Yesterday Tom and I returned to the evening service at First Presbyterian in Fort Oglethorpe. Rev. Allen’s sermon that morning had been on Matthew 7:13-14 and during the evening service he asked us to gather in small groups to discuss what he had said about the passage and what we thought about it. Several people in our group had taken extensive notes so we had a pretty good idea of the message by the end of our discussion.
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). I have to admit that these verses have never been among my favorites. I memorized them when I was a teenager but they seemed very restrictive and forbidding. I always envisioned masses of people trudging along a road with only a few taking the high road that leads to Jesus. And if you chose the high road, you immediately had a huge and heavy cross laid over your shoulders that you had to carry along the steep and narrow path.
I have carried that image throughout my ministry and, even though I agree with the verses, I avoided wrestling with them or thinking about them too much. In 30 years of ministry, I only preached on them once. I don’t want to scare people into heaven; I want to love them into Jesus.
But listening to the discussion last night gave me new insight on these verses (exactly what worship and Bible study are supposed to do). I had always focused on the restrictions in these verses – narrow, small, few – as if God was hand-picking a few “lucky” people to travel over a very hard road to heaven while the majority traveled on the broad, easy road that leads to hell. But what if these verses are really about opportunity instead of restriction?
Imagine that same broad road with everyone trudging along it. The road is wide, easy, and seems to be the way that everyone is
going. Now imagine Jesus standing at a little open gate, inviting everyone who passes by to come in. “Come in – this is the way to go! Come in and walk with me! Come this way and know my life, my joy, my love, my grace.” But most people just keep walking by. Why? “No one else is going that way.” “It looks harder than this way.” “We don’t want to think too much about it.” “It looks too good to be true.” “What gate?” We ignore Jesus’s invitation and then we blame God for being exclusive and restrictive. The road isn’t narrow because God has made it that way. The road is narrow because so few of us choose to take it.
Yes, “narrow the road” and sometimes it is a hard path. Sometimes we have to make choices for God and away from ourselves. Sometimes we have to give up something that we have valued or invested in. But what is any of that compared to what we gain when we choose the narrow road, when we choose Jesus? What we gain is so much greater than anything we may lose or give up. Joy, love, grace, eternal life. The sacrifices are so small compared to what we gain.
What if we take these words from Matthew 7 and add them to some words Jesus speaks just a few chapters later? “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). Narrow the road that leads to life but take it anyway and you will find that the “burden” of the cross is light and love and joy.