John Bunyan a seventeenth century Puritan, is famous for his work, Pilgrim’s Progress. In this book, Bunyan offers an allegorical tale of Christian’s journey by faith from his home in the City of Destruction to the Celestial City, located on the top of Mount Zion.
While Bunyan is famous for Pilgrim's Progress, there is another work for which he is perhaps less well-known: Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. Grace Abounding is Bunyan's spiritual autobiography, written when he was serving a twelve-year prison sentence for preaching.
What I find interesting about Grace Abounding is its publishing history. The book was first published in 1666 when Bunyan was 38. The book then went through six editions in Bunyan’s lifetime. In each addition, Bunyan provided revisions. What is interesting, however, is that Bunyan never finished his story. Each time Bunyan revised his spiritual autobiography, he left himself in prison at the end. Bunyan never told his readers that he was released from prison, that he was no longer a tinker but a pastor, that he devoted his time to preaching and teaching, that he traveled all over Bedfordshire and even to London on preaching tours, and that his Pilgrim’s Progress was a popular success. Bunyan always let his story end with him sitting and suffering in prison.
Today, we might find this to be disingenuous. But, if you read the cover pages of the revised editions, you will get a hint as to what Bunyan was doing. On the cover page, the printer tells the reader that this edition is “corrected and much enlarged now by the Author, for the benefit of the tempted and dejected Christian.” “For the benefit of the tempted and dejected Christian.” Bunyan leaves himself in prison as an encouragement to tempted and dejected Christians who read his story. What does that mean?
Bunyan knows something about Christianity that people today tend to forget. Bunyan knows Christianity is not a sure path to financial wealth and popular success. Christians are not to be promised that faith will get them their best life now. No, being a Christian involves a constant struggle with sin and with Satan. It involves daily repentance. And it offers a profound experience of grace which is new every morning.
God’s never-ending love is the beginning, the middle, and the end of our faith. Such love is known in a lifetime of struggle. It is a struggle that drives us daily to the overflowing well of God’s grace.
God’s never-ending love is the beginning, the middle, and the end of our faith.
I thought of Bunyan’s experience when I read this text from Luke. Jesus is in the middle of His ministry. He has healed the sick, stilled the storm, cast out demons, raised the dead, and fed five thousand people... but life will not always be easy. Jesus has turned His face toward Jerusalem. He is about to bear the rejection of the people and the forsakenness of His Father that He might bring forgiveness and faith to His people.
Jesus wants His disciples to know following Him will not be easy. Those who want an everlasting abundance of bread will be disappointed. Those who seek their best life now will turn away for greener pastures and greater possibilities. And those who remain, those who hold on, those who endure will be few.
Someone asks Jesus, “Will only a few be saved?” and Jesus redirects the question. Rather than talk about others, Jesus wants to talk about you. Instead of discussing whether a few will be saved, Jesus wants to talk about whether you will be saved. He is forthright about the struggles disciples will have. The Kingdom is open to all but not all will embrace it. The way will be rough, and discipleship will be difficult, but Jesus encourages His followers by saying, “Exert every effort to enter through the narrow door” (13:24).
There are many who think being a Christian is about saying the name of Jesus, being associated with Him, eating and drinking in His presence. Merely being in the presence of Jesus, however, does not mean you are saved. When Jesus returns as Judge, there are many who will say. “We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.” But Jesus will say, “Go away from Me, all you evildoers” (13:26-27).
Faith is different than familiarity. Being aware of Jesus, knowing something about Christian teachings, is different than holding on to them for dear life. What Jesus reveals here is how discipleship is a lifelong struggle to hold on to Jesus all the while you are battling sin, death, and the Devil. And when you can no longer keep moving, when the struggle is too much and the pain is too great, when there is nothing left you can hold on to, that is when you will discover Jesus is holding on to you.
He has taken your sin and your suffering and held them close to His chest when He died on the cross. In dying and rising, Jesus has overcome the power of these sins to damn you, the power of these sufferings to kill you. He has risen to bring you life and it is a life no one can take away.
Life with Jesus will not be easy, but it will be sure. There is nothing that can take you out of His grace and nothing which can overcome His grip. Held in the grip of grace, Jesus greets you. Morning by morning His mercies are new.
When offering encouragement to His disciples to follow Him, Jesus did not promise a pain-free life in this world. Instead, He highlighted the struggle and the difficulty. Why? Because He wants you to know the power of faith in suffering. God’s grace cannot be defeated. It is here now, and on the last day, it will be there to welcome you home.
Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Luke Luke 13:22-30.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Luke 13:22-30
Talking Shop-Check out this classic conversation with the guys at Talking Shop on Luke 13:22-30.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 13:22-30.