Narrow, Difficult, and Few
Introduction: Jesus taught that there are really only two ways to live our lives. We have the choice to enter by the narrow gate which leads to eternal life or the broad way that leads to eternal death. Because the narrow gate is difficult for people to accept, there are few who find it. When it comes to the broad way, many traverse this path. It’s so easy to just go with the flow. So, either we choose the narrow, difficult, and the few or we choose the broad, easy, and the many. Mark 3.7-19 begins with great multitudes and ends with 12 individuals. All of these people made one of two choices when it came to the way they would live their lives. We face this choice today. We must choose the narrow, difficult gate in life even though few find it!
Review: Preparation for the narrow gate begins with a clear understanding of the Gospel. Jesus said in Mark 1.15, “Repent and Believe in the Gospel!” Saving repentance means turning away from the belief that our works or moral goodness will enable us to gain entrance into Heaven and turning to the belief that the finished work of Jesus Christ is our only access to Heaven. The good news has nothing to do with your good works and everything to do with the Person and Work of Jesus Christ.
The narrow gate is difficult. Once we pass through, we find that learning to traverse the road ahead takes discipline. Saving repentance has opened the way to a relationship with Christ. We no longer claim authority over our lives, but rather Jesus is our Lord and Master. We seek not to control or manipulate Jesus; we now understand that it must be Jesus controlling us.
Opposition and resistance to Jesus Christ come from all sides. Sometimes we are a part of that opposition and we fail to recognize it. The last sermon in our series in Mark’s Gospel taught us that we need to ask God to search and know our hearts. We must do this because those hearts are deceitful.
· The scribes and Pharisees were so deceived that faulty reasoning led them to the conclusion that Jesus was a blasphemer for forgiving the sins of a paralyzed man and then healing him.
· These self-righteous Pharisees were so incensed that Jesus would eat with the hated tax collectors and sinners.
· Religion pushed the disciples of John and of the Pharisees to fast, but Jesus said that it would be inappropriate for His disciples to fast. The problem was that religious people are often driven by either confused or cold and loveless hearts.
· These same Pharisees watched the disciples of Jesus pick grain on the Sabbath and legalistically demanded that Jesus stop them.
· Jesus even healed the man with the withered hand on another Sabbath; this resulted in the plotting of the Pharisees with the Herodians. They desired to destroy Jesus because they had hardened hearts.
Transition: All of this opposition produced an atmosphere of great hostility. Jesus was facing incredible pressure and yet He also was becoming incredibly popular with the people. Our fifth message in the Gospel of Mark teaches us that even though the great multitudes follow Jesus only a few will truly enter the narrow gate. However, we must choose the narrow, difficult gate in life even though few find it!
First, there is the broad way and then the narrow gate…
The Broad Way (3.7-12)
Come as You Are and Stay As You Are
Remember that the Pharisees plotted with the Herodians against Jesus (3.6). They plotted with the goal of murdering Him. This hardened opposition did not stop the multitudes from following or coming to Jesus. This tells us that the religious leaders had little influence on the people. That is probably what motivated their hatred for Jesus – they were losing control over the people.
The authority of Jesus took away from the Pharisees’ own self-imposed authority over the multitudes. What we need to remember is that most of these people are on the broad way to destruction. The fact the crowds are following Jesus means very little until individuals in the crowds commit to Him. One day the multitudes of Jesus’ followers would leave Him and cry out for His crucifixion because they misunderstood Him and because they could not accept His teaching. When Jesus taught concerning the eating of His flesh and the drinking of His blood, John states that “from that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” Jesus questioned even the 12. Would they go away as well?
Of course, we see this play out today. You look at churches across the landscape in America. Many draw great multitudes of people on any given Sunday. Those crowds will continue to flock as long as you give them what they want instead of what they need. If you preach a message that communicates, “Come as you are and stay as you are” they will do just that. There will also be religious leaders willing to affirm the self-driven multitudes as well. All of them are on the broad way to destruction. But, we must choose the narrow, difficult gate in life even though few find it!
