The Narrow Gate
The theme of chapter 7 is judgment. We saw in 7:1-12. Last week, v12 - Jesus bookended the body of the Sermon on the Mount
Now, Jesus moves to His conclusion. Here - Jesus calls us to apply His teaching to ourselves.
If we read His words very carefully, very attentively, and appreciatively, and step back and think to ourselves, “That was the best podcast I’ve ever heard,” we will have lost the plot. The Sermon on the Mount is not an impressive bit of teaching. It’s not a deep and fascinating lecture.
It’s a summons to everyone who hears it. Come and live, Jesus says. For the rest of chapter 7, Jesus will apply His teaching in 4 different ways.
First, enter vv13-14; second, a warning against false faith (vv15-20); third, a warning against empty faith (vv21-23), and then a call not merely to hear, but to do His words.
Three of these sections are parables - here is the Parable of the Narrow Gate, verses 15-20 have the Parable of the Good and Bad Trees, and verses 24-27 end the sermon with the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders.
Each of the parables holds out two possibilities for Jesus’s hearers, so you might call them the Parable of the Two Paths, the Parable of the Two Trees, and the Parable of the Two Builders.
Jesus has brought us to a moment of decision, and there are only two options. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has contrasted His Kingdom People and their calling with the hypocrites and the legalists. Now his hearers have to consider which group they really belong to. Are they His Kingdom people, or not? The answer to that question is not trivial. It’s a matter of life and death.
Proposition & Organizational Sentences
Over the next few weeks, we will be looking at Jesus’s conclusion to His Sermon and answering each time,
Q. How should I respond to Jesus's teaching in the Sermon on the Mount?
I. See & Flee the Wide Path (13b)
I. See & Flee the Wide Path (13b)
Look at verse 13 with me. <<READ>>
The Parable of the Two Paths begins with an exhortation, a calling - “enter by the narrow gate.” And then, Jesus gives a comparison.
<<FOR>> - just like last week, the word “for” introduces a reason we should enter by the narrow gate. The reason is because:
<<the gate is wide…>>
If someone said “picture a wide gate,” my first reaction might be to think about the rolling chain link gates and large industrial businesses. Like if you drove out to Bucklen Equipment, there’s a big one out there. Or you might think of a wrought iron driveway gate at a fancy house.
But Jesus’s audience would have thought of the gates into Jerusalem. Jerusalem was a classic example of a walled city. The wall, in fact, was the most important defense any city had. An open gate, made of wood or metal, wouldn’t have been very useful as a city defense.
<<JERICHO>> <<HELM’S DEEP>>
The city gate was solid wood, and at the end of every day, at sundown, the city gates would be closed.
The path to a city’s main gates was broad, made of raised, packed earth or paved with stone, above the level of the fields on either side, so rain would run off the road and prevent the development of ruts.
These were the roads with the most traffic, the broadest, easiest to travel.
Jesus wants us to picture this kind of path, and He tells us several things about it:
First, the gate is wide. With all the coming-and-going, you can still pass in and out without worry. On foot, on horseback, with a wagon pulled by two oxen, you’ll have no trouble. A wide gate is also easy to spot even at twilight.
Second, Jesus tells us that the way is easy. The relatively straight path leads without surprises to the gate. Since wagons have to make this trek, it’s well-maintained and it’s not too steep. You can follow the easy way without much thought. One foot in front of the other. Go ahead and joke with your friends. Let your mind wander. Maybe the kids play a game of tag as you go. If you’re driving a wagon, you can probably even just let the oxen go at their own pace and set the reins in your lap. No rush, no worry, no hardship.
But in the parable, this easy way to a broad gate leads to destruction.
The word “destruction” here points to a wasted or ruined state, often pointing to eternal judgment.
7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.
The destruction of the ungodly is God’s just outpouring of wrath against evil and sin. The parables of Jesus often draw our attention to the future judgment of all people, God’s image-bearers, with some punished as guilty and others welcomed into His Kingdom.
In the parable of the weeds among the wheat (Matt 13), He says the weeds will be bound into bundles to be burned, but the wheat gathered into the barn.
Parable of the wedding feast, Matt 22, the man who sneaks into the wedding without a wedding garment is bound and thrown out into the night - the outer darkness - a place of sorrow and anger.
Parable of the 10 virgins, Matt 25 - the wise virgins go into the wedding feast, but the foolish ones are not able to enter.
In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Matt 25 - Jesus says at His return He will separate all people like sheep from goats, with those on his right brought into His Kingdom, but those on his left told to depart from Him into eternal punishment.
This is the first reason that Jesus tells us to enter by the narrow gate - because the alternative is the way to death - the destruction of judgment.
Notice the details Jesus gives. The gate to destruction is broad. Like a main city gate, it takes no effort to find, and no planning to enter.
