When we started this series, back in February, I said the first twelve verses were the gateway to Jesus’ teaching. The blessings of Jesus, The Beatitudes, are the entry into the kingdom of God. The reign of heaven.
Today we’re going to see how narrow that gate is.
Prayer: Father in heaven, open Your Word to us today so we can see the loving, merciful heart of Jesus. How even when He uses hard words, it’s not to harm us, but to make us His disciples. Challenge us today and show us Your mercy. In Christ’s name. AMEN
The text is Matthew 7:13-23
“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.
“Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.
“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’
This is the Word of the Lord—Thanks be to God.
Nicer than God. Those are heavy words. People are always saying things like, “I’m so sick of hell, fire, and brimstone preachers trying to scare me into being a Christian—they should be more like Jesus. He was so nice all the time, with His sweet words of sugar and spice.” Those people haven’t actually read the words of Jesus—He’s the main “hell, fire, and brimstone” preacher in the Bible.
Last week’s message was from one of the sweetest, most wonderful things Jesus ever said, “Ask and it shall be given to you.” It was all about God promising to give us stuff. That was awesome. I went to lunch with Kemper and said, “Today was the kind of text that I’d feel guilty preaching if I wasn’t just working my way through the Bible verse by verse—I’d feel like some kind of prosperity preacher.” He said, “That’s okay. Next Sunday’s passage won’t be quite so sunny.”
So here we are this week talking about the highway to hell. Keeping it real. Again, I’m just working my way verse by verse—trying to be faithful to the text in front of me. We need to listen to all of Jesus’ teaching, not just our favorite parts. We also need to always remember that no matter what we think, we’re not nicer than God. We’re not more loving or more kind than He is.
Why do people think it would be more nice if we pretended like it doesn’t matter what they do—it doesn’t matter whether they believe in Jesus or not? If we believe that anyone who doesn’t enter life, and the afterlife, through the very narrow gate of His Son Jesus Christ is in mortal danger—why on earth would it be considered “nice” if we didn’t tell them?
When my house flooded back in 2001, I did most of the repairs myself. I didn’t know a lot about home repair—I just figured it out as I went. I had to replace all my doors and I spent two hours trying to hang that first door—it kept coming out crooked and wouldn’t shut right. I was about to give up but I called my friend Thadd and said, “What’s the secret to hanging these stupid doors?” He told me and the rest of the doors took like ten minutes each. Would it have been nicer for him to say, “Hey man, just hang the doors however you feel like it. There’s no right or wrong way. You’re a good person. Your doors don’t close but you’re a good person.”
Doors are one thing. Electricity is another. I needed to replace the breaker box to the whole house. This time I actually asked Thadd to come over and help me. We were standing there in the backyard, I was using my tools, had my tool belt on and everything—disconnecting the wire that supplied electricity from the power company to the box—there was no cutoff switch, I had to work on it live. I was being really careful. I unhooked the wire and I wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to accidentally touch anything—so I started to tuck it behind the corner of the box. Thadd saw what I was about to do and yelled at me, grabbed me and pushed me away from the box. He basically tackled me. He yelled at me and tackled me! What kind of friend does that?
I was about to take a raw power feed and shove it against a metal box. I was about to get fried. I don’t know if it would have killed me or not, but it could have. It wasn’t going to be pretty.
What do we learn from this story? 1. Don’t do your own electrical work. 2. Have a friend like Thadd. 3. It’s not unkind to tell people when they’re in danger, or to yell at them and tackle them if we need to.
“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.”
The Way. Following Jesus is the narrow way. For the first hundred years or so Christianity wasn’t called “Christianity,” it was called “The Way.” Christians were “People of The Way.” It was how they understood what it meant to be a disciple of Jesus. They understood evangelism to be inviting others to join them on this narrow path that Jesus had called them to walk with Him. Discipleship was friends keeping friends on that path.
