02/19/89, 10/11/92, 10/22/06
13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Ancient Greek mythology had a legend about the Sphinx. The Sphinx was a female monster that would set up beside the road and confront travelers with a riddle. If the travelers answered the riddle, then fine, they could pass on, but if the traveler failed to answer correctly, as most of them did, the Sphinx ate them for lunch. As with much of Greek mythology, there is an observation about life in this story. In a sense, life is a riddle. We are traveling through life, and If we answer the riddle of life correctly, then fine, we can go on our way, but if we answer incorrectly, then we are lost and destroyed for all time.
The Bible confronts us with a choice about the riddle of life. Deuteronomy 30:15 “See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil.” In the New Testament, Jesus sets before us the two gates.
One gate is wide and the way beyond seems paved with gold, and before it are set columns of precious stones, and crowds of people are struggling to get through this gate, and multitudes are trooping down the broad way beyond it. The other gate is small and plain, and beyond it is a narrow little path, and only one or two people seem to be going up to this gate, and only two or three seem to be walking down this path.
The two gates represent two ways of life. One is the dark way of sin; the other is the bright way of holiness. We have two ways set before us: right and wrong, good and evil. All of us are even now walking in one of these ways. We cannot walk in some other way, some third or fourth way, because there are only two choices. We are all either saints or sinners, godly or ungodly, one or the other.
Let us consider these two ways then. First, the dark way of sin. Why, we ask are all those multitudes trooping along in this way? What lures them into it and keeps them in it? They come in their crowds because of the laxity, the carelessness, the slackness of it. The gate stands wide open and tempts those who thoughtlessly go along the line of least resistance.
I remember reading about how the first roads came to be in America. The rabbits, the deer, and the buffalo tended to follow the same trails over and over, because once a trail was made, it was easy to just keep using that trail. The Indians did not cut paths through the wilderness, they followed these game trails, because again that was the easiest way.. The white settlers on their way west, in turn followed Indian trails, because that was the easiest way.
We tend to do the same thing in life. We take the easy way, the wide way. We take the way of least resistance. We avoid life rather than engage it. We avoid confrontation. We don’t want to stand out. We don’t want to sacrifice or do without.
This wide way is, as I have said, the way of the crowd—which is itself an enticement to many people. Many go in at this gate because they see others going in. “Everyone else is doing it,” they say. But our mothers warned us against this way of thinking. As children, we said, “Everyone else is staying out late at night, so it should be ok for me to stay out late.” Mother was unimpressed with our reasoning. She replied, “If everyone else was jumping off a cliff, would you jump off a cliff?” And she concluded, “No, you are not going to stay out late.” And mom was right, and her logic applies to our spiritual life. Most people are going to hell. You do not want to follow that crowd.
One thing Jesus makes clear in these verses from the Sermon on the Mount. He is not interested in public opinion polls. When it comes to the way of Christ, majority rule does not apply. The majority are not going to follow Jesus. The majority are not going to be saved.
Therefore, if we go in the strait gate, we swim against the stream. The crowd is going the other way. They will oppose us. The world will set itself against us. We must understand that from the beginning. If we follow the way of Christ, we should expect ridicule and contempt from those who follow the way of the world.
Further, Jesus speaks of the way of sin as the wide way because it is uncontrolled and undisciplined. To be controlled is to live an orderly life, to be under authority. A Christian, by definition, is a person under authority. A Christian is a woman or man who has submitted to the authority and control of Jesus. We have a master whom we obey. Our Master calls us to walk in the narrow way of self-discipline. Christian discipline is not the kind of discipline we find in the military. Military discipline is physically imposed upon the soldier from without by his military superiors. Christian discipline is imposed on Christian soldiers from within, by their own decision, by their own conscience. Thus, Christian discipline is self mastery, self-restraint, self-command.
This message of Christian self-control is the message that this generation needs to hear most of all and wants to hear least of all. This is a self-worshipping age—which means that most people do not want any control over the self of any kind. Everybody says, “I want my freedom”—by which they mean, “I want to do as I please.” But that is not freedom, that is just lack of self-control.
