Matthew 7:13-14 (19)
Jesus has, in verse 12, effectively brought his sermon to an end, but the Master Preacher could not leave it there. This is not a sermon just to be admired, as so many do, or try to live by as just a high moral standard, which some have tried and found impossible, but it is a lifestyle that is consequential to what we are, kingdom citizens. We notice that this sermon is like an overview of all that Jesus would say later and so only those who were serious about wanting to be in the kingdom would take the trouble to discover the choices that they must make and the consequences of those choices to be a kingdom citizen.
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it!” (Matt 7:13-14)
A couple of years ago we went to Leven`s Hall, in the Lake District, and if you were to ask me, ‘What is the Hall like inside?’ I would have to say I don`t know. Why? Because we didn`t actually go into the Hall but only into the gardens. We did not enter in! Jesus tells us that before we can start to live as its citizen we must first enter the kingdom. He was talking to Jews who thought that being a Jew and keeping the law was sufficient to save them. He had shown already, through this sermon, how far short they fell of what God required.
God is not a manufacturer of robots but the creator of humans made in his image. That means that we have choices. Adam and Eve chose disobedience rather than obedience. Moses, at the end of his life, summarised all that the Lord had told him to tell the children of Israel and then he presented them with a choice. ‘I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.’ (Deut 30:19) The prophets were sent by God to warn the people not to go their own way but God`s. ‘Thus says the LORD: Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death.’ (Jer 21:8) A warning that, sadly, usually fell on deaf ears.
Man is made to be a kingdom citizen. Sin, however, has put us on the broad road that ‘leads to destruction’ so we have to turn aside from that road to find the road that ‘leads to life’. The road to life is entered by a gate, a narrow gate, not a hidden gate. It reminds me of a turnstile at the football ground where only one at a time can enter and you cannot get through with any baggage. One thing that going to the Lake District has taught me is the absolute necessity of finding the right gate, the wrong one usually leads you to get totally lost. How much more vitally important it is to find the gate that leads to life. Jesus tell us to enter through it but gives us no further information about it here. We will have to look elsewhere in scripture to find the gate through which we must enter.
As it is the kingdom of heaven the gate must be one that can bridge the gap between earth and heaven, between God and man. Jesus tells us ‘I am the gate. If anyone enters through me, he will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture.’ (John 10:9) We can never earn or deserve to enter the kingdom. The true message of the church has always been to tell people that they are sinners and must repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and then they would be saved. Unfortunately, in our new ‘enlightened’ society, we are told that we must not say negative things about people but affirm them. The church has taken this on-board in that it hardly mentions sin, judgement or Hell and often speaks of many roads leading to heaven. This is all totally at odds with what Jesus said, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’ (John 14:6)
Living a ‘good’ life, being sincere, going to church, or believing in God will not give entry into the kingdom. The ‘narrow gate’ is believing on the Lord Jesus Christ, the One sent by God the Father, to open the door of heaven to all who believe. Without Him the gate to heaven is firmly shut. There are only two ways: One leads to destruction and is broad and easy to find; it is ‘a way which seems right to a man, but the end of it is the ways of death.’ (Prov 14:12); the other is hard to find but leads to life. Jesus did not say it is hidden so that people cannot find it but it is narrow and hard so people ignore it and turn away from it to carry on their own sweet way to their harm.
There is a vast difference between a wide and a narrow gate. When walking in the Lakes we sometimes come to a farm gate which, when opened, allows us all to go through together, rucksacks and all, whereas the narrower ‘kissing’ gate means that you can only go through it alone. Jesus said, “Keep on struggling to enter through the narrow door. For I tell you that many people will try to enter but won’t be able to.” (Luke 13:24) Why is it a struggle and why will people not be able to enter? Salvation may be free but it is not cheap or easy. It is a struggle in our affluent society to do as Jesus says. ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’ (Luke 9:23) The cost of giving up certain things may seem too high. Perhaps some will say ‘Did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ (Matt 7:22) which is trying to get in on our own merit. Maybe some are depending on the faith of someone else. All these things will prevent anyone from entering no matter how much they try. Those who enter are those Jesus knows as His own.
Jesus was asked, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” (Luke 13:23) From what Jesus says here the majority will take the broad path but the important thing for the kingdom citizen is to ensure that they are not being drawn to walk upon it. I remember someone who, after watching a video of a ‘health and wealth gospel’ speaker addressing a packed audience, remarking ‘They can`t all be wrong.’ To which somebody replied, ‘The crowds that listened to Hitler were wrong!’ To follow the crowd usually means taking the popular way which can often be the least line of resistance. ‘To be popular one must be broad – broad in doctrine, in morals, and in spirituals.’ (C H Spurgeon)
Many came to Jesus because he healed and fed them but when the road He asked them to walk became difficult many said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”… After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:60, 66-68)
If we, like Peter, believe that Jesus is the Way and that the path He calls us to walk is leading to eternal life then nothing should deter us from walking upon it, no matter how hard or difficult the way. If we would be kingdom citizen`s then Jesus has opened the way for us to enter. The alternative really does not bear thinking about.
‘To recap, there are according to Jesus only two ways, hard and easy (there is no middle way), entered by two gates, broad and narrow (there is no other gate), trodden by two crowds, large and small (there is no neutral group), ending in two destinations, destruction and life (there is no third alternative).’ (J Stott)