Life Upside Down
Two Gates. One Way
Introduction and Review
The Sermon on the Mount has been about righteous living from a heart that truly loves God. Jesus has directed our thoughts through many aspects of Christian living and He has always related it back to the motivation of our heart. It is as though He has been comparing the nature of what true righteousness looks like with the nature of self-righteousness. Simply stated: “Why do we do what we do?” What motivates us? I looked back over the 28 messages we have done in our study of the Sermon on the Mount and was again reminded that Jesus is focusing on the heart of all we do.
In the Beatitudes of the first sixteen verses of Matthew, we found that our life as a believer should be a reflection of God’s character as it comes from our heart. As we live each day as Kingdom citizens, we will not only have Kingdom influence, but we will experience suffering in this world also. We should rejoice in persecution when it is because we are living for our King, King Jesus.
In His sermon, Jesus has also addressed things like the heart of reconciliation, a heart’s desire for restoration of relationships, the intent of our heart when it comes to lust, adultery, and divorce. He said that truth should come from our lips as a natural reflection of God in our heart. Jesus encourages us to see beyond the complexities of our relationships and love our enemies.
Jesus has warned us about pretentious giving and praying to be seen by others just so we can be seen as pious people. He tells us that prayer needs to come from the heart. Jesus has shown us the importance of forgiving others, treasuring the things that will be placed into heaven’s treasure chest, and how where our treasure is, there we will find our heart, and what our treasure is becomes the master of our heart.
Jesus talked about how anxiety is a position of the heart that refuses to trust God with the outcome of our lives. He told us to be careful of judgmentalism when we attempt to help someone remove a splinter of sin from their eye. Then we were reminded how that the most valuable and precious pearl of our relationship with God is trampled in the mud when we live hypocritically as a believer.
Jesus told us that we have a good, caring, and concerned Heavenly Father who gives us everything we ask for as we strive to live for Him. Then last week, Jesus reminded us once again that our vertical relationship with God should be reflected in our horizontal relationships with others as we practice the “Golden Rule” of doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.
In this last section Jesus begins to wrap up all that He has been talking about with a call for us to make a decision. We have some decisions to make. Today and over the next three weeks I want to look at His call for us to make a choice about what we will do with our lives. We must make a choice between:
- Two gates that open onto two paths
- Two trees that bear two kinds of fruit
- Two kinds of judgment resulting from choices
- Two types of foundations and two kinds of builders that build upon them
As human beings, we like to have choices. You might say that it is the American way. We make choices all the time and as we look at verses 13 and 14 of Matthew 7, we find Jesus showing us just that. We have a choice to make that results in eternal life or eternal destruction. Let’s begin by reading these two verses.
13 "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.
14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Jesus presents us with what I have deemed as the rational choice a person should make and then He describes the two choices we have. So let’s begin with the rational choice.
The Rational Choice (v. 13a)
Enter by the narrow gate.
Why would Jesus begin with the choice He wants us to make concerning gates? Why doesn’t He describe the choices first to us, and then tell us which gate to choose? I find this interesting! I have come to the conclusion that He did it this way to give emphasis and importance. It would be like me standing up here and saying to you, “You must go out and witness to your neighbor.” Then I would continue to explain that you have two choices and why you need to witness to your neighbor. It is because without Jesus they are bound to an eternity separated from God in a place of torment. If you choose to witness to them, they may receive Christ as their Savior. But if you choose to not witness, they may never be saved. This is how Jesus presents the choice of two gates. He tells us to choose the narrow gate, then He tells us about our choices.
The verb “enter” at the beginning of verse 13 is in the imperative mode. It is like a command coming from Jesus to these people on the hillside that day, and to you and me today. He is telling us that we need to enter the narrow gate. There is a sense of urgency about this. Do it now, do it today, don’t delay. It is like a parent commanding a child that is about to run out into a street chasing a ball when there is traffic coming saying “Stop, don’t run out there!”
Just by saying “enter by the narrow gate,” Jesus is implying that there is another choice that could be made. Many times, we may feel as though we don’t have a choice about some things that happen to us in life and that is probably right. Often there are things that happen that we have no control over. Someone else is making the choice and we have to live with it. That is true with those we elect to lead our government. They will make choices about taxes and privileges that we will have to live with. But with this illustration, Jesus makes it clear that we have a choice and He wants us to choose the narrow gate. That is why He states it right up front.
So, what is this gate business about and why choose the narrow gate? Well, this is where Jesus explains his imperative choice of the narrow gate and He begins by describing to us the wide gate.
Description of the Choices (v. 13b-14)
~ The Wide Gate (v. 13b)
For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.
The reason for choosing the narrow gate is because there is a wide gate and this wide gate leads to destruction. The gate illustration is very interesting. A wide gate is easy to get through and the wider the gate the more people can get through it at once. Honestly, wide gates are really kind of nice. Especially if you are driving a vehicle through a gate, you want it to be wide enough that you don’t have to worry about hitting anything.
When I was remodeling for a living, there were many times I needed to bring building supplies to the rear of a house. There were several times that the gate wasn’t large enough for my truck fit through or barely wide enough that I was worried about doing damage to may truck or the fence. I preferred a wide gate in those situations.
So, the illustration Jesus is making with he wide gate is a simple one. A wide gate is preferred. A wide gate is easy. A wide gate allows many to go through. A wide gate is the choice of most people.
But the key part of the description is that the wide gate leads to a specific destination. The wide gate opens up to a path that leads to destruction. This destination of destruction cannot be seen from the gate but it opens to a path that leads to destruction. What does that mean? What is this destination called “destruction?” The word “destruction,” (ἀπώλεια apoleia) is used many times in the New Testament. When we think of destruction, we think of something being brought to a complete or utter end. When something is destroyed we think it is no longer in existence or has no ability to function any more. So, some people think that this means that we will no longer exist in any form past the destruction of this body at death. But that is not how the New Testament describes this.
