Enter By the Narrow Gate
Topic: Default Passage: Matthew 7:12–27
Well, we have come to the end of our series in the Sermon on the Mount. My plan is to use roughly January-April over the next few years to continue to work our way through all of the gospel of Matthew. So, this week we wrap up Matthew until then.
I know some of you might look at this passage and think, “Jim really wanted to finish the Sermon on the Mount today.” Yes, I am looking forward to starting Joshua next week, but no, I’m not changing the way I divide this up because of that. It seems to me that these four smaller sections at the end of the Sermon on the Mount fit together as one conclusion. One nice four point conclusion by Jesus.
Jesus has been teaching what it means to belong to the kingdom of God. How you get in, how you conduct yourselves and how to bring others in as well. Now, at the end of this sermon, He is driving the crowd to a decision. They must choose. Which kingdom do they want to belong to: The kingdom of the world or the kingdom of God.
I was talking to Angela about this passage and she said, “Jesus seemed a lot nicer at the beginning of this sermon than He does at the end.” So, why does this passage feel harsh to us? I think this is a place where Jesus’ words and our cultural values slam head on into each other. Jesus is very matter of fact, very black and white. Our culture, on the other hand, is very indecisive and very gray. Jesus offers two options, one good and one bad, and tells us to pick. Our culture wants ten options and the right to be right no matter what we pick. Jesus offers a fixed menu and our culture wants a-la-carte. Jesus is deconstructing Jewish culture and reconstructing a Biblical worldview. Our culture just wants to deconstruct and be done.
It’s helpful to be cognizant of our cultural wiring when Jesus speaks in ways that are counter to what our culture values. Jesus is presenting us with two gates, two trees, two relationships and two foundations. Four contrasting pairs to show us the choice we have before us.
So, I want to take each of these separately and see that making the right choice, the one Jesus wants us to make will mean choosing 1) The right gate, 2) the right teacher, 3) The right relationship and 4) the right foundation.
- The Right Gate
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. - Matthew 7:13, 14
In the ancient world a city was surrounded by a wall. Many of these walls are still around today. And in these walls, there are gates used to access the city. Some of these gates were huge and ornate because they were designed to be inviting. They were meant to communicate something to a visitor about the grandeur of what lies inside. They are meant to entice you in.
But, as you followed the city wall down to the right a bit, there would be these smaller gates that weren’t designed for travelers, they were designed for livestock and farmers. They weren’t nearly as attractive and not nearly as many people would have used them. They could be small in height, narrow in width, long and often dark. These gates weren’t nearly as attractive, they weren’t ornate, they might be covered in livestock excrement, and they weren’t nearly as safe because you didn’t know who might be in that long dark tunnel. So, this gate would not have enticed you.
So, imagine looking at this big beautiful gate and seeing lots of people entering. It is so simple to go through. No sacrifice needed. No hard work. No one is going to talk about you. It looks nice, easy, safe and there are SO many people on it! People you know. But…this gate leads to destruction.
This other gate though, it’s narrow, it may require sacrifice, people may make assumptions about you if you go through that gate. You can’t see the other side of this gate and there don’t seem to be nearly as many people using it. But, this is the gate that leads to life.
So, what are these two gates? The wide gate is the gate that allows us to say, “I know what’s best. I know better than God. Jesus can’t be the only way.” About 150 years ago, European skeptics began to come up with ways to justify wide gate theology. They came up with concepts like God is on top of a mountain and there are various paths on different sides of the mountain that represent different religions. They would say that all those paths each lead to the top in their own way.
Jesus, in this passage, is saying, “Yes, all paths do lead to God, but they don’t all end well. One presents you without fault to God who will show you love and one presents you in sin to God who will show you wrath.”
Another old example of wide gate thinking is to say that God is like an elephant and we are all blindfolded holding different parts of the elephant. One person describes God as a trunk, another as a tail, another as a big broad side.
Now, there is a huge obvious hole in this one. The person pushing it pridefully assumes they are the only one who can see. This is what wide gate thinking does. “But, Jim, aren’t you being little prideful to say that you know the way? I really don’t think so. It is true that we are all blindly feeling around, but the Bible tells us that Jesus sees. He’s the one telling us, “You’re feeling an elephant!”
In seminary I had to find a mainline church downtown and ask the pastor some questions. One of the questions I had to ask was if he believed that Jesus is the only way to God. This particular pastor said, “Well, I’m Reformed so I believe in a big enough view of God to allow for other ways to Him outside of Jesus.” It’s interesting that no single reformer ever held that view. This is wide gate theology.
Wide gate theology leads us to believe things like if we do more good than bad (however in the world you figure that out), we will be ok. Or, be true to yourself and your values because that is what God wants. Wide gate theology says trust your gut, not Jesus. Come through the pretty gate….. that leads to destruction.