This lack of control shows up throughout our society. Students do sloppy school work; workers do sloppy work on the job. A few years ago a Japanese official said that Americans are a lazy, undisciplined people, and we got all wrought up and angry about that, but Americans had been saying the same thing for years, we just did not like having foreigners tell us these unpleasant truths.
“No Rules, Just Right,” is not just the slogan of Outback Steakhouse, it is the slogan of our culture. Rules are hard, and most Americans want the easy way.
But enough about the do-as-you-please way of sin, Let us talk about the other way, the narrow way of light and holiness. The gate that enters into this way is the gate of salvation. Through this gate we pass out of a state of sin into a state of grace. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). This gate then is the gate of the new birth. To get through this gate, we must have a new heart and a new sprit. Old corrupt habits and evil doings must pass away.
Now we have a new life, a life of light and hope, but also a life of obedience. As Christians, we have the promise of heaven, but we are not there yet. We are like the Israelites during the Exodus. We have crossed the Red Sea, but we have not yet reached the promised land. We are still in the wilderness. To a believer, the world is a wilderness, a dark and dangerous place. But our lord watches over us even in this wilderness, and leads us in his way, through the strait gate.
We must bow low to enter in at this gate. We must humble ourselves and become as little children. We must deny ourselves and put off the old man and put on Jesus Christ. You can see then why Jesus said that few find this gate.
Jesus is calling you to be a great person, and greatness is never easy. Greatness is always an uphill climb. The saying is: “No guts, no glory, no pain, no gain.” The price of all good things is hard work. The skill of doing anything well does not come easy.
For example, most everyone believes in prayer. In my whole life, I can count on one hand the number of people I have met who did not believe in prayer. In America, 99% of the people believe in the power of prayer. But ask them if they pray every day, and they will mumble some excuse. The majority of people in our society do not pray every day. Why not? Because everyday prayer requires discipline. You have to set aside some time for it, and you have to remember to do it. So most people may pray occasionally, but regular prayer, praying every day, is hard and most people wind up not doing it. This reminds us of the quote from G. K. Chesterton: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.” Most people do not like the discipline of the strait gate, they prefer that wide gate that does not require anything, but Jesus reminds us that those who go down that wide way go to their own destruction.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) is a tragic example of what Jesus is talking about. Coleridge was a genius who managed to mostly waste his genius. He dropped out of Cambridge University to join the Calvary. Four months later, he dropped out of the Calvary and returned to Cambridge. Then he dropped out of Cambridge again. He constantly moved from one venture to another. He preached sermons, he lectured, he started journals. Everything he did showed great promise, and the poems he wrote were excellent. He was a genius, but he totally lacked self-control, and so what he did was not much. Finally, he became addicted to opium, and finished his self-destruction.
Coleridge chose the wide gate, and it ruined him. That is what should really frighten us about that gate—it leads to destruction. It is the way of sin, and eternal, everlasting death lies at the end of it.
The narrow way is the way of life. Notice that in our verses today, Jesus puts life and a life spent following him together. On the other side he puts death, and life without him. The only way we can live, truly live, is to live in Jesus. Life without Jesus is not life at all.
Choose then. Jesus has stated the matter plainly enough: life or death, good or evil. There is no riddle here. We see the two ways, and we see the end of these two ways. What we must do is choose.
Now you might say, “The choice is obvious. None of us would choose to go to the gallows or to the electric chair just because the way to it is pleasant and smooth.” But in fact, most people do not think that way. Most people look only at the way and not at the end, and so they choose wrong. They do not see that the easy way has a price, and the price is very high.
The price of the wide gate is destruction. This is the fate of most people. The message of Christ is not for most people. It is for you. Robert Frost’s famous poem, “The Road Not Taken,” ends with these familiar words…
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
It makes all the difference for your life which road, which gate, you choose. If you have delayed, delay no longer. If you have deliberated, deliberate no longer. “Enter ye in at the strait gate.” Come to this gate with sincere and constant faith in Jesus, and it will be opened to you.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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