We begin a new sermon series tomorrow called “WEiRD: Because Normal Isn’t Working” by Craig Groeschel, pastor/founder of lifechurch.tv. We are pumped about this series. As we preach tomorrow on what it means to be “Weird in a God Way,” I have been reflecting on a sermon the Lord gave me last year on the same passage, Matthew 7:13-14. This sermon still challenges me, and I never posted it. I share it now and pray it might speak to you.
The Road is Narrow, but the Burden Light
(A Communion Homily)
Matthew 7:13–14 (NIV84)
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Matthew 11:28–30 (NIV84)
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
“Good news and bad news.” How many times have we heard that phrase? How often do we categorize things we hear or read into one of those two groups? There are even jokes about good news and bad news. I read one just two weeks ago:
Here’s the bad news. A guy falls out of an airplane at a thousand feet in the air. The good news is he had a parachute on. The bad news is the parachute didn’t open. The good news is there was a huge haystack on the ground right where he was heading. The bad news is there was a pitchfork lying in the middle of the haystack, tines up. The good news is—he missed the haystack.
Have you ever been reading a passage of Scripture and in your mind you hear the words, “Here’s the bad news”? I have. I’ll be honest up front. Our passage this morning – even though it comes out of the mouth of Jesus, even though it is found in one of the gospels which can seem the most pleasant books of the Bible – is a passage that sounds in several ways like bad news.
Let’s start by considering the context. Our passage in Matthew 7 is part of what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. Chapter 5 starts out,
“1 Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them…”
Jesus teaches or preaches this sermon for three chapters. I know it seems like sometimes I try to model His approach. Then, chapter 7 ends,
“28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law. 1[Then] He came down from the mountainside.”
So in this unique context, Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, we find our challenging passage.
First of all it’s a command. “Go in through the narrow gate.” It doesn’t say try as best you can. Jesus is telling His hearers that this is the way they should go. But it’s not just any way. In fact, it is not even the common way. This is an interpretation by Mike Blumenthal, one of our members who is an artist.
The broad way is filled with people and the wide gate at the end leads to destruction. Bad news, right? This is the “narrow” way.
The gate is small and the road is narrow. That seems like bad news to me. When Liz and I moved to Kentucky to spend four years of our life in a place where it gets below 60° during winter, one of the new challenges of life was not only curvy winding narrow mountainous roads, but curvy winding narrow mountainous roads with no guardrails. Down here we have guardrails on flat roads with plenty of room. Up there if you dodge a logging truck that’s coming into your lane it’s a tough call between letting him scrape your car or sailing off a palisade into a bottomless ravine. Mikes picture reminds me of those roads. When I hear of “narrow roads,” I do not think good news.
But, you know, even if we could just automatically say, “Ok, Jesus. Your narrow way leads to life. It’s worth it. We’ll take it” I find even more troubling news at the end of the passage. Only a few find the narrow gate. I have struggled with this. Many people struggle with this. Perhaps you do. Do the majority of people miss out on life? Do only few really find it? Do most people actually take a broad path leading to destruction? If so, why would God orchestrate that? If God is loving and gracious, why would He send the majority of His children to destruction? Why would He only entice a few to find true life? And this week as I was reading the surrounding context, I found our answer. The Lord reminds me of a very big word – choice. Just a few verses earlier in Matthew 7:7–8, we read these words,
“7Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
Well, who does this exclude? No one. No one is excluded from the opportunity to find and receive abundant and eternal life. It is not as if God sends few to find the narrow road and sends the rest down a broad path of destruction. The only ones who are excluded from receiving, finding, and having the door opened are those who do not ask, seek, or knock. So, we realize that it is not God who keeps the majority of people from experiencing life. It is their own unwillingness to ask, seek, and knock. It is the unwillingness to enter through the narrow gate. Few find, because few seek. And what seems like bad news begins to look like good news. God wants all to find life in Him, and all have the opportunity.
The news gets even better when I read another passage that I did not realize was only four chapters away. In Matthew 11, Jesus begins to denounce the cities in which “most” of His miracles had been performed, “because they did not repent.” Then, in what might seem like a surprising change of tone, in verses 28-30 He says,
“28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 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. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
All who are weary and burdened are offered rest from Christ. And as we pursue Him and are required to stop seeking after other things that are so enticing, we realize that while the road is narrow, the burden is light.
Adam, our worship leader for the 1107 service shared with me this week that God had given him a vision not too long ago as he was studying this passage. He sees himself walking the narrow road, and the road gets narrower and narrower as he walks it. He begins on the road with all this baggage. As he continues he has to drop baggage to stay balanced on the path. By the time he reaches the narrow gate, he is literally the only thing that can fit through. We have to have all of our baggage removed in order to go through the narrow gate. And Christ wants to do that for us so that our burden is light. The road is narrow, but the burden light. This is good news.
Look again at Mikes pictures.
On this broad road with a wide gate leading to destruction, can you see the people? While the world would have us believe this is the easy road, look at their baggage. Look at all the things they are having to carry, wanting to carry, unable to leave behind. Can you relate to this today? There are things that are harder to let go of and leave behind as we travel with Christ. But look at the ones walking the narrow way. Even though it’s narrow and the gate small, they walk upright, easy-going, no longer heavy-laden, but unburdened as they approach the small gate leading to rich abundant life.
Well, so far we have avoided a fundamental question in this whole discussion. What is this narrow gate? In a different gospel, we find out it isn’t a what, but a Whom. John 10:7–10:
“7 Therefore Jesus said again, ‘I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
What better day to consider what it means to “enter through the narrow gate,” enter into Jesus, than on Communion Sunday.
We enter Christ through the sacrament of Communion as we claim or reclaim His sacrifice that through Him we may be reconciled to the God who made us and loves us. We enter into Christ as the Holy Spirit who raised Him from the dead comes upon the bread and grape juice, making them the body and blood of Jesus Christ. As we take them, we unite in the Holy Spirit as the Body of Christ to be His presence in the world. We remind ourselves of the narrow road in a world where most people are on a broad road, one that leads to a wide gate through which lies destruction. But Christ “[has] come that [we] may have life, and have it to the full!”