Read Matthew 7:13-20
As Jesus gets closer to the end of the Sermon on the Mount, He doesn’t introduce any new teaching; He tells His hearers to choose.
He has taught about the very nature of the Kingdom of God and about discipleship. What would they do with this teaching? What will we do with this teaching? The sermon is not recorded for our entertainment or so that we can discuss it. It demands a response. The whole of the remainder of chapter 7 (verses 13 to 29) is a challenge to choose how we will respond.
From the beginning, Jesus had repeatedly identified a series of options. When He said, “Blessed are those who…” it presents a choice. If only certain people are blessed, will we be that sort of person? Will we be salty salt or salt that had lost its saltiness; a light set on a hill or a light hidden under a bowl; those who enter the Kingdom or those who don’t? All of the time, two options are presented to us. It was even more explicit when Jesus taught about storing up treasure on earth or treasure in heaven; about whether our focus is on worldly things or on the things of God; about which master we will serve: God or money. All of the way through, the need to choose is implied. In v.13 it is commanded: Make a choice.
Jesus uses the image of two gates and two roads. One gate and road are wide. That road leads to destruction. Many take it. Those three statements are contrasted with the second gate and road. It is narrow, it leads to life and few take that road.
The wide road is the easy road. There is room for everyone and everything. There is room for all sorts of different philosophies and different practices. It demands nothing of you. The gate is wide. You can take whatever you like on this road. You can take your sins; your lack of belief or your mingling of all sorts of beliefs. You can take all the possessions you want. You can take your lovelessness. Nobody cares. There is room for everybody. People stroll along singing and dancing and having a good time.
The problem is the destination. Jesus said this road leads to destruction. This choice is an eternal choice. One road leads to destruction. The other to life.
But because the wide road is so easy and accommodating, many people take it. This is the popular option. Many people take it without knowing that they are heading for destruction.
In contrast, the other gate and road are narrow. Many things have to be left behind by those who would follow this road. And there are relatively few who do. Christians are a minority. They don’t follow the popular route. Christian often feel like a rejected minority.
It is also true that Revelation 7:9 speaks of a great crowd before God’s throne, more than any person could count. Obviously a great multitude will be saved but at any one time, Christians will be a minority – and often a misunderstood and despised minority.
But their destination is life. Which will we choose: destruction or life? The wide road or the narrow road?
Psalm 1 talks about “the way of the righteous” and ‘ the way of the wicked which leads to destruction”. Moses, in Deuteronomy 30, listed the blessing of God and the curses of God and then said, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
Notice how Moses said, “Choose life.” Likewise, Jesus exhorts us to enter through the narrow gate. He cares about the choice we make. He urges us towards the narrow gate. God wants everybody to be saved. 1 Timothy 2:4 tells us that. 2 Peter 3:9 tells us that God wants everyone to come to repentance. God loves us. He doesn’t want to judge us. The choice is ours but God urges us to choose the narrow gate.
The spirit of our age is tolerance and inclusivity; let everybody do what he/she wants to. There are no rights and wrongs. We must accept everybody and everything. The philosophy of our age is that the broad road is the good road and anybody who challenges that is an intolerant bigot. Our society is tolerant of everybody except Christians. It condemns those who don’t take the broad road themselves and who try to warn others. I think this is an uncomfortable time to be a Christian and it will probably get worse.
It takes courage to choose the narrow road. It can be a very lonely journey. But that road leads to life.
The narrow road is the road Jesus chose. It wasn’t all bad but Jesus suffered rejection, ridicule, opposition and persecution. The narrow road is the road Paul chose. It included huge suffering; frequent rejection and persecution. The narrow road is the road described in the Sermon on the Mount; the road of righteousness and suffering for righteousness and love and mercy and compassion and purity and prayer and fasting; of focus on the things of God and trusting Him.
It is not a joyless road. On the contrary, Jesus said blessed are the people who take this road. He talked about our joy being complete when we take the narrow road. Being amongst people who practise love and mercy and forgiveness is a great road to be on. It is just that it is costly. It isn’t the popular, easy road. It is the road of discipline and sacrifice, but of blessing and joy and the destination is life.
Some Christians seem to think that the Christian life should be easy and require nothing of them beyond supposedly putting their faith in Jesus. No, it is costly. Look at the lives of the Christians we admire. Jesus talked about self-denial and the cost of discipleship – but also of the blessings.
The gate is narrow not to keep people out. It is narrow in that there is only one way onto the narrow road. That one way is Jesus. We enter the narrow gate by putting our faith in Jesus and repenting. That is the only way onto this road. We walk the narrow road by living under the Lordship of Jesus; living the life He modelled; living the life described in these chapters. Choose.
