The Strait Gate
Verse thirteen begins to conclude the Sermon on the Mount, we had mentioned in the previous sermon on the Golden Rule of the theology of the two ways which Jesus has used throughout the Sermon on the Mount. We also mentioned that the Sermon on the Mount is in many ways a commentary on the 1st Psalm which contrasts the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. This psalm shows the eventual outcome of each group. Even though the wicked might seem to flourish for a season in this life, it is the righteous who shall ultimately flourish in the end.
The two way theology which is common in the Old Testament as well as the teaching of Jesus becomes most explicit here starting with these verses. Jesus tells of the two possible ways one can follow and the outcome of each way. In two way theology, there is no third choice that can be made. One cannot choose not to enter either way. The wide way becomes the default option for those who do not choose to enter the narrow way. This means that all who do not choose the narrow way which leads to eternal life are on the road to destruction.
Each of the ways has a gate of entrance. In the case of the way which leads to eternal life, the gate is narrow. The word for narrow here in Greek is the one which is used for a stint which is placed in a heart artery to open it up when it is clogged. In other words, it is placed in the narrow place which is clogged by a clot to improve blood flow. Here, the narrow gate tells us two things. First of all, it is only wide enough for one person to enter at a time. This stresses the individual decision which has to be made to the hearing of the Gospel.
The other is that there is no room to take any baggage with you. One in a sense leaves Broadway behind and has to go on the straight road depending only on the provision of God. This is in a sense to follow God’s people across the Red Sea into the wilderness like the Children of Israel in Moses’ day. There way unfortunately became quite crooked for them as they disobeyed and grumbled. They failed to trust God for their provision. Their way meandered and that generation perished without entering the Promised Land, save that of Joshua and Caleb. Even Moses failed to enter. The baggage of Egypt which the Israelites took with them became a snare at Mt. Sinai where they made a golden calf out of the gold they took out.
So what Jesus is saying is that one must enter alone and in a sense naked in relation to the world’s goods. Faith is Jesus’ provision is the means of our sustenance. This does not mean that we are called out to some monastery or a literal wilderness. Instead, we are to live out our faith in the world as witnesses to the modern Egyptians. In Matthew 16, this is made clear by Jesus’ exodus from Israel to the very Gentile region of Caesarea Philippi. In a sense, the rock face where the former shrine to Ball and then current shrine to the Greek god Pan was becomes the new Mt Horeb. From a cave called the “Gates of Hades (hell) came the main source of the Jordan River which is similar to the water which came from the rock at Horeb. (See the sermon “Upon this Rock” in this sermon archive). The Christian journey is then a reverse exodus from wilderness sanctuary to a hostile world with a mission not to exterminate but to bring the message of salvation to the Canaanites.
God might provide His manna to us by many means. We do not necessarily expect the bread to fall from heaven. God uses human means of provision as the normal means. At the time of the writing of this sermon, there are 40,000 trapped Iraqi’s including Christians who are facing certain death at the hands of their persecutors. It was on the news that bread has started to fall from heaven upon them, courtesy of the United States Air Force. I don’t know to what result this might lead, but at least for them it is the daily bread which God provides. However, God can provide other means of sustenance. For since the ultimate goal of the Christian is to be eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord, the gate of our deliverance is by crossing the Jordan River of death. Ultimately speaking, the bread which sustains our life in this world will fail to sustain us anymore, and each of us who believe in Jesus will be called home to the Promised Land of our inheritance. There, the manna of this world will cease, and we will feast on the new manna. Though the way be hard in this life, the reward is worth it all.
After bringing up the command to choose the good way, Jesus brings up the other way which leads to destruction. The structure Jesus uses here is called a chiasm. A chiasm is a device in which the original proposition is sandwiched by another one. For example in Romans 10:9-10, we see Paul using this same device. Verse nine there begins by saying that one confesses that Jesus is Lord and believes that God raised Jesus from the dead in order to be saved. If we look at this verse alone, we would think that confession preceded faith. One could make the mistake by concluding that confession which is a work precedes saving faith. This is why verse 10 is so important. It begins by explaining verse nine in reverse. Here he begins with the faith in the heart which leads to righteousness and then confession. This is the order of salvation which we as Protestants would expect. When put together, these devices create a chiasm. In a chiasm, what is at center of the chiasm is what is to be emphasized which in the case of Romans is believing faith. Confession then flows from saving faith, and this is Paul’s point.
