Tuesday, May 24, 2011

THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT, 21

Two Gates and Two Roads
Matthew 7:13, 14

“Enter in through the narrow gate, because wide is the gate, and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many are those who are entering in through it.  And because narrow is the gate and restricted the road that leads to life and few are those who find it.”

Jesus is leading into the conclusion of His Sermon on the Mount.  He lists for His hearers a series of pairs, and urges them to make appropriate choices.  The first four of these pairs are given in verses 13 and 14:
·        Two gates – the wide one or the narrow one.
·        Two roads – the broad one or the restricted one.
·        Two destinations – destruction or life.
·        Two kinds of people – the many or the few.

Jesus is not giving His hearers four individual choices, but only one.  He is, in a sense, summing up all of life in this one choice.  What is this choice that Jesus lays before His hearers?  Though what that choice is seems clear to many, there are those who try to work around it.

As He often does, Jesus with a few words paints a picture for His hearers, depicting that major choice.

I can visualize the scene – the two gates standing open – one wide, with vast numbers of people streaming through.  Looking beyond the gate, I can see the broad road, covered with these multitudes as they continue rushing along.  The other road is narrow with just a trickle passing through.  As I peer through this gate, I see a road that is restricted, perhaps with high walls on both sides keeping the travelers on the path.  I am at the parting of the way while the crowd is carrying me along by the force of their numbers.  I can allow them to carry me through the broad gate, or I can choose the narrow one.

Notice that the gate is the first thing we see.  The road is on the other side of the gate.  Jesus is not equating the gate and the road.  They are two different entities.  To enter the gate is an instantaneous action; to travel the road takes time.

I believe that entering the narrow gate is a metaphor for conversion.  It speaks of that moment – that instant – when a person places his or her faith in Jesus Christ as Savior – when His work is personally appropriated.  Jesus said, (using a different metaphor), “I am the Door.  If anyone enters in through me he will be saved … “ (John 10:9).  The words “enter in through” are the same words as in Matthew 7:13.

But once one enters through the narrow gate, according to the figure Jesus gives in the Sermon, he has not yet arrived.  There is a road to be travelled – a road that is described as “restricted.”  This is actually a participle form of the Greek verb Thlibo which has the idea of pressing together or squeezing.  Mark 3:9 speaks of the multitude (literally) “squeezing“ Him.  The noun form of this verb is Thlipsis, which is often translated “affliction” or even “tribulation.”  In Acts 14:22, Paul and Barnabas warn the new disciples that  “… through many afflictions we must enter the Kingdom of God.”

Jesus also said, “I am the Road …” in John 14:6, using the same word (hodos).  This road hat is entered through the gate is the road of discipleship with Jesus.  Though the gate entered and the road travelled are different entities, they are not separated.  Once a person comes to Christ by faith, that person enters the road of discipleship, whether or not that person desires to travel the road.

What I’m trying to say here is that our eternal destiny is determined by our faith in Christ.  He paid for our salvation.  Faith is our appropriation.  This is what the narrow gate represents.  The number who actually find life in Christ is small.

But the road that we travel between that choice of faith and our arrival at our eternal destiny, while it may be long or short, is a restricted road.  And everyone who enters through the narrow gate must travel this road.

This is not “lordship salvation,” nor is it "cheap grace.”  All who choose to enter experience free grace.  And all who enter embark on a difficult path.

The destination of the journey is “life.”  This is eternal life as contrasted with eternal destruction.  Jesus uses the expression “enter into life” as a synonym for “have eternal life” (19:16, 17) and as a contrast to eternal torment (18:8, 9).  The word translated “destruction” is apoleia and has the idea of eternal destruction.  It is related to the word apollumi which is translated “perish” (8:25) and often has the meaning of eternal damnation (John 3:16).

We have to be careful of carrying the metaphor too far.  The narrow gate is to be chosen.  People are “entering” both gates, but Jesus says that the narrow gate is to be “found.”  He does not say this of the wide gate.  The implication seems to be that it is not a matter of conscious choice.  The vast majority of humankind is headed through the wide gate and is headed for eternal destruction.

It has been claimed by some that the Sermon on the Mount is the gospel, while it has been complained by others that it does not even contain the gospel.  Certainly it does not contain a clear exposition of the work of Christ as Paul outlines in his writings, especially 1 Corinthians 15:1ff.  But then we must remember that this Sermon was preached before Jesus died for our sins.

But the Sermon does contain enough!  Certainly the requirements Jesus gives clearly show His hearers their need for grace, that they – we -- are sinners who cannot attain to God’s standards.

And here Jesus is clear that the way to find eternal life is a matter of conscious choice.  Though neither the words “believe” or “faith” are used here, it is clear that one must put his faith in Jesus as the only Way of salvation.

            WHO CAN BE SAVED?

3 comments:

Judy said...

Bill,

I understand that, "Once a person comes to Christ by faith, that person enters the road of discipleship, whether or not that person desires to travel that road." But can a person be a disciple (e.g., Judas) and not be born again at all?

It's clear that in our Christian lives, we sometimes travel well and sometimes travel poorly. I wonder if you might add a few words about why we do this and about how we can maximize the former and minimize the latter.

Best as always,
Bob McCollum

Bill Ball said...

Good questions Bob. I'll have to think a while. I'll get back to them/you later.

gary said...

bill,as i read the gospel accounts or scriptures in general, it seems like a time limit is put on the individual to make a decission about the truthfulness of the only true God and His Son. during this time it seems that God starts the clock running and a person either becomes indifferent,hardened, or serious. it seems no books allow us to stay neutral with the creator.people think that intellectually they decided, but it seems that it is god who hardens.scary! yet,In all of this He is patient!