Shake the Dust Off
Jesus withdrew because of the plotting of the religious and political authorities (v. 6 and Matt 12.15-21). His course was one of prudence and not retreat. It is the right course when dealing with angry people on the broad way. But notice that Jesus withdrew with His disciples. This detail lets us know that these disciples were already identifying with Jesus, identifying with the narrow gate.
There are times when we courageously stand up and rebuke evil. There are other times when we prudently withdraw. Our lives are valuable to God and should not be squandered on foolish stands in the face of unreasonable, angry people. Sometimes, we need to pick up our sandals, clap off the dust, and move to another place. We must choose the narrow, difficult gate in life even though few find it!
Synagogues of Satan
Note that Jesus withdrew from the synagogue to the sea. Mark mentions Jesus entering a synagogue only one additional time (6.2). From here to the end of the Gospel, synagogues are places where religious leaders search for the best seats (12.39) and where the followers of Jesus are beaten (13.9).
Jesus also withdrew from His enemies. Mark records that these religious but hardened men will come now only to attribute demonic power to his ministry (3.22-30), to find fault with Him (7.1-2), and test Him (8.11-13). Jesus will later confront His enemies by accusing them of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (3.29-30), pointing out their hypocrisy (7.6-7), and warning the disciples and crowds against them (8.15).
How do we see through the thin veneer of religiosity today? There can only be one way to approach God. The idea of many ways and many faiths is a lie from Hell. Our land is dotted with Synagogues of Satan. They provide a way for people to tolerate all kinds of evil under the guise of spirituality and unity. It is a broad, destructive way. Filled with pseudo-Christians that tolerate homosexuality, abortion, alcohol, and destructive media choices. We must choose the narrow, difficult gate in life even though few find it!
Committed but Uncommitted
A great multitude from Galilee followed Jesus (7-8). He was in Galilee so they kept following and flocking to Him in great numbers. But the text also states that a great multitude came to Him (8-9). This is a second multitude that came from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, beyond the Jordan, and from Tyre and Sidon.
Judea was well south of Galilee. Jerusalem is mentioned apart from the greater region of Judea due to its significance. Idumea was also part of Judea (southern part) by the time of Jesus’ ministry. Many of the Jews in Idumea had come from Edomite descent. Beyond the Jordan would include territory east of the Jordan – an area deemed Perea. A mixed heritage existed here, but most of the inhabitants were Jewish. Tyre and Sidon were two port cities well north of Galilee. These significant cities are synonymous with the territory of Phoenicia.
Interestingly, the Samaritans dwelt between Galilee and Judea, but Samaria is not mentioned. The Samaritans would not come to Jesus, but He would go to them.
These multitudes thronged Jesus because either they had witnessed or heard of His great exploits. They were an uncommitted, frenzied group of people. Jesus even told His disciples that a small boat needed to be kept ready because the throngs of people could possibly crush Him. The crowds were a confused, chaotic mess. As many as came to Him, He healed. He did so because the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and give His life a ransom for many (10.45).
The text states that He healed those with afflictions – a word communicating torturous pain. They pressed about Him in order to touch Him. There were many but each had a story and each would choose his or her own way. Mark gives us a more intimate glance of a certain woman within the multitude of people. A woman who had a flow of blood for 12 years. She touched the garment of Jesus with expectant faith and received healing (see Mark 5.25-34). The fact that Jesus healed many resulted in people literally falling upon Him in order to touch Him and receive healing (Lenski, 139).
John tells us that many believed in the name of Jesus but only when they saw the miracles He performed (2.23). That caveat is important to think about. They were committed to Jesus as long as Jesus was committed to them in a way they saw fit! But John also states that Jesus did not commit Himself to them because He knew all men and He knew what was in man. Is it possible that we are committed to Jesus but He remains uncommitted to us? As long as conditional surrender remains on the table, Jesus is never truly Lord of your life! We must choose the narrow, difficult gate in life even though few find it!
