by Paul George
The Lord Jesus Christ, in this great Sermon on the Mount, has distinguished His kingdom from that of contemporary Judaism, while identifying it with that spoken of in the Old Testament. As He concludes this sermon, we come to the bottom line, the destiny-deciding hour of decision. It is not just enough to hear His words; they must be acted upon. In this concluding section, Jesus put before His audience the choice which every man must make, the choice between mere religion and Christianity. In verses, 13 and 14 we have the two gates, in verses 15-23 we are encouraged to distinguish between the two kinds of guides, and in verses 24-27, we see the two foundations upon which men build their lives.
Many people today believe that God’s kingdom is governed on the same basis as our nation, democracy, if this was true then the right way to heaven would be that of the majority. Although the nation Israel knew nothing of democracy as we have it, they, too, were inclined to follow the majority in spiritual matters.
When Jesus concluded His message, He told His listeners that if they were to enter into His kingdom, they must “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
Jesus made it clear that there are only two gates, only two paths, only two destinies before every man, and each of us must choose one or the other. This may seem surprising to some. Many believe, even in the Christian community, that men are confronted with an almost infinite number of alternatives to them. It is not a choice between only two options, but of many. Among so many alternatives, how can a man choose the right one? Because of this dilemma, many have concluded “all roads lead to heaven” and that it matters little which one we would choose. However, Jesus narrows our choices to only two: religion and Christianity. Religion, in brief, can be defined as man’s efforts to reach God, while Christianity is God reaching down to man. Religion rests upon man’s work for God; Christianity on God’s work on behalf of men.
The small gate is the entrance to the narrow way, the way which leads to eternal life. That gate is our Lord Jesus Himself. In the words of the Savior: “… Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep… I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture… I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:7, 9, 11).
In another place, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me” (John 14:6). God’s only provision for man’s salvation and entrance to the kingdom is through faith in Jesus Christ as God’s Messiah and our Savior.
However, why is the gate small and the way narrow, simply because it is restrictive. It is not that the gate is poorly marked, for Jesus publicly pointed out that He was God’s provision for the forgiveness of sins and entrance into eternal life. The gate is narrow only because it is exclusive and restrictive. Men can approach God only through the shed blood of Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5-6; Hebrews 9:11). Furthermore, men enter into the kingdom one at a time, as through a turn-style. This is because men must be saved by a personal act of faith. We are never saved in clusters, but individually. To be saved men cannot add to or take away from God’s one way of salvation.
While God’s way of salvation is exclusive and restrictive, the gate to hell is broad and inviting. You can go to hell as an atheist or an agnostic. You can go there under any denominational label. You can go as a preacher, priest, rabbi or layman.
If you want to enter God’s kingdom, do not follow the crowds, but trust in the Son of God who died for your sins and who offers to give you His righteousness. Do not attempt to add to or take away His means of salvation, for in this God is rigid and unbending. He will not tolerate or accept any other means of salvation, for He must receive all the glory and the praise. “Salvation is of the Lord,” the Scriptures tell us (Psalm 3:8).
Now this is precisely what really irritates unbelievers, “Why do you Christians think you have the only way?” The answer, God has declared in His word that there is no other way of salvation than through faith in His Son. While Christians may wrongly convey an exclusive and superior attitude, God has declared that there is only one way to heaven. Men would gladly choose any other way than God’s way because all other ways allow men to keep their pride, their possessions, and their preferences. God will have none of that. Men are not perturbed at the fact that there is really only one answer, but over the realization that this way is not one that appeals to them in their sinful state. The way of our Lord is not that of the majority.
Your eternal destiny hangs upon your choice between two alternatives. You may go the tolerant and accommodating way which is well traveled and on which you will have a great deal of company. However, in the final analysis you will find this is the way of destruction. On the other hand, you may take the narrow and restrictive way of faith in Jesus Christ. This is the way that leads to life. You will never walk alone, but neither will you be with the majority. Your path may be narrow, but your destiny is sure. Jesus Christ confronts every man with this choice.
The decision that every man must make is not an easy one, for there are many godless guides who would lead us to the wide gate and the way that leads to destruction. These false prophets are not only blind themselves, but they lead others to destruction with them. Those who submitted to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day followed them on the path that led to destruction. Above all else, the Jewish leadership rejected Jesus as Israel’s Messiah and put Him to death. No wonder we find our Lord warning His listeners about false prophets: “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15).
False prophets are particularly dangerous because they appear to be genuine. They seemingly have the credentials of authority. What are these credentials? Jesus calls them ‘sheep’s clothing’ (verse 15). The outward forms would incline one to believe these false prophets to be reliable guides. They may wear distinctive clothing that sets them apart as leaders. They may have the title “reverend.’ They may be men who hold positions of religious leadership. They may well have graduated from a divinity school. Indeed, they might even be seminary professors. Judging based on external indications we might wrongly assume them to be reliable guides, but we cannot evaluate on such external evidence. Judging by external forms is risky; judging, if you prefer, discerning, based on the fruits they produce is accurate. “The proof of the root is in the fruit.” Good trees produce good fruit, and rotten trees, bad fruit. A dependable assessment of those who would be guides is that of their fruits (v 20).
