For our study this morning I want to look at a couple of verses of Yeshua's teaching in the "Sermon on the Mount" and build upon what I said last week about, The Supernatural Book. I said that to spend time in the Bible was to spend time with Yahweh. And the more time we spend with Him the more we will trust Him. If you have trouble trusting Him, it's because you don't know Him well enough. And the only remedy for that is to spend time in the Scripture. But knowing Yahweh and walking in fellowship with Him involves more than just spending time in the Scriptures, we need to walk in obedience to what the Scriptures teach. Notice what Yeshua says:
"He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him." John 14:21 NASB
So love for Yahweh is defined as obedience, and obedience results in Yahweh disclosing Himself to us, that is fellowship with the Father and Son. Let's look at Yeshua's words at the end of His "Sermon on the Mount":
"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. "For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Matthew 7:13-14 NASB
The majority opinion, which I do not hold, is that these verses are talking about eternal life and eternal damnation. Christianity is the narrow and difficult way that leads to life.
To help us understand these verses, let's try to set the context. The first question we should ask is, "To whom was the "Sermon on the Mount" intended?" Who is Yeshua talking to? I think it is clear that He is addressing "believers." To be born again is to be a kingdom citizen:
For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, Colossians 1:13 NASB
Who is the "us"? Believers! In Colossians 1:2 Paul says that He is writing to the "saints"!
Yeshua's audience for this sermon is described by Matthew like this:
When Yeshua saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying, Matthew 5:1-2 NASB
Who is the antecedent of "them"? It is the disciples! "His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying." This sermon, or teaching, is primarily for the disciples. Though the disciples where the target audience, they were not the only audience:
When Yeshua had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. Matthew 7:28-29 NASB
As Yeshua taught His disciples, the crowd listened in with astonishment. So, although He is primarily addressing His disciples, the Lord is aware that others are present as well.
So, we could see in these verses that the Lord does not lose sight of the larger audience. Among other things, He warns them to "start out right" by entering through "the narrow gate" (Matthew 7:13). In the light of the rest of the New Testament, this could refer to man's narrow and restricted way to God, which is by faith alone in Christ alone.
Does that make sense to you? It certainly could be what Yeshua is teaching, it is clearly a truth taught throughout the Bible. Yeshua said:
Yeshua said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. John 14:6 NASB
That is narrow! Yeshua says that He is the only way, the only truth, and the only life.
Have you ever heard someone say, "It doesn't matter what you call Him, we are all worshiping the same God, but by different names"? There is no such thing as a Christianity that stands side by side with Islam, or Judaism, or Buddhism, and says, "We worship one God under many names."
Christians believe, fundamentally, of necessity, that there is one true God. This true God is not Allah. This true God is not Krishna. This true God is not the god of Joseph Smith or Buddha or the Jews. This true God is the Lord Yeshua the Christ!
looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Yeshua, Titus 2:13 NASB
Yeshua is God. And as God, He seeks true worship, worship based upon a knowledge of who He is in reality, based upon His revelation to man. He does not grant to man the freedom to worship Him in a manner that pleases the creature rather than the Creator. God is particular about His worship. His worship is intimately, vitally connected to truth. Without truth, there is no worship of the Christian God:
"God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." John 4:24 NASB
The Greek text has one preposition ("in") that governs both nouns ("spirit," "truth"), linked by the conjunction "and." This means that Yeshua was describing one characteristic with two nouns, not two separate characteristics of worship. We could translate the phrase "the Spirit of truth," i.e. through Yeshua the Christ. Today there is NO true worship apart from faith in Yeshua the Savior.
Christianity is all about Yeshua the Christ. Apart from Christ, there is no salvation. He is the only true God. The heart of the issue is who is Yeshua? People need to understand who Yeshua really is. Who He is and what He has done can change not only our lives, but our eternity. Who is Yeshua? Christianity affirms that Yeshua is God, all other religions deny it. Listen, people, to the words of the Bible:
Who is the liar but the one who denies that Yeshua is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father; the one who confesses the Son has the Father also. 1 John 2:22-23 NASB
To deny that Yeshua is God is to be antichrist. To deny the Son is to deny the Father. This condemns not only Judaism, but all other religions as well.
So, Christianity is a narrow way, you come through Yeshua the Christ or you don't come at all. That is narrow enough, but the Gospel is even narrower than that. Salvation comes through faith in Christ ALONE!