The Demon Hoards
Next, we’re reminded of an on-going problem in the life of Jesus. The unclean spirits recognized what the religious leaders refused to and what the multitudes missed. They were constantly recognizing and proclaiming the deity of Christ. Jesus did not allow them to make Him known. Why? Hiebert writes…
The true nature of God is not associated with the impure, malevolent testimony of demons. Jesus wanted men to realize His true identity through His words and works (92).
That’s just it – religious leaders and multitudes of people did want the word and authority of Jesus. They wanted a provider. One that would solve all their earthly troubles. The confession of the demons was motivated by fear and opposition. An explicit, outward confession such as the one before us was for a yet future time. You cannot understand how Jesus could be the Son of God apart from believing in His words and His work on the cross. Satan tried at Jesus’ temptation to get Him to take a shortcut; it is only fitting that we see the unclean demons do the same.
Churches need to stop focusing on getting and keeping multitudes of people. The vast multitudes were not committed to Jesus; but rather, they were looking at what He could give them. He could heal; He could expel demons. All they needed to do was press toward Him and fall upon Him. Even the demons pressed upon Him and constantly recognized and proclaimed His deity. They had once inhabited the people thronging Jesus. Now they split the air with their wails of “You are the Son of God!” Jesus did not allow them to speak this glorious fact because they were filthy unfit vessels.
Jesus faced heated opposition from religious and political leaders. He was misunderstood by His own disciples. People thronged Him to take advantage of what He could do for them. Jesus was hemmed in on all sides. He was burdened with the sin of others. The more He felt compassion, the more He pressed forward in ministry. He came to serve not to be served.
Are you discouraged? Are you weary in well-doing? Do you wonder if it’s worth it to stay on a narrow and difficult path? Remember the life our Lord Jesus …His great example. Commit yourself to Him without reserve and He will commit all of His power and authority to you! We must choose the narrow, difficult gate in life even though few find it!
Transition: So, the broad way leads to destruction. Many stay on it because it simply comes naturally to them to do so. We ourselves were on it. However, we must choose the narrow, difficult gate in life even though few find it! Finally, this morning, there is…
The Narrow Gate (3.13-19a)
Luke tells us Jesus withdrew in this frenzy of activity. He ascended the mountain on which He would preach His famous sermon. He prayed all night. He gained refreshed and renewed perspective. He did so alone. Many times we need this kind of isolation, but instead we seek out some favorite sin to assuage the turmoil and pressure of life. Sometimes we drown out what we need to hear directly from God with all kinds of activity – filling our souls with noise. We can’t even drive to work without the radio blaring. If we do not find God in solitude and prayer, we won’t be able to anchor our lives to the hope He offers. This may be radical to many nominal Christians, but we must choose the narrow, difficult gate in life even though few find it!
That We Might Be With Him
The mountain must be within the vicinity of the Sea of Galilee. Mark states that He doesn’t call volunteers, but those He Himself wanted. These came to Him and became His disciples – more than 12. The disciples separated themselves from the ill-committed multitudes mentioned above. From these disciples, Jesus appointed 12. These were not the only ones appointed in His ministry (see Luke 10.1; he appoints 70).
He appointed 12 purposefully. They would become the foundation of the church. The number 12 is significant in Jewish history. There were 12 patriarchs and 12 tribes, and now 12 apostles. The word apostle means sent one. This is what He did – He sent them to proclaim His gospel with authority, with power. They too would heal sicknesses and expel demons from those being afflicted.
Jesus appointed the 12 not only to preach but that they might be with Him. This is significant because these men could do nothing without Him, and He also desired to be with them. Even though the gate is narrow, there are people on the path, people we can relate with; people with whom we can have close fellowship. Our common bond is that we might be with Jesus and He with us, and that we might be sent forth to fulfill the great commission while keeping the great commandments!