What are these fruits? One must be very careful here, for false prophets are not without religious activities. A false prophet is often accompanied by deceptive signs and by seeming wonders. Some of these are suggested in verse 22: “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’” We should expect false prophets to engage in acts of kindness and charity. We should expect them to perform deeds that suggest miraculous power. In addition, we should expect that these deeds be performed under the pretext of being done by God’s power and to His glory.
“For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
We should expect false prophets to be accompanied by religious works. If these religious activities are not the fruits of which Jesus spoke, what are they? The Scriptures frequently describe the fruits of the false prophets, so that we are left with little doubt as to what we should look for, first, false prophets speak from their own delusion, not by divine command (Jeremiah 23:16,21,25; Ezekiel 13:2). They do not proclaim or defend God’s word, but deny it (Jeremiah 23:17). In particular they deny unpleasant subjects such as impending judgment (Jeremiah 6:14; 28:17; Ezekiel 13:10). They offer temporary and partial relief to pressing problems (Jeremiah 8:11). Mainly, they tell people precisely what they want to hear (1 Kings 22:8, 13; 2 Timothy 4:3-4). Concerning the way of salvation they deny the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ and they reject the work of Christ on the cross (2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:2-3).
Second, the teachings of the false prophets invariably leads to a rejection of God’s word, a rejection of biblical authority, a division among the saints (Jeremiah 23:2,14) and a life of sensuality (2 Peter 2:2). They attempt to lead men away from the truth of the gospel (Acts 13:8), and to deceive genuine Christians (Mark 13:22).
Third, the false prophets are easily distinguished by their pride (2 Peter 2:10), their greed (Jeremiah 8:10; Titus 1:11; 2 Peter 2:3, 14) and immorality (Jeremiah 23:11, 14; 2 Peter 2:14). They are men dominated by the flesh (2 Peter 2:10, 12; 3:3). They prey upon the weak and the guilt-ridden (2 Timothy 3:6-7; 2 Peter 2:14, 13). While they profess to know God, by their deeds they deny Him (Matthew 7:22-23; 2 Timothy 3:5; Titus 1:16). While they delight in authority, they refuse to submit to it (2 Peter 2:10).
The primary purpose of these teachings of Jesus in these verses is an exhortation to put into practice, to apply the teaching of Jesus Christ in a personal way.
The wise man is he who hears the teaching of Jesus and applies His teaching to the matter of his personal salvation. We must take the step of entrusting our eternal destiny to Jesus Christ based on His word and His work. Beyond this, we must continue to endeavor to apply His teaching in our everyday lives.
The reason why one house fell and the other stood is that one had a sure foundation, while the other did not. The solid foundation is the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man (v 24).
Both men built a house. The only difference in the houses is the foundations. One was built upon rock, and the other on sand. The one house was built upon our Lord’s teaching, while the other was built apart from it.
The sad fact of life is that men and women are building their entire lives, they are staking their eternal destiny, not upon the Word of God, but on their own pre-conceived notions and preferences. “Well, I like to think of God as …” Here is the bottom line. Here is what distinguishes true Christianity from every other religion, its foundation, its ultimate source of authority.
Whether we enter either the narrow gate or the wide one the end of each pathway is still well out of sight. In the case of the false prophets, their ultimate identity is not certain until our Lord in the Day of Judgment judges them. So also, the foundation upon which one builds his life is not tested until the great storm comes. We will not learn the folly of choosing the wrong gate, the wrong guide, or the wrong foundation until it is too late to reverse our destiny.
May I ask you, my friend, what gate you have chosen? You must choose one and your choices are limited to the narrow gate of salvation through faith in Christ or the wide gate which leads to destruction by trusting in whatever you choose.
Just as there are two gates, there are two guides. Based on surface appearances, one cannot tell the difference. However, when their fruits are examined the false can always be identified. Their doctrine does not conform to the Word of God. The Scriptures condemn their moral lives. The impact of their ministry to others is devastating and destructive.
Our Lord did not leave us this sermon to satisfy our curiosities. What He taught demands decision. His Word points out the narrow gate as the way of salvation. It also exposes false guides who would lead us astray. Finally, it provides us with a sure foundation on which to build our lives.
Have you passed through that narrow gate? Have you trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ as the door of salvation? Do you believe in Him as the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6)? Is the Word of God your foundation and your guide?
Someday we must all stand before the One Who uttered these words and give account to Him as the God and Judge of the universe. May it be that He shall say, “Well done, good and faithful servant enter into the joy of your Master” (Matthew 25:21).