“Enter by the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the path that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14
The late Harvey Milton of Drakes Branch, Virginia, was a gentle giant in my life. When I moved to town in 1975 as a young pastor he ran a feed store, was a deacon in the church, and took me under his care.
For over 35 years he lived in the same house, went to the same church, worked the same job, and loved the same wife and same Lord Jesus. I asked him about his life. He told me about being drafted into the Army, fighting World War II. Said he came home single, bristling with energy, not knowing what to do. “I stood at the crossroads just down the street,” he confided. To the North was the big city with its bright lights and promise of money. To the south was the bar, the girls, and a chance to drown all the horrors of war in pleasure. The other fork of the road led here– church and honest work and a home. This is the fork I took. Can’t say as I ever regretted it.”
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus brings us each to such a crossroad. And there we must make a choice. And as we stand here thinking through our options, Christ offers us some advice. “Enter by the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the path that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the way that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
There are three challenges for us here.
Discern the Gate
First, we must discern the gate. There are but two. The “narrow gate” which few find, but it leads to life. And, the wide gate many enter that leads to destruction.
I once tried to get into the University of North Carolina library. The night was cold and snowy and I literally circled the building pulling on one locked door after another. Finally,
I backed up fifty yards and watched other students coming and going from the library until I discerned the gate, the one great door atop a huge flight of stairs that opened to all with a pull, not a push as I’d been doing. So, how does one come to God? Where is the door? All religions agree on two things: 1) We once had a close relationship with God, and, 2) Somehow we lost it. Where religions disagree is on how that relationship is restored.
Two schools of thought come to bear here. Active religions say one must do something to earn God’s love. Why, the very word “religion” means “to bind back.” “Re”=“again” and “Legio”= “to bind.” So it is that Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism teach human effort to make things right with God.
Christianity is different. Not an active religion, it is reactive. The gospel teaches that our relationship with God is so broken we cannot ourselves hope to fix it. Our sinful condition makes us poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3), we mourn (5:4), we’re meek (5:5), and we hunger for God (5:6). And when Jesus appears, offering us healing redemption by His sacrificial death on the cross, we respond with faith.
Thus our salvation comes from God’s hand, not our own. We didn’t choose Christ. He chose us. We didn’t make things right. Jesus did.
“I am the door,” Jesus said (John 10). He makes the way. And we enter through His gate. The reformers of Europe in the 1500’s put it succinctly, “Salvation is by grace alone, through Christ alone, by faith alone.”
A Path to Decide
But, wait! There is not only a gate to discern. There is also a path to decide.
The text mentions two paths. One is “broad,” crowded, and leads to “destruction.” The other is “narrow,” sparsely traveled, and leads to life.
It is indeed strange how small things add up. Two gates, two paths– yet a huge difference in the end result. For one ends in life, while that other leads to destruction.
High up in the Blue Ridge Mountains is a sign, “Eastern Continental Divide. Elevation 5114 Feet.” What that means is that all the rain water falling on one side of the sign dribbles into a creek, a stream, and finally a river and
flows to the Atlantic ocean. But all the water dropping on the other side of the sign will flow into the Mississippi river. Thus does an inch end in miles of difference!
And here Christ Jesus is teaching two gates side by side leading to two paths that quickly diverge make all the difference in the end between life and destruction.
We Christians are often accused of being narrow-minded. Yet Jesus said His path of life is “narrow,” but the path of destruction is wide. Just so, a river has steep banks that narrow its flow in channels. But a swamp has no banks, only a wideness that extends over the horizon. The Prodigal son hated the narrowness of disciplined farm life at home with his father. He left for the wideness of the big city, life without boundaries, only to end up in the swampy mire of a tyrants pig stye.
When I jumped into a taxi at the airport at 3 a.m. in Budapest, I gave the driver a very narrow address– a certain suburb, a certain street, a certain house. Not just any house would do. I wanted to go home, where I was expected.
And after I discern the gate, I must decide the path, walk it out, as it were. So, I’m constantly narrowing my lifestyle, I’m constantly asking, “Will this help get me to where I’m wanting to go in life? Alcohol? Cigarettes? Lying? Adultery? Cowardice? Neglect of church? Self before Jesus? Materialism? Are these things helping me get there? Bible study, love, right behavior, trust, prayer, the Spirit, worship– ah, but there’s the path!
Yes, we’ve a gate to discern, a path to decide, and, third, Jesus said, we’ve a . . .
Discipleship to Endure
The word “narrow” in the text has to do with the Greek word for tribulation. It means “to press in.” As we enter the gospel gate, walk the path of faith, we are conformed, pressured, shaped by Jesus Christ.
In Romans 12:1-2 Paul wrote, “Therefore, do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
On a youth retreat years back, a Junior High lad fell out of bed in the middle of the night. Lights came on and everyone asked, “Hey, Baldwin! Why’d you fall out of bed. You big baby!” To which he replied rather sheepishly, “I guess I sort
of fell asleep too close to the place I got in.” And, my! My! Isn’t it so in the church! Far too many Christians discern the gate, decide the path, but rather than endure the discipleship, they promptly fall asleep. No church. No sacrifice. No prayer. No witness. No love. No service. No Bible study. No growth. Yet notice in the text how way leads on to way. There is movement! A gate leads to a path that leads to a life. And there is a narrowing, a shaping pressure along the path that conforms us into the image of Jesus.
Jesus said, “Few” walk this path. But the sure reward of life is had at the close of the journey.
In Lewis Carrols tale, Alice in Wonderland, young Alice stops to ask directions of a wise looking bystander. “Which road should I take?” She inquires. “That all depends on where you are going.” He said. “But I don’t know where I am going,” she confessed. “Then take any road,” he said, “for one will get you there as good as the other.”
Indeed! We’ve a gate to discern, a path to decide, and a discipleship to endure.
The text is both a warning and a promise. Will it be door number one or door number two? Christ beckons one and all with the first word of the text, “Enter!”
Jesus, I want you. Amen