciples; from the lips of Christ Himself – for Perea had been blest with Gospel preaching more than any place on earth at that time! But this man steps forth from the crowd and asks what seems to me to be an impertinent inquiry, a somewhat insolent and rude question, “Are there few that be saved?” (Luke 13:23).

I say it was an impudent question. It was what young people would call a “put down.” The great crowds that had followed Jesus were by now thinning down to a faithful few. “From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him” (John 6:66). Great crowds still came to hear Jesus preach, but few of them were committed Christians. From here on Jesus preached sermons that were deliberately designed to discourage anyone that wasn’t serious (see Luke 14:25-33).

Now, as I said, this man steps out of the crowd and asks this rather saucy and rude question. It’s as if he is taunting Jesus – “Look, not many are following you. See how few they are!” That, it seems, was the intent of his question, “Lord, are there few that be saved?”

Jesus does not answer him directly. Sometimes it takes years, but sooner or later, most Christians learn the wisdom of Jesus’ words,

“Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6).

That verse speaks of how to deal with those who hate the Gospel – walk away from them. I well remember the last time I preached on the street. It was in Westwood Village, a very wealthy suburb of Beverly Hills. As I was trying to preach, a crowd of little Beverly Hills boys dressed in very expensive clothing, started screaming to drown out my preaching. I said to them, “You are sons of Belial” (i.e. worthless fellows, cf. I Samuel 2:12). They screamed back at me, “We are sons of Belial! We are sons of Belial!” And they began to throw things at me. I looked at them and knew that they literally hated Jesus Christ! Then those words of Scripture were brought before my mind,

“Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6).

I turned around and walked away. That was thirty years ago. I have never again preached in Westwood Village, nor do I have any intention of ever doing so in the future – since they judged themselves “unworthy of everlasting life” (Acts 13:46) God called me elsewhere.

I think something like that went through the mind of Jesus when this fellow smugly asked Him, “Are there few that be saved?” (Luke 13:23). Jesus didn’t bother to answer him directly. Why “cast your pearls before swine”? Instead of answering this trifler’s question, Christ turned to the rest of the crowd and said to them all,

“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 had nothing personal to say to the man who asked Him that smug question. But He did have something to say to the rest of the people in the crowd,

“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).

What I want you to notice tonight is this – and it is a very simple thought – these people at Perea had heard the Gospel repeatedly, from the greatest preachers who have ever lived – and yet they remained lost! It is to that sort of person that our text is given,

“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).

The text is not given to those who hear the Gospel and accept Jesus quickly. Oh, no! These words are addressed to those who have heard the Gospel again and again, and have still rejected Christ! The Bible teaches that some are saved quickly, but others must strive longer.

I. First, there were people in Bible times who were saved quickly, entering in to Christ without struggle.

I only have time to list two of them. Zacchaeus was saved quickly, without striving, without struggling. He was up in a tree, watching Jesus pass by. Jesus called to him,

“Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully” (Luke 19:5-6).

“And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost”
       (Luke 19:9-10).

Zacchaeus simply came down and “received him joyfully” (Luke 19:6). Jesus said “salvation [has] come to this house” (Luke 19:9). The man was instantly saved with no great struggle or striving.

Then there was the sinful woman who came into the Pharisee’s house and anointed Jesus’ feet, and Jesus said to her,

“Thy sins are forgiven…Thy faith hath saved thee”
      (Luke 7:48, 50).

These were quick conversions, with no prolonged struggle. They simply heard the Gospel, and came to Jesus, and were saved.

We have seen that in our own church. Some of the best Christians we have were saved that way. My wife, Ileana, was saved quickly, without striving or struggling. So was Dr. Chan, and Mr. Griffith, and Melissa Sanders, and Dr. Judith Cagan, and several others. They heard the Gospel – and immediately came to Jesus, with very little, if any, struggling or striving!

II. Second, there were people in Bible times who had to strive hard to enter in to Christ.

Think of Thomas. Oh, I know that some will say that Thomas was born again earlier, but I doubt it. Dr. J. Vernon McGee said that the Apostles were not born again until they encountered the resurrected Saviour. In his comment on John 20:22, Dr. McGee said,

I personally believe that at the moment our Lord breathed on them, and said, “Receive ye the Holy Ghost,” these men were regenerated (J. Vernon McGee, Th.D., Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1983, volume IV, p. 498; note on John 20:22).

Thomas went through a long struggle that lasted from the time he forsook Christ and fled into the night, until he encountered the risen Christ. Before that Thomas refused to believe the Gospel. He said, “I will not believe” (John 20:25). He struggled in unbelief for more than a week before he fell at Christ’s feet and called Him, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

Then, there is the example of Paul. He heard Stephen preach the Gospel (Acts 7:54-58). But Paul lashed out at the Christians (Acts 8:1-3). The vehemence of Paul showed the great struggle going on in his own heart. Weeks later Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus, but Paul was still not converted. “He was three days without sight” (Acts 9:9). What an intense struggle Paul went through during those days! He did not eat or drink; he prayed night and day (Acts 9:9, 11). But he was not converted until Ananias came, “and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized” (Acts 9:18).