Most forms of the Gospel being preached today are what I would call faith-plus gospels. These say that faith in Christ for eternal life is necessary, but that it is not enough. Works must accompany faith in order for a person to make it to heaven.
Salvation is not of faith plus works, it's all faith! You may think that this is basic and beyond saying, but all religions add human works to faith. Religion teaches that faith alone is not enough. The Judeazers taught faith plus works:
Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." Acts 15:1 NASB
They taught that faith alone wasn't enough, you must also be circumcised to be saved. There are many today who teach a "faith plus works salvation".
Catholic theology says, "By my deeds I can not only earn merit for myself, but if I earn more merit than I need to get into heaven, my extra merit goes into the treasury of merit to be applied to somebody else to get them out of purgatory." What that says is, "Not only can I by my merit earn my own salvation, but I can over earn it and apply what is left to someone else's salvation." This is salvation by faith plus works and this is denying the sufficiency of Christ's work. Those who hold the Catholic views are not Christians, because they trust themselves, not Christ.
The only condition of eternal salvation is faith in Christ. Faith in Christ is the conviction that He is the Guarantor of eternal life for every believer. Many add to what Yeshua said and end up with this distorted Gospel: "He who believes in Me and turns from His sins and perseveres in good works shall live." That is not what Yeshua promised.
Some say, "Yes, He is the Giver of eternal life; however, to be saved takes more than just believing. You must also commit your life to Him, turn from your sins, confess Him, obey Him, be baptized, etc., etc., etc." Once again, if a person is convinced that this distorted message is true, then he doesn't believe what Yeshua is saying. Yeshua made it clear that the only condition is being convinced that He guarantees eternal life to all who believe in Him. Add anything to that, and you have a different gospel.
To make works a necessary condition of faith confuses grace with merit. The Scriptures are clear that we cannot confuse grace with merit lest we boast (Eph 2:8-9). It confuses Christ's work with what we are required to do. We are required to believe in order to be saved. It is Christ's obedience that saves us:
For as through the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous. Romans 5:19 NASB
It's not our obedience that saves us, it's Christ's obedience that saves us. We are the recipients of the blessing of the work that He has done for us. The only requirement for salvation is that we believe the Gospel. Not only is believing the Gospel enough, but it is the only way to salvation. Yeshua guarantees eternal life to all who believe in Him for it. Do you believe this?
So, Yeshua could be teaching in Matthew 7:13-14 that Christianity is a very narrow way; you enter only by faith in Christ alone. This is what the Bible teaches. But I am not convinced that this is what Yeshua is teaching in this text.
It seems to me that Yeshua is not talking about the gate and road to Christianity, but to discipleship. Let me share with you why I think these verses deal with discipleship:
"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. "For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Matthew 7:13-14 NASB
Yeshua is here saying that this way is narrow and difficult. Let's look at some of the Greek words that are used in these verses. The word for "narrow" is stenos, which means: "difficult, distressful, narrow by reason of obstacles which surround it, difficult to continue or hold up."
I don't see coming to faith in Christ as "difficult," it is impossible apart from a work of God. God gives us life and the faith to believe. What is "difficult" here is the practice of the principles that the Lord Yeshua has taught in the "Sermon on the Mount." Living this way calls for commitment, discipline, it is a difficult way. These verses must be taken in context with the golden rule and all the things Yeshua taught in the preceding verses. This is a narrow and difficult way.
"Enter by the narrow gate"—says Christ at the beginning of our passage, and that this is far from being an easy thing to do appears from His word on another occasion:
"Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Luke 13:24 NASB
The Greek word used for "strive" is agonizomai, which is a very expressive and emphatic word, meaning: "agonize." It occurs again in:
Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 1 Corinthians 9:25 NASB
The word "competes" here is agonizomai. The reference is to the athletes who took part in the marathon races, willing to undergo the most self-denying discipline to be at their fittest, thereby hoping to win an earthly crown. This word rendered "agonizomai" is translated: "laboring fervently" in Colossians 4:12 and "fight" in 2 Timothy 4:7.
It is a struggle, a battle, an extreme effort. There is almost a violence implied. Believer, let me ask you, "Is this how you become a Christian? Do you strive, labor, agonize to become a Christian? No! One of the most important and misunderstood distinctions in the Bible is that of a Christian and a disciple. Many see them as synonymous, but I think the Bible makes a distinction between them.