Over and over we find that destruction in the Bible refers to a place of eternal misery. I don’t know what it feels like to be destroyed, but the idea is that in this destination place of the wide gate, people will experience the continual misery of being destroyed. Listen to 2 Thessalonians 1:9 as Paul describes the eternal destruction of people who do not know the Lord and refuse to obey Him.
2 Thessalonians 1:9
They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,
So, destruction is eternal. In other words, destruction never ends for a person who does not know the Lord. Destruction is away from the presence of the Lord according to Paul. John the Apostle describes what will happen to the anti-Christ at the end of the Tribulation period. In Revelation 17, the anti-Christ is pictured as a beast. We know from different passages that the anti-Christ will be alive, experience a mortal wound the appears to kill him, and then he will rise again to the amazement of the people of the earth. This is partly why so many follow the anti-Christ. But listen to John’s one sentence timeline of the life of the anti-Christ.
The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to rise from the bottomless pit and go to destruction.
At the end of the Tribulation period, the anti-Christ goes to the destination of destruction. We say, okay, but where or what is this place of destruction? Listen to how Revelation 19 describes it.
20 And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.
The Lake of Fire is the same as the destination of destruction. In fact, as we read on we find that this is the place where Satan is cast to at the end of the Millennium.
And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
Did you hear that? Torment day and night for eternity. This is not ceasing to exist, rather it is an eternal existence of destruction. Not only is destruction the destination of the anti-Christ, the false prophet, and Satan, but listen to who else goes to this place of destruction called the Lake of Fire.
Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Suddenly, the urgency of Jesus’ imperative to enter the narrow gate is understood. Why? The wide gate, the easy gate, the gate where multitudes enter . . . leads to this destination of destruction . . . and to think that this is the choice many people make. We often hear phrases like destination weddings or destination vacations. It refers to a destination we plan on going to for a specific event in our lives. What Jesus is telling us is that we must choose the destination of our eternal lives. It is the destination of destruction or there is another destination, the destination that the narrow gate leads us to.
~ The Narrow Gate (v. 14)
For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few
This gate is just the opposite from the wide gate. This gate is narrow, and the path it opens to is hard, and most people do not choose to go through this gate. This is how Jesus is describing this gate to us. This gate leads to a destination, He calls “life.” The word ζωή (Zoe), translated “life” in the New Testament is used 135 times. Sometimes it is used to refer to physical life, but it is used way more in reference to eternal life. In fact, the word eternal is often attached to it. In our context where we were just talking about eternal destruction, I think it is obvious that we are talking about eternal life, not our physical life. This is a life that will be lived out in the very presence of God.
The book of Revelation uses this word ζωή (Zoe) often to describe many aspects of our eternal existence . . . the water of life, the tree of life . . . but about a third of the times ζωή (Zoe) is used in Revelation it is about a book where the names of believers are written down, the “Book of Life.” It is the record of the names of all who will be in Heaven. The destination Jesus refers to as life in Matthew 7 is no doubt our eternal home in Heaven when we will be in His presence.
Listen as Paul talks about the groaning we experience in this life as believers on earth, but when we die, we are swallowed up by eternal life.
2 Corinthians 5:4
For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened-- not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
Our physical life swallowed up by eternal life. As believers, as people who choose the narrow gate, we find that the path is difficult, the way narrow, and not many choose to travel that path with us. While alive in this body, we groan and are burdened, but as a believer, one day this mortal life will be swallowed up by eternal life. The narrow gate has a much different ultimate destination. So, the choice is very clear to us. We either choose a wide gate that leads to eternal destruction or a narrow gate that leads to eternal life.
We often picture this as coming to a point in our lives when we choose to believe in God or choose to follow the path of the world. I think it is wise that we keep in mind that we are all already on the path to destruction. The choice we are making is literally whether to find and go through the narrow gate that leads to life. For many, there comes a time for a choice to be made as to whether they will leave the wide path and choose the narrow difficult path. Jesus made it clear, that He is the only way to eternal life.
Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Choosing to put your trust in Jesus, choosing to give Him your heart and life, this is choosing the narrow gate. When we relate this choice to our salvation we find it all over Scripture. The choice of eternal life over eternal destruction.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
So, there is clear application of Jesus’ illustration of two gates to unbelievers choosing to come to faith in Christ, choosing the narrow gate. But I wonder if it didn’t mean even something more to the people listening to Jesus on the hillside that day. You see, Jesus was speaking to a crowd of mostly Jews, with some Gentile converts, who all claimed to know God and did all the religious things they were told to do by the Scribes and Pharisees. We could say that at the very least, most of them were religious people.
In the context of His sermon, Jesus has been contrasting the self-righteous living of the Pharisees with true righteousness from a heart for God. This is what grabs my attention. Religious Jews and probably some God-fearing Gentiles heard Jesus say to them, Enter by the narrow gate.
Just like then, today there are many people who claim to be Christians. Just like back then, there are many people who do many religious activities because that is what their religion demands, and even many in the name of Jesus. But I wonder if many who say they are Christians . . . if they are really on the wide path still. Following the path of the world that leads to destruction. I find this very sobering to think about.
In two weeks, we will be looking at what I believe to be the most sobering words Jesus could ever say to people who do religious things but do not have a genuine relationship with Him. They claim the name of Christian but have no life in Him.
And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'
In other words, this is not about having head knowledge of God. It is not about doing religious things. This is about having a genuine life changing relationship with our Lord and Savior. Do you know Him as your Savior? Have you chosen the narrow gate? Have you let Him change you from the inside out? If not, why don’t you choose Him today. The choice is clear; eternal life or eternal destruction. What do you choose?