Open Matthew 7:13-14.
Matthew 7:13-14 (my translation)
13 Enter through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction; many go that way. 14 How narrow is the constricted gate, the way leading into life; few are those who find it.
Many today assume these verses are about the doors to heaven and hell. According to this interpretation, only a few people find the way to heaven and the majority are doomed to hell. But that isn’t Jesus’ message. He’s talking about the kingdom of God — heaven reigning over earth, in contrast with the usual way that kingdoms operate here on earth. The wide way that everyone travels is the way kingdoms normally operate, and Jesus is calling us to recognize another less obvious way: the way of the kingdom of God.
Two weeks ago, I was in Israel with a group. We visited a number of tels. A tel is an artificial hill. When an ancient kingdom invaded, they would level a city and build on top of the ruins. Later another kingdom would invade them and build on their ruins. Some tels consist of more than 20 layers of “civilizations” who built on top of the people they conquered. Archaeologists love them: as you dig down through the layers, you are literally digging back through the history of the kingdoms that destroyed each other to rule that place.
So tels like Megiddo or Dan stand as monuments to the failure of human rule, the way kingdoms throughout history have destroyed each other to gain power through war and conquest. That’s the broad way, the way most powers operate. Most people travel that road.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus calls us to a different way. The Golden Rule means that if you don’t want people to invade you, you don’t invade them (7:12). Instead of taking power over others, we are to ask God to take authority, to seek his kingship, to knock on his door to invite his rule (7:7-11).
When your enemies attack, don’t resist them (5:39). Instead, be generous to them (5:40-42). Jesus calls us to love the enemies who hurt us (5:44). We are to treat them as part of the human family, because that’s how our heavenly sovereign treats them (5:45-47). Jesus calls us to love our enemies without retaliation, as perfectly as our heavenly Father loves them (5:48).
Consider the way Jesus himself chose to confront the powers. Jesus calls us to follow him in taking up his cross. In the face of the powers, the person carrying a cross looks like they’re on the road to death. But Jesus says this less obvious way is not the path to destruction but the path to life (7:14). It’s counter-intuitive. It’s not the obvious way. Few recognize this path.
Followers of Jesus must take the less-travelled way. In a world where fear of terrorism dominates, we can’t follow the popular media calls to “do unto them before they do unto us.” Followers of Jesus, he calls us to take up our cross, to respond without violence, to love our enemies.
The wide way that civilizations and governments have always followed will lead to destruction. You can guarantee it: look back throughout history and see what’s happened to the kingdoms of the world. The vast majority of people even in the so-called “Christian” world do not choose the way of the cross as the path that leads to life. They prefer the way of destruction, relying on bullets and bombs to kill their enemies as if that could somehow keep them safe.
The path to the kingdom of God narrow, a constricted way, a way that reshapes how we react to our enemies. Jesus calls us to show them the perfect character of our heavenly ruler.
There are few who find this way, but it’s Jesus’ way. It’s the only way that will work. Will you follow him?
What others are saying
Scot McKnight, How narrow is that gate? (2006):
The narrow gate is entered by those who hear the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and do them; the wide gate by those who hear those words and do not do them. So there, each of us, we need to hear that. This isn’t about a simple “I accepted Jesus at five and I’ve lived the devil’s life ever since but I’m safe and secure.” There is no reason to talk of the gate or the narrow way without thinking of the Sermon on the Mount. …
To enter the narrow gate involves being with the blessed ones (poor, peacemakers, persecuted, etc), being salt and light consistently, following Jesus’ radical way about murder/anger, adultery/lust, divorce, truth-telling, mercy over revenge, loving enemies. And it involves doing good deeds for the right reasons; it involves pursuing the kingdom and God’s justice instead of fortunes and fame; and it involves not damning the others and trusting that God is good. That’s the narrow gate about which Jesus teaches.
John Nolland. The Gospel of Matthew: A Commentary on the Greek Text, NIGTC (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 332:
The kingdom is likely to be pictured here as a city-state. Matthew has probably chosen the imagery of narrowness to suggest the constriction of one’s choices involved in taking the challenge of Jesus’ teaching: there is a very sharply defined mode of entry. The narrow gate throws up images of the need to make a choice which is not obvious (this is not where the crowd is going to go).
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