How does a person become a Christian? What do you have to do to be a Christian? The answer is simple—believe the Gospel! A person becomes a Christian by faith in Yeshua:
"He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him." John 3:36 NASB
A person becomes a Christian when they understand and believe the Gospel of Yeshua the Christ. At that moment, they are placed into the body of Christ, given Christ's righteousness, indwelt by God, and are as sure of heaven as if they were already there. They are "in Christ."
The Scriptures make it quite clear that salvation is a free gift of God's grace, but the Scriptures also teach that discipleship is costly. Salvation is our birth in the Christian life, and discipleship is our education and maturity in the Christian life. Compare these two texts:
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16 NASB
Eternal life is a gift of grace to all who believe—do you see any cost involved here? Do you see any labor or agony? But now notice:
"So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. Luke 14:33 NASB
Discipleship is a call to forsake all and follow Christ. Can this be talking about the same thing as John 3:16? I don't see how. I see discipleship as a conditional relationship that can be interrupted or terminated after it has begun. All Christians are called to be disciples, but many will not pay the price. Discipleship is costly!
This same idea can be stated in the terms of union and communion. Positionally, we are united with Christ—this is our union. Practically, we are called to walk in fellowship with Christ—this is our communion. God has given us a picture of union and communion in marriage. When a man and a woman get married, they enter into a relationship, a union. As the years pass, their relationship, their communion, may be good or bad. But whatever their experience, the fact of their union remains. In a similar way, we enter an eternal union with God at salvation, but our communion is based upon a living, active faith. We can drift in and out of communion with God, just as we can drift in and out of communion with a spouse.
Willful disobedience breaks our communion with God; when we are in communion with God, we have joy and peace no matter what our circumstances. The Bible speaks about our communion with Christ in many ways. In John 15, it is called "abiding" in Christ. In 1 John, it is "fellowship," or "knowing" Him. In James, it is "living faith" or being a "doer" of the Word. Throughout the New Testament this communion relationship is referred to as "discipleship":
So Yeshua was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, "If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." John 8:31-32 NASB
Is salvation narrow and difficult? No! Salvation comes to us by grace through faith. But discipleship is a call to obedience, to live out the principles stated in the "Sermon on the Mount."
You might object to this view of mine by saying that these two roads are said to lead to destruction or life. Isn't that speaking of eternal destinies?
One commentator says, "When Jesus refers to life in these verses, He is talking about eternal life." How does he know this? The Greek word for "life" is zoe, this term is often joined with "eternal" (some 30 times), and with "everlasting" (some 17 times). This would clearly denote "eternal life" or "redemption". But the term zoe by itself can refer to a quality of temporal life. Over and over the Proverbs talk about righteousness leading to life:
He who is steadfast in righteousness will attain to life, And he who pursues evil will bring about his own death. Proverbs 11:19 NASB
A tranquil heart is life to the body, But passion is rottenness to the bones. Proverbs 14:30 NASB
Here envy causes physical problems, but a sound heart is life— this speaks of a quality of life.
The fear of the LORD leads to life, So that one may sleep satisfied, untouched by evil. Proverbs 19:23 NASB
Here life is satisfaction and the absence of being visited with evil:
The reward of humility and the fear of the LORD Are riches, honor and life. Proverbs 22:4 NASB
Humility doesn't bring physical life, but a quality of life.
The word "life" as used in our text can refer to a quality of life—fellowship with God. If he wanted to refer to eternal life, he could have said that. By "life" is meant that glorious state of unclouded fellowship with God, the heart's being satisfied with Him, the realization of His unspeakable excellency and the fullness of joy there is in His immediate presence.
What about the word "destruction", doesn't that imply eternal judgment? Not necessarily! Let's look at this Greek word. The word "destruction" is the Greek word apoleia, which means: "ruin, loss, destruction." It is translated "wasted" in:
But some were indignantly remarking to one another, "Why has this perfume been wasted (apoleia)? Mark 14:4 NASB
This verb form is used of physical death:
Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed (apollumi) by the serpents. 1 Corinthians 10:9 NASB
This verb form of the word is also used of unbelievers being eternally damned:
"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish (apollumi), but have eternal life. John 3:16 NASB
But this same verb is also used of believers:
For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy (apollumi) with your food him for whom Christ died. Romans 14:15 NASB
As those who hold to Sovereign Grace, we know that if Christ died for them, then they are believers, and this could not be referring to eternal destruction. You can't cause a believer to perish, it's talking about some kind of spiritual loss. Apollumi is used to speak of loss of reward:
Watch yourselves, that you do not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward. 2 John 1:8 NASB
Yeshua could be using apollumi in Matthew 7:13 to speak of loss of spiritual blessedness or physical death or a wasted life.
