MEDITATIONS ON JESUS’ SERMON ON THE MOUNT: MATTHEW’S GOSPEL, CHAPTERS FIVE THROUGH SEVEN
[Jesus said:] “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
This past summer members of our Pacific Northwest Camping Trip toured the Cody Caves in the mountains of British Columbia. After an easy drive on a paved highway, we reached a steep, graveled mountain road. On this difficult road we got stuck and punctured a tire. Once at the parking lot, we still had to hike up to the cave on a narrow path.
Finally we reached the mouth of the cave—but that was not the end of our challenges. Once in the cave, we had to squeeze through narrow passages and watch our footing on the rocky, slick floor. Helmets with lamps were absolutely necessary lest we get lost in the darkness or crack our skulls on the stony ceiling. The difficult journey and narrow passageways of our cave tour remind one of “the way which leads to life” that Jesus talked about in His Sermon on the Mount.
Contrariwise, Jesus pictures the way to hell as being like a wide gate in a city wall. People have no problem entering hell, for all are welcome regardless of “belief-traditions” or “life-choices.” “Wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.” Jesus also describes the way leading to eternal destruction as being broad. He is picturing for us a one-way highway that has wide lanes and a smooth pavement, which has only one “exit”—the wide-open gates of hell. Jesus says there are many on this easy highway. The road is flooded with unrepentant sinners. It is a road of self-indulgence and sinful pleasures. There is no self-denial on this road. It is easy to get on—just do and believe whatever you want.
The way to heaven is much different. Jesus describes it as being narrow and difficult. “Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
The gate to heaven is narrow because Jesus IS the gate: “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved” (John 10:9). It is narrow because Jesus is the only way: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Jesus is the narrow gate to heaven. Only by grace, through faith in Him, is there forgiveness, salvation, and life.
Jesus also says that the way that leads to life is difficult. The word He uses for “difficult” carries with it the idea of a “pressing” or “compressing” from all sides. Someone with claustrophobia would avoid a tour of caves, for it would feel as though that enclosed, confined space was “pressing in” on him. So it is with following Christ. The unbelieving world “presses” Jesus’ disciples to join them on the broad road to hell.
The road leading to life is also difficult because it involves denying ourselves, daily taking up our cross of discipleship to Jesus (Luke 9:23). It is difficult to say “no” to the sinful desires of our flesh or to the sinful enticements of others. It is difficult to admit that we have sinned against God and against our neighbor. It is difficult to love our Christian brethren, our neighbors, and even our enemies as we love ourselves. It is difficult to forgive those who have sinned against us. Indeed, our sinful, prideful flesh makes it difficult to follow Jesus.
The journey our campers took was difficult, but we kept going because we knew the destination would be worth it. How much more our journey of faith to heaven! Jesus has already cleared the way by taking our sins on Himself. Then He broke free from the cold, dark clutches of death by rising again. He ascended into heaven to prepare a place for us.
Now as we believe in Him for our salvation, He comforts and refreshes us by saying, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
Jesus is the Way which leads to life. Enter by Him!
Thou art the Way, the Truth, the Life;
Grant us that Way to know,
That Truth to keep, that Life to win,
Whose joys eternal flow. Amen.
(The Lutheran Hymnal, #355:4)