The Choice of Entrances
The Sermon on the Mount ends with three warnings, which project three pictures:
The Two Gates (7:13-14)
The Two Prophets (7:15-23)
The Two Houses (7:24-29)
The two gates call us to conversion to Christ alone (the narrow gate) and to rugged discipleship behind him (the hard way). The two prophets call us to beware of seductive false prophets in sheep’s clothing of super Christians with their seductive charms and charismatic gifts and to be, instead, simple Christians who do the unspectacular will of God. The two houses warn disciples that if they are just admirers of Jesus’ sermon but not doers of it they are building their lives on shifting sands and so are en route to an awful judgment; but the two houses also encourage disciples with the promise that if they do build their lives on Jesus’ words, they will be able to withstand the big storms of life and the awesome Last Judgment at the end of life.
Luther poignantly writes,
“Our dear Lord has now finished preaching. Finally He closes this sermon with several warnings to arm us against all sorts of hindrances… Like the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 20-23), the Deuteronomic code (Deut. 12-28), and the Law of Holiness (Lev. 17-26), the Lord’s commentary on the Law closes with warnings and exhortations.”
Jesus began his sermon with unqualified tenderness, embracing in his blessings those who felt least embraceable. He now concludes his sermon with unqualified toughness, warning that his sermon is not an intellectual option, a set of suggestions we may take or leave, one philosophy of life among others. No, the warnings make explicit that Jesus believes his person and teaching are the exclusive way to life. The hard way of Matthew makes the same claim ethically that John’s one way makes theologically in its equally ‘narrow’ assertion: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
With this language, Jesus enters a deep stream of biblical thought. Early in this history of Israel, the Lord began to tell his people that there were two ways of life. One could live in covenant with him and be blessed, or one could follow the world and be cursed.
Moses presented the choice to Israel this way: “See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse… life and prosperity, [or] death and destruction” (Deut. 11:26; 30:15). At the end of a long and faithful life serving God, Joshua challenged Israel: “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve.” Some Israelites were interested in the pagan gods of Canaan. “But,” he concluded, “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord” (Josh. 24:15; 23:7, 16).
David opens the Psalms by telling the worshipers of Israel that they must choose a path of life and an authority for life: (Ps. 1:1-2, 6). Which path will you take: the way of the righteous or the way of sinners and scoffers? The way of life or the way of death? God’s way is the better way, since it leads to eternal life. Yet the better road is also the harder road.
Jesus was speaking to a large crowd when he said, ‘Enter through the narrow gate’ (Matt. 7:13). Most of the people in that crowd were disciples, but only in a loose sense. Most of them were not even dedicated disciples. Jesus wanted to win them, but not by deception, so he told them the plain truth.
Jesus says his road leads to life, but before it ends, it is narrow and hard. To this day, many who are lightly committed to Christ need to hear the same word. On the broad, easy road, people do as they please. The way of Christian discipleship is hard. The gate is also narrow, restricting us in certain ways.
Which path will you take? Will you take the narrow road? Are you willing to suffer? Or do you prefer the easy and wide road? While the wide road may be easy, its destination is destruction. Join us this Lord’s Day as we look at these two paths and pray you take the narrow way.
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