The Narrow Gate.
“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who would choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult and only a few ever find it.” – Matthew 5:13-14 NLT
This is what is typically referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus finds Himself surrounded by a crowd of people, so He takes advantage of the situation and uses it as an opportunity to instruct them about His views regarding the Kingdom of God. It is important to keep in mind that His audience would have already had an understanding about God’s Kingdom and their part in it. More than likely, the majority in the crowd that day were Jews and they would have seen themselves as already members of God’s Kingdom as descendants of Abraham. They were God’s chosen people. They had the Law, given to them by God through Moses. They had the Temple, where they believed God dwelt and there they regularly offered their sacrifices and offerings. They saw themselves as set apart and different from the so-called pagans of the world, who worshiped false gods. If you would have asked them, they would have said that they were a blessed people. Not that they necessarily enjoyed their lives or were satisfied with how things had turned out for them, but they would have had a nationalistic pride in being Jews.
Then along comes Jesus. In this sermon or message, He turns much of their world upside down. He does a data dump on them that would have left most of them reeling and wondering what this was all about. In fact, Matthew tells us, “the crowds were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority – quite unlike their teachers of religious law” (Matthew 7:29 NLT). Jesus blew them away. He addressed everything, including their perspective on the blessings of God to the true meaning of the law and how to interpret it. Jesus upped the ante. He raised the bar and increased the standard. But what Jesus was sharing was not a list of things to do. He was not describing a new set of laws to keep. He was presenting a new way of life. His audience had lived their lives under the oppressive requirements of the law. They were stuck under a system that required them to keep the law in order to have a right relationship with God. But it was impossible. And yet, it would appear that Jesus is only adding the burden. He tells them to, “let you good deeds shine out for all to see” (Matthew 5:16 NLT) and “unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” (Matthew 5:20 NLT). Talk about a shock to the system. Then Jesus went on to tell them that God’s standard for righteousness was even greater than they understood the law to be. Anger was just as bad as murder. Lust was equivalent with adultery. Rather than hate your enemy, you must love and pray for him. And when it came to things like prayer, fasting, and giving – you were to do it in secret, so no one could see what you were doing and be impressed with your efforts. In other words, righteousness was to come from the heart, and was not to be done for show. Which was a far cry from the way things were done in that day. Rather than seeking the accolades and appreciation of men, you were to look to God for your reward. He was to be your focus. Rather than worry about money, materialism and the things of this world. your focus was to be on God and His Kingdom. You were to trust Him for all your needs. You were to make His Kingdom and rule your highest priority. Your life was to be known for its fruitfulness. Not self-effort, but the fruit that is produced through you by God. Your actions should be an indicator and identifier of who you were and who you belonged to. “Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions” (Matthew 7:20 NLT).
This entire sermon was an attempt by Jesus to get the people in His audience to recognize their need for what He came to offer. Jesus did not come to abolish or do away with the law, but to fulfill it. He came to keep it in its entirety. He came to obey His Father completely. He was going to do what no man alive could ever do. He would be the righteousness of God. He would be the one to completely satisfy the just demands and requirements of God by keeping His law down to the last detail. In doing so, He would qualify as a worthy sacrifice for the sins of man. He would be able to be that spotless, sinless sacrifice to pay for the penalty required for man’s sinfulness and rebellion against a holy God. And in so doing, He would provide a way for men to live out what He was laying out in the Sermon on the Mount. The contents of this message were no less impossible for the people of His audience to keep than was the original law. He is painting a picture of life made available through faith in Him. That is why He says, “You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate” (Matthew 7:13 NLT). Later on Jesus would make it clear when He said, “Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.” (John 10:9-10 NLT). What Jesus was describing in this message was the rich and satisfying life He came to offer. But it was only going to be available through faith in Him. It was only going to be made possible through His death and resurrection. This was a description of Kingdom life, made possible through the sacrifice of the Son of God. It would be life with a new perspective, a new foundation, a new purpose and a new source of strength.
Father, rather than lower Your standards, You provided a solution to our problem. We were unable to keep Your righteous standards and live our lives in faithful obedience to Your law. So You sent Your Son to do what we could never do. And in doing so, You made it possible for us to live the life you expected us to live all along. You have given us the capacity and the power to live just as Jesus described it in this passage. Sacrificially, selflessly, humbly, obediently, faithfully, dependently, and happily. All because of the life Jesus Christ lived and the death He died. Thank You. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men