Narrow is the Gate and Difficult is the Way

Sermon preached on Matthew 7:13-29 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 10/19/2014 in Novato, CA.

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
Matthew 7:13-29

Narrow is the Gate and Difficult is the Way

We come now to the final section in the Sermon on the Mount. Today we will focus on verses 13-14 which deal with the two contrasting ways or gates in life. But I had us read through to the end of this chapter so you could appreciate the context. In this final tail end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount he presents a series of contrasting sets of two. Our verses for today deal with two different ways. But then you have the contrast of false prophets versus true prophets; then good trees versus bad trees; then those truly saved by Christ versus those whom Christ will say at the end that he never knew them; and then finally those who are like someone who builds a house upon a rock versus on the sand. So, in this final larger section, we have a lot of contrasts. There’s a similar tone interwoven throughout this final section, yet with some distinct nuances in each comparison. And so today we’ll get to meditate on this comparison that is put in terms of two different ways or gates. In other words, we’re focusing today on verses 13-14.

Well, as we dig into these two verses, we notice that even within these two verses there are a several sets of things in comparison with each other. Even to talk about the two ways or the two gates introduces actually two different things. A gate and a way are different things, obviously. A gate is an entrance into something. You walk through the gate and you have entered somewhere. A way, on the other hand, is a road or a path, something you walk along. A way or a road is not about a onetime entrance. It’s about a journey you take. You go along the way or the road. And so Jesus’ teaching here actually compares a good and a bad gate and a good and a bad road. But he does it in a way that makes the gate and the road almost sound like he’s talking about the same thing. I think the idea is that the Christian life is like both. There’s the idea of initially entering into the Christian life. But there is the idea of walking along in the journey of the Christian life. It’s like the difference of your initial conversion experience when you come to Christ in faith and repentance — that’s like the gate; but then you begin to live your new life as a Christian, looking to live for Christ even in a world that is opposed to him — that such walking describes the process of your sanctification. And so that whole package — the start and ongoing nature of the Christian life is being contrasted with the opposite. The way of the world. The life without God and his Christ.

Now as we dig into this passage, let me start with a little explanation about how we should approach this verse. In this Sermon on the Mount, we’ve see that Jesus has been talking about how to enter his kingdom. He’s shown how if you wanted to earn your way into his kingdom, you would have to have a perfect righteousness. But we’ve seen how this means no one could ever enter his kingdom unless there was another way to be righteous apart from our own works of the law. The gospel, the good news of the Scriptures tells us that there is another way. It’s the righteousness that comes by faith; faith in Christ. Faith that he paid the penalty for your sins on the cross, and his own righteousness is credited to your account through such faith in him. Salvation then comes to us as a gracious gift of God.

And so we need to apply this gospel perspective to today’s passage. It would be foolish thinking to read this passage and take away from it that you can save yourself if you but journey hard and long down the difficult and narrow path searching and finding life in Christ’s kingdom by your own skills and merits. That would be the wrong attitude to have with these verses. Rather, when you read verses 13-14, we should realize that if we try to enter into Christ’s kingdom through our own human works, that this is more difficult and too narrow for us to ever attain. We can’t do that. We’d never “find” the way that way. So, we actually need to enter into Christ’s kingdom by his grace, in Christ. Christ is the only human whose been able to walk the road of perfect righteousness into his kingdom by his own merits. So don’t try to do this on your own. Go instead with Jesus. Go in him and with him. It’s as Jesus says in John’s gospel — that he is the gate and the way to the Father. Enter into this journey through the merits of Christ. Walk down this path in Christ’s righteousness who walked it for you.

My point is that these verses need to immediately point us back to Christ and the gospel. But from there, having come into this salvation in Christ, don’t miss then the very point of these verses. These verses then give us a very important application. We realize then that Christ’s life on the narrow and difficult path now becomes our life. If we are going to enter through this gate and walk down this path in and through Christ, it means we are going down this journey with him. It describes what our life in this world will now look like as someone who is a Christian and a member of Christ’s kingdom. These verses describe this path or journey we are now on, in Christ. And this is a path that certainly has its challenges and difficulties as we will see today.

Let me repeat myself. What’s described then in verses 13-14 become descriptive of the Christian’s life. Not to earn entrance into Christ’s kingdom, but as those who’ve become a part of his kingdom by grace. Christ is the gate and the way to the Father and Christ is the gate and the way to eternal life. As we come to Christ as that gate and way, he takes us on this journey of our Christian life in this fallen world as his disciples. And we find that these verses for today help to describe what that life will look like, at least in part.

So then, I wanted us to start with that gospel framework as we now delve into thinking about this passage further. I want to tackle this passage by studying briefly the four remaining contrasts given in these versus. You have the narrow versus the wide. You have the difficult versus the easy. You have the few versus the many. You have the life versus the destruction. In Christ, we have been saved from the wide, easy, gate and way of the many that leads to destruction. In Christ, we now are going on the narrow and difficult journey of the few that leads to life.

