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Matthew 7: 13-14,21-29
Lord, there is one priority in our life above all others; one obligation to serve and love you in that very striking way in which our Savior describes it in his summary of the Law: Love God with all your heart, mind and soul and with ALL your strength. Lord, may we so capture a vision of your glory, your greatness, your majesty, your worth, that we become utterly devoted to you in our lives, and that as we consider this passage of Jesus’ teaching, may we realize the great imperative: this life is primarily for an opportunity to meet you, to close with you and to enjoy life with you forever. So, Lord, bless us as we consider this passage, we pray. Be tender. Be gentle. Be compassionate. But also be honest, we pray. In our Savior’s name, Amen.
Our passage this morning suggests to us the absolute imperative; the priority of our acknowledgment of God; our service of him, his being utterly first in our lives. Whenever I read the Summary of the Ten Commandments, I crumble within. It’s not just giving God a nod here and there; a little space of time; a little bit of devotion; a little bit of spare time that nothing else is going to preoccupy for us – Wholly devoted! The center of our being and our heart and our attention, and our thinking, our being and our speaking. Every time I read that summary of the Law, I know what condition of sin is. Do I love God with all my heart? No! …Catch him whenever’s convenient. Do I love God with all my soul? No! There are so many other preoccupations, Lord; and preferences and priorities. So many pleasures to seek as well as obligations to fulfill; I scarce have time for you. Do I love you with all my heart? How cold my heart is before you, O Lord! How long it takes to warm my heart to devotion and to time with you. Your gift of time, and I spend it elsewhere. With all my strength? No, Lord! Most of the time I’m too tired to pay attention to you, to be active in worship, because the word Liturgy means work? To work at worship? No, Lord. No, I don’t – forgive me! And on that basis, I have no right on my own authority to address anybody else about these things. But my calling is to preach the word of God whether I’m comfortable with it or not. And so, this morning, we look together at the absolute imperative that Jesus has stated.
We do seek out the passage again: “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.” You see, Jesus is administering to his people, something of a shake-up – the emergency of salvation. You and I – and I’m not just using scare tactics – it’s a reality! As I’ve mentioned many times, I had a visiting preacher when I was in England; a lovely old gentleman, who came to steps like this to proclaim the blessing and collapsed. As he was about to give the blessing, he died. But he inherited the blessing that he had through Christ in the gift of eternal life. You see, salvation is so vital it must be seized the moment it is suggested to us. As the Lord says, “I will not always strive with the spirit of man.” It must be grasped with all our might. It must be pursued with earnestness – full intent! The old Puritans used to speak of souls being exercised; avidly praying to gain the gift of salvation. And Jesus speaks here of the two ways (Matthew 7:13-14); and he uses the words “few find the way to life”. This is not an arithmetical problem. How many will be in heaven, or how many will be excluded? That is to misuse the passage. It is to show that Jesus uses such a word to tell us that there is no other priority in our life but entering the narrow way to the Kingdom. To seize the day! The “few” that Jesus uses is there to make us urgent in our quest for knowing God, to foster keen intent. It’s our life’s solemn priority. You know, John Bunyan – and I meant to look it up before coming – in his Pilgrim’s Progress, speaks of one who gains the gate to heaven. He thinks he will enter. He’s there at the very gate. And as he seeks to pass through, the door is closed, because in his heart he is not ready for the Kingdom. It is possible for people to move to such an extent in their understanding of the faith as they think it, in their pursuit of it as they believe they are, and yet to have wrong notions of salvation and to find that in the end you are excluded from entry because our qualification for entry is Jesus Christ and him alone.
And that’s where our faith must lie – and I’m not going to look up all the references I could this morning – but you see, when Jesus speaks of the gate, he tells us in John 10:9 that he is the gate and whoever makes entrance through him will gain eternal life. It’s not that God is mean or not generous; Christ’s arms are broad and would welcome everyone and anyone into the Kingdom. The fact is that human nature is not attracted to the Kingdom. Many are carelessly mistaken. (Matthew 7:21-23) “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. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ And I will tell them plainly, I never knew you; away from me you evil doers.”
