September 25, 2011
Pastor Joe Wittwer

The Jesus Revolution
Part 20: Choose the hard way

Opening:

ILL: On top of a hill in a Midwestern state stands a courthouse situated so that raindrops falling on one side of the roof travel through the Great Lakes into the Atlantic, while drops landing on the opposite side travel through the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to the Gulf of Mexico.  Just a breath of wind one way or the other will determine whether a single raindrop ends up in the Northern Atlantic or the Gulf of Mexico. 

Our choices are like that.  A single decision can determine your destiny, shape your life, and transform your future. Today, we’re going to talk about the most important choice you’ll make in your life.  Jesus said that there are two ways: one hard and the other easy.  Many people take the easy way—it leads to death.  Some people take the hard way—it leads to life.  Choose the hard way.

Introduction and offering:

I was thinking about our topic today—entering through the narrow gate and taking the hard way—and I thought about the offering.  I thought of this story:

Luke 21:1–4 As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “Truly I tell you,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Do you think it might have been hard for this widow to give everything she had?  Has it ever been hard for you to give?  Maybe you have thought, “I need this money to pay my bills, to put food on the table.”  It is when giving is hard that we really begin to trust God.  When giving is easy, we don’t have to trust.  Do the hard thing and trust God to provide—your relationship with Him will grow. 

This is the Jesus Revolution.  We’re looking at Jesus’ revolutionary teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, considered the greatest ethical teaching ever.  But we’ve been saying that Jesus is not calling us to a new ethic, but to a new relationship.  “Follow me, and I will change you.”  As we follow Jesus, he changes us into new persons, and that new person is described here in the Sermon on the Mount.  Follow Jesus and He will change you.

The ethical teaching in the Sermon on the Mount ends with the Golden Rule, which we looked at last Sunday.  The rest of the sermon is a series of warnings and calls for decision.  Jesus lays out the choices and calls us to decide.  Here’s the first one:

Matthew 7:13–14 (ESV) “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

Some of your translations don’t use the word “hard” in verse 14; several use “narrow”; NLT uses “difficult”.  The Greek word is thlibo and it means, “to press or crowd against; to compress or make narrow; to cause to be troubled, to afflict or oppress.”  The noun thlipsis means “trouble or oppression”.  I think “hard” or “difficult” is the idea here—the narrow gate leads to the hard way. 

Jesus tells us there are two gates, two roads, two destinies and two crowds.  What will you choose?

1. Two gates: wide and narrow.

Jesus contrasts two gates, one wide and the other narrow, and says, “Enter by the narrow gate.”  These gates are the entry points to two roads, one easy and the other hard.  Here is a painting by Cornelis de Bie, a 17th Century Belgian painter and poet.  It is titled “The Narrow Gate to Heaven and the Wide Gate to Hell.”

This narrow thing won’t be hard to imagine with all the road construction going on in Spokane this summer!  Imagine a freeway entrance that has been narrowed down to one small lane, barely wide enough for one car to pass.  Traffic has backed way up as cars wait to get through this narrow opening, and you are stuck in traffic.  How do you feel?  Frustrated!  We like wide and easy access—we don’t like narrow and congested.  Give me a freeway with a wide-open double on-ramp! 

These two gates represent the entry points to two roads, two ways of living.

The wide gate is the one most people prefer.  It is wide and easy to get through.  You can bring anything you want with you—there’s plenty of room.  No one is asking you to give up anything, to leave anything behind.  This is the gate of “whatever you want”.  Do whatever you want; think whatever you want; be whatever you want.  At this gate, you are in charge, and you have lots of options.  The sign over the wide gate says, “All roads lead to God”, so your road is as good as any—do what you want.  No one can tell you what is right or wrong—you decide for yourself and do what you want.  You are in charge.  This is the wide gate.  Can you see why it is so popular?

The narrow gate is a different story. The narrow gate is the choice to follow Jesus.  In fact, the narrow gate is Jesus.

