Jesus calls us to join Him in HIS church.
VIEWPOINT BRIEF BIBLE STUDY .. revised 2/14/2011
(here's a volume control for the music)
Edification & Worship      

CE-B06 -- LIFE or DEATH --
Jesus says it's our choice,
explains John Stott
life in Jesus. It's freely available.)
The Sermon on the Mount
Or the Christian counter-culture.
A Commentary by John Stott.

Matthew 7:13,14 – A number of commentators suggest that the main body of Jesus’ sermon (or teaching) recorded in chapters 5 – 7 of Matthew is now over, and that with verse 13 the application or conclusion begins. Certainly he emphasizes here even more strongly than before the necessity of choice.

Enter by the narrow gate, he begins. That is, the contrast between the two kinds of righteousness and of devotion, the two treasures, the two masters and the two ambitions has been fully portrayed. Now the time for decision has come. Is it to be the kingdom of Satan or the kingdom of God, the prevailing culture or the Christian counter-culture? Jesus continues with his presentation of the alternatives as he describes the two ways (broad and narrow), the two teachers (false and true), the two pleas (words and deeds) and finally the two foundations (sand and rock).

The inescapable choice (13,14). – What is immediately striking about these verses is the absolute nature of the choice before us. We would all prefer to be given many more choices than only one, or better still to fuse them all into a conglomerate religion, thus eliminating the need for any choice.

But Jesus cuts across our easy-going syncretism. He will not allow us the comfortable solutions we propose. Instead he insists that ultimately there is only one choice, because there are only two possibilities from which we may choose.

Two Ways —

First, there are two ways. This concept is found already in the Old Testament. Psalm 1, for example, contrasts “the way of the righteous” who delight in God’s law, bear fruit and prosper, with “the way of the wicked” who are driven like chaff before the wind and perish. Now Jesus elaborates the picture.

One way is easy. The word means “broad, spacious, roomy” (AG), and some manuscripts combine these images and call this way “wide and easy.” There is plenty of room on it for diversity of opinion and laxity of morals. It is the road of tolerance and permissiveness. It has no curbs, no boundaries of either thought or conduct. Travelers on this road follow their own inclinations, that is, the desires of the human heart in its fallenness. Superficiality, self-love, hypocrisy, mechanical religion, false ambition, censoriousness – these things do not have to be learned or cultivated. Effort is needed to resist them. No effort is required to practice them. That is why the broad way is easy. The hard way, on the other hand, is narrow. Its boundaries are clearly marked. Its narrowness is due to something called “divine revelation,” which restricts pilgrims to the confines of what God in Scripture has revealed to be true and good.

C. S. Lewis described in his autobiography how as a schoolboy of thirteen he began to “broaden his mind.” “I was soon (in the famous words) altering *I believe* to *One does feel.* And oh, the relief of it! ... From the tyrannous noon of revelation I passed into the cool evening twilight of Higher Thought, where there was nothing to be obeyed, and nothing to be believed except what was either comforting or exciting.” It is a fact that revealed truth imposes a limitation on what Christians may believe, and revealed goodness on how we may behave. And in a sense this is “hard.” Yet in another sense, as Chrysostom pointed out centuries ago, Christ’s hard and narrow way is also to be welcomed as his “easy yoke” and “light burden” (see Matthew 11:30).

Two Gates —

Secondly, there are two gates. The gate leading to the easy way is wide, for it is a simple matter to get onto the easy road. There is evidently no limit to the luggage we may take with us. We need leave nothing behind, not even our sins, self-righteousness or pride.

The gate leading to the hard way, on the other hand, is narrow. One has to look for it to find it. It is easy to miss. As Jesus said in another connection, it is as narrow as a needle’s eye. Further, in order to enter it we must leave everything behind – sin, selfish ambition, covetousness, even family and friends if necessary. For one cannot follow Christ who has not first denied himself. The entry is also a turnpike gate: it has to be entered one by one. How can we find it? It is Jesus Christ himself. “I am the door,” he said, “if anyone enters by ME, he will be saved” (John 10:9).