Let’s start with the contrast of the narrow versus the wide. How is the Christian life in this world one that is narrow? How is the opposite one that is wide? The narrowness of the Christian life can be seen in several ways; I’ll mention three. First, it is narrow in terms of the commands of God. Deuteronomy 5:32, for example, records God talking about obedience to his commandments, and how his people must walk in his laws, but should not turn aside to the right or to the left. In other words, God has strict and narrow commands for how his people are to live; He’s very particular on what is righteous behavior and what is not. There’s a narrowness to his commands.

Second, the narrowness of the Christian life is seen in its doctrine. Again, there is right doctrine and wrong doctrine according to God’s Word. Next week’s passage will highlight that by warning us about false prophets. We see this concern for narrowness in our doctrine in how Paul instructs Timothy in his work as a pastor; that Timothy needs to teach and preach sound doctrine so that the people won’t be lured into the false doctrines. Or like Paul says in Ephesians 4:14, that false doctrine can cause us to be tossed to and fro. That’s opposite of this idea of the narrow way that we are stick to as Christians. And so we are to have a narrow perspective on doctrine; we want to know God and truth as he has revealed it in his Word.

A third narrowness of the Christian life is that it is in and through Christ and him alone. Jesus said that no one comes to the Father except through him. And so the Scriptures tell us that humans cannot be saved in any other way; not through false religions; not through mere outward religiosity; not through moralism; none of these things will save you. Only the narrow way of Jesus will save you. People call Christians narrow and exclusive when we affirm the Bible’s teaching on this. But it is true that this is part of the narrowness of this road Jesus is commending. We are saying that it is only in and through Jesus.

So, these are some of the key things that show the narrowness of the Christian’s life. In contrast, you have the wideness of the world. The wideness of the world can be seen in different ways. Instead of God’s narrow commandments, the world pushes for moral relativism. Instead of the narrow doctrine of God as revealed in the Bible, people try to say that all the different world religions have a truth; that they are all just describing the divine from their own unique vantage points and perspectives. Or instead of the narrow doctrine that man is saved only in Christ, the world wants to say that there are many roads that lead to God or some kind of salvation.

The world’s way is indeed wide and broad. But Christ went the narrow way. He lived perfectly righteous, keeping all the specific commands of God, all his life. And Jesus clearly spoke of the true doctrines of God, narrowly distinguishing right doctrine from those like the Sadducees or Pharisees who were teaching theological errors. And he secured for us the narrow way of salvation by going to the cross and dying for our sins. And so he calls us then, in our union with him, to join him in the narrow.

Let’s turn next to the contrast of the difficult versus the broad or easy. These are the other adjectives used to describe the way and the gate. The pew Bible translation not only describes narrow versus wide, but also as difficult versus broad, or in some translations it’s translated “easy” instead of “broad”. The adjectives of difficult and broad are actually fairly close to the adjectives or narrow and wide. The word for difficult in verse 14 here is literally in the Greek about being pressed upon by the things that are around you; that would make things more narrow for you of course. The word for broad or easy here in verse 13, is broad in the spacious sense; think comfortable and spacious, again similar to being wide. So, in some sense these adjectives aren’t that much different than the ones we had just talked about. But it seems the fine nuance is this: the comparisons of difficult versus broad/easy seem to bring out the challenges that will come as a Christian that you wouldn’t have in this life otherwise.

This is a very real thing for a Christian. Becoming a Christian doesn’t suddenly make your life easy. Actually, it’s typically the opposite. Jesus said that as a Christian in this world you will have trouble. We are warned that people will likely hate us just like they hated Jesus. Jesus talked about the ways he can bring division in families. Paul himself said that if the resurrection hadn’t actually happened, in other words, if the claims of Christianity weren’t true, then we’d be of all men most to be pitied. The reason he said that is because the struggles and sufferings we go through, specifically because we are a Christian, would thus be unnecessary. Similarly, we are called to self-denial as a Christian. When faced with some sinful lust, we are supposed to deny ourselves and not fulfill that lust. It would be easier in some sense to just indulge that lust. That’s what the world does. But that’s not the way of the Christian. We must seek to put off such lusts. That will mean a war inside us with these natural passions for sin. The world goes the easy way, the “comfortable” way, at least in some sense.

Again, Christ went this difficult way. He did not shrink back when the troubles of this life pressed against him. He resisted every temptation. And when he stood up for righteousness and godly teaching, even when faced with persecution and scoffing and ultimately the cross, he did not resist. 1 Peter 2:23 says that Jesus, “when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;” And so when the going got tough, so to speak, Jesus continued to entrust himself to God. And now we who are going down this path, in Christ, have been told to expect much of the same. But we do not go down this difficult path alone. We go strong in the Lord and in the strength of his persevering might!