Jesus was training and equipping men to do the work of the ministry. These men were with Him, serving alongside of Him. They would grow in their understanding of the Person and Work of Christ. They would soon learn that they chose a narrow gate through which to enter. If we are going to be with Him and faithfully proclaim the message, we must choose the narrow, difficult gate in life even though few find it!
These 12 are listed:
Simon, to whom Jesus gave the name Peter is listed first. Peter means ‘Rock’, but Peter was not a rock when Jesus called him here. Jesus saw what Peter would become. At first, Peter shifted like the wind from trust to doubt. One moment, he called Jesus the Christ. The next, he rebuked Jesus for His prediction of His impending death on the cross. Peter said that he alone would remain loyal even if everyone else failed Jesus; however, it was Peter who betrayed and denied Christ. From, “You shall not wash my feet ever” to “Not only my feet but my hands and head”. The Lord Jesus transformed Peter, but he was a work in progress up to the day he died.
Mark refers to this chief apostle from this point forward as Peter not Simon. The lone exception to this is Mark 14.37. Here, Jesus refers to him as Simon, the one who sleeps instead of watches in prayer. Mark doesn’t use the two names together (i.e., Simon Peter).
Peter or Rock was not used as a proper name either in Greek or Aramaic to this point in history. It was simply a descriptor given by Jesus for Peter. Why rock or stone? Perhaps the answer to that question is because he was the leader of the foundational element of the church:
Matthew 16:18 (NKJV) — 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
Ephesians 2:20 (NKJV) — 20 …having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.
Peter’s name heads every NT apostolic list, followed by the Zebedee brothers (James first followed by John). Peter, James, and John form the inner circle among the 12 [see Mark 5.37 (present when Jesus raised the ruler’s daughter); 9.2 (present at the transfiguration); 14.33 (looked to for support in the Garden)].
That Jesus named Peter the Rock rests on the fact that He named Peter not for anything that was meritorious in his life. Jesus’ only other designation for Peter is the name Satan in 8.33. Simon was not a rock when called, but by the grace of God, he would become a rock. Clement of Alexandria and Origen, a church historian, both allude to Peter’s presence in Rome. Origen adds that he was “crucified head-downwards.”
Our lives in Christ are works in progress. We must not lose hope or become weary in well-doing. If we allow guilt over past betrayal and failure to sideline our efforts for Christ, we’ll find plenty of company. But if we do what God has revealed to us (that is, confess and forsake sin), we’ll show were on the difficult path that leads to righteousness. We must choose the narrow, difficult gate in life even though few find it!
James the son of Zebedee is always listed in the second position in any NT apostolic list.
John is the brother of James. John always follows James. Jesus gave both men the name Boanerges, “Sons of Thunder”.
The first question we ask ourselves is why did Jesus describe these men as “Sons of Thunder”? The Bible doesn’t explicitly tell us. Some think Jesus was commending both men for their mighty eloquence. Others say that Jesus was foretelling the future in much the same way He did with Peter. That is, the descriptor was Jesus’ way of rebuking James and John for what they would do in the future.
These men were passionate about whatever they did. Their zeal was at times misguided, however. They viewed Samaritan rejection of their Lord as deserving the commanding of fire to come down from Heaven in order to consume them (Luke 9.54). Jesus rebuked them saying, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them” (9.55-56).
One day, James and John unwisely forbade someone casting out demons in Jesus’ name on the basis that this person did not follow them. Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of me. For he who is not against us in on our side” (Mark 9.38-40).
James was the first apostolic martyr of the church (Acts 12.2). John would be the last apostle to remain alive. John was the disciple whom Jesus loved. He authored his Gospel, three epistles, and the Revelation. It seems as though he was not martyred but severely persecuted and banished to the Island of Patmos. He died an old man who received an amazing vision of the future end times, the Revelation.
