In 1 Timothy 4:16, Paul exhorts his young co-worker: “Watch your life and doctrine closely.” Timothy is not to be so consumed with other issues that his own spiritual welfare is neglected. Jesus offers a similar warning here.
Despite all He has done and taught, Jewish religious leaders still fail to understand the character of God’s kingdom. Jesus wonderfully heals a woman who has been crippled by a spirit for 18 years (v. 11). Rather than rejoicing at Jesus’ power and grace, a synagogue leader complains because He has performed this good deed on the Sabbath. Jesus rebukes him for his hypocrisy. There is no more appropriate day to do good than on the Sabbath (vv. 14–16).
Jesus then tells two parables to make the point that God’s kingdom must grow (vv. 18–21). What has begun as a small and inconspicuous movement will become universal and very visible. It will grow to include those outside of Israel. The fact that God’s kingdom will embrace Gentiles is in itself a judgment on the unbelieving Jews. The last will be first, and the first, last (v. 30).
A man then asks Jesus how many will be saved (v. 23). Jesus tells him to worry first about his own salvation, because many who expect to be in the kingdom will find the door shut (v. 25). Isaiah 25:6 describes the age to come as a wonderful banquet of food and drink. Sadly, though, many of God’s people who think they will be there will find themselves excluded, while around God’s table will be the Gentiles (v. 29). Jesus rejoices that Gentiles will come to Him but is deeply grieved that many of His own people have rejected Him (vv. 31–35).
We have already seen Jesus eating with sinners (Luke 5:30; 7:34), and this picture of salvation as a banquet will be repeated on Jesus’ lips (v. 29). The surprising thing is who will be there. There will be a poor woman oppressed by a demon, not a hypocritical synagogue leader. There will be those who have been the last, not those who have been the first (v. 30).
Jesus says, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door” (v. 24). While we should be concerned about the salvation of others, let us first watch our own life and ensure that we will be seated at this heavenly banquet.
Read verses 24–27. Why is the man surprised that the door to God’s kingdom has been closed to him? Why does Jesus say that He does not know him? What could the man have done to ensure that he is known by Jesus?
Why is the mustard seed an effective illustration of God’s kingdom (vv. 18–19)? How does that encourage you in your own context?