As Jesus closes the Sermon on the Mount he is going to press us for a decision: there are two ways (13-14), two teachers (15-20), two pleas (16-23), two foundations (24-27). Let’s start with the two ways.
The question of narrowness
Today one of the greatest insults is to call someone narrow and one of the greatest compliments is to call them broad or open or tolerant. Now this is a very nuanced discussion and I don’t want to be misunderstood. At present the massive backlash of broadness and tolerance are responses to restrictive and exclusive approaches to race, politics, morality, sexual orientation, etc. Some have been necessary, others are going too far. People object by saying things like:
- “All that matters is that you do believe in god and that you are a loving person yourself”, or
- “You are judgemental and narrow-minded – it causes prejudice, discrimination; religion in a barrier to world peace”!
And, it may surprise you to hear me say this, but “I agree!” When people believe an exclusive claim or a truth claim it can tend to create a sense of superiority in that person. And then when you get a group of people who believe the same exclusive truths they can quickly become close-minded and disapproving – they can even begin to marginalise those who don’t agree and at worst oppress, abuse or use violence against them.
1. Narrowness is inescapable
But the reality is that all people have a “narrow” set of beliefs that are exclusive! Let me show you what I mean:
- Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and other religions AND the non-religious all have narrow beliefs – if you don’t believe and accept them you are not in. You can’t hold true to (for example) the Muslim faith and the Jewish faith at the same time, or be a Buddhist and an atheist at the same time.
- Even those who say there is no one true religion, each on has a piece of the truth or has their own route up the mountain to God at the top – that is their ‘narrow’ belief. You can be an all-roads-lead-up-the-mountain and a Jew at the same time.
The real question is not, “who has narrow beliefs and who does not”. Everyone has a set of narrow beliefs. The question is, “which set of exclusive beliefs can produce loving, inclusive, reconciling and peaceful behaviour”. Do think, “We Christians need to relax our narrow, intolerant beliefs to be more acceptable and accepting”. No! Counter intuitively, the harder you press into Jesus’ narrowness the more humble and accepting it makes you! The things that Jesus say is in this passage will empower you to be inclusive, reconciling, and loving in your behaviour.
2. The narrow road is the hard way of love, service and sacrifice
The Greek word broad means “spacious” or “roomy”. There is plenty of room on the broad road for all different kinds of moral conviction, you don’t have to give up anything, you can bring all your baggage, you can be proud and angry, unforgiving and self-centred, you can hold onto money and be worldly in your ambitions, if someone does you wrong you can retaliate, you can criticise as much as you want to, and you can do to others… as you choose! The problem with the broad road is that there are no restrictions or boundaries – and that means that people get hurt, you get hurt.
The Greek word for narrow means “hard”. In this sense there are clear boundaries, you have to lay down your baggage and take up your cross. It requires obedience and trust. And let’s remember this Jesus is coming to the end of the Sermon on the Mount – what has he been teaching? The narrow way is those who realise they are poor in spirit, who mourn over their sin, who are meek and who hunger and thirst for righteousness; they show mercy, are pure in heart and are peacemakers even though there are persecuted for their righteous lives. Most of all they have realised that their righteousness will never surpass that of the Pharisees by their own hard work – so they are humbly dependant on the empowering of the Spirit of God in them to transform their hearts:
- Their anger has been quenched because in Christ God’s anger towards their sin was quenched;
- Their lust and adultery has dissipated as their vision is consumed by the unfailing faithfulness of Christ the Bridegroom;
- They no longer labour under the burned trying to be someone that they are not (lies, deceit and deception) because they are loved truly as they are;
- They will sacrifice their possession, personal freedom and give generously because
- God himself turned the other cheek and had his beard pulled out;
- God himself had his cloak and tunic stripped off him so that he was naked;
- God himself was forced to carry his own cross to his place of crucifixion;
- God himself became completely impoverished.
- The don’t repay evil for evil or just good for good because God gave us his best and fullest when we were still his enemies.
- Their hearts are not stingy when it comes to money and possessions but generous like God is to us in Christ
- They don’t criticise because they have not put themselves in the place of God
- They rather get out of themselves and into the shoes of others to serve and love them just like Christ got into the flesh of human beings to love and serve them.
The broad road requires nothing of you – you just keep living the way you want to. But this is hard and requires obedience. But that is the road that leads to a full and abundant life. And the person who by the empowering of Christ, is living this life will not be open to the charge of prejudice and discrimination. In fact, it is the only way that I know of that results in true love, service and self-sacrifice.
3. The narrow gate is Christ himself
Jesus would go on to say, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. How did Jesus become the way? The cross. And on the cross you see God loving people who do not love him, forgiving people who abuse him, sacrificially serving people who oppose him. You see if you get salvation and make this your ultimate reality then how can you trample, and be cruel and be divisive at all to anyone.
The gospel says: your acceptance before God is NOT based on your good deeds – so salvation through Christ must never lead you to think that you are superior to others, that you would look down on them and judge them because they are “not as good as you”!
The gospel is the only faith system I know that should never make you look down your nose at anyone else – no matter their religious or non-religious beliefs – because you think you are better than them. The gospel does not say: you are saved because you are wise or good or virtuous. In fact it is in admitting the opposite: that we are sinners that we receive the forgiveness of God. The gospel humbles you before the people who don’t agree with you – I don’t know any other religious system that would do that!
Jesus wants his hears to know that they have to respond. As you hear his words this morning what will you choose? The “many” who are on the broad road are there (it seems to me) by default. But Jesus says you need to find the narrow door. There is no middle way, third door, alternative ending.
When someone invites you to an event on Facebook there are two buttons you can click: “interested” or “going”. If you aren’t going you don’t have to do anything. It seems to me that people click “interested” all the time – not because they are really thinking about going, just because they are being nice. It’s nice to be interested. My worry is that there are many nice people who have expressed an interest in Christianity, but have never made a firm decision to enter into salvation though Christ.
Please use / augment / discard these questions so that your group has a fruitful discussion
- Read Matt 7:13-14
- Have you ever been accused of being narrow because you are a Christian?
- How did it make you feel?
- How did you respond (how did you wish you had responded)?
- Read John 14:6.
- Do you find this statement difficult?
- How does it relate to Matt 7:13-14?
- Do you agree with it?
- Do you stand by it?
- Grant suggested that narrowness is inescapable.
- Do you believe this is true?
- Discuss this in relation to other religions, atheism, agnosticism, pluralism.
- How is this help the Christian who is accused of being “narrow”
- Jesus contrast and discuss what you learn:
- The small gate and the wide gate
- The narrow road and the broad road
- Life and destruction
- The many and the few
- How does the rest of the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount fit into these two different paths of life?
- How does the gospel empower us to be humble, loving and inclusive (even though it is narrow)?
 Religious pluralism generally refers to the belief in two or more religious worldviews as being equally valid or acceptable. More than mere tolerance, religious pluralism accepts multiple paths to God or gods as a possibility and is usually contrasted with “exclusivism,” the idea that there is only one true religion or way to know God. (https://www.gotquestions.org/religious-pluralism.html)