James and John remind us of the fact that even the most passionate among us need to have our zeal directed by the Lord. Both men accepted rebuke from the Lord Jesus. Both were willing to share His cup of affliction and trial. Both were used to care for and pastor people. One lived a relatively short life; the other a long, full life. But whether in life or death, they served Christ. Sometimes, we traverse the narrow way and find that the most difficult thing about it is not dying for Jesus but living for Him. We must choose the narrow, difficult gate in life even though few find it!
Andrew found his own brother Simon and brought him to Jesus (John 1.41-42). He took seriously his call to be a fisher of men, always bringing others to Jesus. Some Gentiles wanted to see Jesus in John chapter 12. They approached Philip who came and told Andrew. Both men approached Jesus and told Him. Andrew’s name means ‘manly’. He always plays second fiddle to Jesus, but he is in the first group of four. Simon, James, John, and Andrew are the first four in every NT list; the order varies at times, but he is always included. These are the closest four to Jesus (1.16-20; 13.3); the first three are the closest three (5.37; 9.2; 14.33) to Jesus – the inner circle. Tradition states that Andrew was crucified on an x-shaped cross by a Roman proconsul name Egeas.
Andrew’s life serves as an example of majoring on the majors and minoring on the minors. He brought people to Jesus. He fulfilled the Great Commission. He knew that winning people to positions or other people or even churches was a fruitless endeavor. People must be won to Christ – the only hope for eternal life. Not many understand this on the broad way of destruction. We must choose the narrow, difficult gate in life even though few find it!
Philip is always listed as the leader of the second group of four. Philip knew Peter and Andrew well. He found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of who Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1.45). Recall also that he brought the Greeks to Jesus with Andrew in John chapter 12.
He seemed to be very straightforward and asked Jesus when he failed to grasp His teaching. One day, he said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has see the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me?” (John 14.8-10a) Tradition states that Philip was terribly persecuted in Hierapolis and crucified. He is reported to have said the words of the Lord Jesus at his death: “Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit.”
Bartholomew or perhaps the son of Tolmai is also called Nathanael, a name used by John alone (see 1.43-44). Nathanael said to Philip’s witness, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Once Jesus met Nathanael, he said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!” That’s an amazing commendation from the Lord Jesus Christ to the integrity of this man.
Nathanael said to Jesus, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael was amazed and proclaimed, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (see John 1.45 ff.) There is no record of what happened at the end of his life.
Matthew is also Levi. Tradition states that he died a natural death. It may very well be that Levi changed his name just after his call to discipleship. The name means “Gift of YHWH.” It may also be that Matthew just had two names. This was not all that uncommon. Perhaps Jesus changed it for him even as He changed Simon’s name.
He was once a tax collector and considered a vile traitor to his own people. But when Jesus said to him, “Follow Me,” Matthew left a lucrative business and trusted that God would provide for his needs.
Thomas is just a name in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John’s Gospel fleshes out this apostle’s importance (11.16; 14.5; 20.24-28; 21.2). He is also called Didymus, the twin. Tradition states that he was killed by spears at the hand of an Indian king.
Thomas could not believe that Jesus had risen; hence, the phrase “Doubting Thomas”. Yet when Jesus appeared before Thomas and offered him the opportunity to examine his wounds, Thomas said, “My Lord and my God!”
Philip was a passionate evangelist. Bartholomew was a discerning man. Matthew saw how vapid riches were. Thomas’ doubting provides a rich text that explicitly proves the deity of Christ. All four men remind us that we must choose the narrow, difficult gate in life even though few find it!
James the son of Alphaeus is always listed first in the third group of four; he also referred to as James the Less (15.40). We have no other information in Scripture about him. Tradition has it that he was given the opportunity to renounce Christ and escape with his life. He instead lifted up his voice and said: “[Jesus] is now sitting in heaven, on the right hand of great power, and is about to come on the clouds of heaven.” The Pharisees and scribes in a rage cast him down the temple steps. He was praying for these men, when a man in the crowd stepped forward and killed him with a club.
