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Sermon on the Mount: Narrow and Hard

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. -Matthew 7:13-14

Well, we're kind of in the home stretch. And this series through the Sermon on the Mount that I started. But sermon the mount is in Matthew, chapters five, six and seven. And it's a continuous teaching of Jesus that begins with the beattitudes and gives disciples some instructions on what life looks like or should look like for those who choose to follow Jesus. And so we're coming into some sayings here that are starting to wrap up what Jesus has to say. We come to the saying in Verses 13 and 14, where Jesus talks about this narrow gate. He says, Enter through the narrow gate, for the gate is wide, and the road is easy, that leads to destruction and there are many who take it. But the gate is narrow and the road is hard, that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Now, there's a sales pitch for you, right? Come and be my disciples. It's gonna be hard. And yet, Jesus also is very candid about what it means to be His disciples.

This statement follows up, well, we talked about two weeks ago when I finished preaching on the golden rule about not judging. But then Jesus ended by saying, In everything, do to others as you would have them do for you, or that's the law and the prophets. So be kind. Be loving. Be generous. Be the kind of person to others that you'd like to have in your life. Well, it's no coincidence that this saying of the narrow gate and the wide gate is on the heels of that. Jesus isn't just arbitrarily throwing these things together, but rather what Jesus laid out in that golden rule of what it means to be kind and loving to others, be that good neighbor, points to that narrow road as Jesus has loved us.

Author Dallas Willard and his book, The Divine Conspiracy, points out that this narrow gate, which maybe you've heard it preached this way, or have assumed that this narrow way has simply to do with theology and doctrine and beliefs and teachings of the church. But Willard says the narrow gate is not, as so often assumed, doctrinal correctness: thinking or believing the right things. He says, the narrow gate is obedience and the confidence in Jesus necessary. We can see that it is not doctrinal correctness, because many people who can't even understand the correct doctrines nevertheless put their full faith in him. Moreover, we find many people who seem to be very correct, doctrinally, but have hearts full of hatred and unforgiveness. The broad gate by contrast is simply doing whatever I want to do.

So the narrow gate says, isn't about doctrine. It's about obedience and confidence in Jesus. That Jesus is sufficient and the answer for the things that we need to understand about how to live this life and how to enter this narrow gate and to walk this narrow path. And He says, there are plenty of people that wouldn't begin to even understand the doctrines and the specifics of that, who trust God, who trust Jesus with that level of depth. But he says, On contrary, or there are a lot of very learned people that know all the ins and outs of the doctrine, but their hearts aren't transformed or changed. He says they're full of hatred and unforgiveness. And that broad gate, he says, is simply doing whatever I want to do. We know that that happens.

If you've ever been hiking, you'll find that there is a well-worn, well-beaten path, because many people have walked and gone there before you. But imagine going to an outdoor event or a venue that's in a field or a large grass area, and you can see where it's trampled down where people have gone all sorts of directions across there, but there's not necessarily one defined path. That's what Willard is saying, that the narrow path is that path that gets you where you wanna go, that broad one that many people take is this kind of wandering aimlessly. John Wesley and his sermon on this text said that the reason so many people continue so securely on the easy road is because it requires no effort to do so. People take the easy road, even if it is an essential feature of the way that leads to destruction. Take the easy road that leads to destruction, just because it's easy, just because I don't have to think about it, and just wonder along.

But kind of like talking to the kids. Jesus has laid out a plan before us. Jesus spent these first chapters of Matthew 5, 6 and 7, laying out this plan and saying, Alright, here are the things you do, here's how you love others, here's how you interact with them. And he's begun painting the picture of what this narrow path looks like. And it's kind of like that Robert Frost poem, the two roads that diverged in a wood, and I took the road less traveled by. Well, Jesus is the narrow road, the road that's less, at least taken by others. Because it is challenging, because it's not easy, it's not a secret, Jesus isn't trying to make this difficult, he's not trying to paint before us a picture of, Alright, what's the password? And I'll let you through.

He's not trying to hide what it is that it means to walk this path. In fact, the Greek words that get used hard and narrow aren't words at necessarily mean difficult, but rather it means that there will be some challenge, that it will require some effort on our part to do these things, and that will be pressed in and challenged by others for it, because to follow the path that Jesus has called us to, deviates from what the rest of the world would tell us is important. It's unconventional, it's different. And it's not the easy way.

So let's use another example. I'm gonna put True 349 on the spot here. I know. This should be easy though. Alright, and actually, you probably need to stand up and to do this... Go ahead. Alright, I wanna hear the scout law. So trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. So 12 points of the scout law. So for all of you who are in the troop right now, are you perfect at all 12 of those? No, alright, well its the scout law. So that's what you're supposed to do, but it's not easy. In fact, when Jesus talks about this narrow way, it's kind of like following the Scout Law. That it's a narrow way, it's a difficult way, it challenges you. And guess what, I'm guessing a lot of your friends and a lot of your peers have no interest in living by that Scott law, right? It's a challenge to do something that is different than what everybody else around you is doing. It's a challenge to stick to it and to press on and be faithful to doing those things that you say matter.