Two Destinations —

Thirdly, there are two destinations. We have already seen this foreshadowed in Psalm 1, where “prospering” and “perishing” are the alternatives. Moses made it clearer still: “See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil ..., blessing and curse; therefore choose life” (Deuteronomy 30:15,19; cf Jeremiah 21:8).

Similarly, Jesus taught that the easy way, entered by the wide gate, leads to destruction. He did not define what he meant by this, and presumably the precise nature of hell is as much beyond our finite understanding as the precise nature of heaven. But the terrible word “destruction” (terrible because God is properly the creator, not the destroyer, and because man was created to live, not to die) seems at least to give us liberty to say that in Hell everything good will be destroyed – love and loveliness, beauty and truth, joy, peace and hope – and that forever. It is a prospect too awful to contemplate without tears, for the broad road is suicide road.

By contrast, the hard way, entered by the narrow gate, leads to life, even to that “eternal life” which Jesus explained in terms of fellowship with God, beginning here but perfected hereafter, in which we see and share his glory, and find perfect fulfillment as human beings in the selfless service of him and our fellows.

Two Crowds —

Fourthly, there are two crowds. Entering by the wide gate and travelling along the easy road to destruction are many. The broad and easy road is a busy thoroughfare, thronged by pedestrians of every kind. The narrow and hard way that leads to life, however, seems to be comparatively deserted. “Those who find it are few.”

Jesus seems to have anticipated that his followers would be (or at least would appear to be and would feel themselves to be) a despised minority movement. He saw multitudes on the broad road, laughing and carefree with apparently no thought for the dreadful end to which they are heading, while on the narrow road there are just a “happy band of pilgrims,” hand in hand, backs turned upon sin and faces set towards the Celestial City, “singing songs of expectation, marching to the promised land.”

I do not think that we can build on this contrast between the few and the many any speculation that the final number of God’s redeemed will be small. If we compare Scripture with Scripture (as we always must), we shall want to put alongside this teaching of Jesus the vision of John that the redeemed before God's throne will be “a great multitude which no man can number” (Revelation 7:9). How to reconcile these two concepts I do not know.

Ray notes that the span of time causes “few” to BECOME many, even while the proportion of those on the broad road remains much greater than us who chose the narrow road.
Nor am I clear how this passage relates to the perplexing problem of those who have never heard the gospel. For one word which is common to both crowds, the “few” and the “many,” is the verb “enter.” It is because the many enter by the wide gate that Jesus urges his hearers to “enter by the narrow gate.” This implies that neither crowd is ignorant of the issues; each has been presented with a choice and has deliberately chosen one or the other way.

The whole picture seems to relate only to those who have had the opportunity of decision for or against Christ; it simply leaves out of view those who have never heard. We shall be wise, therefore, not to preoccupy our minds with such speculative questions, as on another occasion Jesus himself implied. Somebody asked him: “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” But he declined to satisfy their curiosity. Instead he replied: “Strive to enter by the narrow door” (Luke 13:23,24).

Ray remarks -- Every person who lives beyond infancy makes deliberate choices for good or for bad. Each person who deliberately chooses to be bad has made a choice against God's Way of LIFE. He has chosen the lesser good or that which is not good at all.
To recapitulate, according to Jesus there are only two ways: hard and easy (there is no middle way), entered by two gates, broad and narrow (there is no other gate), trodden by two crowds, large and small (there is no neutral group), ending in two destinations, destruction and life (there is no third alternative), It is hardly necessary to comment that such talk is extremely unfashionable today. People like to be uncommitted.

Every opinion poll allows not only for a yes or no answer, but for a convenient don’t know. Men are lovers of Aristotle and of his golden mean. The most popular path is the via media. To deviate from the middle way is to risk being dubbed an “extremist” or a “fanatic.” Everybody resents being faced with the necessity of a choice. But Jesus will not allow us to escape it. We can choose. We MUST choose!

Go to top

click to send Ray an e-mail note
CLICK box to send an e-mail comment to Ray...