I think a lot about eternity at night time – I’m sorry for the personal story, but I’m not getting at anyone – I’m simply saying that we as humans before God, need as a priority to get right with God and to be sure of it. And I know that to deceive oneself is so easy and I’ve often thought of the shock to the system that if you think you know God and you’re familiar with Him but you haven’t taken the narrow way, the way of not just acknowledging Christ but the way of obedience through faith and through attention to his commands and loving him with all your heart, mind and soul and all your strength – which is what he deserves! He gave us our heart mind and soul. And every iota of strength that we have comes from God; physical, mental, spiritual. I’ve often imagined what would it be like… What would it be like if the Lord came now at 2 a.m. and I’m there solo in front of Him, and I’ve got all my ideas of the faith and all my experiences as a professed believer and all the things I think I know about the way of God. And what if I were to look to the throne and I would see the nod of the Lamb of God and I were directed to the left as one of the goats and not of the sheep?
I look into the eyes of everyone and I think, where will you be? Where will you be? You see, exclusion is a possibility we must reckon on. I’m not saying personally, for ourselves, but there will be people who will be shut out of the Kingdom depending on their attitude to the lord Jesus Christ. Luke 13:22-27… You see, we ought to sit bolt upright when we hear the Word of God; BOLT UPRIGHT! – it’s our only link with heaven and with the Lord. (Luke 13:22-27) “Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as He made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked Him, ‘Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?’ ” Jesus isn’t answering that question in mathematical terms. His language is one of urgency. Don’t consider others in that sense, consider your own responsibility. Do you want to be in the Kingdom? Ensure that you are! There are two perspectives on this: If the Lord is sovereign and triumphant through the death of Christ, then surely the majority of human beings will be in heaven by His grace. It’s not a sentimental approach, it’s by His grace. We are undeserving. And there is the other view based on passages like this, that Jesus always calls his flock a little flock. It may be a term of affection; it may indicate that those who gain heaven will be many as Jesus tells us in Matthew, chapter eleven. “Many will come from the East and West and sit down with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom.” Many will come, but comparatively it may be few compared to the absolute total of human beings that have dwelt on this planet. Who knows? That’s speculative. Jesus is saying don’t speculate! Make sure you’re not too late. He said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.” Is that our resolve every day when the opportunity comes? No! It’s not mine, I admit it. My mind is distracted by so many things, so many temporal and cheap affections that I could well do without. But Jesus says, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door.” I consider the great suffering of hell will be the realization of lost opportunity. I was created to know God; I ignored him; I departed from him; I disobeyed him and now I know the consequence that having abandoned him, he now realizes that I’m not happy with his fellowship, that I don’t truly desire it, that I don’t prefer holiness and therefore God gives way to my preference and I am abandoned by him. Imagine the shock of that! No further chance, no further opportunity. The Lord passes me by because I ignored Him so many times.
If you get a chance, read the life of Brownlow North, the great English evangelist of the Nineteenth Century, who ignored God and His call, time and time again, roistering in night clubs and spending time opening wine bottles and celebrating with the crowd. And then, he said, one night there was a tap on his shoulder, as it were, from the Lord, and he said, “I know this is my last chance. If I refuse this time, it’s forever.” And with that urgent awareness, Brownlow North became a believer and, in due course, a powerful preacher of the gospel. And his interpretation of the rich man and the poor man – If you are as careless about your soul, it will keep you awake all night. As he said so often, “I know if that if I’d resisted one more time, that would have been the end.”
I think there are times like that for all of us, not as drastic, but we sense this call to be with the Lord as our priority, as a bit of free time, as a bit of spare space in our day. And the Lord says, “Come on, I’m waiting. Your name’s in my diary. I want an appointment with you.” And for some reason we shrug it off. Oh no, Lord, I must do this, or there is something else that I would enjoy more. And you realize how impoverished your soul is because of that refusal. Sorry to go back to personal experience, but there was a day when I was free and I planned to go from the Isle of Wight to the mainland, to Portsmouth. And as I walked past my door and saw my desk and empty chair, it was as if God was saying, “Come aside”. He wasn’t saying don’t go at all, just come aside. And I very deliberately went to the front door, walked through it and closed it. And I had this dreadful sense! – there was the Lord begging me to stay. For how long? Five minutes? Ten minutes? Ten hours? I don’t know. But I refused it and the recovery period was very long.