John 10:7–10 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Jesus is using a different metaphor here; instead of a gate to a road, it is a gate to a sheepfold.  He is the gate, the entrance to God’s kingdom.  “Whoever enters through me will be saved.”  He is the gate to “life to the full.”  All the others offering a way to God are “thieves ad robbers” and they come to kill and destroy.  But Jesus is the gate to life.  To enter the narrow gate is to choose Jesus. 

When you say yes to Jesus, it means you are saying no to other things: no to selfishness, no to sin, no to going my own way.  To say yes to Jesus as Lord is to say no to every other lord, including myself.  I am not in charge; God is. 

It is a narrow gate—only one person wide.  There is no room for baggage here.  You can’t bring the old life with you; you leave all that behind at the narrow gate.  To enter the narrow gate is to leave the old life and start the new life of following Jesus.  This is illustrated in many stories in the gospels.

Luke 5:11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

This is the response of Peter and Andrew and James and John to the call of Jesus.  When they entered the narrow gate, they left everything behind: jobs, families, friends—everything!  And Jesus was now Lord and Leader.  It was the same with Levi the tax collector.

Luke 5:28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.

Levi entered the narrow gate, and left the old life behind. 

Not everyone Jesus called chose to enter the narrow gate.  There is the story in Luke 18 of the rich young man who wanted to follow Jesus. Jesus told him that there was only one thing he needed to do: give his wealth to the poor and then come follow.  But the young man couldn’t do it.  He couldn’t leave all that money, and Jesus wouldn’t let him bring it with—it wouldn’t fit through the narrow gate.  As the young man walked away,

Luke 18:24–25 Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

Now there’s a narrow gate!  Imagine squeezing a camel through the eye of needle!  There is a legend that beside the great main gate into Jerusalem was a small narrow gate, just big enough for a man to walk through—like this (picture).  This gate was called “the needle’s eye” and the only way a camel could squeeze through was on its knees and without any baggage.  It illustrates the point: to enter the narrow gate, you have to leave all that baggage behind. 

Luke 18:28–30 Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!” 29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”

Jesus promises Peter that whatever you leave at the narrow gate is more than made up for in this life, not to mention the life to come.  Remember, the narrow gate leads to life, abundant life, life to the full.  But it means leaving the old self-centered life behind to follow Jesus, to live the new God-first life.

Two gates: wide and narrow.  Have you entered the narrow gate?

And they open to two roads: easy and hard.

2. Two roads: easy and hard.

Two ways to choose from: an easy way or a hard way (pic).  Which do you choose?  At first glance, the choice seems obvious!  The easy way! Why?  Because it’s easy; and besides, it looks like everyone else is going that way.  All those people can’t be wrong, can they?  It must be the right way to go!

The easy way is the popular way; it is the path of least resistance.  On the easy way, there is plenty of room for diversity of opinions and laxity of morals.  It is the road of pluralism and permissiveness.  It has no curbs, no boundaries of either thought or conduct.  Travelers on this way follow their own inclinations; they do whatever they want, and they believe whatever they like.  Each person is free to do whatever seems right to him.  It looks like the way of freedom!

The hard way is different. It is the way of Jesus.  In fact, Jesus is the way.

John 14:6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Jesus is the way to the Father.  To go the hard way is to choose Jesus, to follow Jesus. What makes the way of Jesus hard?  We’ve been studying the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus calls us to get rid of our anger and lust, stay married, love our enemies, stop judging others and treat them the way we want to be treated.  Easy or hard?  Hard!  The way of Jesus is the hard way of self-denial and love and sacrifice. 

And the way of Jesus often involves suffering and persecution.  It did for Jesus and for all of his early followers.  It still does for millions of Christians around the world who suffer and die for their faith.  It’s hard.

The way of Jesus is a hard way.  It is the way of the cross. 

Matthew 16:24–25 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.

As if everything else weren’t hard enough, Jesus says you must deny yourself, take up your cross, follow Jesus and lose your life! This is the hard way—the way of the cross.  Losing your life to find it. 

The hard way, unlike the easy way, has clearly marked boundaries.  Its narrowness is due to God’s truth, curbs that restrict followers to the confines of what God has declared to be true and good. 

