The Narrow Road

I’ve heard for most of my life about “the Narrow Road” that leads to heaven and the “broad” road that leads to hell. I just assumed it was synonymous with being a Christian and not being one. I’ve had a pretty black and white religion for most of my life because I was taught to focus on performance more than I was taught to look at God’s heart. 

I was taught about the stern side of God. It’s the side where there was always more I could have done; where we measured our spirituality by how much we gave up. You proved your love for God by how much you were willing to sacrifice. But I’ve learned that If you see God as serious and disappointed with you, you’ll believe you have to get outside of his nature to experience joy. So we end up believing that joy is what happens when we go to the bar and spirituality is what happens when we go to church. Many Christians attempt to pursue joy and spirituality separately and it isn’t working out for them. One of the reasons so many have abandoned church is because they have never experience the God who laughs with us.

Matthew 7:13 “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. 

Jesus told us about the narrow gate. 

“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture.” John 10:9

Jesus doesn’t specify who or what the road is. On one occasion he said, “I am the way.” But … If Jesus is presenting himself as the narrow gate in these verses, what do you believe the narrow road is?

The Sermon on the Mount was the disciples’ pep talk. He exciting. It’s not yet a hardship. At this point, being a disciple is an enviable position. So as Jesus walks with them through the hillsides, and he sees the crowds, he decides that it’s time. He walks up the side of a hill and sits down. These 12 men gather around, and then the crowd moves in around them. The next 3 chapters in Matthew are dedicated to recording what Jesus said next.

To understand what the narrow road is, you need to understand what was so important about that talk on the side of a hill. This verse about the narrow road is part of the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. And that sermon changed everything. It redefined the old traditions. Those traditions had become focused on behaviour and performance. And Jesus began to tell them, “Performance is not the criteria by which you will be judged.” And he shows them what it means to honestly follow Jesus. As he draws that talk to a close, he tells them this…

Matthew 7:13 “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.

The gate is what you have to walk through, the road is what you walk on. It is where you decide to go once you’ve gone through the gate in order to reach your destination. As Sarah shared so beautifully last week, we cannot follow Jesus and ignore what he says. Let’s look briefly at the Sermon on the Mount.

In summary Jesus was saying, “You need to see how profound an impact a person has when they live well. You flavour culture, just like salt flavours food. You expose truth like a light shining in darkness reveals the things around it.” He said, “You think you understand. You think that all you have to do is not kill and steel and commit adultery. That’s what the Old Testament Law says. But I say your motive matters more than what you do. 

“What’s the big deal if you’re kind to people who treat you well? Even evil people do that. You need to understand that what you treasure most you will pursue. You are going to spend your time there. It isn’t true that you can pursue God and be self-centred at the same time. When you let go of trying to control everything in your life, and you step into trusting what God is saying to you, why would you worry?

“Why waste time trying to figure out the motives of others? Most of our judging is the result of what we observe ~ but you can’t see a person’s heart. Live your relationships deeply. Protect your times with Father God. He becomes the definition and motivation for how you should treat other people. It’s not a bad thing to be mocked for doing what’s right. 

“When you pray, pray in secret ~ but use plural pronouns because I care about humanity. Be generous to those in need. Father God will make sure that you are not forgotten.”

The disciples hadn’t heard anything like this before. And to be honest, for a significant part of my life, I believed that if I behaved outwardly, what I did inwardly could remain hidden. I honestly believed I could live both lives.

How long does it take you to feel dirty when you know you are living a lie? Paul talks about this struggle in Romans. He says, “It’s an inner battle. I do the very things that I hate myself for later. I’m stuck. I’m in this trap. Who can set me free from this?”

The Sermon on the Mount wasn’t about becoming legalistic. It is God revealing to you how you can be free. He is fully aware that you and I know what is right and what is wrong. He knows the damage living a lie does to a person’s self-respect. He is fully aware of the growing percentage of people living with depression; with the rising hopelessness that is causing so many to take their own lives. He is aware of the physical and emotional consequences of promiscuous living. So he begins his disciples orientation by saying, “You can’t embrace contradicting lifestyles. One will dominate you and be your master.”

Life is a refining. When I was younger I didn’t realize my potential. It seemed that my value came from what you thought my potential was. If you thought I was average, I actually allowed that to influence how I felt about myself. 

How many have had a parent ask you in frustration, “If your friends told you to jump off a cliff, would you do it?” Of course I wouldn’t. It wasn’t really a helpful question. But when my friends invited me to go do something I knew I shouldn’t but at the same time offered me friendship and a place to belong, that I found far more tempting than jumping off a cliff.

