Matthew 7:13-14 New International Version (NIV)
The Narrow and Wide Gates
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
The reality of this passage is it is a call to open our eyes to see our way, to know where we are going. Because as the passage states, so many in the world live their lives with eyes closed to the destruction that they are walking into.
Lewis Carrol, in his famous book Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, speaks of this reality when Alice comes to the Cheshire Cat and she asks;
"Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to," said the Cat.
"I don't much care where—" said Alice.
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go," said the Cat.
"—so long as I get SOMEWHERE," Alice added as an explanation.
"Oh, you're sure to do that," said the Cat, "if you only walk long enough."
Now, there is such a profound realisation in this statement. If you don’t know where you are going; you will get to a destination inevitably, however, it may not, in fact it probably won’t where you wanted to be or idealised to be.
Jesus calls the disciples, and in turn us today, to look at where we are going; to open our eyes to look up and see the destination that we are running towards and count the cost of changing our destiny.
So, we are going to look at this in three ways; we will look at the easy way, the hard way and the only way. So, let’s look into this passage.
1. The warning against the easy way
Jesus identifies that there is a broad way, or an easy way and tells us it leads to destruction, and here is the warning church; many enter through it! Because we are in church we must not miss the emphasis; it is easy, it is common it is almost normal to live a life that leads to destruction.
We must ask the question why?
Well, Jesus tells us; it is broad and wide; the language that Jesus uses here is the idea of having no resistance and no struggle to go this way. This road takes no thought, no effort of change, and no core convictions and so many end up here. And be critical church, think about it, look at the world and see that Jesus is addressing a truth on both salvation and in terms of life in general.
The word that Jesus uses is “Apoleia” which means ruin loss or destruction; it is not really connected hell which in the Greek (and Aramaic) is Gehenna, Hades and Tartarus. So Apoleia can mean in some level hell, but it has the implication of hell on earth a life of destruction.
This is important for us to take in, because, we have started to believe a myth again in the 21st century. A myth that came up at the turn of the 20th century before the two world wars. This myth is that man left to himself, unshackled from the primitive ideas of religion, given absolute freedom, and all opportunity is naturally good, and will gravitate towards that good.
You see this in the ideas that people aren’t bad they just have had a bad upbringing, people aren’t evil they have a mental problem. Give man his freedom and he will be good.
The last time we embraced this two of the bloodiest wars the world has ever seen broke out, and hundreds of millions of people died at the altar of this idea.
You know what was most fascinating about the people that were involved in some of the greatest atrocities, the greatest acts of evil in the concentration camps in Nazi Germany or the Gulag in the Russian Soviet Union, they were regular people with families and hope and dreams, they were unlike you, and yet they murdered millions.
Church, humanity doesn’t run headlong into hell on earth because it is difficult, rather, because it is easy, it doesn’t take conviction, you simply go with the flow. Many find this path!
You know why we as societies, are addicted to social media at the expense of true human interaction; because it is easy. You know why we don’t study, don’t exercise, don’t advance humanity and bring about goodness for ourselves and others, because it is easy not to.
You know why we as south africa walked headlong into a society that is paralysed by corruption? Because it was easy.
The common proverb “The pathway to hell is paved in good intentions.” Is completely true, and this is in terms of the ultimate destination (i.e. one’s eternal destiny) and their life. Church, no-one sets out to have their marriage ruined, no-one sets out to be a drunkard, abusive, racist, hate-filled, evil. But we end up there because it is easy.
Jesus warns us church the way to life is hard. This is the second point tonight:
2. The warning against the hard way
Jesus says the way to life is hard and full of tribulation and only a few go this way. We need to hear this church, because we often feel that when life is hard, and it is a struggle we are doing something wrong.
We have this perception about life that we drag into our Christianity that if we are suffering and things are not going out way we must be doing something wrong. So, we avoid hardship, we avoid the uncomfortable, we push away anything that challenges us. We take the easy path… and I think I have warned you enough about this.
I mean we live in one of the most prosperous, advanced and comfortable generations that the world has ever seen! Ever! More people alive today live lives that the royalty of 17th century could not have dreamt of!
