Two ways and two gates
"Go in through the narrow gate, because the gate to hell is wide and the road that leads to it is easy, and there are many who travel it. But the gate to life is narrow and the way that leads to it is hard, and there are few people who find it.”
I am not sure if any of these discourses, as Wesley calls them, has been easy to take in, but the one before us today is certainly one of the more discomforting. We are going to look at the narrow gate.
Jesus is now getting to the end of the Sermon on the Mount and having described authentic, saving Christianity as opposed to false, unsaving Christianity, he gives this warning: the road to hell is broad, its gate is wide and there are many people on it. Then he says the gate to heaven is narrow and the road is hard and few people find it. Then he gives an exhortation, a plea really: enter through the narrow gate. The message is probably simply put like this: are there lots of people on the road that you are walking on right now, lots of people doing things the way you do them, behaving as your do? In other words, are you on a road, a way, a lifestyle….. that has lots of people on it? If so, pasop! [for the followers of my blog who are not from South Africa, this means Beware!]
Let’s look at the characteristics of the road to hell,
the characteristics of the road to heaven
and then let’s commit ourselves to that narrow and difficult road.
What are the characteristics of the way and the gate to hell
The gate of hell is sin and the road is wickedness in all its forms and it is a wide road. The road of sin, the road of disobedience is wide, much wider than the road of righteousness and holiness, because while there is only one way to obey a command of Christ or a law of God, there are thousands of ways to break a law of God or a command of Christ. So the road of sin is a much wider road and there are many, many people on it.
Look at any country, look at any town, look at our own hometown - there are lots of people who live in sin….. and sin, remember, is the gate to hell.
Look amongst those who profess to be Christians but who live in some visible, habitual transgression of the laws of the God whom they claim to serve. They’re on the wide road to destruction.
Friends, we fool ourselves if we think we can walk to heaven but live in sin.
How many of us manage to get our external behaviour under control, but inwardly we are as wicked as ever, full of pride or anger or revenge, covetousness – we love ourselves more than we love God. We love this world more than we love the Kingdom of God. Many, says Jesus, are on this road. Why? Because it’s so broad and because it’s so easy and because there are so many others on it and we think it must be the right road – surely all these other people can’t be wrong. The road which is wide and which leads to the gate which is wide and which leads to hell, is a road which is often full of people following the example of others. So-and-so can’t be wrong, I’ll follow his or her example.
What are the characteristics of the road to heaven?
It’s a narrow road that leads to life, a narrow road that leads to life everlasting, through a gate so narrow that nothing unclean, nothing unholy, can enter. No sinner can pass through that gate until saved from all their sins, inward and outward. It is a narrow road, this way of spiritual poverty,……. the way of holy mourning is narrow,…….. the way of meekness is narrow. Not only narrow, but these things also are difficult. The way of meekness, turning the other cheek, is difficult, showing mercy is difficult. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Suffering evil for righteousness’ sake is difficult. People don’t rush into this way, do they? Do we? Do you? Jesus himself says there are few people on this road. The whole world says, walk on the wide road. Jesus, says, and this is a cry from his heart, he says, walk on the narrow road and enter through the narrow gate.
In Luke’s gospel, Jesus’ words are recorded like this in Luke 13:22-27: “Then Jesus went through the towns and villages teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, ‘Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?’ He said to them, ‘Make every effort to enter through the narrow door because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us!’, but he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you are from!’ Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you and you taught in our streets but he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you are come from! Away from me, all you evildoers!’”
Do you get the message? Notice in vs 24, “make every effort to enter in.” The King James Version says, “Strive to enter in.” And the word implies strive as if in agony. You know, someone striving to get to the finish line of the Comrades Marathon before the gun goes off at 5:30 in the afternoon, you know they’ve been running the whole day and there comes a time when they have to cross that finish line and they come in and they see the guy standing there with his gun, with his back to them. They strive and they strive and they strive to get to that finish line. Are you straining like that to live the Christian life? Especially the life described in the Sermon on the Mount. Strive, says Jesus.
As long as we lack the inward religion that Jesus has described, the heart religion, as long as we lack it we are on the broad way. Strive for it, friends. Make every effort. Pray unceasingly to become like Jesus. Walk in God’s way. Live a life full of acts of piety and acts of mercy. Do good. Stay away from evil. 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.”
I close with a quote from John Wesley: “Deny yourself your own will in all things and take up your cross daily. Do this so that you will be ready to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Amen.