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"Go and teach all nations to observe whatsoever things I have taught you..." Matthew 28:19-20
The Narrow Way
Jesus makes two statements, but begins with an instruction. The instruction is: enter in at the strait gate. Then he describes the wide gate and the broad way. For now, we are concentrating on the strait gate and the narrow way.
“Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:14)
This is the chapter of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus is imparting wisdom to his disciples. There are three points that we should note straight away:
1. This is a message to Christians, not to unbelievers. So often the narrow way and the broad way is used as the basis of a gospel message: the narrow way leads to heaven, the broad way leads to hell. But Jesus is talking to disciples, and telling them that there are two ways they can go now they have become followers of Jesus.
2. This is wisdom with an instruction, not just information. We must do something about it.
3. Both of these two ways lead somewhere. The narrow way leads to life, the broad way leads to destruction. All Christians are on one of these roads, and no-one stays static. Every Christian is moving in one direction or the other, either towards life or towards destruction. We will examine what this means as we go on.
The wisdom in this chapter interprets itself. We need only understand the key words. In this sentence the key words are “strait”, “narrow”, “life” and “few”.
“Strait” is not to be confused with “straight”. STRAIT means tight, restricted, limited, confining. The “Straits of Gibraltar” are a very narrow, confining passage in between two seas, difficult to enter and to navigate. The sons of the prophets found themselves too confined, and said to Elisha, “Behold now, the place where we dwell with thee is too strait for us” (2 Kings 6:1). A “strait” also means a difficult situation: we might talk today of being in “a tight spot”. In 1 Samuel 13:6, “when the men of Israel saw that they were in a strait, (for the people were distressed,) then the people did hide themselves in caves ...” We talk about being “in dire straits” when our means are very restricted. And Jesus spoke of being “straitened” in Luke 12:50 — “But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” The gate is restricted, not wide open, not easy to find. In Luke 13:20, Jesus says “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” To enter in is a tight, uncomfortable squeeze.
And it’s a NARROW way...
That means it doesn’t get any better once you’re through the gate. It doesn’t widen out into a broad place. It stays restricted. There’s no room for deviation, no room for doing your own thing, no room to take along your own agendas and decisions and preferences. This is discipleship, the narrow way of following Jesus only. But it leads to LIFE.
What sort of life is this? Not physical life, obviously. But neither is it eternal life. Jesus is talking about spiritual life, the resurrection life that we can have on earth now. It is what he meant when he said “Is not the life more than meat?” It’s what Paul meant when he said “The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20). In the same way, the broad way leading to “destruction” is not talking about eternal damnation or the lake of fire. It is talking of the destruction of everything we have done and been in our Christian life, the utter ruin of all our works. Paul says that at the judgment seat of Christ, Christians may find all their life’s work has been in vain and is burned up (1 Corinthians 3:12-15) Yet “he himself shall be saved”, so this is not about eternal life. It is like the man in Jesus’ final illustration in the Sermon on the Mount: he built his house on sand, and when the test came, everything he had was destroyed. But he was not destroyed, only his house. This is the destruction at the end of the broad way, and many — the majority — of Christians are walking in that direction, because it’s easy, and wide.
But there are FEW Christians who find the life that is gained through walking the restricted way of discipleship. “Few”is the minority, a remnant. Not many Christians follow the way that leads to life. Many have received the light, but don’t walk in the light (1 John 1:7). Many have received the Spirit, but don’t walk in the Spirit (Galatians 5:25).
Jesus walked a narrow way
Why should a narrow, restricted, awkward, confined way lead to life? Because Jesus walked that way, and we’re following him. Jesus said “I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me” (John 6:38). To never be able to do your own will, what you want to do, is pretty restricting. And God’s will was not easy for Jesus, for it was God’s will that he went the way of death. “Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone; but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24). There is never any fruit without death, without the seed first dying in the ground. And even when the tree grows up, there is no fruit without pruning, cutting off and cutting back hard. Without pruning, you may get a little fruit, and you will get a big tree. And some people love a big tree. But God’s purpose is not a big tree, but much fruit — and that means pruning, which means obedience, which means restriction, which means pain.
Creation tells us this truth over and over again. When a baby is born into the world, it is through the restricted, difficult way of the birth canal. And indeed, in the world, the truth is evident. No athlete gains glory except by following a narrow way, a restricted, strait, strict regime of training, of diet, of hours on the track, of weeks away from home, of toil and tears and sweat, just to gain a “corruptible
crown”. No businessman becomes successful without putting in hours and hours of effort and hard slog, being willing to work seven days a week for years.
It’s costly, and discipleship is just the same. Why do we expect otherwise? One simple reason: because the church has told us otherwise — the church has too often made Christianity “all of grace”, and cut out the cost from the word of God. So Christians are surprised and shocked when they hear about counting the cost and paying the price. But how foolish! Creation shouts out the message and the world recognises it: there’s no gain without pain. The church used to confess the same thing: “no cross, no crown”. But that message is being drowned out today.
Restricted - but free
The narrow way leads to glory and success and life. The discipline leads to freedom. No-one was more free than Jesus, yet no-one was ever more restricted. It’s a contradiction, and the contradiction continues in men and women of God today. The disciple’s life may seem horribly restricting, yet the disciples are the most free people in the world. They have nothing and yet they have everything. But who wants that restricted way? Israel didn’t want it. In the “narrow way” of the wilderness they told Moses that they preferred slavery in Egypt. They were on the way to life, to the promised land, but they detested the restricted way of having to trust God every day for provision. They hated the manna, and longed for the foods of Egypt. The manna was restricting — who wants to eat the same thing for 40 years? — but it was heavenly food.
The uncomfortable fact is that freedom — the freedom offered by Jesus through discipleship — is intolerable to most Christians. Christians prefer conformity to a system, a system of orthodox doctrines, an established, secure institution, and the traditions of the elders. Just as Jesus was too radical and too free for the Pharisees, he is too radical and too free for many Christians today.
Jesus had to go the way of the cross. But some Christians say, “Jesus went to the cross in order to bring us abundant life! He suffered so we do not have to suffer! He was obedient to death so we might have life!” But this is clearly not true. Jesus said, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Peter said, “Forasmuch then as Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves likewise with the same mind” (1 Peter 4:1). And for an example, let us look at the life of Paul.
Paul’s narrow way
At the very outset of his ministry, Paul was promised a narrow, difficult way. Jesus appeared to Ananias in a vision and told him to go to Paul, “... for I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:16). And Paul got the message. In Acts 14:22 we read that in Antioch, Lystra and Iconium, Paul stressed to the disciples that “we must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God.” Writing to the Corinthians, he testified that “our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17). To the end, Paul was “not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19). He ended his life in confinement under house arrest, and was finally martyred in Rome. His whole Christian life had been a narrow way, the contradiction of a restricted man who was totally free. He was “in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings ...”, and he lived out the contradictions: “... as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we live; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things” (2 Corinthians 6:4,5,8-10).
How many Christians do you know who can say that? How many do you know who are truly free, who live that contradictory lifestyle — they seem so restricted and yet they seem more free and content than people who have all the so-called “freedoms” of wealth, health, success and everything that goes with the “broad way”. Few find it. Few Christians find it. This is nothing to do with grace and eternal life, it’s all to do with discipleship and the kingdom. Will you be one who will count the cost, pay the price, find the life, and one day “exchange the cross for a crown”?
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