Next let’s consider the contrast between the few and the many. Jesus says here that there will be few on the right path and many on the wrong path. Many will enter down the path to destruction, while only a few will find that gate and road to life, he says. Well, we should not be overly surprised to hear this. There are lots of places in Scripture when we see the saved as being only few in number. Think of Noah and the ark. Only eight souls saved on that ark, while a world washed away in death. Or think of the time of Elijah, of how a vast amount of the people had forsaken God and became worshippers of Baal. At that time, God encouraged Elijah, though, that he had reserved seven thousand in Israel who had not bowed their knees to Baal. And it’s that larger idea of a remnant, that’s very common in the Old Testament times. That amidst widespread apostasy, there is a smaller amount of faithful people yet following God. And so with that in mind, and applying what Jesus says here, we get the point. The point is that too often walking with Christ can be a lonely walk. We long and pray for the many to come, we evangelize the many, and yet we acknowledge that too often in history it is just the few that respond. There can be a solitariness to the Christian life in this world. Don’t be surprised when you see the world largely going the exact opposite direction than how you are going. Don’t be unprepared for this reality. Don’t think it strange when it’s the case.

This is how Jesus walked. He kept faithful to his work regardless of how many were with him or not. This was seen so clearly when he was arrested and taken to his death on the cross. He predicted ahead of that, that all of his disciples would desert him. But of course that’s why he had to go to the cross. And its why we now are delighted in our union with Christ to walk as he walked; that no matter the numbers, we will seek to be faithful. Of course, we are encouraged that in the final census, the end result will be a people of God so big that it will be beyond our counting, Revelation 7:9, as the stars in the heavens, Genesis 15:5.

The last contrasting set is life versus destruction. This is of course where this is all headed. These are the two destinations, Jesus says. Life and destruction. To point out what is probably obvious, this is ultimately referring to eternal destinies. You will either be walking in Christ unto glory and eternal life. Or you will be walking away from Christ and that will lead unto the eternal damnation known as the lake of fire. That is a place that is described as a place of eternal torment, where the worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

Of course, it’s these outcomes that are supposed to motivate us and encourage us as we walk with Christ here and now. Why go down the path which is narrow, difficult, and lonely in this life? It’s because that path ends in eternal blessed life, and the alternative ends in eternal torment and destruction. That’s the point. In the words of 2 Corinthians 4:16-17, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”

And so we remember that Jesus said he is the “way, the truth, and the life”; That “he who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” Jesus secured this for us through the life he lived and in the death he died. And we know that in him we will have this victory of life, because he himself did not remain dead in the grave. But rather up from the grave he arose. And so as we walk in him, we take heart. Yes, in this age, as we walk in him, we may suffer for a time, walking along the narrow and difficult road of this life. But it is the road of Christ, and so it is the road of life. And as much as his life on earth ended in the resurrection and the ascension, we trust in that same destination of glory.

Brothers and sisters, our passage for us today reminds us of the pilgrim life of the Christian. There is a sense of difficulty involved in living as a Christian in this life, but it is worth it! Jesus taught the idea of counting the cost in Luke 14 in two parables. He said if you are going to build a tower, you’ll first count the cost and make sure you have enough to finish the tower before you start building it. And he said if a king is going to go to war, he’ll first count the cost to make sure he can win the war before he starts fighting. Jesus then applied that to our discipleship. He said that the disciple of Christ should count the cost of discipleship. That we should forsake everything else, and take up our cross, and follow him. The point is that Jesus wants us to recognize that following him will have a certain cost. I don’t mean to deny the fact that our salvation is a free gift of God. Of course it is. We don’t and can’t do anything to be justified before God. And yet having come to Christ and being saved by grace through faith, we then recognize that there will be a certain “cost” of sorts.

In other words, that we will be embarking on a life that from one vantage point will be narrow, difficult, and lonely. And yet that is only from one vantage point. Another vantage point is that Jesus calls us who are weary and heavy laden to come to him and find rest for our souls; that his yoke is easy and his burden is light. Both are true. From the standpoint of being right with God, we have been justified by grace through faith. We don’t earn our way to heaven. It’s a gift. And yet as those who follow our Lord and Savior, we have been reminded today of some of the real challenges that we will surely encounter in the here and now. But as those who are united to Christ, let us find our strength and encouragement in Christ. He has already walked this walk on earth, and in so doing he secured our salvation. And he has assured us as we walk in him, that he will always be with us. And so since he is with us, we will never truly be alone. And since he is with us, we’ll have the strength we need for the difficult times along the way. And since he is with us, we will know the narrow way and not miss finding the right path. Rejoice then that in the midst of this narrow, difficult, path of the Christian life, that Christ is with us and for us and shepherding us along the whole way. And we look forward to the final arrival in glory. Amen.

Copyright © 2014 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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