by

12  So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

The Narrow Gate

13  “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:12-14

The Hard Way
The Hard Way (Image by Iris Vallejo)

Lee Strobel asks us to imagine a daughter and her boyfriend going out for a Coke on a school night. The father says to her, “You must be home before eleven.” It gets to be 10:45 p.m. and the two of them are still having a great time. They don’t want the evening to end, so suddenly they begin to have difficulty interpreting the father’s instructions:

What did he really mean when he said, “You must be home before eleven”? Did he literally mean us, or was he talking about you in a general sense, like people in general? Was he saying, in effect, “As a general rule, people must be home before eleven”? Or was he just making the observation that “Generally, people are in their homes before eleven”? I mean, he wasn’t very clear, was he?

And what did he mean by, “You must be home before eleven”? Would a loving father be so adamant and inflexible? He probably means it as a suggestion. I know he loves me, so isn’t it implicit that he wants me to have a good time? And if I am having fun, then he wouldn’t want me to end the evening so soon.

And what did he mean by, “You must be home before eleven”? He didn’t specify whose home. It could be anybody’s home. Maybe he meant it figuratively. Remember the old saying, “Home is where the heart is”? My heart is right here, so doesn’t that mean I’m already home?

And what did he really mean when he said, “You must be home before eleven”? Did he mean that in an exact, literal sense? Besides, he never specified 11 p.m. or 11 a.m. And he wasn’t really clear on whether he was talking about Central Standard Time or Eastern Standard Time. In Hawaii, it’s still only quarter to seven. As a matter of fact, when you think about it, it’s always before eleven. Whatever time it is, it’s always before the next eleven.

So with all of these ambiguities, we can’t really be sure what he meant at all. If he can’t make himself more clear, we certainly can’t be held responsible.” (James Emery White, Christ Among Dragons, IVP Books, 2010, page 177; www.PreachingToday.com)

It’s amazing how people sometimes justify their disobedience. It reminds me of how Satan tempted our first parents in the Garden of Eden: “Did God actually say…” (Genesis 3:1).

Well, in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He has been very clear about what He expects of the citizens in His Kingdom. He wants them to shine with an internal righteousness that comes from deep within, not to put on a show of external righteousness, covering selfishness and pride within.

In a word, He wants His citizens to love people from the heart, and He has been very unambiguous about that throughout His Sermon on the Mount. For example, He says: Don’t be angry with your brother, but be reconciled (5:21-26); don’t lust after women (5:27-30); don’t divorce your wife (5:31-32); be honest with people without having to swear (5:33-37); turn the other cheek (5:38-42); love your enemy (5:43-48); give secretly to the needy (6:1-4); forgive others their trespasses (6:5-14); lay up treasures in heaven by giving to the poor (6:19-24); and don’t judge (7:1-6).

Now, you can choose to obey Christ or not. That is to say, you can choose to love people or not. And as Jesus comes to the end of His Sermon on the Mount, He makes that choice very clear. If you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to Matthew 7, where Jesus lays out the choice before us.

Matthew 7:12 So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (ESV).

This verse summarizes everything Jesus has said so far. In fact, it’s a summary of all that GOD has said in His Word so far, i.e., in the Law and the Prophets, or the entire Old Testament Scriptures.

Later in Matthew, a lawyer will ask Jesus, “Which is the great commandment in the Law?” (Matt. 22:36). And Jesus will answer, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

The law of love is the foundation of all laws in the Bible. It’s the “royal law,” James calls it (James 2:8), the king of all laws. And this is what love looks like: Do to others what you wish they would do to you. Jesus is very clear here – no ambiguity!

CHOOSE LOVE, He says.

Choose to treat others the way you want to be treated. Choose to go out of your way to serve people. Choose to give sacrificially to others.

Jesus’ command here goes way beyond just withholding harm. It is more than not doing to others what you don’t want them to do to you.

You see, that’s the ethic of most religions. The Jews in Jesus day taught, “What is hateful to yourself, do to no other; that is the whole law, and the rest is commentary.” Confucius taught, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” Buddhism teaches, “All men tremble at the rod, all men fear death; Putting oneself in the place of others, kill not, nor cause to kill. Isocrates, an ancient Greek philosopher, said, “Do not do to others the things which make you angry when you experience them at the hands of other people.” Epictetus, another Greek philosopher, condemned slavery on the principle: “What you avoid suffering yourselves, seek not to in?ict upon others.” Or to put it the way other stoic philosophers put it, “What you do not wish to be done to you, do not do to anyone else.” (William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1)

It’s the negative form of what Jesus taught, and that takes very little effort at all. As William Barclay says, “It is never very dif?cult not to do things.” In fact, if you consistently did nothing, you would never break the rule! Most religions teach, “Do no harm.” I.e., “Don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you.”