Did I read the passage from Luke? Here it is… “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.” That’s the pang of hell… not being able to – the same as Brownlow North says about the poor man who went to Abraham’s bosom and the rich man who was cast into hell. And he was saying, “I can’t, you know? There’s a gulf between us. I can’t cross it. But Lord, send Moses to my brothers and they’ll listen to him.” No! You see, the brothers were too preoccupied too with wealth-getting and worldly security and worldly obligations and worldly goals. “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul,” says Jesus? It is so crucial. It’s as critical as that! One day you and I are going to stand before the Lord who reads the hearts and when he reads the verdict on us, and – if it’s unfavorable – we shall fully agree because all the book is at the end of life and the Day of Judgement is our conscience being opened to us. And, Lord, I can see how I refused you. I can see how I neglected you, that I forgot you – you weren’t important to me! “Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you. Well, where do you come from?’ ‘But Lord, I’ve been walking with you.’ Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you and you taught in our streets.’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me all you evildoers.’ ” You see, the great evil is departing from God, ignoring him, not recognizing him, not returning to him, not engaging our minds upon him. Our creator, our maker, our sustainer, our savior; and we scarcely give him a thought? Except when we need something or we’re frightened of something.
Time is fleeting. Prophets and apostles and the Lord’s parables all make this message clear: Make haste! Matthew 25:13. Our church is, as it were, a dedication of St Matthew’s. It doesn’t mean anything profound, but I think when we’ve looked at anything from Matthew, we ought to take a little more notice of our patron saint. And so, here it is, Matthew 25:13… because it would be nice to be with him for a time in eternity, wouldn’t it? All those who’ve loved the Lord and have so much to relate about him... Here’s Matthew 25:13, “Therefore keep watch because you don’t know the day or the hour.” The Lord Jesus is the only gate. He’s the only gate! John 10:9, “I am the gate. My sheep hear my voice and those who, through me, come through that gate shall be saved.” You see, when people say, isn’t salvation by Christ exclusively rather indicative of a narrow-minded God? No! Christ is wide open to the sinners of this world and their needs and their destiny. He bids them come to him. The fact is, people don’t come. And therefore they’re excluded. Christians are only people who know where bread is to be found. They’re beggars like everybody else. They know where the bread of life is to be found and they’re trying to tell other people, equally beggars, this is where you can find food and sustenance for your soul; the food that is preparation and the sustenance of eternal life through Christ. You see, God’s mercy is wide to all who come. Go to the Galleria today and you’ll see all those people who do not come. Go to some churches today who want a cozy message and invented stories that are not from Scripture; moralistic advice, sentamentalized religion. They choose it, they stay with it, they don’t come. Do you know, the greatest priority in selecting a congregation is, “Where do you hear the word of God?” But you see, few people trust the generosity of the Lord. The Kingdom bids us come but most pass by the entrance swung wide open. Noone prevents anyone from gaining the Kingdom but themselves. Noone gains the kingdom but those whom the Lord draws to himself. You see, what I rejoice about is that God did not leave me to my free will. That desire to do without God, be without him, to be, as some atheists say, FREE!... Free of all authority and control. And when you come to know Christ, you love his yolk. You love his wisdom. You love his commands because they’re all designed to enhance our life in God and our appreciation of him. You see, the broad way is chosen – chosen – by the majority. They’re not forced or compelled, except they’re compelled by their own worldly and evil desires. Did John Bunyan speak of Vanity Fair? It’s a matter of preferences, preoccupations, pressures, pleasures. And they’re all ours; we choose them. We do what we desire. We cannot blame God. But we can only thank God if we hear his voice and come to him by his especial drawing. Because with his chosen ones, God says, “I will not let you have your destructive way! I will woo you to myself!”