Narrow gate theology, on the other hand, says that following Christ will be hard. And you get the feeling as you read this that Jesus knows all the critiques that will be leveled against following Him for the next 2000 years. Christianity seems narrow. It seems hard. I won’t get to do whatever I want to do. I could be unpopular at school. I could be strange to others. It won’t win me friends in the higher social circles. It seems so outdated. The ethical demands seem too rigorous….yes. This is what makes the gate so hard! But, this is the gate that leads to life.
This is the reason the old King James says, “Strait is the gate.” S-T-R-A-I-T. As in strait jacket. This word means confined. It means narrow. It means you have to go through by yourself and that you can’t take anything with you. But, once you pass through, what you see on the other side will be so great that the gate will be instantly forgotten!
And this logic is sound in every other area of life. The easiest way isn’t usually the best way. No one says, “I want that scholarship, but I’m going to party every night. I want a great marriage, but I’m not, like, going to think more about her needs than mine. I wish I had great friendships, but just so long as I don’t have to really open up, have hard conversations or forgive. I want to excel in athletics, but only if I can sleep in, eat whatever I want and stay caught up on Netflix.” How is it that none of that seems logical, but an a-la-carte, wide gate theology does?
If you say you want enough Jesus to balance out your life, but not so much that it might make things hard, then you aren’t following the real Jesus. You’re following an idea that you made up and it very well could be that you are entering the wide gate to destruction.
If you are around my age and growing up, you stayed home sick from school, there is one show that we all watched: The Price Is Right. And there was this game on that show where you were presented with three doors. Door number 1, door number 2 and door number 3. One door had a great vacation or a new car behind it, one door had some decent appliance like a washing machine and one door had maybe a box of Mac and Cheese and you just had to blindly guess which door. That isn’t the way Jesus wants us to choose. He’s telling us which door.
There are two gates. One calls like a siren and offers destruction. The other calls for humility and offers life. Those are the two gates. Now Jesus says we need to be on guard against people who would try and convince you that the wide gate is the right gate.
- The Right Teacher
Look at verse 15: Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. - Matthew 7:15
Wolves in sheep’s clothing. Wolves who look like sheep and talk like sheep. They can even be nicer than sheep or more well read than sheep, but they are still wolves!
Wolves who aren’t going to show you their sharp teeth or razor claws until it’s too late.
So, if the wolves look like the rest of us, how then do we know who they are? Verse 16: You will recognize them by their fruit… So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. - Matthew 7:16-20
So, we have another agricultural analogy. How do you identify good fruit from bad fruit? There are two tests: The look test and the taste test.
First, the look test. The look test is something that is becoming so much more clear to me. The shortest way to define the look test is simply does the life the teacher line up with the teaching. I’ve learned that fruit is a funny thing. There are very attractive berries out there that could kill you Hunger Games style if you eat them. We need to know that just because someone has a large following, a large budget, book deals and a blue checkmark next to their name, doesn’t mean they are producing good fruit.
Some of these people mishandle church money, they stretch their church numbers and they lead their churches with a harsh demeanor and a heavy hand. If we are talking about a pastor of a church, increasingly, I think the best way to pass the look test is simply to see if he has a group of faithful elders and friends in his life. You take elders out of the equation and I start to get real nervous, real quick. Elders are the first line of defense against wolves and the churches who have good ones stay healthy.
We also have to know that fruit doesn’t mean your own personal sense of happiness and fulfillment. You will have ‘Christian’ friends whose theology might be a little off, but they look like they have such great lives. They have a great house, cool kids, fun vacations and it’s easy to wonder if maybe their gate is the better one.
Does the life of the teacher match his teaching? That is the look test.
Second, we have the taste test. Does the fruit taste good? Is it nourishing and strengthening those who eat it? Good fruit is spiritually satisfying. In other words, are people beginning to look more like Jesus because of this teacher’s teaching? Is he or she bringing the Bible to bear in a way that God becomes more and more attractive and in a way that causes the wide gate to look less and less appealing.
And we have to know that these wolves are not going to say, “Don’t follow Jesus!” They wouldn’t look like sheep that way. They are going to try and convince you that you can have both Jesus and the wide gate.
That is how Jesus addresses those who are on the outside, but pretending like they are on the inside. Now Jesus transitions to address those who think they are in, but aren’t.
III. The Right Relationship
This is one of the scariest passages of Scripture to me.
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.
Jesus so doesn’t want us to make the wrong decision that He calls those who think they have chosen the narrow gate to make sure they really have chosen the narrow gate. The implication for us is that there could be people in this room who claim to be in the Kingdom of heaven, but may not be. There are those of us who will enter the wide gate expecting a joyful welcome, but will be told, ‘depart from me…I never knew you.” There is a deceiver who wants us to think we are entering by the right gate only to see that we were wrong.