I believe that the "narrow and difficult" way that Yeshua is referring to is that of discipleship. He is referring to all He has said in this sermon. He is calling us to live radically different lives. Let's review just a few of the things that Yeshua has commanded His followers to do in this sermon:
"But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, Matthew 5:44 NASB
How many Christians do you know that love their enemies? Yeshua gives us some very specific, very practical examples of what it means to love our enemies. Love blesses those who curse you. The word "bless" in this text is taken from the Greek word eulogeo, which means: "To speak well of, to bless or invoke a benediction upon, to pray for their prosperity, bless or praise." That means when they speak evil of you, curse you, you speak well of them. You speak of them with a heart's desire for their welfare. You do not bring defamation upon them or their name. You do not stoop to their level. We usually bless those who persecute us, don't we? Ouch!
Love not only blesses, it prays. Yeshua said, "Pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you." Prayer for your enemies is one of the deepest forms of love, because it means that you have to really want that something good happen to them. You might do nice things for your enemy without any genuine desire that things go well with them. But prayer for them is in the presence of God who knows your heart, and prayer is interceding with God on their behalf. He is not saying that we should pray for them to be struck by lightning or that a house should fall on them. Rather, He is saying that we should pray on their behalf to God. It may be prayer for their conversion. It may be for their repentance. But the prayer Yeshua has in mind here is always for their good.
How many Christians do you know who live like this? When is the last time you prayed for an enemy? When is the last time that you prayed for someone who mistreated you and persecuted you? This is how the disciples of Yeshua are to live!
In the end of chapter 6, Yeshua says that we are not to worry about our lives:
"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:33 NASB
The "kingdom of God" signifies the rule of God; to seek the kingdom of God; to come under His kingship; to come into subjection to Him as King. The word "righteousness," as used in our text, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness," comes from the Greek word dikaiosune, which means: "a pattern of life in conformity to God's will".
The word "seek" here is the Greek word zeteo, which means: "to seek, to desire to worship." It is to seek with a desire to worship.
But not only must we seek His kingdom and righteousness, it should be our supreme priority. The word "first" in our text comes from the Greek word proton, which means: "first in order or importance, first or "chiefest" of all, holding the highest place in all our affections." The Lord is saying that the first place in the priority of our affections must be His will.
When He is speaking of His kingdom, He is talking about our coming under submission to His reign, setting our priorities straight so the authority of His Word occupies the first place in our lives. It means: "to walk under His reign, to live in obedience to the Lord."
"But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness..." Now please notice the end of the verse "...and all these things shall be added unto you." What things? They are all the things the Gentiles seek and strive for. The Lord is telling us not to worry about those things. Just walk in obedience to Him, and He will provide them; we do not need to strive for material things. "...and all these things shall be added unto you," is the great reward for those who walk in the obedience of faith.
I believe that this is the "life" that the "narrow and difficult" path leads to—it is the blessing of God. Joy, peace and contentment come from Christ being the priority of your life. Nothing else can bring the joy that an intimate relationship with God can bring, and once you learn to base your peace and contentment on your relationship with God, nothing in the world can take it away from you. It seems that few Christians today live at this level spiritually, which is why we have so much anxiety and dissatisfaction in our lives.
In Matthew 7:14 Yeshua says, "And few there be that find it." There are many on the broad road but there are "few" on the narrow and difficult way. Among the many who have trusted Christ, there are few who truly follow Him. Do you think that is true? Again I ask you, "How many Christians do you know who live their lives according to the principles taught in the "Sermon on the Mount"? Most Christians I know are dominated by pride and selfishness. They spend very little time seeking the Kingdom of God; they're too busy pursuing their own desires and goals.
In his book, What Americans Believe, George Barna states, "One of the most penetrating and inescapable questions that confronts Americans is: 'Why am I alive?'"
