05-05-2013 message by Pastor Rich Doebler
You’ve heard of of the “strait and narrow” way? It’s a phrase from the KJV of Matt 7:13-14 (part of Jesus’ words from the “Sermon on the Mount”):
Matt 7:13-14. 13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: 14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. (KJV)
When I was young, I thought Jesus was talking about a narrow path that was long and straight — you could see down the way for miles, like you were driving across South Dakota. But I was wrong.
KJV was published 502 years ago, and in the last five centuries the English language has changed quite a bit. For one thing, strait does not mean straight. “Strait” or “straits” means: a position of difficulty, distress, or need: Ill and penniless, he was in sad straits. It can refer to a narrow passage or area (as a dangerous, narrow place that a ship might sail through). Its archaic definition (as in the KJV): “narrow…affording little space; confined in area; strict, as in requirements or principles.”
Some think that a “strait gate” in Jesus’ day was literally a small door set within the larger gate to the city. When the city gates were shut and locked after hours, people could still enter the town by knocking on the smaller door — entering through the “strait [small] gate.” If you were a merchant or a trader, however, leading a donkey loaded down with all your merchandise, you would not be able to go through the “strait gate.” The only ones who could fit through such a tight opening were those who carried nothing with them.
(It’s like a “doggy door” in your back door: your dog could come in, but if you tried, you’d probably get stuck.)
Matt 7:13-14. 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.” (NIV)
So what was Jesus saying? He was saying that if you want to enter the gate to the kingdom of God, you have to let go of things…you have let go of a LOT of stuff that will not fit through the small, narrow gate. Why does he say this? Because…
Human nature is to hold on to stuff. We work hard to accumulate stuff. Human nature doesn’t let go easily. We often hoard our possessions. We fill our attics, our basements, our garages, our pole barns, our storage sheds with stuff. Human nature finds it extremely difficult to let go. It goes against our nature to downsize.
After a while, we don’t own our material possessions — they own us. We become controlled by the stuff in our lives. You don’t just own a cabin…you have to maintain it. So physical, material possessions are a problem…but they are not the biggest problems.
When Jesus speaks of entering the “strait” or “narrow” gate, I think even more than letting go of material things, he wants us to let go of other things — spiritual things.
We accumulate a lot of spiritual junk in our lives. Human nature is to hold on to stuff. Jesus is saying if we want to enter the kingdom, if we want to follow God’s way, we need to let go of spiritual junk: destructive behaviors, poisonous thoughts, toxic attitudes, bitterness and resentment, anger, unforgiveness, hatred — the works of the flesh (the sinful human nature): sin, rebellion, disobedience to God.
Two cautions: (1) Changing your behavior is not the same thing as entering the small gate. Many people mature and become more disciplined. They get their act together. But being a good citizen and contributing to society is not the same thing as being forgiven of your sins. It’s not the same thing as receiving eternal life through Jesus Christ. A lot of decent people miss the kingdom of God!
On the other hand: (2) Asking for forgiveness is not the same as letting go of your junk. Some feel bad about their lives. They want to enter the kingdom. They knock at the door. But they hope to squeeze through the door without letting go of their “stuff.”
You cannot enter the narrow gate without repenting — without laying down all your junk. Entering the kingdom means letting go of this world and all your sinful, selfish ways. It means laying down your own life. It means dying to yourself so you can live to Jesus.
It means taking off your backpack full of stuff — like a traveling merchant parking his donkey outside the city gate, leaving your load of supplies and stuff. You have to let go of certain things that won’t fit through the narrow gate!
Going through strait gate and walking on a narrow way means turning away from sin, letting go of your selfish ways. It means surrendering your heart to Jesus so you strip off your mean-spirited, vindictive, suspicious, selfish attitudes and instead become kind, loving, trusting and selfless.
Col 3:8-11,12-13. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self… 12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another… (NIV)
What are you “wearing”? If you’re wearing a heavy suit of armor (all the defensive attitudes and sinful characteristics we accumulate to protect ourselves)? Get rid of it! You cannot get through the narrow gate wearing a suit of armor. Take it off and dress down. Put on a clean, white robe instead (a simple, light-weight robe — pure and holy before the Lord) — so you can slip easily through the small gate.