And so it was with these people at Perea. Like Thomas and Paul, they had heard great preaching, but they had rejected Jesus. Now, after rejecting Him so long, they must “strive to enter in” to Christ (Luke 13:24). My point is this – the greater your resistance of Christ, the greater will be your agony when you finally strive to enter in to Him. Yes, the word “strive” is translated from the Greek word “agonizesthe.” Yes, it means to agonize, to go through agony and struggle to enter in to Christ. The longer you wait, the more you put it off, the more you resist Christ, the greater will be your agony, as you “strive to enter in” (Luke 13:24).

Does not Christian history bear this out? Iain H. Murray said,

Men…such as Thomas Hooker, John Bunyan, George Whitefield and C. H. Spurgeon, experienced prolonged conviction, yet such an eminent preacher as Caesar Malan of Switzerland could say, “My conversion to the Lord Jesus might…be compared to a mother rousing an infant with a kiss” (Iain H. Murray, The Old Evangelicalism, The Banner of Truth Trust, 2005, p. 22).

As I recall, James Hudson Taylor, who opened China for Christ, was converted quite quickly, without struggle, after reading a tract in his father’s library. Yet the great Chinese evangelist, Dr. John Sung, went through horrible agony of soul for weeks at the time of his conversion.

But I think it is safe to say, and it is my belief, that the “easy” conversions of men like Caesar Malan and Hudson Taylor are the exception – and that Dr. W. G. T. Shedd was correct when he said, “The Holy Spirit does not ordinarily regenerate a man until he is a convicted man” (quoted by Murray, ibid.). Iain H. Murray said, “Regeneration normally occurs when individuals are under conviction” (ibid.).

It is my own belief that the more a person rejects the Gospel, the greater will be his striving “to enter in.” The greater the resistance, the greater will be the agony in conversion. The longer one hears the Gospel, but refuses to come to Christ, the greater will be his agony and struggle in seeking to enter in. Was this not the case with Luther? Was it not so with Bunyan, with Whitefield and the two Wesleys, and with Spurgeon?

Then you who have often heard the Gospel, like those people in Perea, must

“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).

And if you do not “strive” with all your might to “enter in” to Christ, the time will come when you will “seek to enter in, and shall not be able. When once the master…hath shut to the door.” When Christ shuts the door you will not be able to enter in! It will then be too late forever! Luther said, “This saying should terrify [you].”

“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).

This saying should terrify you!

There’s a line that is drawn by rejecting our Lord,
Where the call of His Spirit is lost,
And you hurry along with the pleasure-mad throng –
Have you counted, have you counted the cost?
Have you counted the cost, if your soul should be lost,
Tho’ you gain the whole world for your own?
Even now it may be that the line you have crossed,
Have you counted, have you counted the cost?
   (“Have You Counted the Cost?” by A. J. Hodge, 1923).

I once knew a woman who said, “Leave me alone. I have my own religion.” Finally I felt there was no use in speaking to her any more. The years went by. My wife tried to speak to her, but she said, “Leave me alone. I have my own religion.” So at last Ileana stopped talking to her about Jesus. The years went by. She was so sure of herself – so sure that she didn’t need Jesus. She had said, “Leave me alone.” Finally God Himself left her alone. Then one day her mind snapped. She went into her garage and drank a glass of poison. They said that she crawled around on the floor of that garage in a stupor for hours. Finally the paramedics came. She died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. “The master of the house [had] risen up, and [had] shut to the door.” This saying should terrify you!

There’s a line that is drawn by rejecting our Lord,
Where the call of His Spirit is lost,
And you hurry along with the pleasure-mad throng –
Have you counted, have you counted the cost?
Have you counted the cost, if your soul should be lost,
Tho’ you gain the whole world for your own?
Even now it may be that the line you have crossed,
Have you counted, have you counted the cost?
   (“Have You Counted the Cost?” by A. J. Hodge, 1923).

I plead with you tonight! Do not wait any longer! Christ has died on the Cross to pay for your sins. He has shed His Blood to cleanse your sins. He is there in Heaven now. Come to Him before it is too late! “Strive to enter in” to Him! “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6).

There’s a line that is drawn by rejecting our Lord,
Where the call of His Spirit is lost,
And you hurry along with the pleasure-mad throng –
Have you counted, have you counted the cost?
Have you counted the cost, if your soul should be lost,
Tho’ you gain the whole world for your own?
Even now it may be that the line you have crossed,
Have you counted, have you counted the cost?
   (“Have You Counted the Cost?” by A. J. Hodge, 1923).

(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 13:22-28.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“If You Linger Too Long” (by Dr. John R. Rice, 1895-1980).


THE OUTLINE OF

THE GREATER THE RESISTANCE THE GREATER THE AGONY

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them, 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 13:23-24).

(Luke 13:22; John 10:40-42; Matthew 19:1-2;
Luke 10:1; 13:26; John 6:66; Luke 14:25-33;
Matthew 7:6; Acts 13:46)

I.   First, there were people in Bible times who were saved quickly,
entering in to Christ without struggle, Luke 19:5-6, 9-10;
Luke 7:48, 50.

II.  Second, there were people in Bible times who had to strive
hard to enter in to Christ, John 20:25, 28; Acts 7:54-58;
Acts 8:1-3; 9:9, 11, 18; Luke 13:24-25; Isaiah 55:6.