This is how we will enter eternity without any thought on our part. This is precisely why we need a savior - because every one of us has the gate that leads to destruction set before us.
But notice also that the way is said to be easy, which is why the path to destruction is so well-trodden. You can walk however you want - distractedly weaving throughout, sauntering with self-importance, stumbling half-blindly.
When Jesus gives us the Parable of the Two Paths, He’s drawing from a rich Old Testament background that differentiates between the way of life and the way of death. To quote just a few:
In Deuteronomy, just before the Ten Commandments, the LORD referred to the Law itself as a path to life.
32 You shall be careful therefore to do as the Lord your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. 33 You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.
And at the end of Deuteronomy, as Moses summed up the Law, he said,
15 “See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.
11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Solomon tells his son in Proverbs 4-5 that God’s wisdom is a path to life, but the path of the adulteress leads to death. As we read in:
12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
In Deuteronomy, Joshua, Proverbs, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, God’s people are told not to turn to the right or to the left off the path to life, not to turn away from God’s ways. Because that way - the easy way, the self-directed way, the well-trodden way, leads to destruction.
So we must see & flee the wide path.
The wide path leads away from what God has told us in His Word. It’s deceptive. Like the serpent deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden by twisting the truth into a tempting lie, the wide path appeals to wishful thinking, selfish assumptions, and self-righteousness.
See the wide path set before us - the path that tells you there is no danger of judgment ahead. The path of self-righteousness. As the Pharisees and scribes divorced the Law from the Lawgiver, and the Covenant from the Lord who made it, the wide path proclaims that God will accept you on your own merit, as though you had something to boast before Him.
The wide path is the path of false morality. It promises that God has not spoken, that God has not called us to holiness, or that God’s ethic is just like modern day godless humanity’s ethic.
The wide path can be recognized for this simple truth: It will not lead to Jesus as He has revealed Himself.
But if we are to see & flee the wide path, where can we go?
II. Seek & Find the Narrow Path (14)
II. Seek & Find the Narrow Path (14)
look at verse 14 <<READ>>
Imagine a walled city again.
At night, the gates are all closed, and the main gates don’t open again until dawn. But a narrow gate is easier to open, and less useful to attackers, so city-folk returning after dark might knock and be identified, and welcomed in.
Jesus says “the gate is narrow.” The way to the narrow gate, He says, is hard. The word for “hard” here is related to the word for “tribulation” elsewhere in the New Testament, but when it’s applied to a road, the word means constrained, difficult to travel. Too steep and treacherous for a wagon, too small to be noticed from afar. It’s a side-track.
The way to the narrow gate that leads to life is hard.
What makes the way to the narrow gate hard?
If we look back over chapters 5-7, we’ll see the two paths emerge:
One path looks righteous on the outside, but it’s a cover for self-aggrandizement. The path of the hypocrite uses religion and morals as a way to judge others and puff up the self, but it’s disconnected from God. This is the path of the self-directed, the self-righteous.
The other path starts with submission to another. Self-denial. Repentance. The path of those who are called “blessed” walk in Jesus’s own footsteps, following Him as King. And Jesus’s path was not an easy one, dedicated to His own comfort, but one dedicated to His Father’s glory. Consider the path Jesus calls us to in
23 And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 25 For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?
The way to life is hard because it goes against our sinful inclinations to self-aggrandizement, self-righteousness, even self-preservation.
We see the difficulty of the path and do not want to enter life if it means giving up self-lordship. Until the Holy Spirit draws us to Christ, we prefer the path of destruction.
Rich Young Man, Mark 10:17-31
Runs up, kneels, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
JC: You know the commandments (do not murder, adultery, steal, false witness, defraud, honor mother/father)
RYM: All these
JC: Loved him (knew him inside & out) - You lack one thing - go, sell, give, treasure in heaven, and come, follow
RYM: Disheartened, went away sorrowful
JC: how difficult to enter the Kingdom of God - camel/eye of needle
Disc: Then who? JC: With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.
RYM told exactly what he needed to do - heart of it, turn away from your idol (repent of worshiping wealth) & come follow me. But he walked away.
At Jesus’s answer, we see what he is actually seeking. Consider the insanity of sin, that we trade eternal joy and joy-filled submission to the Good King for eternal judgment and sorrow, because we don’t want to give up our short, destructive, and false happiness as miserable and self-deceived upstart kinglets. He offers an eternal inheritance as His royal sons and daughters, but we keep returning to the luster of things that we cannot take with us when we die.
The way to life is hard, because it requires us to repent - to abandon the easy way - and to follow Christ as Lord. Many do not find the Narrow Path because they do not want to acknowledge sin, repent, and bow to Christ the King.