The broad road is the road of popularity and pleasure and possessions and prestige and pride and freedom to do what you like. That is very appealing but it leads to destruction. Have you chosen the narrow way; the costly way; the Jesus way?
Some people will tell you that this is all nonsense. All roads lead to God. All religions are equally good. If there is a God, He is tolerant and loving of all. How could a loving God judge people? We can do as we like. There will be no judgement. These people are always urging us to take the broad road – the road that leads to destruction. ‘There will be no destruction really. Take this easy, comfortable road.”
That is why Jesus then said, “Watch out for false prophets.” They are prophets in the sense that they claim to speak for God. They claim to speak wisdom. But Jesus commands that we be diligent and alert because they are both dangerous and deceptive. Dangerous: they are described as ferocious wolves – the natural enemies of defenceless sheep. Deceptive: they come in sheep’s clothing. They don’t look like wolves. We cannot easily tell that they are wolves. They look innocent.
Every book in the New Testament except one warns about false teachers. This was a major concern for the New Testament writers and it therefore should be a major concern for the church. We should have a concern for truth and we should be concerned if people are being tricked into taking the broad road. It should greatly concern us if people are being ushered towards destruction by false teaching.
Now, one of the least attractive aspects of the Christian church is its judgementalism. You don’t have to go far to find critical, nasty Christians. I googled “Billy Graham heresy”. Billy Graham has led hundreds of thousands to faith in Jesus ad has set high moral standards for his ministry. Nevertheless, there are many sites warning that he is a heretic – a false teacher. Some people believe that their ministry is criticism. They are God‘s protectors of truth. Their hobby is heresy-hunting – trying to find something in what a person has said or written with which they can disagree and then condemn them publicly.
Besides being terribly arrogant, that is the kind of negative judging that Jesus told us not to indulge in.
Jesus was not promoting that sort of fault-finding. Nevertheless, He was telling us to be vigilant. There are false prophets everywhere – both outside the church and inside. There are many people who contradict what God says; who say, “No it is all right. Do as you please. Take the wide road.”
They are dangerous and they are deceptive and Jesus told us to watch out for them. But, if they look like sheep, how can we identify them? Twice Jesus says, “By their fruits you will recognise them.” Good fruit can come only from a good tree. Therefore good fruit is evidence of a good tree. Bad fruit is evidence of a bad tree. Look at the fruit.
What is the fruit? Look at what they produce. Look at the outcomes.
There is the fruit of character. What sort of people are they? Do they exhibit the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? Are they Christ-like?
The fruit of their conduct. Are they faithful, righteous people? Are they God-honouring in what they do?
Of course, all of us fail at times. It is not a case of spotting one failure and then condemning a person. But what is their chosen lifestyle?
For example, there are various cults that claim to have the truth and claim to be the only true way. They might be pseudo-Christian or they might have no connection with Christianity. Many aspect of them might look admirable but isn’t it noticeable how often, especially when they live communally, their lifestyle includes some sort of aberrant (deviant) sexuality, or at the very least, that the leader is involved in immoral sex? Jesus says, “Watch. Look at the fruit. Bad fruit is evidence of a bad tree.”
There is the fruit of their words. Our words reveal our hearts. In fact, in Matthew 12, Jesus again used this image of good and bad trees producing good and bad fruit and specifically linked it to our words: “How can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”
Listen to the way a person speaks and you can learn a lot about them. Does their speech reveal the fruit of the Spirit or are they self-centred? Negative? Unloving? Course? Abusive…?
Equally importantly, in terms of their words, is their teaching true to God’s word?
There is also the fruit of the person’s influence. What sorts of people are they producing? What sort of community are they building? Again, does it reflect Christ? Does it demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit?
Our society says there is no such things as truth. Truth is relative. It might be true for you but not for me. Jesus says that there is truth and there is falsehood, and it matters a lot. There is no end of ideas and philosophies being preached all the time through the media, in books and magazines, on the internet, in our universities, and in our churches – ideas that do not align with God’s word and that lead us to the wide road. Do not be deceived and seduced by what is trendy and what is popular but is wrong.
In this sermon, Jesus has described the narrow road – the road of humility and righteousness and purity and mercy and gentleness and suffering and focus on the things of God and obedience and relationships and generosity and turning the other cheek and love for enemies and prayer and fasting and a whole lot more. Some of those things are hard. There is an easier way. There is the way that the majority of people are taking. And which many people are trying to tell us is the right way.
But Jesus says, “Enter through the narrow gate that leads to life.” And you know what? That road is the road of blessing and the road that leads to life. Have you chosen the narrow road? Do you want to now?