The Narrow Gate - Palm Sunday
April 5, 2020
13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy[d] that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. 15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will know them by their fruits. 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.’
Just in case you were wondering, there are apparently two ways to get to Machu Picchu. And just as a reminder, Machu Picchu is the famous ancient civilization and now tourist attraction located high up in the Andes Mountains in Peru.
One way you can get to Machu Picchu is by taking the world famous Inca Trail. It’s 28 miles long and takes 4 days to hike. Now thankfully, there are sherpas who will carry all your stuff for you, but yet, it’s still no walk in the park. What really takes a toll on people is all the exposure and time spent at high altitudes - even up to at 14,000ft at one point. And so it’s hard to breath, not to mention you’ve got the hot sun bearing down on you during the day and freezing temps piercing your sleeping bag during the night … and REI is happy to make this trip happen for you for just $3,700.
But yet, of course, there’s another way to get to Machu Picchu, and it’s much, much easier, and that is, you can just take the bus.
You can buy yourself a ticket, and get a comfy air conditioned seat where you can be taken up a windy dirt road that weaves its way up the mountain for only a fraction of the price, all of which takes to you to the same place and rewards you with the same views the hikers have.
So there you have it – two ways to get to Machu Picchu.
In the first part of our passage today, Jesus describes two gates or rather, two roads that we can choose from, one gate is wide and its road is easy, the other gate is narrow and its road is hard. And for the purposes of this Machu Picchu illustration, as you might imagine, the 28mi hike on the Inca Trail is the narrow gate with the hard road, while the bus ride is the wide gate with the easy one.
Here again is what Jesus says …
13 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. 14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Now, I’ll confess this Machu Picchu illustration isn’t a perfect one – in fact, the illustration breaks down in one crucial way. That is, the people that take the bus surely aren’t headed towards destruction as the scripture says, after all, they’ve made it to Machu Picchu for goodness sake’s. Also, Callie has been to Machu Picchu before and she took the bus, so I need to tread lightly here …
Rather, I think the illustration fits better on Inca Trail, narrow gate side of things –
As Jesus says, 14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
And what stands out to me is that one small phrase … ‘the road is hard that leads to life.’
Because here’s the key difference between those who take the hike verses those who take the bus, and that is, is in their reactions, the difference is in what they see and feel and experience.
Because as the hikers, they’re running the final steps, yelling and screaming while the bus takers snap a few photos and then wonder, “Yeah, so, what’s for lunch?”
And the reason for the difference is obvious - The difference between the two groups is in the path they chose, the route they traveled. The hikers have taken this costly, difficult journey, a journey that has formed them, shaped them in a way that is far more life-giving and joy producing.
Jesus says, 14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
And as you’d imagine, the point in Jesus’s words here isn’t for Jesus to serve as our tour guide describing the pros and cons of the different paths you can take to Machu Picchu, rather Jesus is describing the difference between people who choose to follow Jesus and those who don’t.
As we enter the final sections of the Sermon on the Mount, it’s as if Jesus is saying to you and I that it’s decision making time. Throughout the sermon he’s been describing what it looks like to be a follower of Jesus, a citizen of the kingdom of Heaven. And now it’s as if he looks at us and says, ‘Well, how about you? What will you choose?
Turning away from Jesus is to choose the wide gate where the road is easy. It’s a path that many end up choosing and in the end will only lead to our destruction.
But yet to turn to Jesus is to choose the narrow gate where the road is difficult. It’s a path that only a few end up choosing, yet as we’ve alluded to, there’s a beautiful promise or truth about choosing this path and that is it’s the only path that leads to life, the abundant life that Jesus wants for us right here, right now as well as the promise of eternal life with him forevermore.
And through Jesus’s ministry he highlights this apparent contradiction - that a life of following him is both more difficult, yet more life-giving at the same time.
On one hand, Jesus says, 14 For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Yet he also says, ‘I came that they may have life, and have it to the full.’
On one hand, Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me, Yet he also says, 28 “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
Following Jesus may be a harder road to walk, but yet is more life giving too. And maybe you’ve experienced this in your own life -
Where following Jesus might mean that your friend group changes, or the feeling of being misunderstood by family and friends who aren’t Christians and don’t seem to understand you, or facing opposition where you work, all of which can be hard, and yet despite all that you now have a relationship with the God of the universe, who knows you and loves you, a relationship that cannot be taken away from you no matter the circumstances.
Where following Jesus will encourage and demand that you be more generous and sacrificial when it comes to stewarding your time, your talents, your treasure, all of which can be hard, and yet in that we experience the joy of giving, the joy of serving others, and how real and lasting contentment is found in Christ alone.