Here the center element is on the broad gate and way and its negative outcome which is destruction which is then followed by going back to the outcome of those who took the straight way. This puts the emphasis of the terrible plight of the lost. This is the road that everyone else has chosen. Unless there is a change of course, the way is that of destruction. The true disciple of Jesus who is called to go out among the Gentiles and make disciples of Jesus needs to see the added stress upon the condition of the lost.
Some argue here that destruction here is not hell but simply annihilation. The people who hold to this argument hold that a loving God would never send any of His creatures to an eternal hell. It is true that the Greek word for “destruction” here could be taken in this sense. However, one must be careful to not get meanings for words from a dictionary or lexicon alone. One of the most important things to understand is that the context determines the meaning of any word. In the case of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus in chapter 5 has already alluded to how fearful the judgment of God is. Simple annihilation would even be welcome to some rather than having to spend eternity in heaven praising God. We can also read in Matthew that Jesus refers to hell as a place of the undying worm and weeping and gnashing of teeth. The very fact that Jesus is going to say “depart from me” here in the sermon indicates that the wicked would have to stand before Jesus in the Last Judgment which means the wicked will be resurrected also. This is clear from other Scriptures as well. So I see no justification for those who would throw water on the fires of hell.
The fact that the lostness of humanity is what is central to what Jesus is saying here puts less emphasis on the choice of the narrow gate. The fact that God will provide for His children to a positive outcome should be a source of comfort. God has chosen to redeem His own. And those whom God has chosen, He will keep. Jesus’ true sheep need not fear falling out of the way because it is He that leads them. Jesus reminded His disciples of this in the Gospel of John when he said that no one can pluck the believer out of His hand. This statement is backed up by His Father. God is sovereign, and we are promised in Scripture that He who has begun a good work in us will continue to perfect it in us. The work of salvation and sanctification is the work of God in us and not we ourselves.
Some might object at this point about the “free will” of man. Do we have the free will to choose to accept the Gospel or not. I do admit that there is a sense of difficulty here between those who believe in divine election as compared to those who believe in free choice. I will like St. Augustine embrace the mystery that God’s sovereignty which must be held at all costs does not conflict with the human responsibility before God. I might offer a few suggestions here.
First of all, one cannot possibly dismiss election and be true to the Scripture. The Greek word for “church” which is “ecclesia” has the idea of election at its very root. It literally means “the called out”. It can be translated “chosen people”. The verbal “chosen” is passive in voice. The church is not made up of choosing people, in which the choice of the individual believer is emphasized. Rather, the passive indicates that God is the chooser. Salvation then emphasizes the choices God has made to save those who believe. Even faith is God’s gift and the means of God’s saving grace.
To boast of one’s choice is not a good idea. The choice of all fallen man’s wills will always be for Broadway. It is the choice of destruction. We might also notice that if our choice was just one percent us and ninety nine percent God that we would spend ninety nine percent of the time boasting of our choice and only one percent of the time thanking God. It is only when someone is awakened by God to enter the straight gate that they will be drawn to it. To human eyes, the choice of a difficult and straight gate representing living according to the will of God and trusting entirely in his provision and not out own is not at all appealing. Rather than obeying the command of God, we like Adam and Eve have always chosen the shiny fruit which characterizes the way of destruction.
So let us as a church be humble enough only to boast in God and His loving provision of His son Jesus Christ. We will never understand why God would choose anyone, least of all us, to be His people. We indeed realize how sinful and dependent we are. But the way of salvation is the way of faith. We need to humbly and gratefully respond to God’s grace to us.
At the same time, we realize the plight of others who are still on the way of destruction, a way which we once travelled. God uses the clay posts we are as the normal means by which He beckons others to enter. He calls us to proclaim him to the nations. He could have used purely Divine means of saving a people unto Himself. He could have sent angels. But instead, He has sent us to go out unto Broadway and tell people of the good news of the Gospel. We are called to plant the seeds of the evangel and water and nourish the disciples. God will take care of the increase.