Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 8. Doors & Destinations
Mt 7:13,14 “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.
These, I suspect, well known and much preached on verses, present us with two problems. The first is that it is difficult to see how they follow on from what goes before or what follows after; what is the progression of thought, either in Jesus as he spoke these things or even, perhaps, in Matthew as he compiled these sayings? The second that follows on, is that because of this there are few clues, if any to help us interpret these verses. Let’s try to catch an overall sense of what Jesus has been saying in this chapter to see if we can apply that sense to these verses.
He starts by talking about a people (his followers) who do not judge and write off others (v.1), a people who are aware of their own failures (v.2-5), a people who have been entrusted with sacred and very precious things from God (v.6), things which seem to stretch on into the future and which are appropriated when we pray – ask, seek, knock (v.7,8), a people who are encouraged to ask by the love of their heavenly Father (v.9-11). He finalises this picture of his followers by summing up their behaviour as follows: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (v.12) So what we have here is a supreme challenge to enter into a new world, the world of Christ, the kingdom of God that works on very different values to the rest of the world. That is the challenge so far.
It clearly is a different world, a different way of living and it obviously has to be entered into so the start of our two verses is not surprising: “Enter through the narrow gate.” If you enter a club or an association or any other grouping, there are entry requirements. The requirement here is to come in via a ‘narrow gate’. Narrow? As opposed to what? A wide gate and a broad road. Oh. So what’s the difference? The destination. The wide gate and the broad road “leads to destruction”. Ooops! So what is the destination of this ‘narrow gate’? Life! (v.14) Right. What else are we told? When it comes to the wide gate and broad road, “many enter through it”. And the narrow gate? “Only a few find it.” Wow!
So one way leads to life and the other way leads to destruction. But we were thinking in the first 12 verses of chapter 7 of the life for Jesus’ followers? Yes, that is the way of ‘life’, NOT destruction (and both are equally important to realise.) So what is this ‘narrow gate’? Well, I think preachers often speculate about what it means but actually it is spelled out in the remaining verses of this chapter.
First of all Jesus gives a warning against ‘false prophets’, anyone who brings a teaching or revelation that is not from God. How do we know it is not from God? It is contrary to the rest of Scripture. You’ll know these people, says Jesus, by the fruit of their lives. Are these still self-centred and godless individuals or are they godly and full of the fruit of the Spirit? If they are the former, ignore them. That is the precautionary warning that comes first. Our guide is first, foremost and last, the Bible. Any teaching contrary to it, stay away from!
But then comes the definition of the narrow gate: “Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (v.21) The narrow gate is complete submission to the will of God. We will go on tomorrow to see how Jesus spells this out in the first real parable in this book of Matthew, but for the moment we can stop with this. Jesus lays down a whole variety of criteria that he expects to see in his followers, lack of judgment of others, self-awareness, receivers of all God’s gifts, childlike seekers of all the Father has for them ahead, a people who look for the good for all. That is what it is like in the kingdom of God and the only way in to all this is by surrender to the will of God, complete abandonment of self-will, a giving in to what God wants. That is the narrow way. (Obviously, by comparison, the wide gate and broad road is just doing your own thing, contrary to God’s ways and God’s wishes).
It doesn’t matter whatever other interpretations we have of the Christian life, all of Jesus’ teaching in the amazing Sermon on the Mount (ch.5-7 of Matthew) is summed up in this one thing: his followers obey what he teaches and are utterly submitted to the will of the Father. If we don’t do that, everything else we do – going to church, trying to impress God and others with our respectability and spirituality – is utterly meaningless. That is the power of these words of Jesus in these verses.