|RPM, Volume 20, Number 12, March 18 to March 24, 2018|
If I were to stand before you this morning and declare that our Lord Jesus was a gracious man; if I were to declare that He is meek, loving, and forgiving, I doubt a single person would be surprised by such a commentary. But I am equally certain that, if I told you that Jesus was also quite demanding; if I told you that He will not tolerate fair-weather, nominal, followers—such a message is likely to raise some eyebrows.
You have heard the text read. Judge for yourself—is Jesus pleased by half-hearted followers? (Friends, bear with me if this message sounds hard, but please keep in mind that this hard note is first sounded by our Lord in this text.)
The importance of this particular lesson can be seen by the number of ways Jesus presents His point. Jesus warns would-be followers by offering a series of contrasting images. He speaks of two gates, two roads, two trees, and two builders—each pair presenting a choice between what honours and what dishonours our Lord.
The first two pairs of images are presented together—the "narrow gate" and the "narrow road" are presented in contrast to the "wide gate" and the "wide road". The way that is "wide", Jesus tells us, is the route to "destruction". And the "narrow" way is the route "that leads to life".
So what is the problem here? The problem is that human beings tend to prefer the easy road in life. We are naturally inclined to choose the path of least resistance. We look for short cuts. We can't afford the time it requires to prepare a meal so we eat out, or we order a pizza. We hurry around in our car from place to place as if we were in a race to get things done. In this day of "instant gratification", no one wants to wait. We prefer bank machines to tellers; we prefer a quick emails to prolonged phone calls; and now I fear even the MacPhail's have crossed the threshold of reasonability in this regard—just a few days ago, we did our grocery shopping on the internet! Rather than fight through the crowds at Loblaws, we now simply press a few buttons and answer the door a couple of hours later.
Shortcuts are not always bad. I am grateful for fast computers and bank machines. And I am delighted that Tim Horton's has a drive thru window. But I must tell you that this mentality should not spill over into the Christian life. It is clear in this passage and in the passages that follow, that Jesus will not tolerate "drive-thru Christians". Jesus would have little patience, I think, for the 21st century version of Protestant Christianity whereby an hour and a half at church is supposed to make up for all the nonsense we are engaged in during the week.
It may seem strange to us, yet the instruction is unequivocal: Jesus wants us to journey down the difficult road in order to enter through the narrow gate. Much of the Sermon on the Mount explains the nature of our challenges on this road. We are promised persecution when we would rather be left alone. We are told to love people we would rather harbour bitterness against. We are called to give money to people who can't pay us back. Jesus tells us to fast when we can't even comprehend skipping lunch. Instead of promising us instant gratification, Jesus promises us delayed gratification. "Take the difficult road", He says. But remember, this is the road that leads to "life".
I think the other reason so many people take the "wide" road is because the road is not properly labeled. The road to "destruction" does not have a big neon sign that reads, "This way to eternal condemnation"—it may even have a sign that says, "This way to life". It is not uncommon for people in the church to wander down the road to destruction, not because they are evil people, but because they think they are headed in the right direction. They think they are on the road to life.
So what does someone on the correct road look like? Individuals who take the difficult road to the narrow gate are people who will follow Christ regardless of their discomfort with His demands. These are individuals who are willing to sacrifice instant gratification in order to gain eternal rewards. These are individuals who care more about God and His glory than man and his need.
Jesus' pattern of distinguishing between two types of people, continues with the metaphor of trees producing "good fruit" and trees producing "bad fruit". And what does "good fruit" look like? Think back to the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount: Are you "thirsting for righteousness" or are you content with your level of godliness? Are you striving to be gracious to those who do not welcome your kindness? Or are you only good to those whom you love? Are you attentive to the needs of the poor or do you merely look out for your own interests? Are you devoting yourselves to prayer or are your earthly responsibilities dominating your time?
In perhaps the sternest warning ever uttered by Jesus, He says in verse 21, "Not everyone who SAYS to Me, 'Lord, Lord', will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who DOES the will of My Father who is in heaven". What we SAY we believe won't matter if our deeds betray our words. Our fruits will reveal which road we have been taking.
But then some will object, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?"(v.22). The modern-day equivalent being, "Lord, did we not preach good sermons on Sunday, did we not sing Your praises in the choir, did we not bake many casseroles for the church dinners?". "Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness"(v.23) is the stark reply. Jesus does not mince words when talking about the serious nature, and the difficult demands, associated with being His follower. He warns that those who settle for nominal devotion are in for a rude awakening.
Now I realize, there is a real temptation to draw hard and fast lines between those who are on the narrow road and those who are on the wide road. There is a temptation to want to separate those bearing good fruit from those bearing bad fruit. But I don't think it is that easy.
Ultimately, we are on one road or the other, yet, there is a sense in which we spend time on both roads; there are occasions when we bear good fruit and occasions when we bear bad fruit. For this reason we must evaluate our present situation. Sure, we believe in Christ, but are we PRESENTLY journeying the difficult road towards Him? Yes we want to live like Christ, but does the fruit NOW manifest in our life reflect that reality?
Disciples of Christ must do more than listen to sermons and attend Bible studies. Genuine disciples of Christ ACT upon what they hear and read. This is Jesus' point when He contrasts those who build on the foundation of rock rather than the foundation of sand, "Everyone who hears these words of Mine, and ACTS upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock"(v.24).
When Jesus refers to "these words of Mine" He is referring back to everything He has said previously in the Sermon on the Mount. It is not enough that we memorize the Beatitudes—we must model them in our lifestyle. We may say that we love our neighbour as our self, but does our generosity towards strangers reflect that? We say that we want to be like Christ, but are we building our faith through prayer? Jesus wants our deeds to back-up our words. He wants us to PRACTICE what we preach. He wants us to "walk the talk". And when we do we are like a person who builds their house "upon the rock".
All of this sounds demanding, doesn't it? On the surface, these challenges may seem very cumbersome. I can assure you, however, that these challenges are FOR OUR OWN GOOD. Acting upon the words of Jesus will help us. Acting upon the words of Jesus will protect us—O what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer!
For those who build on the foundation of rock, Jesus promises, "And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and yet IT DID NOT FALL, for it had been founded upon the rock"(v.25).
The "rain", "floods", and "winds" are likely meant to represent the pressures of life. Our spouses let us down. Our children agitate us. Our bosses demand too much. Our finances squeeze us on every side. We suffer through physical illness. How are we going to make it?! We will make it if our house is "built upon the rock". We will endure and persevere through every kind of hardship if our life is built on the words of Christ. How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, is laid for your faith in His excellent word! What more can He say than to you He hath said, to you that for refuge to Jesus have fled?
What is our alternative? "And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall"(v.26, 27).
Friends, which road are you presently on? This is not a question of whether you have made a profession of faith. This is not a question about your church attendance patterns. This is a question concerning the current status of your relationship to Jesus Christ.
Are you currently journeying on the narrow road? Though it be a difficult journey, the Good Shepherd will be with you; His rod and His staff will comfort you. Though the narrow road requires that we leave much behind, Christian, from Pilgrim's Progress, reminds us, "all that I shall forsake is not worthy to be compared with a little of that I am seeking to enjoy."
Be sure, also, to bear good fruit along the way. Be attentive to the words of Jesus, and be sure to do that which Christ commands. And, finally, be careful to build on the rock of God's holy Word—it alone can keep you safe and secure while storms rage on every side. Amen.
|This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (IIIM). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor. If you would like to discuss this article in our online community, please visit the RPM Forum.|
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