The Narrow Way
Scripture: Matthew 7:12-20
We are nearing the end of the Sermon on the Mount. Remember that chapter 7 is all about relationships. How should we relate to other Christians? How should we relate to unbelievers? How should we relate to God?
Jesus knows that relationships are extremely difficult for us. If we trust our instinct, we get it wrong most of the time. Selfishness almost always trumps our concern for others. But Jesus calls His disciples to be different, by His grace. Let’s prayerfully consider His teaching together, beginning in verse 12.
12 So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them…
This is commonly referred to as the Golden Rule.
At the time Jesus said this verse, another version of this rule was already well known throughout the entire world. Several hundred years earlier, Confucius had been credited with saying, “Do not to others what you would not wish done to yourself.” And the Jewish Talmud, also written a few hundred years before Christ, said this: “Do not do to anyone what you yourself would hate.”
About 20 years before the birth of Jesus, Rabbi Hillel had famously said that this statement was a summary of the entire OT law. Everything else was only commentary. That was almost certainly common knowledge by the time Jesus preached this sermon.
But Jesus flips the rule and says it in the positive. And it changes the meaning considerably. Jesus would certainly agree with the other rule, there’s nothing wrong with it, but the positive phrasing takes the principle even further.
If I want to keep the negative sense of the Golden Rule, “Do not do to anyone what you yourself would hate,” I can remain distant and autonomous from others. I can stay in my lane and avoid people. And of course, that is my right. And it keeps me from infringing on the rights of other people. I can have a world where I offend no one and no one offends me. And perhaps civil discourse should end right there, in terms of public application.
But Jesus commands his disciples to go further. Do the good you want done for you. How would I like to be treated in this situation? That’s what God commands. You want to be loved? Show love. You want to receive gifts? Give them. You want to be forgiven? Forgive.
And that makes it impossible for me to stay in my lane. It forces me to engage in relationships. As we have said before, you can’t keep God’s law without being in relationships. Righteousness is entirely relational. Christians do not have the luxury of pulling away when things get tough.
We have a tremendous responsibility to step out of our cultural comfort zone of radical individualism and move towards others – especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. Why? Because Jesus said so. And more importantly, because that’s what He modelled for us by incarnating and pursuing people who really don’t deserve it, even to the point of shedding blood.
Jesus had the right to stay in heaven and leave us in our sin. Instead, He gave up those rights, moved toward us and dirtied Himself for our sakes. Let’s move on to verse 13:
13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
If you think about the way the Gospel is often presented to people today, there is an emphasis on trying to get people to accept the God of the Bible. Preachers encourage people to accept Jesus into their life or into their heart. They speak about the forgiveness and the joy and the new life found in Christ – all of which is true.
But in our efforts to convince people to accept God, we sometimes forget to present the whole truth. The primary question is not if we will accept God, but if God will accept us.
Jesus has already been clear in Matthew what is required for entrance into the kingdom of God – repentance and faith. More specifically, repentance of sin and faith in Christ, demonstrated by a growing trust in, dependence on, and obedience to Christ.
Jesus illustrates by describing two roads and the picture is easy to understand. One is narrow and hard but leads to life. The other is wide and easy but leads to death… …
Elon Musk has been in the news a lot lately for His purchase of Twitter. Musk is also famously non-religious. A few months ago, someone asked him about God and if he was concerned about his final destination. This is how Musk responded: “I’m ok with going to hell, if that is indeed my destination, since the vast majority of all humans ever born will be there.”
Of course, he doesn’t believe in hell or heaven or God, but He is referring to Matthew 7:13. And He is correct. If Jesus spoke the truth, then the majority of all humans ever born will end up in hell… Let that sit for a moment because that is exactly what Jesus says here…
Majority opinion about God, about who gets to heaven, about who goes to hell, about how we should live our lives – it’s wrong… And in fact, most of the people who believe they are safe are wrong about it… In more than one place, Jesus says that many people will come to him on the last day assuming they are saved, and Jesus will say He never knew them…
This is intended to be sobering. It is meant to humble us. We are meant to search our hearts and ask how I can know that God will accept me.
How can you know if God accepts you? If your instinct is to name all the reasons why you’re a good person – that’s the wrong answer. None of the people on the road to hell believe they deserve hell. All of the people on the narrow road believe they absolutely deserve hell.
Let me say that again, to be sure you heard me correctly. If your instinct is to name all the reasons why you’re a good person – that’s the wrong answer. None of the people on the road to hell believe they deserve hell. All of the people on the narrow road believe they absolutely deserve hell.
None of us deserves heaven. It is not my righteousness that gets me into heaven. It is my union with Christ and His righteousness.
This leads us back to repentance and faith. Only people who believe they deserve hell will ever truly repent.
And this leads us to what Jesus says next.
15 Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?
17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.
Jesus knows that many of the people on the wide road are being led astray by false prophets or teachers. This is perhaps the most common warning found in the New Testament. Be careful who you listen to because false teachers often look like the real thing.
And Jesus uses another simple illustration. Look at the fruit. But what kind of fruit are we looking for?
Think back over the sermon. Jesus has been presenting us with two options all along. Will we seek God’s kingdom, or the kingdom of this world? Will we stick to the rules of men or the spirit of God’s law? Will we practice righteousness to be seen by men or to be seen by God? Will we serve God or money?
There is no middle path. There is no other safe entry to God’s kingdom. There is no third alternative. It is God and life or the world and death. But the way of the world seeks to deceive us into believing we are on the road to safety.
And Jesus says to us – consider the fruit. And based upon what we read in the Sermon on the Mount, we may conclude that the fruit Jesus wants us to look for is the character and conduct of someone living a life of repentance. We may look for this in ourselves, but we need to be especially careful to look for it in those who teach us God’s Word.
We are not looking for perfection. We are looking for humility. The poor in Spirit, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers – what do they all have in common. Humility.
An arrogant preacher may say all the right words, but if you don’t see humility – find someone else to listen to. I say that with some fear and conviction that I’m a hypocrite for saying it, because I know myself to be someone who struggles with self-importance and arrogance.
But this is what Jesus tells his sheep. Look for humility. Look for the fruit of repentance.
But I want to add something that Jesus doesn’t say in the Sermon on the Mount – but He does say this later in Matthew about false teachers. We also need to judge teachers by their teaching.
This is from Matthew 12:
33 “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Notice that the fruit Jesus focuses on here is not their actions but their words. We will be judged for careless words. There’s certainly a personal, relational dynamic to this. But in context, Jesus is talking to the men responsible for teaching Israel God’s law.
He’s accusing them of bad doctrine. That’s what we will have to give an account for and God’s people need to be careful to question what we hear from the men called to preach and teach God’s Word.
In summary, Jesus is encouraging us to be cautious and careful… Careful in how we treat others. Careful in evaluating our hearts and our position in God’s kingdom. Careful in choosing the leaders we follow and the teaching we consume.
All of this is directed at people who are already part of God’s kingdom. But here’s the best news of the day – no one is beyond the grace of God. The Apostle Paul explains entrance to the kingdom far better than I can, and so I simply want to end the sermon by reading the words of Ephesians 2 and by asking you to consider your heart. We believe in this church that the Word of God and the power of His Spirit is enough to change any heart.
1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—
3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,
5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,
7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.