Rev Dr Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Toowoomba Church; Message: The Kingdom For Keeps 02; Date: 20 February 2011

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Small Gate Narrow Road

 

Jesus called his disciples to be “fishers of men” and – then – he showed them how the “fishing” worked – how to sweep large masses of people into the kingdom of God. Consider this early report from the Bible – Matthew 4:23-25: “[With his first disciples in tow] Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him

By all accounts – this looks easy. Of course – large crowds would follow him. How can anyone not become a Christian around Jesus? He preached the good news of the kingdom – “God loves you and God wants to save you” – and – then – this preaching came with the power to heal all the sick and free everyone from demonic oppression. Fantastic!

Just imagine that you are caught up in the following scene: Like in the times of Jesus – you also find yourself in a great mass of people. It is evening – the sun goes down – excitement is in the air. The surroundings look like a rock concert: sound-speakers stacked one upon the other, huge screens in every corner and flood lights. Only – it is not a rock concert but a preaching event and now it begins. First – you notice that the worship band gets everyone pumping with hands raised up high. Then – you cannot but notice that the message is preached with passion and people to your left and to your right are responding with shouts of “hallelujah” and “praise God”. Finally – you see something that you have never seen before: In the name of Jesus and his kingdom – the blind see. The deaf hear. The lame get up from their wheel-chairs. Tumors – these lumps of cancer – shrink and disappear. The people go wild. There is one healing testimony after another. This is good! What a night! And then the next night – as the reports of the first night go out all over the region – the crowd doubles in size. Yeah!

Swept up in such excitement – (just put yourself into that kind of environment) – would you now consider becoming a Christian? On the night – if anyone asked you whether you wanted to accept the good news of the kingdom with its healing power and then further asked you to raise your hand as an expression of your desire, would you raise your hand? (I think that) the chances are good. You would raise your hand – as many have done before. According to our report from Jesus (Matthew 4:23-25) – large crowds began to follow him.

Only, Jesus – immediately – pricked the bubble of easy salvation. Jesus knew that the people around him may have raised their hands and welcomed the kingdom of God in a flush of emotion – with a sinner’s prayer on their lips – but many – at best – have only made an acquaintance with the kingdom of God because you cannot enter the kingdom as the consumer of a spectacle. It’s not enough to come back for another inspiring night. It’s not enough to want more healings and miracles and kingdom joy. [And whatever else a modern Christian sales pitch may promise you.] You cannot enter the kingdom of God as someone who is signing up for the best (worldview) deal – free kingdom benefits – guaranteed service by God himself.

You are not in the driving seat. God is. It is his kingdom and – in complete contradiction to our consumer mentality – he has placed conditions on entering his kingdom.  Are we aware of them? We may think that any conditions would seem unhelpful in attracting people to the Christian faith – (this is not going to make the church nice and harmless) – but not only are they in place, these conditions are tough and – therefore – salvation is not easy.

When Jesus saw that the large crowds kept following him, he went up a mountainside and – sorting out his disciples first (the “fishers of men” in training) – he – repeatedly – confronted his listeners with tough kingdom conditions – Matthew 5:19-20: “ … unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:22: “ . I tell you anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement … anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Matthew 5:27-30: “ … anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. [Therefore] if your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell … ” Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 6:24: “ … You cannot serve both God and Money.” Matthew 7:1-2: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:12: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets

Then – Jesus concluded his preaching with persistent pleas that entering the kingdom of God was not easy – Matthew 7:13: “Enter [the kingdom of God] 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 7:15-20: “Watch out for false prophets … By their fruit you will recognize them … A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit … ” Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father in heaven … ” Matthew 7:24-27: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock … But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house, and it fell with a great crash

 

[Cf. Matthew 10:32-39: “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven ... Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 12:20: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.” Matthew 12:36-37: “But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgement for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:50: “For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 16:24-28: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” Matthew 18:35: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”]

 

After the disciples witnessed his massive preaching fame, Jesus spoke these sobering words. There is no easy access to the kingdom and nothing is gained by following the crowds either because – so Jesus said – “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 itTherefore, beware of the wide and broad gates of easy Christianity. However, why is the gate to the kingdom so small and narrow despite the public healings and miracles? The answer has to do with obedience. It is too hard to obey God – at least how Jesus spelled out obedience in the Sermon on the Mount. Would you agree with me?

