The Highway of Holiness

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.– Matthew 7:12-14 ESV

Verse 12 has come to be commonly referred to as The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is essentially a summation of all that Jesus has said, and acts as a bookend to verse 17 of chapter five:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

These two verses comprise what is known as an inclusio, bracketing all that is contained between them and forming a single unit of thought. The over-arching theme has been Jesus’ treatment of the Law and the Prophets or the Old Testament revelation. Here, in verse 12, Jesus brings His thoughts to a conclusion, summarizing all that He has said in one succinct and simple statement: So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them. This is the law of love, and it supersedes and fully expresses all that was written in the law. Paul summarizes it well:

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. – Romans 13:8-10 ESV

He simplified it, even more, when he wrote to the believers in Galatia:

For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:14 NLT

And not long before Jesus was to go to the cross, He would tell His disciples:

“So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” – John 13:34-35 NLT

But it is essential that we understand what Jesus is saying. In our sinful, self-centered state, it would be easy to draw a faulty conclusion from His words that allows us to focus on what we want from others. In other words, if we want our back scratched, we will reluctantly scratch someone else’s back, expecting them to do the same to us in return. Our outwardly, gracious actions would be selfishly motivated. But that is not the kind of love Jesus is talking about. He is referring to a selfless kind of love that expects and demands nothing in return. It is focused on giving, not getting. The apostle Paul warned against turning the law of love into some kind of self-centered mechanism to get what you want.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. – Philippians 2:1-4 ESV

No one enjoys being hated, so why would we choose to hate others? There is no joy in being taken advantage of, so why would we treat someone else that way? If the idea of someone having an affair with your spouse offends you, it should also prevent you from ever considering doing the same thing to someone else. Jesus’ statement is not intended to be self-centered but other-focused. He is telling us that the law was essentially about loving God and loving others, and not yourself. And those who have been blessed or approved by God will love as He loves. They will do as Jesus did, which Paul sums up in his letter to the Philippians:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. – Philippians 2:5-8 ESV

Jesus knows that the life of love and self-sacrifice to which He is calling His audience would not be easy. He is fully aware that His words have been difficult to hear and that what He has been commanding them to do would be impossible to pull off. The crowds who had followed Jesus to the hillside in Galilee had been attracted by His miracles. They were enamored by His ability to heal the sick and cast out demons. There was something attractive about this man who could do the impossible. But now, they were hearing that He expected the impossible of them.

He was teaching that if they wanted to be part of God’s kingdom, they were going to have to live radically different lives. Their status as descendants of Abraham was not going to be enough. Their adherence to man-made laws and religious rules was not going to win them favor with God. In fact, Jesus breaks the news that the path to God was actually narrow and quite difficult, and the number of those who take that path would be quite small. But, in contrast, the path to hell is like a broad, sprawling avenue, filled with countless people who have chosen that way because it is easy and rather enjoyable.

Jesus is letting His listeners know that the way to God was not what they thought. It was not going to be through keeping the law. It would not be due to their ethnic identity as Jews and descendants of Abraham. Jesus is presenting another, exclusive way to God: Himself.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – John 14:6 ESV

He would also present Himself as the gate or door that provides the sole means by which men and women might be saved and find entrance into God’s kingdom.

“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.” – John 10:9 NLT

Obviously, Jesus did not believe in universalism, the false, yet popular, doctrine that teaches that all will eventually be welcomed into heaven by God because of His love. Jesus promoted Himself as the sole means by which anyone is made right with God. He is the way, not just one of many ways. He alone has satisfied the just demands of God and paid for the sins of mankind with His own life. And He offers Himself to any and all who will receive Him as their Savior and sin substitute.

Those who accept His selfless sacrifice on their behalf receive the forgiveness of their sins and enjoy a restored relationship with God the Father. But Jesus warns that few will take Him up on His offer because the gate is small. It’s narrow and limited. It requires faith. And the path beyond that gate is difficult.

The Christian life is not an easy road. Salvation provides us with freedom from condemnation for our sins but does not provide us with a trouble-free life on this earth. We will face tribulation and difficulty. Living out our faith in the midst of a fallen world will be trying at times. Too often, Christianity is sold as a panacea for all of life’s problems. We falsely advertise faith in Christ as a solution to difficulty and the key to happiness. It explains why a book with the title, Your Best Life Now can become an international best-seller. But that is not what Jesus came to bring.

Jesus did not die in order for us to have our best life now. Yes, He did promise to give us life and life more abundantly, but not our own terms. The real benefit we receive from placing our faith in Christ is not our best life now, but eternal life to come. We have been promised a future sinless state, free from pain, suffering, sorrow, and tears. We have been guaranteed a place in God’s kingdom and no one can take it from us. So, with that in mind, we are encouraged to view our life on this earth as temporary. We are on a journey to a better place. We are on a path that will eventually lead us to our eternal home. This is why the author of Hebrews encourages us to, “strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us” (Hebrews 12:1 NLT).

The prophet, Isaiah, tells us of another path, a highway that will lead through the barren and desolate land, a highway of holiness. It will provide a path for the redeemed into God’s earthly kingdom, where His Son will reign in Jerusalem. Those who enter the narrow way now and walk the path provided by Jesus’ death and resurrection, will one day walk that Highway of Holiness, free from sorrow and sin.

And a great road will go through that once deserted land. It will be named the Highway of Holiness. Evil-minded people will never travel on it. It will be only for those who walk in God’s ways; fools will never walk there. Lions will not lurk along its course, nor any other ferocious beasts. There will be no other dangers. Only the redeemed will walk on it. Those who have been ransomed by the Lord will return. They will enter Jerusalem singing, crowned with everlasting joy. Sorrow and mourning will disappear, and they will be filled with joy and gladness. – Isaiah 35:8-10 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Day 32 – Matthew 5-7:29

The Narrow Gate.

Matthew 5-7:29

“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.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men