We have halved the number of people living in abject poverty since 2000 and we seem to be accelerating to reduce that number even further. We have greater human rights, greater access to healthcare, greater opportunity than ever. Yet we are suffering! Life is hard! It’s so unfair!
Try living in the 14th century when half of the world’s population died due to the black death, or maybe the 15th century where your property and family would have been wiped out by waring kings, or 16th century where people were executed horrifically due to religious persecution, etc. etc…
And I don’t know why we are so shocked when life is hard, Jesus warns us over and over through the gospels of the impending persecution, hardships, sufferings that are heading our way.
The point is this; either we see our suffering and hardship as something to purge from our lives (the easy path), or we see it as a call to test our faith, strengthen our resolve and find life.
A great practical example of this is exercise. No-one likes exercise, when you talk to runners and they tell you how much they love running, it is a lie, they love the result of running, people love the result of exercise, but the process is hard and painful. If it is not it is not working.
I love going to gym and seeing the January gym bunnies come in, and sit looking at their phone while they gently peddle the bikes. Then because they have had a gentle ride where they have barely broken a sweat they go home and gorge on cake because you know, they have earned it. Then they wonder why they have no results after exercising.
But we are made for effort, we are made for stretching ourselves beyond our limit. Our very biology pulsates with this truth. I notice this when I run, it is only when I have pushed myself beyond the normal limits that I get the runners high; it is only about the 6km mark that I get that flood of endorphins, which makes me a happier person!
The point is this church; life is effort, “Zoe” as Jesus says here is found through tribulation and trial and that is why only few find its way.
But if I stopped here church, all that we would have accomplished is to give a motivation talk to suck it up and try harder; look to the reward of life and get going; essentially stoicism.
The problem is that unless we start the hard path towards life on the right path we will get lost along the way.
So, Jesus calls us, and my third point tonight to…
3. Enter the narrow gate
Jesus starts off this saying, with the command, “enter through the strait gate, or narrow gate.” The focus of this passage is before you consider the way, before you know if it is hard or easy, enter the narrow way.
Now, every religion and people have a way to heaven or life, Buddhism has the Nobel Eightfold Path, Hinduism has the four paths to salvation, Islam has the five pillars, etc.
All of these religions and all the leaders of these religions stated that they had the way to life, or they taught the way to life, or they could show you the way to life. Jesus states alone that He is life.
In John 14:5
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
It is only in Christ that the path, the way, is not something we do it is someone we get to know, someone we come to. This is the powerful reality of this passage church, life is going to be tough, it is going to take conviction and effort to make it worthwhile (to avoid destruction), but the hope to endure the hardship of life and to grow into the wonder of life is not by sucking it up as the stoics would call us to do (which would make us cynical), it is not to fight the power as the post-modernists would call us to do (which would call us to become anarchists); it is to cling onto him who is life!
Which means that our hope to endure the hard path, the narrow way, is not through our own self-determination or grit, it is our trust in Him. Which is quite freeing, because it is not up to me, it is his grace that enables me to embrace life and live it.
This is a truly powerful and freeing reality. It goes something like this; life is hard, the large majority of people are going to miss out on what makes it good, on what doesn’t bring absolute living hell on earth. If I am honest with myself I probably in one way or another fit into the majority that is bringing about hell. I am lazy, undirected, unmotivated. But, I overcome not because I am special, not because I have mustered up the grit and power to overcome. I have found Him who is the power to endure, to make the most of life.
I have found the wonder of life, because He is life.
Church, tonight is a warning we are heading in the wrong direction, but in that warning is a great hope. The right direction is not for the exceptional, or determined, but for those who would come to Him who is their life their power their endurance.
When you find yourself struggling, or in some level of trouble in life, remember church, for you it is not up to you to find the strength to endure (and so find life) it is up to you to go to Him who is life. In every circumstance, good or evil, Christ is our way, He is our path, He is our hope to endure.
So, enter the narrow path church, come to Christ for Him to be your all.