This is too difficult for us. Just like the RYM, each of us comes to Jesus with some idol, some lord, that we prefer to life. For some, it’s wealth, like with the RYM. For others, it’s pleasure. Some people struggle to see how anything in their life could be categorized as a lord or an idol. It’s often their own lordship - to be the captain of their own destiny, even if it ends in hell. Confronted with the prospect of denying the self, and taking up the cross to follow Jesus, and giving up one’s life, is too much.
In the Parable of the Wedding Feast, in Matthew 22, Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven to a great wedding feast, prepared and ready. The King sends his servants out to bring in the guests, but one after another, they give lame excuses and refuse to come. The invited guests trade a feast beyond compare for mundane and foolish pursuits. A field. A pair of oxen. A business deal.
Jesus told us why so few find the way to life just a few verses earlier.
That word in Matthew 7 verse 14, find, points us back to verses 7-8. Seek, and you will find. Everyone who seeks finds. Everyone who seeks the Kingdom of God finds it. The Kingdom, and the narrow gate, and the way that leads to it, are seldom found because they are seldom sought.
So hear Christ’s words - the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
To seek and find the Narrow Path, we must first leave the wide way behind. Instead, turn to the hard way. The way of the Cross.
From the Beatitudes to the Golden Rule, we are called to trust the Father, to be reconciled to God and to others, to be satisfied by His perfect righteousness, to seek the Kingdom as true treasure.
These things can only be ours if we do what Jesus calls us to at the beginning of verse 13, how He began and how we will close:
III. Enter Life by the Narrow Gate (13a)
III. Enter Life by the Narrow Gate (13a)
The Sermon on the Mount gives us only two options for responding. Either we will enter the narrow gate and find life, or we will enter the wide gate that leads to destruction.
"Enter” is a key salvation word for Jesus. In Mark 9:45 and 47, "Enter life” is synonymous with “enter the Kingdom of God.”
20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Each of us will enter one or the other gate at the conclusion of this life. But Jesus does not say, “Plan at the last moment to enter the narrow gate.” He says, “Enter by the narrow gate,” and the force of his words speak of urgency. Enter now, immediately.
Because we do not know the hour of our own death.
So what, exactly, is the narrow gate?
6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.
It is by Him that we enter life. It is by Him that we are saved. The way is hard. In fact, it is too hard for us. It is harder than a narrow gate - it is as hard as a camel through the eye of a needle. It is impossible for anyone to escape destruction, unless God rescues us by His own righteousness, by His own work.
So here is the call: ENTER by the narrow gate. Today, without delay. Come to Jesus Christ, and put your trust in Him.
If your heart revolts and you say “I don’t want to be His, I would rather face eternal destruction than submit to him as Lord,” then you’re getting honest with yourself. The Holy Spirit is working in you to reveal that to yourself. So turn that over to Him, too. Tell Him, “Save me from my own hell-bent will.” Let that be the beginning of seeking the Kingdom through the hard path. Tell the Lord, “I know that life is only mine if I give my life up to You, but it’s too difficult. Take my heart and make it the kind that seeks your Kingdom.”
But do not listen to the lies that the wide road has taught you. Don’t say, “I will give my life to Christ, but not yet.” When Jesus says, “Enter,” He means, “Enter now.” Children, teens, you do not know that you will live long enough to change your mind. Don’t fall into the trap of saying to yourself, “I’ll give my life to Jesus when I’m done with my rebellion.”
And if you are standing in the wide way, and you think to yourself, “I’ve got everything I need. I don’t need God, I don’t need the Kingdom. I’ve got a pleasant little fiefdom of my own,” today is the day for you to hear Christ’s words, “Enter by the narrow gate,” and be changed. However long you live, your 70 or 80 or even 100 years here on earth will seem shorter and shorter by the moment as eternity stretches out before you after you enter the wide gate. After a hundred billion years have passed, without registering as a drop in the bucket, and you are shut out of God’s Kingdom by your own folly, your hundred years of selfishness will seem like a raw deal, to get worse by degrees.
And what if you don’t make it to 100? Or 80? Or 60?
Enter by the narrow gate, and do it today.
Some of you walk the broad way because you hate that God would dare to call you to repentance. You despise the idea that there is a Judge who has a claim on your life, your behavior, your affections, your soul. It’s like standing on the railroad tracks and demanding the train go around you. But you can’t call God’s bluff. Your own conscience betrays you, that you know there is a Judgment. And Jesus with kindness calls to you, “Enter by the narrow gate.”
Looking back across the Sermon on the Mount, the grace and mercy of the Father shines on every page. He makes His sun shine on the righteous and the wicked. He calls you to righteousness beyond that of the scribes and Pharisees, and then offers it as a gift. He clothes the grass and feeds the birds, but he has promised you the Kingdom. So come to the One who loves you in spite of your spite, who welcomes you just as you are, that He would clothe you and shine in you, and finally to welcome you into life, into His Kingdom, where He has prepared treasure beyond counting, and eternal life. Come to the Father, through faith in Jesus Christ, the Son.