Well, so it is like it is with our scouts following that scout law. So it is for those of us who are disciples of Jesus, following his teachings and walking that narrow path. But here's the thing, the gate is narrow in the road, the road is hard. But it leads to life. And there are few who find it. Again, we're not blind and in the dark, stumbling our way around trying to hope that we find what this path is. Rather it's about discovering and living into those teachings of Jesus.

Those who take the wide road? Jesus is talking to people who have gathered to come and hear him, we're not even talking about the Gentiles and the heathens and the people who aren't even a part of what he's talking about. These are people that came to hear him, maybe they have not committed to being a disciple yet, but he says, You know what, there are a lot of people that are choosing that wide path. For some, they would look at this and say, Well, yeah, this is the message of who's going to heaven and who's going to hell, but the truth of it is Jesus never mentions that. He said, it leads to destruction. Well, I'm guessing that some of us have experienced some destruction in our lives when life gets all out of balance, when we're trying to do in our way, when we're stumbling and faltering and every decision seems like a wrong one, we've experienced destruction. But Jesus says, you've got the answer. It's gonna take some focus, it's take some attention, and it's gonna take some commitment, but here's the thing, you're not alone. In the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus is talking to some people about what it means and what it takes for salvation, the question came back to Him, Jesus, how is this possible? And Jesus says, You know what? For human beings, it is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.

So there's a hymn in our hymnal titled, Precious Lord, take my hand. I imagine that this journey that we're on, that this narrow gate, this narrow road, it's one that we are gonna struggle on, but we got a God that loves us, who sent His Son to be our guide, and he's there to take our hand and to lead us and guide us and direct us to point out the missteps, and to say, Oh no, no, no, come this way, not that way, and to help us to be those people that he has called us to be.

Jesus laid much of it out in this sermon they gave as well. John Wesley, commenting upon this said the narrow gate that leads to life is the way of entire sanctification, narrow indeed is the way of poverty of the spirit. He's referencing some of those parts of the beatitudes. Narrow indeed is the way of the poverty of the Spirit, Holy mourning, meekness and hunger and thirst after righteousness. Narrow is the way of mercy, genuine love, purity of heart, doing good to others, and willingly suffering all manner of evil for righteousness sake. Boy, just hearing those laid out, you can see why he says it's hard. It's not easy. This way of Jesus asks something of us. An investment of ourselves. But here's the thing, there is joy, there is blessing, there is peace and abundance of life that comes from living this narrow way.

Two weeks ago, I talked about how divided our world has become, about how divided we are as a nation, how divided we are even within the Methodist Church. John Wesley talked about the things necessary for a person to grow in their faith and their love of God. He talked about two categories of activities, he talked about acts of piety, and acts of mercy. We would define acts of piety as being those things that lend to helping us grow in our faith, of praying, of reading scripture, of study together, of worship.

And acts of mercy, we could aptly call social justice, of those things we do to bless the lives of other people, to help those who are disenfranchised and struggling and suffering. And part of this rift that we have in our Methodist Church is that on the one hand, again, this is a broad brush stroke, but the conservative and traditional element of the church is much more focused on the act of piety of holiness, of salvation, of saving souls, that that is the most important aim of their efforts. And on the progressive side would be more of the social justice-orientated. How do we help those who are marginalized and minority groups and those who are impoverished and that's the most important aspect of our faith. But here's the thing, Wesley never separated the two, he said that both were necessary. It's not an either or prospect. That's part of where our conflicts and rifts become, that we feel like we have to choose one or the other. That it's either acts of piety or acts of mercy, but for Wesley, it was both. Both were necessary.

And here's the thing, Wesley wasn't the pioneer of this, he didn't come up with this on his own, consider those Beatitudes even that Jesus offered. He talked about poverty of the spirit, of meekness and hungry and thirsty after righteousness. Those sound like acts of piety. Those some like things that foster and nurture the spiritual life of the individual, but Jesus also included in that mercy and genuine love and purity of heart and doing good for others. Well, though, sounds like acts of mercy. Wesley understood what Jesus was calling us to. Acts of mercy and act of piety together, friends. The road, the gate.

It's not a secret. It's not restrictive. There isn't a gatekeeper saying, Yep, you can come in and no you can't, but rather it's an invitation. It's an invitation to discover this life that is possible when we listen, when we take Jesus teachings to heart, and we structure and orient our lives around those things. For the young men and women in our scout troop, that Scout Law is a guiding principle for you. That those 12 points are to be points in which you look at the life that you're living right now as a scout, yes, but also as a member of your home and your family, as a student in the school that you go to, that those principles of scouting are the ones that should help you shape and for your decisions that lead to the actions that you take, and the way that you live your life.

Being a disciple of Jesus is very much the same. Jesus said Here is what I want you to do. Here is how I want you to live. Here is what it takes to be my disciples, it's hard, it's narrow. It's not so that he can condemn us it's so that he can help us to fully be the people that God created us to be and that we can continue to be the body of Christ in this world may we together encourage and support and nurture one another on this narrow and hard path because friends it does lead to a life that is amazing and glorious and blessed.

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