“Enter by the narrow gate.” Matthew 7:13a
This set of images and commands present a tone and topic shift in the sermon; we suddenly feel a bit more serious as Jesus gives us a warning on how to get to life and how to avoid destruction. This is weighty. When he says “Enter,” he’s talking about the kingdom of heaven, which has been referenced several times in this sermon. As we discussed before, the kingdom can represent his authority, but it also represents relationship with him, as our king, and that final state after the end of time when God and his people are together in the eternal city, while those who rejected him remain forever outside.
The picture of gates and paths is a very natural way to envision entering something, of course. We intrinsically understand the image. Here, it’s the implications of the images that have more potential to trouble us. If Jesus is offering us forgiveness, life, and wants to fulfill our desires, why is he now describing the way to life as having a “narrow” gate and a “difficult” path?
The narrowness represents that the only way through the gate is through Jesus. Specifically, accepting that we can never be good enough before God to earn his favor, and accepting that Jesus was punished on the cross in our place; that God raised him to life again, and that all who come to him confessing that they deserve nothing and want to submit to his Lordship are welcomed with open arms into his family. It is totally free, but also exclusive. God allows no substitutions, because nothing else can deal with our unworthiness before him.
The wide gate then encompasses all the alternative entry points. Some are trying to reach God through methods outside of Jesus, like currying his favor through religious observance. Some people reject the notion of God, and instead try to enter their own image of the best life through good deeds, prosperity, or political engagement. Many of the people entering through the wide gate are people we would enjoy having as friends; perhaps they’re even better people than the Christians we know. But to reject Jesus is to reject the only way God has made for us. Not even being a likeable, honorable person can deal with the evil and rebellion that infects each of our hearts.
The path after the narrow gate has many difficulties, some of which have been outlined in the sermon. To stand with Jesus means to receive the same treatment he did; some people flocked to him, but many others slandered, beat and finally murdered him. This doesn’t negate the myriad benefits one gains from a relationship with the one who made and loves them—in fact, the benefits far outweigh the costs—yet Jesus wants us to go in prepared. The path through the wide gate doesn’t include this persecution, because it fits with the world, it is socially comfortable in that way.
You cannot remain neutral, standing looking at the two gates. The passage of time and your inevitable death mean you are always moving forward. The way of life is set before you in Jesus: lay hold of it, for your own sake and for the joy of your heavenly Father. And if you have laid hold of it, consider what it would mean to invite others in. Pray and practice having spiritual conversations; get training in how to share the gospel. God invites you into his work, and he will provide all you need!