The Narrow Gate

From Matthew chapter 7:
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

God’s word is truth. And it’s absolute, which means that God’s word is true regardless of what anyone wants to believe. Our culture argues that truth is relative, which is to say that what’s true for you may not be true for me, and vice versa. But if truth is relative, as secularists argue, it wouldn’t be truth at all. The reason the world system has adopted the stance of relative truth is simple. Truth isn’t always easy to hear. That passage from Matthew is a prime example. Jesus spoke those words near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, and in plain terms, Jesus said that when everything is said and done, the majority of humanity will spend eternity in Hell.

That had to be a hard truth for many in the crowd to hear. (It’s hard for people to accept today.) Undoubtedly, there were Pharisees and other religious and political leaders mixed in among the crowd, as well as many common people who had been brought up in a legalistic religion which taught that righteousness and had to be earned by keeping the rules and regulations. Many who lived during that tine also believed they would get to Heaven simply because they were descendants of Abraham. They counted on their ancestry for salvation. Regardless of what they may have believed, Jesus turned it all upside down.

When Jesus began His sermon that day, he said numerous times, “You have heard it said……” followed by, “but I say to you….” In other words, Jesus was saying, “Here’s what you were taught by men. Now listen to what you’re being taught by God.” And He proceeded to preach even more truths that were just as difficult to hear. For instance, Jesus said to rejoice and be glad when people insult you. Rejoice and be…..what? Glad?

Here are some more, and I’m going to paraphrase some of these. Even if you never harm a hair on another person’s head, you’re still subject to judgment if you’re angry enough with someone that you think about harming or killing them. (Matthew 5:21-24) I think most of us fall short on that one.

How about this one? Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28) Contrary to what the world tells us today, there is no such thing as a harmless fantasy. It’s not okay to look at another woman and then think about what you’d like to do with her. It might be a woman at your office or a woman who caught your attention at the grocery store. This applies to women as well as men. Ladies, it’s not okay for a married woman to think about having an affair with that guy at the office either. But this is especially difficult for men because of the way we’re wired. For a lot of Christian men, (yes, even for Christian men) this is a constant battle.

Here’s another one. Don’t resist evil people. If someone slaps you on the cheek, you’re to turn the other cheek to that person also. (Matthew 5:39). And this verse from Matthew 5 verse 44 is very similar. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” That’s not saying we don’t have the right to defend our families, our lives, or our property from some common criminal who tries to harm us, or who’s trying to break into our homes at 2:00 a.m. I believe we have the right to defend ourselves from criminal activity. In those two passages from Matthew 5, I believe Jesus was talking specifically about suffering for our faith. If a non-believer becomes so upset with you because of your faith that he pops you in the mouth out of anger and frustration, Jesus said not to hit him back. I know, it’s easier to say than it is to do. My first reaction would be to ball up my fist and pick a spot on his jaw, or get him in a Nolan Ryan headlock and start pounding on his head. But think about this: How many times was Jesus struck……….the night He was arrested?

Likewise, if someone persecutes you because of your faith; your boss demotes you or denies a promotion; you’re ridiculed by co-workers or neighbors; Jesus said instead of retaliating, we’re to pray for those people. Again, that’s not easy.

Just from those few passages from the Sermon on the Mount, I think we’re beginning to get a picture of why the way that leads to eternal life is so hard. Those were hard truths to hear I’m sure, and even more difficult to put into practice. And here we are, 2000 years later, and it’s not one bit easier. They’re still difficult truths to hear. In our time, who wants to hear that Jesus is the only way to Heaven? Who wants to hear about Hell and eternal punishment? After all, a merciful and loving God wouldn’t really send anyone to a place as bad as Hell, would He? (Actually, God won’t send anyone to Hell. The people who spend eternity in Hell will be there because they chose to be there when they rejected Christ.) Little has changed. People still prefer the easy way. But like Jesus said, the easy way is the path to destruction, and hard is the way that leads to life.

The lessons Jesus taught are often easier to talk about than they are to put into practice. Put lustful thoughts out of your mind. Don’t retaliate against people who hate you because of your faith. It takes discipline, strength, and courage to live the way Jesus wants us to live. And none of us are disciplined enough, strong enough, or courageous enough to do this on our own. We all know the story of the rich young man who walked away after Jesus said he should sell all he had and give it to the poor. For those who prefer the wealth of this world over God, Jesus explained how difficult it will be for them to enter the kingdom of Heaven. That’s when one of the disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” The application here is the same. It is impossible to live as Jesus taught by our own strength, discipline, or courage. Those things we must pray for and be granted by God, and only then will it be possible to navigate our way down the hard path and through the narrow gate that leads to life!