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20-08-2015 message by Pastor Rich Doebler

Matt 7:13-14 – 13 [Jesus said] “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.

Luke 13:23-24 – 23 Someone asked him, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” He said to them, 24 “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.

Fred and I were having a friendly debate this last week, which I think could be boiled down to a simple question: What does it really cost to follow Jesus?

Or, to put it another way, when you decide to quit going your own way and you start to go God’s way, is it a sacrifice or a blessing?

On the one hand, Jesus said if we want to follow him, we have to lose our lives, deny ourselves, and carry a cross daily (Luke 9:23-24).

He told his followers to count the cost of following him—like a builder makes sure he has enough finances to finish a project. Or like a king going to war calculates whether his small army has what it takes to defeat a larger army. Jesus said to count the cost—because if you can’t give up everything you have, then you can’t be his disciples (Luk 14:25-33).

That sounds pretty grim. We’d rather not hear about cost and commitment. We don’t want to hear about sacrifice. We’d rather talk about the blessings! We’d rather think of the promises!

And yet, there it is. Jesus tells us to count the cost. We’d better know what we’re getting into if we truly want to be his disciples.

When Sharon and I were in India 10 years ago, we visited a pastor named Matthew Thomas. He has a remarkable ministry there in a predominantly Hindu nation, reaching people for Christ and training ministers. And he’s faced great difficulties. His family has been threatened and attacked. In the short time we were there, we woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of drums and chanting outside the Bible school compound. It was a demonstration—members of the ultraconservative BJP party, radical Hindus, with their torches and tridents (small pitchforks) protesting against the Christian school.

Matthew said that during their crusade ministries, large numbers have come to Christ. But before they will baptize new converts, they must sign a statement that says, in effect: I am changing my religion of my own free will and volition. I have not been promised any material benefits—neither food nor financial nor anything else. Matthew said that if they don’t have those signed statements on file, they could be prosecuted (or worse) for proselytizing Hindus to Christianity.

In many places making a decision for Christ means a decision against your family’s religion, tradition, and culture. Jews who follow Jesus are often renounced by their families—some families hold “funerals” because a son or daughter, in their minds, is now dead to them.

That’s better than in many Muslim cultures where you could literally be killed by your own family members for believing in Christ. There’s a price to pay if you’re a Muslim in Saudi Arabia who chooses to follow Christ.

Do you remember the young mother (Meriam) who was sentenced to death last year in Sudan? Her Muslim father was absent during her childhood, and her mother raised her as a Christian. She married a Christian man. They had one child, and she was pregnant with her second when the court sentenced her to 100 lashes for adultery (marrying a Christian)—and then to death for apostasy from Islam.

Sometimes we hear about such things in the media. Most of the time we don’t. The missionary we’ve been working with in [a certain area of Africa] has had his house burned down because he is an outsider trying to reach Muslims with the Good News.

In our American culture, we often miss the reality that there is a price to pay as a follower of Jesus Christ. To decide for him does not necessarily mean we decide against our family’s religion, tradition, and culture.

In our American view, we want life to get easier. We want to enjoy blessings. We don’t want to deal with problems. So we skim over the parts in the Bible about laying down our lives and denying self and carrying a cross.

But on the other hand, it isn’t all sacrifice, is it?

Jesus says if we lose our life, that’s when we can finally find real life (Luke 9:24). He says if we give up our rights and humble ourselves, that’s when we are lifted up and exalted (Matt 23:12). He says that when we are persecuted because of righteousness, that’s when the kingdom of heaven really belongs to us (Matt 5:10). He says that when we are insulted and persecuted and slandered, really we’re blessed (Matt 5:11). “Rejoice and be glad” he says, “because great is your reward in heaven” (Matt 5:12).

In other words, when you die to self and humbled and persecuted, that’s when you’re really blessed!

In fact, Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven is like buried treasure or priceless pearl—worth so much that you’d be willing to sell everything you own in order to buy the pearl or buy the land where the treasure is buried (Matt 13:44-46). He says when we give up everything we have, that’s when we begin to experience everything he has.

Following Jesus is about both blessing and sacrifice. It’s about promises and commitment.

When we talk about helping each other on our journey with Christ, we should understand that the church is not a travel agency calling people to a luxurious, comfortable, entertaining, 5-star resort in some Hawaiian paradise!

Instead, we’re more like military recruiters, calling ordinary people to a cause—a mission, a purpose larger than life, a battle bigger than ourselves. We’re raising the bar, not lowering it. We’re asking for commitment and sacrifice, not promising a life of ease. We’re inviting people to join us on a difficult road that is “less traveled” in the hopes that it will become the road “more traveled.”

So let’s talk about this road—this journey that we’re on.

Matt 7:13-14 – 13 [Jesus said] “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.

First of all, we need to clear up a simple misunderstanding. Strait…and narrow (KJV) does not mean straight…and narrow. Strait means “narrow, confined, constricted.” If you are in “hard straits,” it means you are in a place of great difficulty, distress, or need.

