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Entering Life by the Narrow Gate and Road- Matthew 7:13-14

I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.

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Introduction: Clear Distinctions Between Paths in Life

There is a short story, written by Frank R. Stockton in 1882 by title of: The Lady or the Tiger? It is an allegorical tale that is used as an expression of a problem that is unsolvable. It is summarized well by the website Wickipedia. The site tells us this:

"The short story takes place in a land ruled by a "semi-barbaric" king. Some of the king's ideas are progressive, but others cause people to suffer. One of the king's innovations is the use of a public trial by ordeal as "an agent of poetic justice", with guilt or innocence decided by the result of chance. A person accused of a crime is brought into a public arena and must choose one of two doors.

Behind one door is a lady whom the king has deemed an appropriate match for the accused; behind the other is a fierce, hungry tiger. Both doors are heavily soundproofed to prevent the accused from hearing what is behind each one. If he chooses the door with the lady behind it, he is innocent and must immediately marry her, but if he chooses the door with the tiger behind it, he is deemed guilty and is immediately devoured by the animal.

The king learns that his daughter has a lover, a handsome and brave youth who is of lower status than the princess, and has him imprisoned to await trial. By the time that day comes, the princess has used her influence to learn the positions of the lady and the tiger behind the two doors. She has also discovered that the lady is someone whom she hates, thinking her to be a rival for the affections of the accused. When he looks to the princess for help, she discreetly indicates the door on his right, which he opens.

The outcome of this choice is not revealed. Instead, the narrator departs from the story to summarize the princess's state of mind and her thoughts about directing the accused to one fate or the other, as she will lose him to either death or marriage.

She contemplates the pros and cons of each option, though notably considering the lady more. So the story ends by giving the reader a choice. The writer concludes in this way:

"And so I leave it with all of you: Which came out of the opened door – the lady, or the tiger?"

Jesus, in His famous Sermon on the Mount gives His listeners a choice as well. But unlike the princess in the story, He gives us a clear, yet difficult decision to make as to which gate or door we should choose. And we know that He is giving information that will lead to life and not destruction if we follow His commands.

The Lord shows us the choices that we have in life using the metaphors of a gate that one must enter and a road that one must take in their life in order to get to the eternal life that Jesus was offering them. He states:

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it." (Matthew 7:13-14).

This portion of the sermon begins the closing section which will go through the rest of chapter 7 in the Gospel of Matthew. It is a gospel application to the Sermon on the Mount and He uses it to draw the line as clearly as possible between the way that leads to eternal destruction and the way that leads to eternal life.

Let's begin by putting verses 13 and 14 in the overall flow of Jesus' argument for the conclusion of His sermon.

I. Context of Matthew 7:13,14

If we were to look ahead through to the end of the Sermon, Jesus is giving various metaphors in order to show the same thing. The idea of two gates and two roads show us two destinations in which a person could end up, eternal life or eternal destruction.

He goes on to warn the listener of false prophets, wolves in sheep's clothing, who will lead one in the wrong direction, ending in destruction. In that illustration he tells us that we will know these false prophets by their fruits. (15-16).

This brings our Lord to another metaphor. Two types of trees. One produces bad fruit and the other good. Bad fruit comes from those who are headed down the path to eternal doom. Good fruit comes from those headed for eternal life. (17-20).

Jesus then let's the listeners know that not everyone who claims Him as Lord will be part of those who are headed for eternal life but only those who do His Father's will. Some who merely say "Lord, Lord!" are headed down the path of destruction (21-23).

Jesus ends His sermon with a final metaphor of two builders with two foundations (24-27). Those who hear His words and act on them are like a wise builder who builds on a foundation of rock. Those who hear His words and don't act on them are like a foolish builder who builds his house on the sand. The first, when the rains fall and the floods come, the house doesn't fall. It remains secure because of the good foundation.

The second builder's house, on the other hand, doesn't do well. The rains and the floods cause its destruction. And Jesus tells His listener's:

"....and great was it's fall!"

We will get into these various metaphors in future messages but suffice it to say for now that the only rock that we can build our life upon is Jesus Christ Himself. He is the rock and the only real foundation that will keep us standing in the storms of life and not lead us to the destruction that will happen to anyone else with any other foundation.

The Apostle Paul, in a similar way, talks about this in his letter to the Corinthians when he says:

According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise master-builder, I have laid the foundation, and another builds upon it. But let every man take heed how he builds on it.

For no other foundation can any man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." (I Corinthians 3:7-11).

Now, let us go back to the gates and the roads and dig a little deeper into Jesus' words here.

II. The Gates and the Roads

First of all, for those who read the King James, you will find out that it says that the gate is strait that one must enter to get eternal life. It might be easy to get this confused with another English word: 'straight' meaning free from curves, bends, angles or irregularities. But the term is actually another word rarely used anymore. It is spelled s-t-r-a-i-t. The Greek word here is stenos, meaning narrow or small.

The English term in the King James refers to 'a route or channel, so narrow as to make passage difficult'. This is still found in the names of various sea routes, e.g. the Straits of Dover. Such a nautical strait was defined in the 1867 version of Admiral Smyth's book entitled:

The Sailor's Word-Book: An Alphabetical Digest of Nautical Terms.

The definition is as follows:

"A strait is a passage connecting one part of a sea with another."

It is interesting that both the narrow and wide gates are assumed by all those who enter them as way's into God's Kingdom and eternal life. It is the same with the wide and narrow roads.