Only Jesus teaches, DO to others what you wish they would do to you. That goes way beyond just withholding harm. It requires action! It requires that I actively do to others what I want them to do to me. It requires that I go out of my way to help people and show kindness to them.

For example, if you own a car, the law can compel you to drive it in such a way that you do not injure anyone else on the road. But no law can compel you to stop and give a lift to someone who is obviously in need of help (William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol.1). The law says, “DON’T!” Jesus says, ‘DO!”

Several years ago (2005), Stephen Tschiderer, an army medic, was patrolling the dangerous streets of Baghdad. That’s when an enemy sniper shot him in the chest. Tschiderer’s bulletproof vest saved him, but he was knocked to the ground by the impact.

Tschiderer’s then accompanied the combat team that tracked down the sniper. When they found him, the sniper was wounded and in need of prompt medical attention. Only moments earlier, the sniper had put Stephen Tschiderer’s heart between the crosshairs on the scope of his rifle and pulled the trigger, fully intending to end Tschiderer’s life. Tschiderer could have roughed him up, or he could have simply walked away and justified his actions, according to most religions. Instead, Tschiderer treated and dressed the wounds of the man who had tried to take his life.

That’s what Jesus asks His followers to do – not to walk away from your enemy, but to dress the wounds of the one who tried to hurt you. Jesus asks you to help the one who makes your life miserable at work, to speak well of those who talk behind your back, to return good for the evil done to you, like giving a plate of cookies to the neighbor who has threatened to sue you.

I don’t know about you, but I find that extremely difficult to do, if not impossible. I don’t have that kind of love on my own, so it drives me to the very first words of Jesus in this sermon: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

If I’m to love the way Jesus asks me to love, I have to recognize my own inability to do so and depend on Him to do it through me. I must have Jesus’ love in my heart. I must trust Christ with my life and allow Him to change my own stone-cold heart into a heart of flesh that loves people like He loved me, even though my sins put Him on the cross.

Please, if you haven’t done it already, give yourself to Jesus; trust Him with your life, and let Him fill your heart with His love for people

That way is hard. It’s hard to go out of your way to love even your enemy, but it’s the only way to live! So Jesus puts the choice before you. He invites you to choose love; and by that choice, He invites you to…

CHOOSE LIFE.

To choose the eternal, abundant life Jesus offers to those who depend on Him. To choose not just to exist, but to really live forever when you let Him love people through you.

Matthew 7:13-14 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. (ESV)

Jesus presents two ways of life: the hard way of love, which leads to life, or the easy way of living for yourself, which leads to ruin.

Now, the way of love begins with a narrow gate. The entrance is restricted only to those who depend on Jesus.

I know that exclusive claim bristles against our culture, which believes that what you believe doesn’t really matter, and that all roads lead to God. But Jesus is very clear here – the entrance to life is narrow; it’s exclusive.

In John 14 Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). I may not like it, but it’s true!

I don’t always like what my doctor says, but if I’m going to live well, I need to trust Him enough to do what He prescribes. For example, I used to have a terrible snoring problem. It was so bad, people asked me to sleep in a separate room when I went to conferences and retreats with them. Even then, my snoring scared little children, who thought a bear was in the room.

I finally talked to my doctor about it (Dr. Kepka in Ellsworth), and he ordered a sleep study. I spent the night in a hospital room with wires stuck all over my body and was told to “sleep normally.” Well, after what I can assure was NOT a normal night’s sleep, I was diagnosed with sleep apnea.

My doctor prescribed a CPAP machine. It was the only solution to my condition, which could have led to heart problems and an early death. I didn’t necessarily like his solution, but if I wanted to live a long life, I had to do what He said. I had to trust Him enough to wear a silly CPAP machine every night, which I have done now for the last 20 years.

In the same way, I have to trust Jesus enough to do what He says even if it seems silly, even if people laugh and mock me for it. There is no other way to live the life He calls me to live. There is no other way to love like He calls me to love, but to depend on Him.

That’s why the way of love begins with a narrow gate. It’s because there are very few who will accept Jesus as the only way.

More than that, very few people accept Jesus’ way, because the way of love is hard. Loving the way Jesus asks us to love is difficult.

The Greek word used for “hard” in verse 14 literally means “pressing.” Paul uses the same word when he says, “We are being HARD-PRESSED on every side, but not crushed” (2 Corinthians 4:8).

Serving yourself is easy (vs.13). Literally, it’s broad and spacious; it’s agreeable and pleasant. On the other hand, serving Christ is hard; it’s pressing.

Haddon Robinson talked about a time when he helped lead a tour in Turkey of the seven churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation. On the last night, they were in the city of Izmir and were having dinner at one of its nicer hotels. Their guide had been in the United States at least ten years and spoke English flawlessly. As they were eating, he began to ask us questions, serious questions about the Christian faith. Robinson asked him, “If you’re a follower of Islam, and if you died tonight, would you be sure you could stand in the presence of Allah?”