The Gospel uses two words to describe this: narrow and small (gate) are the same word in the Greek, stenos. However, the second time it says narrow (road), it’s a different word—thlibō—which means “squeezed, pressed upon, encumbered…to distress, afflict, compress.”

2 Cor 2:8 says “we are thlibō [hard pressed]… The word is often translated into English to speak of affliction. The word for “tribulation” is derived from thlibō.

Only one time in the NT (here in Matthew) is this word translated as “narrow.” But other versions translate thlibō in this verse as a “difficult” road or a “hard” road or a road that is “hard to follow.”

So why is a narrow, difficult, hard road the better road to take? The narrow road is better because…

  1. [The narrow road] leads to life. While the broad road (the easy road) leads to destruction (some versions say “hell”—lit. to be consumed or destroyed, to be wasted, eternally ruined…perdition.)

We see this principle played out in various aspects of life all the time: the difference between success and failure is a narrow road; the difference between winning or losing is a narrow road.

It’s the one who studies hardest who gets the grades; it’s the one practices diligently who can play the piano; it’s the disciplined person who can run the marathon…and so on.

The same can be said for finding life and success in a marriage, a career, a project, raising a family… If you want life, then you’ll want to choose the narrow road—the hard and difficult path.

The narrow road is a call to make a difference in this world for the kingdom of God. It’s a call to do something significant that will last for eternity.

  1. [The narrow road] is demanding.

It’s not easy. It demands commitment. Discipline. Dedication. It’s a call to something bigger than self. It’s not cheap. It’s not something to be haphazard about.

Jesus says the narrow way is something worth striving for: You should “make every effort” to enter through the narrow door (Luke 13:24).

A couple years ago I mentioned that 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.)

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 hoard. We fill attics, basements, garages, pole barns, storage sheds with stuff. Human nature finds it extremely difficult to let go. It goes against our nature to downsize.

But it’s not just material possessions that are a problem. Jesus also wants us to let go of spiritual junk. We can accumulate a lot of spiritual junk. Human nature holds on to stuff like 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.

You cannot enter the narrow gate without repenting—without laying down all your junk. Entering the kingdom means letting go of this world. It means letting go of 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!

It’s demanding…but it’s also worth it to get rid of all that junk! And that brings us to our third reason why narrow is better…

  1. [The narrow road] is rewarding.

The committed way is better than the uncommitted way because you find meaning and purpose in life when you give yourself to a cause larger than yourself. You will be most fulfilled when you give yourself away. When you live only for your own personal pleasure and satisfaction, you might enjoy more comforts and conveniences now, but in the end, how will that make you feel?

1 I said to myself, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure to find out what is good.” But that also proved to be meaningless…  3 …I wanted to see what was good for people to do under the heavens during the few days of their lives… 10 I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. 11 Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun. (Eccl 2:1,3,10-11)

There is purpose, value, and fulfillment in being committed. The narrow way is demanding—but that’s precisely what makes it rewarding.

Yes, of course it costs something. There is a price to pay. How much? Everything! It is the “pearl of great price.” For this cause a man would sell everything he owned.

  1. [The narrow road] is unique. Some might say it’s “unpopular.” I prefer to say it’s unique. The narrow way is not the ordinary or common way. It’s special and uncommon: “Only a few find it.”

The way of the world is popular, trendy, shaped by culture—and it leads to death. Why follow the crowd over the edge of the cliff? (Like the proverbial lemming.)

The road to eternal life is unpopular. It’s not trendy. It’s counter-culture. So do you have the courage and the strength to go against the tide of popular opinion?

In Bengaluru India last October, the leading runners in a half marathon were misled by the course pilot vehicle. After running several kilometers in the wrong direction, somebody finally told them. But by then they were way off course and had to abandon the race. They ended up begging from passersby so they could pay 20 rupees to catch the Metro train back to the finish line.

But a couple years ago (May 2013) in a half-marathon race in Sunderland, England, 5,000 runners took the wrong turn—all except one, the winner. The popular way was the wrong way. None of the 5,000 finished the race, even though they thought they had! They took a shortcut.

Matt 6:13-14 (MSG) 13-14 “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.

Our decisions in life must not be influenced by what is popular or what others think. Just because 5,000 people ahead of you go a certain way does not mean that’s the way you should go. Maybe they’re wrong! The crowd is often wrong!

Paul was determined to please God, not man (Gal 1:10). Jesus was not popular with the “in-crowd.” The spiritual elite challenged him. They put him to the test again and again. Jesus was so unconventional, it bothered them. He didn’t fit in. He didn’t follow the rules of acceptable religious society.

The narrow, difficult road is unique and unpopular. It’s demanding. More people take the easy road.

But the narrow road is also rewarding. It’s the best way to live. It’s the only way to find life—that is if you’re willing to let go of the things that can hold you back.

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?

Narrow Is Better