I know this sounds startling, but Jesus intends it to. Tim Keller says the way Jesus is speaking here is the difference between saying someone’s car is being towed right now and saying many of you are getting your car towed right now. If you say it the first way, it’s easy to think it simply applies to someone else. If you say it the second way, you’re more likely to consider that it might be you. That’s what Jesus is doing.
On that day, it won’t be enough to point to something you did. “Look Lord, I was baptized! I prayed that prayer! I led a Bible study! I gave money to the church! I didn’t have sex until I was married! I knew Reformed theology! How is this possible?” The people in this passage have professions of faith that are orthodox, they seem serious and they are public. Apparently, they even come with some sort of demonstration of power.
Jesus seems to be saying, “Yes, you did all that, but who were you doing it for?” All the good works in the world are useless if we aren’t known by Jesus. So, what exactly does it mean to be known? I would imagine that some of you have heard people talk about having a relationship with Jesus, but you don’t know exactly what they mean by it.
Here is what it means. Many of us in this room have at one time of another felt like no one in our life really gets us. Every time we move Angela reminds me how hard it is to make old friends. Do you know what we are really saying when we say things like this? We are saying, “I wish I was known.”
It’s lonely to not feel known. It’s lonely if you don’t feel like your spouse knows you or your parents know you or your friends really know you. There are those few people in our lives who know the good, the bad and the ugly, but accept us unconditionally and seem to always have our best interest at heart in any circumstance. It’s these precious few friendships that make us feel known.
There is this obvious and undeniable formula for these kind of life giving relationships. The more you are known AND accepted, the more life giving the friendship. And in these kinds of friendships, we are getting a small glimpse of what Jesus is offering. Why do I say small glimpses? Because no one knows all of you. No one knows the magnitude of your hopes, the depths of your fears, the weight of your guilt or the degree of your insecurity the way Jesus does. And no one has a greater capacity to love and forgive.
Only in Jesus are you truly known and truly accepted. Only this relationship can give you true eternal life. And here is where we get to the heart of Christianity and why it’s different than every other worldview. It’s a relationship. Christianity isn’t about what you do but who you know.
And the reason we can have this kind of relationship with Jesus is because He removed the barrier between us and God: our sin. Death was waiting for us on the other end of the narrow gate, but Jesus went through first, in our place, to defeat it…and it cost Him his life. The only reason the narrow gate leads to life is because Jesus gave His for us.
So, Jesus wants us to make a choice. He wants us to be sure we know what choice we have made. And then, finally, Jesus wants us to give us a test to see where we are.
- The Right Foundation
How do you know if you are known by Jesus or not? Generally speaking, the trials in your life will reveal what foundation you have built on. Look at verses 24 and 25
Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. - Matthew 7:24,25
Ancient Israel was prone to flash floods. So when you built your house, you could build it on top of the sand, which looked hard as a rock most of the year, or you could dig down five or ten feet to the bedrock and establish a firm foundation. Everyone listening to Jesus would have fully totally connected with what He is saying here.
The two houses look identical. But when the storms come, the foundations are revealed. The foolish man built his foundation on the sand and when the storm comes, it crumbles. The wise man, though, built his home on a foundation of bedrock. So, what is that foundation? Many of us, thanks to certain songs we sang growing up, believe that Jesus is the sure foundation in this passage, but that isn’t what He says. He says that His teachings are the sure foundation.
What’s the difference? Jesus is only beneficial to you if you do what He says. The wise man heard Jesus’ words and did them. The foolish man heard them and did not. And what is Jesus’ command? Come. “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.”
A few years ago, I was at a restaurant talking to my waitress who was a good bit older than me. She knew I was there for a marriage conference and she told me that the week before she had celebrated 40 years of marriage with her husband and they renewed their vows. So, I said, “Wow. Congratulations! What was that like?” She responded, “Well, this time I actually know what I was getting into.” When they first got married, she made a decision based on the best information she had, but now after years of knowing her husband through good times and bad, she really knew.
It’s similar with Jesus. The longer we follow Him, the more we will know how good He is. Storms will come. They are assumed in this text. But, if we listen to Jesus and come to Him, we will have a foundation that will keep us close to Him through every storm in this life and especially the greatest of all storms when this life is over.
Twice in this passage Jesus says, “Everyone who hears these words of mine…” Everyone. Nobody gets a pass, all have to choose. Which gate? Which tree? Which foundation? Which response will you get?
Everyone stands before God and we choose if we want to stand there on the merits of Jesus Christ or on our own merits. If we stand before God on the merits of Jesus Christ we will merit eternity with God. If we stand before God on our own merits, we will justly earn eternity in hell.
Those are strong words, but they are Jesus’ words. Everyone who turns to Jesus will find rest, will find peace, will never taste death, will experience sinlessness and will live forever with Him. The choice is ours.