The grace of God goes out to all without exception in the message of the Gospel and with some, many in constraints aswell, but they refuse to come. And we all would have refused to come, but another way of grace goes out from the Almighty and He says, “This time, the ones I select will come because I’ll woo them. I’ll win them. I’ll show my attractiveness to them. I’ll show them their poverty and need, and my spiritual wealth and generosity and they will be drawn powerfully and yet willingly.” Because God bends the heart, changes the nature, tenderizes our will so that we respond to him positively. It’s all of grace, salvation. It’s all of our own choosing, damnation.
The love of God is not the prime consideration, motivation, or enjoyment of those who are excluded from the Kingdom of heaven. I actually know now from talking to people at death about their rejection of Christ that they would be miserable in heaven because Christ means nothing to them. They’re not moved by his love. They don’t find him beautiful or attractive. When I chose the two quotes for the bulletin today I didn’t think that they would be relevant to this scene. Thomas Aquinas says Augustine declares that nobody rightly uses God, for he is to be enjoyed. We don’t come to him out of cupboard love or necessity or circumstantial desperation. We come because he wants us to enjoy him. It’s the devil’s lie that God is mean and miserly. The last end is not utility. You see, God isn’t just a utility. But he is to be enjoyed. The first question is, “What is the chief end of man?” in the Scottish shorter catechism. And Robert Louis Stephenson, after a career of writing anti-religious and anti-God literature, with his hastened tuberculosis went to live in Samoa. In that place of isolation and inactivity, he said, “At last, I came to understand the catechism in which I was trained as a boy and I realized what the purpose of my life was.” And there it is in the shorter catechism, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God,” which we do when we capture a view of Him in His excellence and majesty and beauty and mercy. “And enjoy him forever!” We’re not deprived of Joy when we come to Christ. It is multiplied beyond all measure. The lovely Lord Jesus is so attractive, so full, so generous, but sometimes in our little bodies that are so fragile, we say, Lord I can’t take anymore of this ecstasy - it is too much for me. Like a frail jar, I will just splinter and break if you fill me anymore.
Here’s the paradox. When it comes to the gospel and salvation we are told not to work. It’s not a consequence of our effort. It’s not via works or our own righteousness or anything within us. It’s not achieved by anything human or of ourselves. We rest in the promises, or one should say, the great comprehensive promise, the gift of the Messiah. Our substitute on the Cross. The lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. We rest in God’s salvation. We receive it. And yet, at the same time, Scripture bids us to strive for possession; not by works, not by trust in the self, but by intense desire; to strive for salvation. Lord, I look at you; I find you so appealing, so attractive… I must have you, above everything else in this life and the life to come.
Matthew 11:12, Jesus is talking about John the Baptist. “I tell you the truth, among those born of women, there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist, yet he who is least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of …” this is very poignant… “from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing.” Grace is a very strong, omnipotent power. It deals with hostility to God and that residual hostility within ourselves: that aversion to God. And it overcomes us. It tames us. It draws us to God when we would flee from him. O, I know what that’s like, to flee from God. Adam and Eve knew that too. We’re not ready to meet with him and we don’t want to. God works within. It may be gradual. It may be sudden. And he softens and tenderizes the heart. Ezekiel says, “I will take away the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” You see, grace is a force, it is a strength. If there was some emergency in this church at this moment, a fire, an explosion, or whatever, and somebody in this chapel was very close to the source of harm and injury and we rushed up to them and grabbed them or virtually thrust them out of the door, that wouldn’t be an assault, it would be mercy. It’s the force of compassion and grace that God exercises upon our lost, hostile souls.