Listen again to some of Jesus’ words – Matthew 5:22: “ … anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ [to his brother] will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Matthew 5:27-30: “ … anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. [Therefore] if your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell … ” Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfectThis seems to be over the top. Sometimes people do call each other names and then they get over it. Sometimes men and women do check each other out and then no one demands that anyone gouges out their eyes in an attempt to stop them from looking. Jesus’ directions seem to have a ring of fanatism and zealotry about them – (maybe more at home with the Taliban than the church) – (he even scares people with the dangers of hell) – and his general instruction is simply impossible: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect

Yet – for all of our objections – Jesus spoke the truth. The Bible is unanimous about this. The condition for entering the kingdom of God and remaining in the kingdom of God is doing the will of God – and not your own. One day in heaven the question will not be: “What did you think about Jesus?” “What did you learn at Sunday schoolThe question will be: “Did you follow him and did you do what he said[This is not contradicting our teaching on “justification by faith” as I will demonstrate below.] Your behaviour matters. It is absolutely crucial. Jesus warned us: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father in heaven[James 1:22: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”]

Let me ask you: How committed are you to obedience – the kind of obedience that squeezes through the small and narrow gate of God’s kingdom? Do you measure up in what you do from day to day?

This is how it looks in real life. This is how Jesus applied the Sermon on the Mount to a young man who came to him with a question – [retell the Bible story in your own words] – Matthew 19:16-30: “Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’ ‘Why do you ask me about what is good?’ Jesus replied. ‘There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.’ ‘Which ones?’ he inquired. Jesus replied, ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.’ ‘All these I have kept,’ the young man said. ‘What do I still lack?’ Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’ Peter answered him, ‘We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.’”

The young man wanted to know how to enter life – how to enter the kingdom of heaven – and Jesus answered him with simple and clear words: “If you want to enter, keep the commandments. Do not murder. Do not commit adultery. Do not steal. Do not tell lies. Honour your father and mother. Love your neighbour as yourselfThis confused the young man because – maybe unlike many of us – he had kept these commandments, yet he knew that he was still outside of the kingdom of God. What was missing? Then, Jesus showed him the narrow gate. It had to be as radical as the Sermon on the Mount. He said to him: “Sell your possessions and give to the poor … Then come, follow me

Here was the narrow gate to the kingdom of heaven. The young man understood the condition – as we may understand the condition today –  but he did not enter in. He turned and went home – sad. In his mind – too much was required of him. The gate was too narrow – too small – for a man of great wealth. How could he sell everything for Jesus? How can you give up everything for Jesus? Only – Jesus did not soften the requirements for the young man. Instead, he confronted our predicament by saying: “It is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God

This worried even the disciples – (as it may worry us today). They asked Jesus in astonishment: “Who then can be saved?” In other words: “Who then can make it through the narrow gateJesus answered: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible

Here now – we are coming to another secret of the narrow gate. It is so narrow that – indeed – you cannot enter in without God. Jesus said: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possibleGod needs to help you and he is willing to do so. The rich young man only needed to stay a little longer – not go home sad in response to Jesus’ words but grow desperate – and – then – turn to Jesus in his desperation. He promised that he would be there for the desperate. In fact, this is how Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount. Before he would talk about radical obedience – righteousness – conforming to the perfect will of God – he promised – Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled

The gate to the kingdom of God may be small and narrow – too small and narrow for you – but it will open for the desperate who are looking to Jesus. Whoever hungers and thirsts for righteousness – whoever longs to know and do the perfect will of God in their lives – will receive from Jesus the power to make it through the narrow gate.

I want to spend a little more time on how this works. When Jesus had finished preaching – so the Bible records – Matthew 7:28-29: “ … the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the lawThere was authority on Jesus which means that he did not just babble words but bestowed the reality of the kingdom through his preaching. It is the same kind of authority which was on him – (before and after the Sermon on the Mount) – to heal the sick. For instance – immediately – after he had finished preaching, he said to a man suffering from leprosy: “Be cleanAnd this man was clean through the word of Jesus that had authority.

