‘Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour’ (Psalm 25:4,5). Amen.
The narrow and wide gates
13 ‘Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
True and false prophets
15 ‘Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thorn-bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognise them.
Jesus’ Jewish audience were well aware that the broad, well-paved Roman roads, which brought benefits in peacetime, also allowed the Roman army rapid access to control, conquer and destroy cities. They also knew that wide gates led to death. Multitudes of their ancestors, taken captive by enemy armies, had been marched into exile, passing through the triumphal gates of Nineveh and Babylon to face a life of slavery and death.
Choosing a narrow path that leads to safety and life would seem a no-brainer! Yet why do so few people choose it?
The answer lies in Jesus’ claim to be both the gate and the way (see also John 10:7; 14:6). The very exclusivity and narrowness of Jesus’ claim to be the only way to God and life offends many people (v 14). So much so that some religious teachers and preachers try to diminish Jesus’ claim or distract or detract people from it (v 15). How can we discern who is teaching truth? Jesus is clear: true teachers/prophets live in obedience to God (v 21) so their lives reflect the nature of their heavenly Father (vs 18,19; see also Galatians 5:22–24).
Give careful thought to Christian teaching in sermons, books, podcasts and broadcasts. Does it direct you to Christ? Pray that all who preach and teach will obey Jesus’ teaching and reflect God’s character.
Deeper Bible study
Write the lessons of this Sermon upon our hearts, that we may tread the path that leads to life.
The Sermon reaches its conclusion with a series of exhortations to the disciples: to enter the narrow gate, tread the less-travelled road and ensure that life is built on the foundation of rock, not sinking sand. The metaphors of ‘gates’ and ‘roads’ reflect the context of the imperial world in which the Romans celebrated their architectural achievements and the network of roads which criss-crossed the Empire. If, as many scholars believe, Matthew’s Gospel originated in Antioch, its first hearers would have known that travellers entered that city through a magnificent gateway built by Tiberius and topped with a depiction of a she-wolf nursing Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome. The entrance to the kingdom of God could not be more different; neither it nor the road to which it gives access is designed for mass transit, but for the few who find it and recognise it as the path to life.
Jesus nowhere disguises the cost of discipleship, but he warns that the quest for popularity and social acceptance will result in ‘false prophets’ (v 15) preaching cheap grace and promoting religion which, like the salt which has become useless, is good for nothing. The final words of this wonderful sermon pose a profoundly disturbing question for Christians in secular cultures where religion has been ‘thrown out and trampled underfoot’.1 Secularisation is often explained in terms of the unbelief of the world, but Jesus suggests that a church ashamed of the ‘narrow gate’ (v 13) and concealing the cost of discipleship is itself the cause of the rejection of faith. Lesslie Newbigin wrote that the only way a secular world will turn to Christ is through being confronted by the living reality of communities of disciples who believe the gospel ‘and live by it’.2
Pray for grace that in our lives and churches belief and practice may, together, offer an attractive alternative to the broad road that leads to destruction!
1Matt 5:13 2 Paul Weston (ed), Lesslie Newbigin: Missionary Theologian, SPCK, 2006, p152
Bible in a year
Read the Bible in a year: Genesis 41,42; Matthew 15
Pray for Scripture Union
Thank God for the continued opportunities, particularly assemblies, that Local Mission Partner Christian Initiative to Schools in Letchworth have had in schools despite the restrictions that have been in place.