ILL: When I was in college, I visited one of my best friends from high school. He was a small college All-American football player, and was the son of a pastor.  In high school he had been a committed Christian, but he had abandoned his faith in college for the easy way.  He was a party animal: lots of drinking, drugs, and sex.  When I visited him, he told me, “I don’t want anything to do with Christianity.  It’s too narrow, too restrictive for me.  I’m free to do whatever I want, and I like it that way.”

I think most people would agree with my friend!  Following Jesus looks pretty narrow, pretty restrictive; and the easy way looks like freedom!

But look again!  The way to life, abundant life is not the easy way.  The way to abundant life is the way Jesus, the hard way.  This is true of life in general.  The way of discipline, the way of restraint, the way of truth, the hard way is the way to life.

ILL: Let’s say that you would get great joy from being able to play the piano beautifully.  Which way must you take to arrive there: the hard way of daily practice or the easy way of no practice?  Who will have the freedom to play what they want?  The person who chooses the hard way of discipline.

I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers.  In it, he claims that research indicates that greatness in anything requires 10,000 hours of practice.  He calls is the “law of 10,000”.  He said that the primary reason for Bill Gates success was over 10,000 hours of programming computers during junior high and high school that uniquely positioned him to write the MS-DOS operating system.  Or the Beatles—the greatest band of all time—logged 10,000 hours in the bars of Hamburg, Germany, often playing 10-14 hours a day for days on end, before they made it big.  Gladwell says that it wasn’t Gates’ genius or the Beatles’ musical talent that made them great; it was 10,000 hours of practice!

This is true in every area of life: freedom comes from discipline, from choosing the hard way, not the easy way. Restraints, boundaries, restrictions–these don’t destroy freedom but preserve it. 

ILL: Imagine trying to drive home today if we repealed all traffic laws!  The news comes over the radio while you are leaving church: “All traffic laws are repealed.  You may drive as fast as you want anywhere you like.  You do not have to drive on the right hand side of the street; in fact, you don’t have to drive on the street!  Pay no attention to stop signs or traffic signals of any kind.  All one-way signs are repealed.  Do whatever you want!”  Would it be a wild ride home if everyone did that?  Would that be freedom?  No!  That would be insanity; that would be chaos!  We drive freely because we have universally accepted rules of the road.  They are restrictive, but they are liberating.  You are free to get where you want safely, and far more quickly than if it were a free-for-all out there.

The point is that the hard way is really the way to freedom, the way to life, and that is clear in so many ways.  When you choose to follow Jesus, you accept His leadership.  Jesus is Lord.  We do what He says.  God’s commands, the boundaries of the Bible are there for our good.  They are true, and when we follow them, we benefit. 

But it’s hard.  And Jesus never made any bones about it.  He never promised anyone a rose garden; in fact, he warned people that following him would be hard.

Luke 9:57–62 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” 59 He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” 61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” 62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

Following Jesus is hard.  Hey, it doesn’t take any effort to be selfish, or greedy, or hypocritical, or self-righteous…that comes easily for most of us.  It does take effort to resist those things.  Doing the right thing is almost always more difficult than doing the wrong thing.  Do the right thing anyway.

ILL: My junior year in high school, we had a great football coach. I quarterbacked on offense and played inside linebacker on defense.  During one practice, he told the linebackers something I never forgot.  He told us that when the offensive linemen tried to block us one direction, they were moving us away from the play, and if we went with the block, we’d never recover in time to stop the play.  What we had to do was resist the pressure; whichever direction they pushed us, we had to push back in the opposite direction, and we’d stop the play, we’d plug up the hole.  The easy way was the wrong way; the hard way was the right way.

Every time I read this scripture, I remember that lesson, and I can still see myself fighting through opposing blockers to get a ball carrier.  It reminds me that the way to abundant life isn’t always easy or fun; sometimes it’s difficult; sometimes it requires discipline; sometimes you get tired and feel like giving up.  But it’s worth it!

It’s worth it because the narrow gate and hard way lead to life—life to the full.

Two gates: wide and narrow.

Two roads: easy and hard.