The world is full of people on that giant highway walking away from Jesus—toward cliffs, sinkholes, setting themselves on fire, hanging crooked doors and trying to electrocute themselves. We’re not being nice if we just let them go on their merry way to destruction and death. Everyone you know and love isn’t going to find the narrow way on their own. Not unless Jesus calls them off that highway to follow Him. The most likely way that’s going to happen is when Jesus sends you point them His way.
Jesus isn’t just the best way, or the easy way, He’s the only way. We need to do what we can to get as many people as possible off the highway that leads to death—onto the narrow road that leads to life.
But there are many, many lies out there. Billboards promising cheap gas, clean restrooms, BBQ and Beaver Nuggets—we just have to stay on the highway—there’s no Buc Ee's on the narrow road. I’m talking about false teachers, fake Christians—the wolves in sheep’s clothing—they tell you what they want to hear, so they can get close, so they can devour you. They lie and say there’s no such thing as sin — you don’t need to change, you’re perfect just the way you are. According to them, the worst thing you can do is make someone feel bad about something they’re doing. There’s nothing kind about that. Like if Thadd wouldn’t have yelled at me—three seconds later I would have had more than hurt feelings. It wouldn’t have been “nice” of him to tolerate my ignorance—or my alternative electrical lifestyle. Tolerance is level-one evil. Tolerance is just apathy. It’s like passive evil.
But there’s also active evil. There are plenty of jerks walking around trying to purposely hurt people. Deceive people. People teaching our children how to electrocute themselves for fun.
What are our cultural lies? They’re usually pretty subtle about it though. They say things like, “Do whatever you want to do, God doesn’t care. If it feels good, do it. If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad. It’s okay if everyone else is doing it. Besides, a loving God would never send anyone to hell. Organized religion is bad. You don’t need to be part of a church to be a Christian. They say, “Churches are full of hypocrites. Christians are haters. They’re greedy. They just want your money. They show their own hypocrisy when they say, “That’s why you should put yourself first. You should be greedy. You don’t need to worship God—Worship yourself.”
Sometimes the lies sound like truth—Sometimes they’re a little more obvious. But anyone who tries to tell you that the way of following Jesus is the same way everyone else is going—that big old wide highway of culture and political correctness and tolerance and putting yourself first, grabbing everything in the here and now, that all religions are the same and all roads lead to God—the people who say these things are the false teachers, the dangerous wolves in sheep’s clothing that Jesus is talking about. He’s the only way to God. He’s the narrow gate. Don’t listen to the wolves. Listen to Jesus.
Know Jesus’ Voice. He says His sheep will know His voice. You know how we learn His voice? We spend time with Him. We worship God. We come to church and our faith is formed by what happens here. We learn the sound of Jesus’ voice when we pray throughout the day, when we spend time reading the Bible—listening to His words, learning His character. That’s how we keep from being so easily fooled by the wolves.
And we need each other, too—we have to help each other. We have to warn each other when we see our friends about to do something stupid. That’s what love is. We don’t always have to yell at them and tackle them—but we might need to sometimes. When your friend tries to help you, when they correct you and point you back to the narrow path—don’t be so easily offended, be glad you have a real friend.
Faith is not supposed to be private. Christianity’s not a private, inside your head, hidden in your heart thing. It’s being part of a community of faith. We’ve got to be willing to point people to Jesus. Even when it might be a little awkward. We gotta go straight to awkward sometimes. Even if someone might get their feelings hurt.
Jesus isn’t the popular way, He’s not just one of the ways, He’s the only way.
Then there’s this section that talks about knowing people by their fruit. This is how we can recognize true teachers from false teachers, tell the difference between our friends and the wolves. By their fruit. He talks about grapes and figs but what’s He’s really talking about is what people say and do.
He says, “Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter” the kingdom of heaven. “Kingdom of heaven” makes it sound like a medieval walled city—like God lowers the drawbridge and we walk over a moat filled with alligators into His kingdom. A better translation would be “reign of heaven.” Only those who do what God wants them to do are in the reign of heaven. Only those who do what Jesus tells them to do are doing what God tells them to do. Makes sense, right?
So, what did Jesus tell us to do?
One day “an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question: “Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?”
“‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:35-40
Love God with everything you got and love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. The way we like to say that around here is “Worship God. Love people.” The Beatles said, “All you need is love.” They were just quoting Jesus.
Love is the fruit that comes from a good tree. Love is the fruit of the Spirit. What does love look like? It looks like, “After you.” “You go first.” It looks like listening instead of talking all the time. It looks like being kind and patient instead of arrogant and rude. It looks like being merciful and making peace instead of trying to be right about everything and unfriending people. It looks like being thankful instead of envious. It looks like doing the things that God has told us to do because we love Him and trust that if we do, then life is going to click into place and things are going to go better for us. Love is how we actively do the will of God in the world. That’s the fruit Jesus is talking about.
Love is laying down our life for our friends. We know that, because Jesus said so in John 15:13,
“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
Love is sacrificing for our friends. He showed us how great His love for us is when He went to the cross.
Following Jesus means we follow Him to the cross. Which means we follow Him to His cross—we realize that He went to the cross for us. He went to the cross for you. He laid down His life for you. So you could enter through the narrow gate—He is the gate, we only enter life through Him. Try to enter life any other way and it’s going to go really bad for you. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. He is the resurrection and the life. You follow Jesus and you will follow Him to His cross—that’s what leads you to life. There’s no other way.
Then you’re going to follow Him to your own cross. A cross you’re going to have to pick up every day. There is no greater love than to lay down your life for your friends—love is the cross you have to carry. Love is sacrifice. You’ll only be able to love this way because Jesus is alive, not only does He live, but He lives in you.
You point people to Jesus. You show the same patience and kindness and mercy and grace that Jesus showed you. It’s not easy. It’s a difficult road, it’s the narrow road, but it leads to life. Love is pointing people to Jesus. He isn’t just a good way, He’s the only way.
I’ve got a painting of Jesus hanging in my living room. It’s a copy of a very famous painting by Warner Sallman—it makes Jesus look like a really nice hippy wearing a satin robe His grandma made for His birthday. I got it as a white elephant gift a few years ago. It used to have the Bible verse, “Come all ye who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest” from Matthew 11:28. Which is a wonderful verse that most people would think goes perfectly well with that painting. But I changed it. If you’re at my house, just looking at the stuff we have hanging on our wall—you might walk up to this very nice painting of Jesus’ head, and casually read what’s printed in a fancy scroll font underneath. It says, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
I think that’s really funny. Dark, but funny.
I wish I had a remote control, so when someone sees the quote and goes to get a friend to show them the completely inappropriate Bible verse under this sweet painting of Jesus—then I could switch it back to the “I will give you rest” verse. Make them look crazy. Like it was God trying to get their attention.
I put that terrifying quote on there because I thought it was funny, but I also did it to remind me what this is all about. Jesus warned us that the way to life, the path to God and salvation, is a narrow one. That not everyone who calls Him Lord is on that narrow road. Not everyone who says they speak for Him are actually speaking for Him. Not even if they make miracles happen in His name. The devil works miracles, too.
We’re getting really close to the end of this Teaching of Jesus series—next week is the grand finale. After all of Jesus’ amazing words of blessing and how to be salt and light—right here at the end, He gives us this sobering warning about how narrow the path of following Him is and how a lot of false teachers are going to try to trick us into going the wrong way.
This is why we do what we do here. This is what we’re inviting you to help us with. At NewChurch we want to worship God and love people. We want to show up every week and throw a big party that points to Jesus and what He’s done for us so as many people as possible can join us in following Him on this narrow path. No one can save themselves. People need Jesus—He’s the only way. They need us to tell them about Him. They’ve heard the lies, the false teachers, they’ve heard the howling of the wolves. They need to know the real Jesus. He’s got some tough things to say He but backed them all up with His life and showed us the love of God, He showed us the grace of God, and the kindness of God. That’s what we’re trying to do here, too. We want to point people to Jesus—We’ve want to get as many people as possible off the highway to death—onto the narrow road that leads to life. He’s the only way. AMEN