Thaddaeus is also called Judas not Iscariot. John 14.22 states that Thaddaeus asked Jesus, “Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered by saying, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (14.23) It seems that Thaddaeus wanted Jesus to manifest Himself to the world. From his perspective, everyone should have seen who Jesus was. There is no historical record of the end of his life.
Simon the Cananite or the Zealot either belonged to the Party of Zealots or was a zealous man. Again, there is no other Scriptural reference to him and no record of his end.
These three men had important positions, but the Scripture is largely silent of their walk with Christ. We can be sure that they were faithful men and faithful men don’t need to be in the limelight. They just need to be with Jesus. We must choose the narrow, difficult gate in life even though few find it!
The last man on the list is Judas Iscariot, who also betrayed Jesus. Iscariot seems to refer to the fact that he was a man of Kerioth. He betrayed Jesus in the sense of literally handed Him over to His enemies (see John 6.71; 13.26). He is also the son of Simon.
The Scripture clearly records his end. Judas committed self-murder by hanging himself in a field purchased with his 30 pieces of silver. Eventually, his corpse swelled, burst, and his intestines fell to the ground.
He is always listed last. Mark revealed in the beginning of chapter three that religious and political leaders plotted the death of Jesus; now he reveals that there is a traitor within the ranks. Here is a man responsible for his choices but still a tool of the devil. Jesus called him a devil because Jesus knew it was Judas who would betray Him (see John 6.71). He was too selfish to understand the unselfish and beautiful act of Mary who anointed Jesus in John 12.1.
When Jesus said that one of the 12 would betray Him, Judas had the audacity to say, “It can’t be me!” Yet he already pocketed 30 pieces of silver as a reward for his betrayal of Jesus. He betrayed Jesus with a kiss, still acting as if he were loyal. What caused Judas to do such a thing?
[C]ould not the most basic reason have been this, that between the utterly selfish heart of Judas and the infinitely unselfish and outgoing heart of Jesus there was a chasm so immense that either Judas must implore the Lord to bestow upon him the grace of regeneration and complete renewal, a request which the traitor wickedly refused to make, or else he must offer his help to get rid of Jesus? …One thing is certain: The shocking tragedy of Judas’ life is proof not of Christ’s impotence but of the traitor’s impenitence! Woe to that man!
Judas was a broad way kind of man. He fit in with the world while trying to play the part of an apostle. We must choose the narrow, difficult gate in life even though few find it!
The list of apostles begins with Peter the Denier and ends with Judas the Betrayer. These are not perfect people. They are to be with Jesus; they are to be sent out by Jesus. These men would learn that all profitable ministry is this way – we must be with Jesus in order to be sent out by Jesus.
Knowledge of these individual men is meager or non-existent because it’s not about them; it is about Christ. As far as we know, none of these men comes from the Jewish religious establishment or leadership and from what we see in Mark this is a good thing. By the way, if you were making this stuff up would you include Judas Iscariot on your list of apostles? This fact speaks to the historical veracity of Mark’s list.
Included in this little band was Peter the optimist (Matt. 14:28, 26:33, 35), but also Thomas the pessimist (John 11:16; 20:24, 25); Simon the one-time Zealot, hating taxes and eager to overthrow the Roman government, but also Matthew, who had voluntarily offered his tax collecting services to that same Roman government; Peter, John, and Matthew, destined to become renowned through their writings, but also James the Less, who remains obscure but must have fulfilled his mission.
Transition/Conclusion: There is a broad way and a narrow gate. We must choose the narrow, difficult gate in life even though few find it!
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953-2001). Vol. 10: New Testament commentary : Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark. New Testament Commentary (128). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.
 Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953-2001). Vol. 10: New Testament commentary : Exposition of the Gospel According to Mark. New Testament Commentary (129). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.