But one of the two differences is that many go through the wide gate and down the narrow road, and few go through the narrow gate and down the narrow road. The other difference is that the narrow gate and road are the true ways to life and the others, the wide gate and road are false.

It was British philosopher and social reformer Bertrand Russel who once said:

“The fact that an opinion has been widely held is no evidence whatever that it is not utterly absurd; indeed in view of the silliness of the majority of mankind, a widely spread belief is more likely to be foolish than sensible.”

Sadly, most people remind me of the myth that has been spread about the lemming. A lemming is a small rodent, usually found in or near the Arctic. The myth about them is that every few years, herds of lemmings commit mass suicide by jumping off seaside cliffs. Instinct, it is said, drives them to kill themselves whenever their population becomes unsustainably large. The truth is that lemmings do not commit suicide. They won't follow each other off of cliffs.

Sadly, this myth has been perpetuated by the 1958 Disney nature film White Wilderness. Filmmakers eager for dramatic footage staged a lemming death plunge, pushing dozens of lemmings off a cliff while cameras were rolling. The images—shocking at the time for what they seemed to show about the cruelty of nature and shocking now for what they actually show about the cruelty of humans—convinced several generations of moviegoers that these little rodents do, in fact, possess a bizarre instinct to destroy themselves.

But that picture does provide an irresistible metaphor for human behavior. People who blindly follow a crowd—maybe even toward catastrophe—are called lemmings.

And one of the ways the majority of people follow the crowd is in religious belief. By following, they go through this wide gate and wide door that leads to their destruction. They don't really think of why they believe what the do. They simply follow the crowd, whether it be their family of origin or friends who have strong beliefs. They adopt the views of the majority in their group of influence.

And, no matter what the religion, some sort of works-based salvation always seems to be involved. I like the way Gotquestions.org talks about the reason for that. They say:

"One of man’s basic desires is to be in control of his own destiny, and that includes his eternal destiny. Salvation by works appeals to man’s pride and his desire to be in control. Being saved by works appeals to that desire far more than the idea of being saved by faith alone. Also, man has an inherent sense of justice. Even the most ardent atheist believes in some type of justice and has a sense of right and wrong, even if he has no moral basis for making such judgments. Our inherent sense of right and wrong demands that if we are to be saved, our “good works” must outweigh our “bad works.” Therefore, it is natural that when man creates a religion it would involve some type of salvation by works."

But where the wide gate is works-related, the narrow gate is by faith alone through Christ alone. It is very constricted and precise. This represents true salvation in God's way and not man's.

The wide gate includes all the religions of the world with their various means of finding favor with God or the gods, as the case may be. And it includes religions such as Buddhism. Buddhists do not believe in a god. The focus in Buddhism is on personal spiritual enlightenment and to gain a deep insight into the true nature of life.

Of course it goes without saying that the wide road also is full of atheists who say that they don't believe in a god, even though there is abundant evidence that there is a Being greater than the universe of which we are a part. Also, it encompasses agnostics who claim that one cannot even know that there is a god.

Both the atheist and the agnostic believe in works too. They simply believe in working toward the betterment of mankind in general, or just the betterment of self rather than seeking the glory of God.

The narrow gate and narrow road are both metaphors for a personal relationship with the only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ through faith in his name. This is seen clearly in Acts 4:12 where it tells us:

"Neither is there salvation in any other. For there is no other name under heaven, given among men whereby we must be saved."

Its narrowness is also seen when Jesus tells his disciples that:

"I am the way (i.e.road), the truth and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me." (John 14:6).

Further, it is seen in such verses as John 10:9 where Christ says:

""I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture."

Here the word 'door' is referring to a gate entrance door to a pasture of sheep. It metaphorically stands for the door through which Christ's sheep go out and in. It is by the name of Him who brings salvation to those who follow his guidance.” Jesus is the only door.

In talking about the narrow path of following Jesus, it is also emphasizing the difficulty of following Him, which the Lord brought up more than once in His teachings. Although salvation is by grace alone, nevertheless, following Him isn't an easy path. It calls for knowledge of the truth and submission to Christ as Lord and a willingness to obey His will and His Word. And it goes against the current of the rest of the world which is haplessly going downstream toward a waterfall which will end in sudden death and destruction.

So, though it be hard to take the narrow gate and narrow road, at least it ends well and is worth all that one goes through in the end.


Conclusion

As we sum up what our Lord was telling us, I am reminded of the what Alice asked the Cheshire Cat in the story Alice in Wonderland. She was lost and inquired:

"I just wanted to ask you where I ought to go?"

The Cheshire Cat replied:

"That depends on where you want to get to."

Alice then said:

"It really doesn't matter."

Finally the cat replied:

"Then it really doesn't matter which way you go!"

We are living in a world where most people, like Alice, are lost and have no idea where they want to go. They may have some vague idea of heaven and the fact that it is a good place that someone has spoken of but they don't know that the thing that makes Heaven great is that a holy, righteous, loving and good God abides there and that He alone is the one who provides the way to His abode.

He is indeed the gate or door to this place. And the only path to Heaven is one that He provides through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. If you haven't accepted the one way that He offers, bow down before Him today and accept Jesus' sacrifice on the cross for your sins.

If you have already done this, then thank Him for all that He's done for you and for the privilege that you have of entering into an eternal relationship with Him. May we spend eternity praising Him who is our narrow gate and the only road that leads to the joys that He has prepared for those who love Him.

© 2021 Jeff Shirley

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