3. Two destinies: destruction and life.

The wide gate and easy way lead to destruction.  The narrow gate and hard way lead to life.  Jesus clearly spells out what is at stake in this choice of gates and roads: life or death.  Two destinies are before us. So I want to be crystal clear what is at stake in this choice. 

Choose the wide gate and the easy way, and it ends in destruction, now and forever.  The easy way of going with the crowd, doing what everyone else is doing, or just doing what you want ends in destruction.  Destruction now: you will ruin your one and only life on earth.  Destruction forever: you will face eternal judgment. 

Choose the narrow gate and the hard way of following Jesus, and it ends in life, now and forever.  Life now: abundant life, life to the full.  Life forever: eternal life with God. 

Heaven and hell are at stake—but not just heaven or hell.  Your life right now is at stake as well.  Jesus came not just to get you into heaven, but to get heaven into you; not just so you could live forever, but so you can live now, abundantly, to the full!

But it is so easy to lose sight of what is at stake and be deceived.  Things are not what they seem!

Proverbs 14:12 “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.” 

The easy way seems right.  Things are not what they seem. 

ILL: Have you seen Walt Disney’s animated version of Pinocchio?  I have…around 300 times!  Our kids watched it over and over when they were growing up.  In it, Pinocchio is taken to Pleasure Island.  It is everything a boy dreams about: rides, adventures, all the candy you can eat, and no parents or rules!  Just have fun!! And Pinocchio does, despite the earnest efforts of his conscience, Jiminy Cricket, who tries to save him.  What they didn’t tell Pinocchio and the other little boys is that everyone who goes to Pleasure Island and indulges all their selfish desires turns into a donkey and is sent off to work in the salt mines for the rest of their lives! 

There’s a moral in there somewhere: unrestrained selfishness makes one a jackass.  And, what looks good at first may not be in the end. What looked good to Pinocchio, what seemed to be the easy way to a fun filled life was really the way to the salt mines, the way to destruction. Pinocchio, by the way, escapes with only donkey ears, and a donkey tail, by the help of Jiminy Cricket.

Things are not what they seem.  There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.

Galatians 6:7–8 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 8 Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

Don’t be deceived!  Things are not what they seem.  If you sow to your flesh—if you take the easy way, it ends in destruction!  But if you sow to the Spirit—if you follow Jesus on the hard way—you reap eternal life: life now and forever.  Don’t underestimate the importance of your choices!

There are two gates: wide and narrow.

Two roads: easy and hard.

Two destinies: destruction and life.

And two crowds: many and few.

4. Two crowds: many and few.

Many people take the easy way to destruction. Few people find the hard way to life.  Two crowds: many and few.

Let me clear up something.  Some people take this to mean that only a few people will be saved.  I don’t think that Jesus was encouraging speculation on how many people will get into heaven; He was encouraging us to not to compromise, but to enter the narrow gate and take the hard way, the way of the cross.  That’s the point.

We need to remember that the Bible says that God wants everyone to be saved.  God’s heart is huge!  “For God so loved the world.”

1 Timothy 2:3–6 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.

2 Peter 3:9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

God wants no one to perish, and wants everyone to be saved; Jesus gave Himself for all people.  Please don’t take Jesus’ words, “the few” to mean that God only wants a few to find life.  He wants everyone to find life!

In the book of Revelation, John describes scenes in heaven like this one: 

Revelation 7:9 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

If only a few get to heaven, it’s a mighty big few!

So the point of the many and few is to emphasize that the majority are going the easy way, and the minority will go the hard way.  Most people will opt for the easy way.  It is the easy way.  It is the path of least resistance.  But you have to remember that the majority doesn’t rule when it comes to deciding your destiny.  “Everyone else is doing it,” is not a Christian value!  In fact, if everyone else is doing it, that is a good reason to be careful. 

When you follow Jesus, you are swimming upstream, going against the current of popular culture.  You are marching to a different drummer.  You are willing to be different, not just go along with the crowd.  But you are not alone.  You travel the hard road in the company of Jesus and of others who have chosen to follow him.

Two gates, two roads, two destinies, two crowds: what do you choose?