Truth be told, we want to draw close to a lot of things. But some of those things are not compatible. Did you ever play with magnets as a kid? When you turned two magnets one way, they’re drawn to each other. Flip them around, what happens? They actually push away from each other. They repel each other. You see, there’s a polarity in spirituality. We push ourselves away from God when we pursue things that dishonour him. Yet we are drawn to God when we love the things that he loves and he is drawn to us. When we love the things God loves, our desire to pursue sin diminishes.

The Sermon on the Mount wasn't Jesus adding to the list of behaviours you have to live up to. It is God telling us about himself. He’s saying, “I want you to know me.”

What does it mean to know someone? I have a few friends who know me in ways that no one else does. We’ve been in Afghanistan together. In Eastern Congo we were caught between two waring sides. We’ve had rocket fire and bullets go over our heads and counted our days together. We know each other. We can rely upon each other. Many people have met me; but not that many people know me. 

My wife Nancy knows me in a way no other will know me. We’ve shared life together. Our childhoods were interwoven. We’ve worked places all over the world together. We’ve share intimacy.

I’m convinced that Jesus knows me. Probably better than I know myself. He understands my motives, my longings, my joys. I have spent most of the years of my life trying to figure out who he is. How well do I know him? As I read through the Gospels, I realize that the longing to be known is something that begins with God. Jesus wanted his followers to share his life. On one occasion he was listening to his disciples talk about the things people were saying about him. So he turned the question around and he asked, “Who do you say I am?” 

And Peter comes up with that profound answer, “You are the Christ. You are the Son of the Living God.” And Jesus says, “Wow, that’s not something you figured out by yourself Peter. God had to show you that.”  Then he goes on and begins to tell them how he will die. Peter says, “No way. I won't let that happen.”

Then Jesus said to Peter, “Go away from me, Satan! You are not helping me! You don’t care about the things of God, but only about the things people think are important.” Matthew 16:23 NCV

Do we understand what’s important in life? Do we understand how to think the way God thinks or do we fall into the same trap Peter fell into? The narrow road is not about the vocation you chose. You walk the Narrow Road in your heart. You stay on it at times as a direct result of your will. It is your loyalty and love for God that influences all your other decisions. You allow it to place boundaries around what you are willing to do and what you are willing to love. 

God is letting us see his heart in the Sermon on the Mount. This is who he is. This is what he loves. It’s his invitation to know him. He has invested in us more that we realize. So the Sermon on the Mount is him helping us understand about living. We were never made to be passive in our faith and character. 

Paul told Timothy:

7 Don’t follow foolish stories that disagree with God’s truth, but train yourself to serve God. 1 Timothy 4:7 (NCV)

You learn character in your heart not in your mind. So we are taught to take our thoughts captive and make them obedient to Christ. 

Jesus said, “You’ve heard it said you should not murder, but I say you shouldn’t hate.” (Matthew 5:21-26) 

“You’ve heard it said that you shouldn’t commit adultery, but I say you shouldn’t lust.” (Matthew 5:27-30) 

“You’ve heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye,” but I say you should extend grace and be generous.” (Matthew 5:38-42) 

“You’ve heard it said to love your neighbour, but I say to love you enemies and pray for those who give you a rough time.” (Matthew 5:43-48) 

Why? Because those are the things God can’t do. ~ When we understand that and allow our love for God to influence our love for others, we become places where the Spirit of God can live. Then His love is added to our lives and God and you are drawn to each other.

Matthew 5:45 “… that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

This is our birthright and true nature. God is most interested in your motives because we worship in spirit and in truth. You don’t worship God with your intellect. You worship him with your will. 

Jesus began his training of these 12 men with the Sermon on the Mount. He drew it to a close in chapter 7.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.

“You knew about me, but you never knew me. We didn’t live together; My spirit and your spirit. How could you know me if you love the things that pushed us apart?” 

Paul explained it in 1 Corinthians 13 “If I don’t have love I’m just a lot of noise. I’ve gained nothing that lasts.’

John explained it this way, 

“If we claim that we experience a shared life with him and continue to stumble around in the dark, we’re obviously lying through our teeth—we’re not living what we claim. But if we walk in the light, God himself being the light, we also experience a shared life with one another, as the sacrificed blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purges all our sin.” 1 John 1:6-7 (MSG)

Jesus was dismantling the idea that ritual was enough. To know God, you have to enter into him and he will enter into you. As we draw near to him, he is drawn to us. That sermon was intended to help these new followers to understand how to draw close to God. 

Jesus wasn’t outlining a more complex layer of legalism and religion. He was revealing what love looks like with skin on. He was saying, “This is who I am. I am love and there is no darkness in me. I want you to know, right up front, what journeying with me is going to look like. If you walk this road with me, I will not only show you what life is, I will produce life in you. Not many are willing to walk this road. It’s the road of choosing me first. The narrow road is the loyalty you have for me.” We restrict some of our freedoms to receive greater freedom.”  

He’s saying, “Don’t be satisfied with only knowing about God. I want you to know me.”