“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
As I said last week, I’ve been studying the â€˜red letters’ – the words Jesus spoke in the Bible. The first big patch of red letters is in Matthew 5-7. That’s where Jesus was speaking to a crowd gathered on a hillside overlooking the Galilee. Jesus’ teaching completely turned everyone’s notion of what was good and what was bad on its head.
They always figured that things like pride, self-sufficiency, assertiveness, happiness, nice things, authority, respect, admiration and wealth were good. That hasn’t changed much. All those things are still on today’s top ten hit parade of good stuff. Like the tee-shirt says “Life is Good”; and what makes it good today, apparently is the same stuff that made it good back when Jesus spoke to the crowd on the shores of Galilee.
But that’s the problem – Jesus said, “blessed are the poor in spirit”; “blessed are those who mourn”; “blessed are the meek”; “blessed are you when you are persecuted”; “don’t store up worldly wealth.” Everything Jesus told them was good, was the opposite of what they assumed was good.
Humility, meekness, mourning, persecution, poverty – that’s the good stuff? Not a very pretty picture; I’m surprised anybody followed him. It seems like he was against every good thing this world has to offer. If he was trying to sell a crowd, he sure was going about it the wrong way. He should have been more positive, more up-beat, given them a little more of what they wanted to hear. You know – make being his follower a little easier, a little more popular.
I don’t think popularity was at the top of Jesus’ agenda. If he was working on building the first mega-church, he sure wasn’t following any of the proven strategies. Even the membership drive was depressing. “Enter through the narrow gate ….” “But, small is the gate and narrow (that’s â€˜thlibo’ in Greek – it means compressed, hard, full of affliction, tribulation and distressed) is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
Pretty discouraging. You’re never going to get people to show up on Sunday if you keep talking like that. You need a program that’s a little more inclusive. For one thing, you need wider gate … can’t have all those folks jammed up on Sunday morning trying to get in through some tiny little restricted access. And once they’re in, make â€˜em comfortable – they didn’t come here to be depressed. Broaden the way a little so everybody can participate, and don’t go out of your way to offend people, loosen up, try to just accept folks where and how they are. Create an environment they’re going to want to come back to next Sunday. That’s how you build a mega-church.
But that’s not what Jesus said. “Small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
But how do you reconcile that with “Seeker Friendly”? How do you fit “Your Best Life Now” into that program? How can you make Christianity acceptable and accessible to everyone if the gate is small and the road is narrow and only a few find it?
Maybe you don’t.
The red letters are tough. Jesus really does stand all of our assumptions on their heads. One thing you can’t get past though – in the end, what are you going to believe in? Your assumptions or his words?
By the way, Jesus did ad a P.S. to his words to the crowd that day.
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (Matthew 7:15)
The red letters speak of a new country, a better land. This world’s currency doesn’t trade in that economy. This world’s assumptions don’t work in the world Jesus was talking about. The kingdom of heaven is offensive to those who are in love with the kingdom of earth. Light is offensive to those who have become accustomed to the dark.
The road to life is narrow; it’s compressed, hard, and full of affliction; there are few who find it. The way of destruction is broad, it’s easy, it goes along with the crowd; it’s popular. Problem is, only one road leads to that better land. And not everyone with a fish on his car will enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Where you end up all depends on which road you take to get there.