You might be thinking, “Wait a minute! Just a couple weeks ago you said finding God’s way, following the ancient paths would bring ‘rest for your souls.’ What you’re describing here sounds difficult. It sounds like a hard road, not a restful road. Which is it?”
Difficult does not mean no rest. A hard, difficult way does not cancel out rest for your soul. The narrow is BOTH difficult AND restful!
These are actually two sides to the same coin. (1) “Rest” means you don’t have to carry the weight and burden of sin. Finding rest for your soul (rest for weary, tired, frustrated sinners), means being free from sin (and all its consequences). (2) “Difficult,” on the other hand, means you have to let go, which is hard because it goes against our human nature. To be free from sin requires a surrender… We must let go of the enticing, appealing things of this world.
It’s like going through a difficult medical procedure — a major operation — in order to be free from the problem. Rest (like health) comes only when the sin (like disease) is removed. But the removal process can be difficult. You have to surrender yourself to the surgeon — go under the knife.
Or to put it another way: the hard and difficult way costs something. God’s grace and forgiveness are free, but walking in freedom comes at a cost.
Thomas Costain’s history, The Three Edwards, describes the life of Raynald III, a 14th-century duke in what is now Belgium. Grossly overweight, Raynald was commonly called by his Latin nickname, Crassus, which means “fat.”
After a violent quarrel, Raynald’s younger brother Edward led a successful revolt against him. Edward captured Raynald but did not kill him. Instead, he built a room around Raynald in the Nieuwkerk castle and promised him he could regain his title and property as soon as he was able to leave the room. This would not have been difficult for most people since the room had several windows and a door of near-normal size, and none was locked or barred. The problem was Raynald’s size. To regain his freedom, he needed to lose weight.
But Edward knew his older brother, and each day he sent a variety of delicious foods. Instead of dieting his way out of prison, Raynald grew fatter. When Duke Edward was accused of cruelty, he had a ready answer: “My brother is not a prisoner. He may leave when he so wills.” Raynald stayed in that room for 10 years and wasn’t released until after Edward died in battle. By then his health was so ruined he died within a year…a prisoner of his own appetite.
The door to freedom is small! We cannot pass through it unless we do the difficult and hard task of shedding the weight of this world — letting go of certain pleasures and activities that compromise our commitment to Christ alone.
Anything worth doing requires commitment, dedication, sacrifice. To find your purpose and live out your call in life means giving yourself totally to the cause. If you yearn for a deeper meaning in life, a reason for being, then you willingly give yourself to it.
When Ernest Shackleton was seeking recruits for his 1914 Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, he placed this ad in the newspaper: “MEN WANTED: FOR HAZARDOUS JOURNEY. SMALL WAGES, BITTER COLD, LONG MONTHS OF COMPLETE DARKNESS, CONSTANT DANGER, SAFE RETURN DOUBTFUL. HONOUR AND RECOGNITION IN CASE OF SUCCESS. SIR ERNEST SHACKLETON.”
Who would answer such an ad? Twenty-eight men answered the ad to be part of Shackleton’s team and sail on the Endurance — all of them willing to do something difficult for the privilege of accomplishing something great.
Anything worth doing requires commitment! How much more if it is something of eternal significance!
Jesus calls us to something far greater than exploring Antartica. He calls us to commit to a difficult and hard way. It’s a call to go against the tide, to buck the trends of society, to be counter- cultural, to dare to stand against popular opinion. It’s a call to let go of the stuff that holds us back and keeps us out.
In April 2003 climber Aron Ralston entered Utah’s Bluejohn Canyon only to become trapped when an 800-pound boulder shifted, crushed his hand, and pinned him to the canyon wall. For six days, Ralston struggled to free himself while warding off dehydration and hypothermia.
Trapped and facing certain death, he chose a final option: Using a multi-tool, he amputated his right hand, cutting through skin and muscle, tying off blood vessels with a tourniquet, cutting through the main nerve, and finally bending his arm to snap the bones. Finally free, he was able climb down and walk out of the canyon. His book: Between a Rock and a Hard Place. He cut off his hand to preserve his life.
Some things must be cut off so we can LIVE. Jesus said it is better to enter into life “maimed” or crippled rather than to have two hands and be destroyed. (Matt 18:8)
What do you need to let go of? What are you holding on to that will keep you from going through the tight and narrow gate? Are you on the wide, popular road to destruction? Or are you on the narrow, unpopular way to life?