The very next episode would again make the same point. A centurion came to Jesus with a request to heal his servant who was at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering. Jesus said to him – Matthew 8:7: “I will go and heal himYet, the centurion knew better than bother Jesus with an unnecessary journey. He said – Matthew 8:8: “ … Just say the word, and my servant will be healed … ” (cf. Matthew 8:16). The centurion knew that when a man of authority speaks, the paralyzed get up from their beds. Suffering stops. In the same way – when a man of authority preaches, the poor in spirit – those that hunger and thirst for righteousness – the young men whom Jesus calls to sell everything that they own and give it to the poor – they do find the narrow gate to the kingdom of God. They will have a commitment to be perfect as their heavenly Father is perfect.

The source for Jesus’ authority is revealed also in the same Bible chapter of all these episodes following the Sermon on the Mount. We read – Matthew 8:16-17: “ … many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took up your infirmities and carried our diseases.’” The place where Jesus took up our infirmities and diseases and our corruption with sin – which is hindering us to enter in the narrow gate of God’s kingdom – is the cross. When Jesus hung on the cross – with a crown of thorns on his head and his entire body bruised and split open from a flogging – he was carrying our diseases in the body and the heart. He took our place. He had not done anything to deserve such a death. On the contrary – he had demonstrated a holy life according to the Sermon on the Mount but – according to plan – this made him the acceptable sacrifice for our sickness and sin. He took our infirmities on him so that they would no longer be on us. Then – after three days in the grave – God raised Jesus from the dead. The sacrifice was done – it was sufficient for all of humanity (and the entire created world) – and now the risen Jesus would continue to minister his authority through his disciples until the end of time (cf. Matthew 28:18-20).

Jesus demonstrated the absolute power of what he had done. Since he carried (or would carry) our infirmities on the cross, he was able to say to a man – (not long after he preached the Sermon on the Mount) – Matthew 9:2: “Take heart, son; your sins are forgivenTherefore – making this very personal for a moment – do you want to enter into the kingdom of heaven this morning? Are you desperate? Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness? Is sin keeping you out? Is the love of money keeping you out? You do have help. There is one that is breaking the power of sin – loosening the grip of sin in your life. Cry out to him and he will say to you: “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven. Welcome to the kingdom

Is this going to be difficult? Yes – it will be. The Sermon on the Mount will always challenge us. Even an experienced church leader like the apostle Paul wrote in the Bible – 1 Corinthians 9:27: “But [like a boxer] I buffet my body [handle it roughly, discipline it by hardships] and subdue it, for fear that after proclaiming to others the Gospel and things pertaining to it, I myself should become unfit [not stand the test, be unapproved and rejected as a counterfeit].”

 

[For the disciples there were also the scary implications of Jesus’ following words – Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Ministering in power is no guarantee for being in the will of God. “God’s gifts and call are irrevocable” (Romans 11:20) and, therefore, even the disobedient can operate in power but this is no guarantee that Jesus is pleased with them. According to Jesus – many suffer from such delusion.]

 

Yet – on the other hand – Jesus promised us a breakthrough into something that is easy and beautiful. He said – Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” At first – it may be difficult to trust God enough to let go of our sin – wrong attachment to money, unforgiveness, stealing, and whatever else it may be – we struggle to come on board with righteousness because we still want our old life but – then – as soon as we commit to Jesus and the kingdom, there is another surprise. It is actually easy. It gives rest to our souls. We have given all of our money to the poor but now God provides for us. We have forgiven our enemies but we are feeling lighter. We are no longer making speeches at night – no longer exert so much negative energy in holding a grudge. God can be trusted. The Sermon on the Mount turns out to be easier than we thought.

At the heart of this promised sense of ease and freedom – and it is there for you to experience – is a wonderful relationship with God whom we call Father. Jesus – throughout the Sermon on the Mount – kept the Father before us – Matthew 5:16: “ … praise your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:45: “ … that you may be children of your Father in heaven … ” Matthew 5:48: “ … your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 6:1: “ … your Father in heaven.” Matthew 6:4: “ … your Father … will reward you.” Matthew 6:6: “ … pray to your Father … ” Matthew 6:8: “ … your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” Matthew 6:9: “ … Our Father in heaven … ” Matthew 6:14-15: “ …your heavenly Father will also forgive you … ” Matthew 6:18: “ … your Father … will reward you.” Matthew 6:26: “ … your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” Matthew 6:32: “ … your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” Matthew 7:11: “ … how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:21: “ … my Father who is in heaven

As you let go of sin (and this may where you struggle), the kingdom life proves to be easier and more satisfying than chasing money, drugs or revenge. You learn to love the Father in heaven that loves you. The more this love grows, the easier it gets to cast off anything that stands in the way of this relationship. Love knows no boundaries. Love would do anything. Love – perfect love – has no problems with the Sermon on the Mount.