“No,” the guide replied. “There are five things that Muslims should do. I’ve done two out of five.”

Then they began to talk about the gospel. They talked about it long into the night, and before Robinson left, he said to the guide, “Look, you’re serious about our conversation, I know. It would not be faithful of me not to ask you if right now you’d like to put your trust and confidence in Jesus Christ.”

The guide responded, “You don’t know what you’re asking me. Do you know what would happen if I did that? If I announced it to anybody, my wife would leave me. My family would disown me. My boss would fire me. I may want to leave to go back to the United States, and the government would not give me an exit visa. I’d give up everything. You go back home tomorrow. I would not expect you would support me, and I would starve to death in my own culture.” (Haddon Robinson, from the sermon “Love Keeps Going; www.PreachingToday.com)

That’s the price many followers of Christ pay around the world. The way is hard for many, but it is well worth the trip!

Dr. John Stott’s last bit of advice to his assistant before he died in 2011 was simply this: “Do the hard thing.” Stott believed that choosing the easy trail, the road most taken, and the path of least resistance can only end in mediocrity—even if it comes with praise.

That’s what Jesus encourages you to do this morning: Do the hard thing. Trust Jesus with your life, and let Him love difficult people through you.

Not many people will do that, because the way of love starts with a narrow gate, and the way of love is hard.

But in the end, the way of love leads to life. Christ’s way leads to a full life that lasts forever.

On the other hand, living for yourself “leads to destruction” (vs.13). Literally, it leads to ruin. Jesus uses the same word to describe how new wine destroys (or ruins) old wineskins (Matthew 9:17). It bursts them open, leaving them good for nothing. In the same way, selfishness destroys your life. It ruins it!

Philip Poniz needed a well-protected place to stash his collection of rare watches. He had been gathering unusual pieces since he was a teenager and he became an internationally known expert in the history and restoration of high-end timepieces.

At first, he kept his personal collection in his house, but he wanted something more secure. The vault at his neighborhood bank seemed ideal. In 1983, he arranged with his bank to rent a safe deposit box. In the vault were hundreds of stacked metal boxes, each protected by two keys. The bank kept one; the customer held the other. Both were required to open a box.

Then, in April of 2017, he lifted the thin metal lid of his box. His box was empty. “I thought my heart would fail,” Mr. Poniz said. “I was devastated,” he said. “I never felt like that in my life before. I had never known that one can have a feeling like that.”

Mr. Poniz began piecing together what had happened: His bank had evicted another customer for not keeping up with payments, but bank employees had mistakenly removed Mr. Poniz’s box instead. He estimated that the value of his loss was more than $10 million. That would make it one of the largest safe-deposit-box losses in American history.

“My impression about safe deposit boxes was that it was like you were putting things in Fort Knox,” he said. “Nothing could happen to it.” He doesn’t think that anymore. (Stacy Cowley, “Safe Deposit Boxes Aren’t Safe,” The New York Times, 7-19-19; www.PreachingToday.com)

He learned the hard way that hoarded wealth is quickly gone. 1 John 2:17 says, “The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” Do you want your life to count for eternity? Then pursue God’s will for your life. I.e., make it your ambition to love people with Christ’s love. Choose love and so choose life!

I close with this poem written by C. T. Studd, a British missionary who served the people of China, India, and Africa 100 years ago.

Two little lines I heard one day, Traveling along life’s busy way;

Bringing conviction to my heart, And from my mind would not depart;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one, Soon will its fleeting hours be done;

Then, in ‘that day’ my Lord to meet, And stand before His Judgment seat;

Only one life,’ twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, the still small voice, Gently pleads for a better choice

Bidding me selfish aims to leave, And to God’s holy will to cleave;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, a few brief years, Each with its burdens, hopes, and fears;

Each with its days I must fulfill, Living for self or in His will;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

When this bright world would tempt me sore, When Satan would a victory score;

When self would seek to have its way, Then help me Lord with joy to say;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Give me Father, a purpose deep, In joy or sorrow Thy word to keep;

Faithful and true what e’er the strife, Pleasing Thee in my daily life;

Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Oh let my love with fervor burn, And from the world now let me turn;

Living for Thee, and Thee alone, Bringing Thee pleasure on Thy throne;

Only one life, “twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Only one life, yes only one, Now let me say, “Thy will be done”;

And when at last I’ll hear the call, I know I’ll say ’twas worth it all”;

Only one life,’ twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.

 

Author:
C. Philip Green is Pastor of Faith Bible Church in Lyons, Kansas. Phil received D. Min. from Dallas Theological Seminary. Connect with Pastor Phil Green via his email at cpgreen50@yahoo.com or his cell at 785-472-8633.

Comments are closed.