Jesus is beginning to wrap up his Sermon on the Mount. As He does, He is going to force out of us a response and to ask ourselves some hard questions. What am I really doing with my life? What am I living for? What road am I on and where will it lead me? In part 1 of the close of His message, Jesus says this:
Matthew 7:12-14 - So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
We’re all headed somewhere, and the somewhere is either destruction or life. And it turns out that most people are pouring onto the wide path through a broad gates that ends with a rotten final destination. The other gate is narrow, and the road is difficult, but it ends with life. Jesus is that gate and road, and those who chose that route are citizens of the Jesus’ kingdom He’s been talking about for three chapters. So, how does Jesus describe the gate and path that lead to life?
It is narrow.
No one wants to be considered narrow-minded, right? But Jesus tells us that His way is only entered through a narrow gate. I listened to a Tim Keller message on this same passage, and Keller argues that excelling at anything in life requires some narrowing. You don’t become a great musician without narrowing—you have to devote time to practice and learn. You can’t excel in school by partying all the time and never studying. You can’t take a two-week vacation every month and excel at personal finance (unless you won the lottery, of course). Parents, you can help your kids narrow their focus by getting them to church, ensuring they fold into the youth group, taking the time to check out who Jesus is for themselves. Maybe there’s something more than simply padding their resumes for college, something that might allow them to avoid all the stupid, painful, and damaging mistakes the world’s teens are making in high school and college. To avoid all that, some intentional narrowing has to occur.
And Jesus says that He is the road that leads to life, and it only comes through Him. That makes people uncomfortable, I get it. Our world loves the “live and let live” philosophy. You believe that you want, I’ll believe what I want, and it’s all ok. Here’s the problem—that doesn’t work in the realm of facts, does it? You can’t claim that Herndon is the capital of Virginia just because you’re not comfortable with Richmond. Facts are facts. Math class? Yeah, facts. 2+2=4, and it doesn’t matter one bit whether you prefer a different answer. And Jesus’ claims are in the realm of facts—He was God who literally came to earth and demonstrated that fact through the things He did in this life; he was literally crucified, literally buried, and literally rose from the dead. He literally claimed that life was possible through no one else but Him. And those claims have withstood millennia of scrutiny and evaluation.
So, is Jesus way narrow? Yes. He’s the only way. But also, no. His way is available to everyone who will take it. It’s not exclusive to just some people, but to everyone who will take that path.
It is difficult.
Jesus’ illustration seems to suggest that we are walking through life and come upon this fork in the road with two gates and two roads. In reality, we find out in scripture that you and I enter this world already having gone through the broad gate and are on the wide road. We are born sinners, naturally inclined to rebel against God. That’s why this broad road is so easy—we’re born on it and nothing has to change for us to stay there. Our problem is that we think we’re in charge of our fates and our souls. But we know from our Counterintelligence series last fall that this world system in which we find ourselves is under the domain of Satan, and he’s doing everything he can to keep us ignorant of that and to keep us from trusting in Jesus.
Jesus’ path is hard because it requires us to fight against the natural desire to have our own way and to live only for ourselves, choosing instead to submit to Jesus’ instructions on how to live. Hasn’t Jesus been inviting us to that this whole series? Someone smacks you on the cheek. What do you want to do? Yeah, retaliate. Jesus says, “Yeah, that’s your way. But I want you to side with me against your natural instincts, and forgive that person, offer them your other cheek.” You make a promise, the keeping of which could cost you. What do you want to do? Yeah, break that promise. Jesus says “Yeah, I get it. That’s your way. Choose instead to die to yourself on that and keep that promise no matter the cost.” So, this path is full of joy, full of God’s presence, but it’s constantly dying to ourselves, renouncing the right to be the lord of our own lives, trusting that there’s something better for us with Jesus as the Lord. Frankly, this is what it means to become a Christian.
I love it that Jesus doesn’t attempt to do a bait-and-switch thing just to get people to sign on the dotted line. He’s very clear about the cost, even as He promises us life to the full and overwhelming joy and perfect peace at our soul level. It’s not the way a great salesman would go about closing the deal, but it is how a God who loves us does business.
Few find it.