Following Jesus will be hard no doubt about it, but yet it also leads to life and it just like taking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, means saying yes to more joy and more adventure.
All of this was true before the coronavirus, and maybe even more true now.
And friends, you don’t need me to tell you this, but this season we’re currently in, this social distancing, stay at home, sheltered in place season, this is a hard season. Or at the very least, it’s a deeply inconvenient one, in so many different ways. I heard one person jokingly say, ‘I really didn’t plan on giving up this much for lent.’
But yet, all kidding aside, this is a hard season.
Most obviously, it’s a hard season for those around our country and around the world who have been infected with this virus, those who have died because of it, families having to grieve apart from one another at the very moment they need each other most.
The economic ramifications are enormous. Jobs lost, unemployment skyrocketing. Small businesses in jeopardy. Rent payments in the balance. An unknown and uncertain financial future. Parents having to figure out how to homeschool their kids on the fly. Trying to figure out how to fill the hours yet still trying to figure out how to fulfill their own responsibilities working from home.
It’s a huge challenge socially and relationally too. While we’re grateful for the ways that technology keeps us connected, it’s difficult not seeing one another and being separated from extended family, friends, or of course, our church family. It’s difficult for extroverts and introverts alike. It’s difficult for extroverts as they miss being with their people and yet it’s equally difficult for introverts because they feel trapped, thinking, ‘When will I ever have this house to myself again?’
Whether you’re single or married, young or old, extrovert or introvert, this is a difficult season, it just is. As the song goes, ‘Mama said there’d be days like this.’ Truth is, Jesus did too. Jesus said there’s be days like this.
And yet, even still I think there’s a lot of life and joy to be found in this season. Maybe I’m being too optimistic here, but maybe not. I know for many families, this quarantined life has given them quality family time unlike they’ve ever had before. For others, I think many of us are experiencing the joy of having less, the joy of slowing down and gaining clarity on what we really need in life and what we don’t. I’ve watched our church care for one another in beautiful ways – I’ve seen a greater intentionality, more phone calls, more check ins, more notes and words of encouragement, oddly enough I’ve begun to wonder if a season where we’re apart has a chance to bring us closer than ever before.
And of course, I think in many ways God wants to use this season, this massive interruption, this turn our lives upside down kind of moment, to draw us closer to Him. To strengthen not only our relationship with Him but our faith and trust in Him as well.
I don’t know about you, but one of the things I find particularly challenging about this season is that I can’t seem to get a read on just how long this season will be. Will it be two weeks, two months or two years? Yet, I have to imagine that Jesus wants to use this uncertainty to draw us towards greater and greater trust in Him, as we trust that He is in control and that He will provide for us as we journey this uncertain road together.
So here’s a challenge for you all, it’s a big one and I’m borrowing this from the pastor at my previous church. And that is, this week, try and spend more time worshipping God, whether that’s through bible reading, prayer or listening to worship music, than you do watching the news or following the latest update on social media. It’s hard I know and I’ll be honest, Lord knows, I didn’t meet the challenge this past week. But I want to because here’s what I know, and that is, the more and more I watch the news or look at social media, the more anxious I become, the more hopeless and frustrated I often feel. And it’s in those very moments of anxiety and hopelessness and frustration that I need to turn off the TV and put the phone away and go read my bible and pray. I know it can be a hard switch to make, but I’m convinced it’s the path towards more joy, more peace, more life.
I’ll finish with this. The good news for you and I is that in Jesus, we have a God who not only tells us which path to take, even more, we have a God who has gone down this path before and walks alongside as we go.
After all, today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, the road to Easter. And in many ways for Jesus, it was the beginning of the end, even though the people didn’t know it.
Where on that Palm Sunday, the people through a parade for him. Some tore off their coats Others scrambled up trees to pull down palm branches to put down on the road, hence that’s why we call it Palm Sunday, all to give Jesus his proper due and a celebration fitting for a king. And they all waved their palm branches, singing, "Hosanna! Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"
But yet, as he rode in that day on a lowly donkey, it was a sign that Jesus was a very different kind of King, one who came not be served, but to serve, to give his life as a ransom for many. One who would walk the most difficult road, as he headed towards his death, so that you and I might have life in Him.
This, in many ways, is the Christian life, a sacrificial dying to self, willfully choosing the narrow gate where the road is hard, in a way that brings life, both to you and those around you.
So friends, how might you die to yourself this week, so that you can experience the abundant life Jesus has for you? What might it look like to take the difficult path in a way that brings life to those around you? Maybe it’s with your kids or your spouse, or the widow next door, or the friend across town.
It’s very likely that there will be difficult and trying days ahead us, yet thankfully, by the grace of God, in Jesus, we have aGod who has gone down this path before and walks alongside as we go.