So, the love of God, in one sense, is violent. “I will not let you go; I will not lose you!” But here’s the, I think, amazing meaning of this selected verse, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing. It’s the greatest power in the world. People mock it: Atheists, various ideologies, proud men – Proud men who rely on their own minds and their own natural understanding, which is so limited. How many experts have let you down? How many experts have messed up the world with bad policies and bad use of wonderful inventions? Trust no man. Don’t trust in Princes, says the Psalmist. They may be elevated in society, but they may be disastrous in themselves. Forceful men lay hold of the forcefully advancing kingdom. The kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing and forceful men lay hold of it. In other words, when we think about the entrance to the kingdom of heaven, the gate into eternal life, the gate into the narrow way that takes us infallibly to eternal life, SHAKE THOSE BARS! Take the kingdom forcefully. I mean it, Lord; I need your grace! Jacob, wrestling in the brook Jabok with the angel, that preincarnate Christophany, Christ appearing before he was born as man, and wrestling with Jacob. And Jacob says, “I will not let you go until you bless me!” You see, in prayer we’re wrestling with God. We’re not being impertinent. We’re saying, God you have given us promises; we argue those promises with you. I will not let you go until you bless me! I so need your favor, your blessing, your grace, your forgiveness. And so we rattle those bars until the doorkeeper opens them, which he’s always been willing to do.
So there’s a holy violence. And our violence is to enter the kingdom of heaven. And we need it. And we work on our relationship with God. We set aside periods in our life. Everyone’s life is full, but it’s fuller than it ought to be. There should be time for God, the giver of life. He gives us each day fresh. It’s not a conveyer belt. It’s every day. The lord creates a new day and he says, come and spend some of it with me. And so we come to his Word and we lean on his spirit and we converse with him and we ponder him and think about him. I know for some people it’s a hard thing to set aside with regularity but I also believe we make too many excuses. It should be our total aim. What a blessing it is to be inserted into the fellowship of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And we get these little biddings daily and we say, no thank you. What is this life without God? What is it? Why do so many celebrities commit suicide? Why do so many successful people take their lives? Because they don’t find satisfaction in their attainments or their acquisitions. As Pascal says, the only thrill for man is the pursuit. But once you’ve got what you want, it’s empty and you have to move onto the next one. That’s why you’ve got billionaires. The first billion – O, isn’t it wonderful! I’ve got security in this world! I’ve got power in this world! They don’t really, you know. They never know when they’re going to have to relinquish it – Ecclesiastes. And then it has to be the next billion. And then it has to be the trillion. Because man cannot be satisfied by things or the things of this world in any way. And Jesus actually said, and we know it’s a somewhat wry expression, but he puts it in these terms, “If you don’t hate mother and father and children for my sake, you do not know me.” You see, we are called into very, very important and intimate relationships. And Jesus isn’t saying hate your relatives, hate your spouses. He’s saying by comparison (because I am the one who blesses you with these people) put me first. It’s not God being mean. It’s saying, you want pleasure, you want joy, you want companionship? You find it in me. And I will create it in your loved ones for you.
The key chronological statement of Holy Scripture; the most vital exhortation that we find in the Bible is this: Now is the day of salvation! Who says that? The apostle, Paul. 2 Cor 6:2. (The great scholar of Gamaliel.) “As God’s fellow workers…” You see, he doesn’t presume that even his companions in the faith are absolutely right with God because we don’t know where anybody else stands. We cannot make the judgement… and we shouldn’t. But “as God’s fellow workers, I urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain. For,” he says, and he’s quoting the Old Testament, “in the time of my favor I heard you and in the day of salvation I helped you. I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor. Now is the day of salvation.” That’s all we have: NOW! I guess what Paul is saying is, don’t miss the moment. Don’t miss the moment. I have a senior colleague in England with a great sense of humor. He was a great communicator. And he wrote a book for popular audiences. It was about the brevity of time and the earnestness with which we ought to seek God, and the warmth and welcome and width of his invitation. And the book was “Don’t Miss the Party”.
Let us pray.
Lord, make haste to save us. Make haste to help us. Make haste to claim us, possess us and hold us to yourself. Do not let us escape your mercy. Do not let us overlook the great priority of knowing you in your tenderness as a saving God, as a redeeming Lord, as a forgiving Judge. Lord have mercy upon us. Lord have mercy upon us.