The answer he found was surprising. "Most adults conclude that we exist to gratify the flesh. Sixty-three percent concur that the purpose in life is enjoyment and personal fulfillment."
Let me share with you some alarming statistics that I found on an atheist's web site. He writes, "WARNING! Christianity Doesn't Work as Advertised. The divorce rate for Christians is HIGHER than for Atheists. More than half of Christians are habitual LIARS. Few Christians have personal happiness—all this from Christian pollster Barna. Do you still think Christians are better than Atheists? You'd better think again!!!"
He then goes on to quote some Barna statistics: Pollster, George Barna reported: "Born-again Christians have a higher rate of divorce than non-believers; fundamentalists top them all. And 87% divorced after accepting Christ, presumably aware of the biblical teaching on divorce. '75% of "born-again' Christians lie regularly conscious, premeditated lies."
Desiring to have a close, personal relationship with God ranks sixth among the 21 life goals tested among born-agains, trailing such desires as "living a comfortable lifestyle." "Are people's lives being transformed" by Christianity? Barna has asked. "We can't find evidence of a transformation."
Although his statistics often show self-described Christians living lives no different from those of atheists, Barna's faith never has wavered. "The issue isn't whether Jesus or Christianity is real," he said. "The issue is, are Americans willing to put Christ first in their lives?"
I agree with Barna, the problem is that Christians are not willing to put Christ first in their lives. Why are Christians not willing to put Christ first in their lives? I think the answer is because we are a lazy, selfish people and walking in fellowship with God is difficult.
Let me pose a question for you to think about: "Which road are you on?" If you are on the narrow road, your life will be lived in submission to the Lordship of Christ. Christ will be your life. His will will consume you. He will have the preeminence in your life.
Yeshua ends His sermon by stressing the importance of doing what He says.
"Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. "And the hail fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. "Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. "The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall." Matthew 7:24-27 NASB
When you follow the narrow way, you build your life on the rock. As a conclusion to the message, Yeshua tells this little story, what's known as a parable. Now let me ask you what is the essence of this parable? What is it illustrating? What separates the wise builder from the foolish builder? It is a one word answer, obedience!
Yeshua says nothing in this parable about believing. His stress here is on DOING. This is very important! We are saved by faith alone, but here Yeshua is talking to those who believe in Him and stressing the importance of obedience.
I believe that the houses in this text represent our lives. Each of us is building a life. A life that will respond to the many ups and downs that come our way. Yeshua is saying in this parable, "If you want to protect your life from damage, you've got to be wise and obey my commandments and my rules for your life." Please notice that this obedience results in quality of life and preservation of life.
"And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Matthew 7:25 NASB
What "storms" is Yeshua talking about? I think that the storms are things that threaten our well being. This could be literal storms: such as tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, etc., which may take away all we own, perhaps even our loved ones. How we respond to such tragedies will reveal the quality of our "building". Will we be emotionally devastated? Will we be able to stand strong, willing to continue on without despair?
It may also involve figurative storms: such as illness, loss of loved ones, financial setbacks, which may take away our health, family, possessions. Again, how we respond to such tragedies will reveal the quality of our "building." Will we be emotionally devastated? Will we be able to stand strong, willing to continue on without despair?
How can we "build" so as to be able to withstand the storms? The metaphorical storms of life are inevitable, but Yeshua reassures us and says, "If you're smart, you'll build a solid foundation by obedience, and those storms won't destroy you."
Yeshua said that the one who hears the Word of God and does not act upon it is foolish. The word which is translated "foolish" is the base for the English word "moron."The one who hears but does not act upon the Word of God is foolish or stupid. He has not really considered the issues. Notice where the contrast is between the groups. Both groups hear the Word of God, but the difference is in the response to the Word. Response is the crucial issue, and that is where Yeshua wants to focus. Some are doers of the Word and some are not doers of the Word.
So, where do you fit this morning? Are you a doer of the word? Are you building a house that will stand the storms of life? If you are not, Yeshua says, "You're foolish."
Believers, we are to walk the narrow road of obedience to Christ, we are to build our lives on the rock of obedience to the Word of God. The storms of life will come, but your house will stand if it is built on the rock. It isn't easy to live on the narrow road, it isn't easy to be a follower of Christ. But it is what all believers are called to, and it a path that leads to joy, peace and contentment in life. Which road are you on?