I come back to the beginning. As people are first introduced to the kingdom of heaven, is it easy for them or difficult? This morning – is it going to be easy for you to become a Christian or not? To the disciples – these “fishers of men” in training – it looked easy when large crowds kept following Jesus – swept up in the excitement of powerful preaching and healing the sick. But Jesus took them aside and taught them – Matthew 7:13: “Enter [the kingdom of God] 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

The gate is narrow because the condition for entering the kingdom of God is absolute obedience – Matthew 5:19-20: “ … unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:22: “ . I tell you anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement … anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Matthew 5:27-30: “ … anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. [Therefore] if your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell … ” Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 6:24: “ … You cannot serve both God and Money.” Matthew 7:1-2: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:12: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:15-20: “Watch out for false prophets … By their fruit you will recognize them … A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit … ” Matthew 7:21-23: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father in heaven … ” Matthew 7:24-27: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock … But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against the house, and it fell with a great crash

Considering this teaching – are you willing to enter in – this morning – right now? The gate is narrow but nothing compares to the kingdom. One day – with Jesus’ authority on them – the disciples had done some preaching and healing themselves. They returned to Jesus with joy, saying – Luke 10:17: “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your nameYet, Jesus replied – Luke 10:20: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven [in other words: that you have entered the narrow gate into the kingdom].” [Cf. Like in Matthew 5-7 here Jesus to personal salvation.] Jesus invites you into the kingdom and it is your place in the kingdom which will remain the greatest joy forever. Are you coming? Amen.

 

 

Appendix

 

I want to clarify that justification by faith is not opposed to the necessity of obedience. When we are justified, we do become a new creation and the kind of “tree” that cannot but bear “good fruit” (cf. Matthew 7:15-20). Please, consider the two quotes below.

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Cost Of Discipleship, London: SCM Press 1959, p54-58:

 

“The following two propositions hold good and are equally true: only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes.

It is quite unbiblical to hold the first proposition without the second. We think we understand when we hear that obedience is possible only where there is faith. Does not obedience follow faith as good fruit grows on a good tree? First, faith, then obedience. If by that we mean that it is faith which justifies, and not the act of obedience, all well and good, for that is the essential and unexceptionable presupposition of all that follows. If however we make a chronological distinction between faith and obedience, and make obedience subsequent to faith, we are divorcing the one from the other – and then we get the practical question, when must obedience begin. Obedience remains separated from faith. From the point of view of justification it is necessary thus to separate them, but we must never lose sight of their essential unity. For faith is only real when there is obedience, never without it, and faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience …

Only the obedient believe. If you are to believe, we must obey a concrete command. Without this preliminary step of obedience, our faith will only be pious humbug, and lead us to the grace which is not costly. Everything depends on the first step. It has a unique quality of its own. The first step of obedience makes Peter leave his nets, and later get out of the ship; it calls upon the young man to leave his riches. Only this new existence, created through obedience, can make faith possible …

In the end, the first step of obedience proves to be an act of faith in the word of Christ. But we should completely misunderstand the nature of grace if we were to suppose that there was no need to take the first step, because faith was already there. Against that we must boldly assert that the step of obedience must be taken before faith can be possible. Unless he obeys, a man cannot believe … ”

 

D.A. Carson: Jesus’ Sermon On The Mount, Grand Rapids: BakerBooks 1999, p139:

 

“It is true, of course, that no man enters the kingdom because of his obedience; but it is equally true that no man enters the kingdom who is not obedient. It is true that men are saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus; but it is equally true that God’s grace in a man’s life inevitably results in obedience. Any other view of grace cheapens grace, and turns it into something unrecognizable.”