The way is narrow, it’s hard, and few will choose to take it. I was struck by the Pew Survey published last year that showed millions of Americans have moved from having some religious affiliation to having none. That group of “NONES” now constitutes twenty-three percent of Americans. Is Christianity dying? Not really. What we are seeing as Christianity becomes less popular, less necessary to be considered normal, are people who never were Christians finally coming out of the closet as atheists or agnostics or whatever. See, Christianity isn’t normal anymore in America, so no one has to claim to be a Christ follower to be considered “in”. I quoted an article written by Russel Moore, who argued that we shouldn’t fret, that it’s actually a good thing. He claims we don’t have more atheists in America, we just have more honest ones. And Moore says we shouldn’t worry that Christianity is on the defensive in America because Christianity was on the defensive in the Roman Empire, too, and it still had the “ oomph" to turn the world upside down. What we should expect is that true Christians will be revealed, because when the pressure is on, the pretenders will quickly fall aside.
My contention as a pastor here in Northern Virginia is that this trend in America actually bodes well for The Surge, a church that exists in large part to reach out to those who don’t do church. Matt Chandler, at the Village Church near Dallas, says this: It’s far easier to share the good news of Jesus with someone who knows he isn’t a Christian than it is to share it with someone who isn’t a Christian but thinks he is. So, let’s live lives that testify to the greatness of our God and pray to recapture what it really means to be a Christ follower. Let’s be a safe place for the “NONES” to struggle, to ask questions, to doubt, to test drive and kick the tires, to push back, and to wrestle with the claims of Jesus.
I noted that, in apparent contradiction to the hard road Jesus describes here in chapter 7, Jesus only four chapters later says this:
Matthew 11:28-30 - Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
If you’re like me, you have this question: Ok, Jesus, which is it? Hard or easy? Having pondered this, I come to the conclusion that both are true. It’s hard to give up lordship of you to Jesus, because it’s against our natural inclinations. It’s hard to take it on the chin. Hard to trust that much. On the other hand, having done so, things get easier. I’m no longer in charge, I don’t have to wear the challenging mantle of leadership. I’m not putting on my yoke, after all. I’m putting on Jesus’ yoke. It’s his work, it’s following Him. I get to rest in Him, relying on His strength and power flowing through me by His Spirit. My soul will be at rest. I know what road I’m on, I know where it’s headed, and I know the outcome.
Maybe this illustration will help you somewhat. Imagine you have a favorite football team, and a huge game is coming up. Sadly, you can’t watch it because you have other commitments. But you do have a DVR, and you record it. Or, for you sports haters, imagine you have the season finale of your favorite TV drama, and you there’s a chance your favorite character might die in this episode. Again, you can’t watch it, so you DVR it. Now, imagine the stress of having had to watch that game or that show when it aired, not knowing the outcome. Every incomplete pass, every penalty, every setback would have you churning. Likewise, every plot twist and turn in that finale would have you on pins and needles as your hero battled to survive. Now, imagine this. You’re all set to watch the DVR-recorded program, but someone blows the ending for you on Facebook. So, you know your team wins or that your favorite character emerges victorious and healthy. How easy is it to watch that show now? Really easy, right? You know that no matter what happens along the path, no matter how hard, no matter the pain, you can rest, assured it all ends well. That’s why the road might be hard, but the journey is also easy. Hope you see that this is what Jesus is talking about.
Now, the last thing.
You and I have to intentionally enter the narrow gate and the hard road.
You know the Metro in DC, don’t you? You enter the subway through a turnstile, and you enter through that turnstile one person at a time. Mom doesn’t bring you through, and neither does Dad. Each of us will have to make an intentional decision for or against Christ. If you’re pondering this, just start where Jesus would have you start. Begin with “Who is Jesus?” “Is He who He claims to be?” “Did He really die?” “Was He really buried?” “Did He really rise from the dead?” Force yourself to come to a place of absolute conviction about Him, one way or the other.
And if you decide that Jesus is God, who became a man, who lived a perfect life intended to parlay that perfection into a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, including yours and mine, then go through the turnstile. Enter. And entering isn’t proving yourself to God, it’s not bargaining with God, it’s not earning anything from God. You enter by faith, persuaded by the facts. Jesus will gladly be your savior, forgiving your sins and removing all the guilt and shame and punishment. It’ll be like you never sinned. But He also demands you get it that He is now Lord, that you have agreed to become a citizen of His kingdom, where He is the King. And in that Kingdom, what the King says, goes. And you’re ok with that because you are convinced that this Jesus loves you more than you could ever imagine and that following Him will lead you to joy, life lived to the full, purpose, and meaning, and, ultimately, to life eternal in that final reckoning.
Few there are among the masses of humanity that find it. Why not be one of the few?