In the May, 2013 issue of Beacon Lights, I began a series of editorials entitled Strangers and Sojourners. That initial article laid the groundwork by defining these biblical terms and describing what strangers and sojourners look like from a spiritual viewpoint. We saw that being strangers and sojourners involves a starting point, a trip, and a destination. In the June, 2013 issue we examined the important truth that in their lives, they are always guided by God’s sovereign providence. Since it has been quite a while since these articles appeared in the magazine, it will be beneficial to re-read them if possible.
We now look more closely at the trip and the destination in the words of our Lord in Matthew 7:13–14: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be that go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” The parallel passage in Luke 13:24 reads, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.” According to Luke’s account, Jesus was going about preaching and teaching when someone asked him, “Lord, are there few that be saved?” In answer to this question the Lord gave the admonition of verse 13. According to Matthew’s account in verse 12, Jesus summarized his teachings with what is often called the golden rule and then spoke the words that are of interest to us.
In both Matthew and Luke we encounter a metaphor of our spiritual lives expressed by the earthly figure of a journey to a destination. As he so often did, Jesus is talking about the kingdom of heaven, which is defined here in terms of life. The meaning is that the essence of the kingdom of heaven is eternal life. Conversely, Jesus also speaks of destruction and the path that leads to it.
We must grasp the analogy. Jesus speaks of routes to destinations, whether that end is life or destruction. He does not speak of an aimless wandering, but of ways and goals. Everyone must travel on one way or the other. The two are inseparably connected: the way inevitably must lead to the end.
Two options are presented. One possibility is that of a broad way and a wide gate. The other is a narrow way and a strait gate. When he speaks of the narrow way, Jesus uses a word that calls to mind the figure of grapes being compressed or stomped on. That narrow way leads to a strait gate; Christ uses a word from which we get the English term stenosis. In contrast, there is a broad way; it is spacious, wide, and smooth. It leads to a wide gate through which it is easy to pass. The word gate calls to mind the idea of a walled city. In that wall are two openings or portals, used to control access into or out of the city. One portal is wide, while the other is extremely narrow.
There is a double relationship between the two routes of which Jesus speaks.
First, they are parallel. The figure implies that all who travel start from the same place, but then walk different paths to the same destination. The paths, however, are parallel; they run next to each other, or at least one can be seen from the other. To apply the figure to our lives, the idea is that the beginning of the routes is our birth. We then travel one of two routes of life to the eventual destination of our death, followed by our eternal destiny. The fact that both of these routes are mentioned as options means that they are closely related: either route will get us to the destination. We must choose one or the other.
Second, the ways are very different. The broad way is like a freeway. The road is wide, smooth, and straight, and you can easily travel 70mph. In contrast, the narrow road is little more than a trail. As you sail down the freeway, you can barely notice that it exists. While the freeway eliminates the variations of the terrain and straightens out the sharp curves, the trail follows every bump and twist of the landscape. As it leads through the underbrush, the trail is irregular, rugged, and littered with obstructions and boulders that make for slow going and sprained ankles. If you do not watch where you put your feet, you can easily fall off its cliffs; it is next to impossible to navigate.
Included in Jesus’ analogy is a twofold end or goal of the journey along one of these ways. One is wide. It can be seen from a distance, and affords easy entry. No one can miss it. It has no gated and no security, and you can pass through it with no problems. The other is obscure and obstructed. It is tiny, barely wide enough for a person to squeeze through it. You have to search in order to find it. When you do find it, you have to claw your way through the thorn bushes and underbrush to get to it.
The two gates open with opposite results. The wide gate opens to destruction. Jesus here uses a strong word that means utter destruction, a perishing, a complete ruin. He speaks therefore of the eternal destruction of hell. The narrow gate leads to the eternal life of heaven, for eternal life means to know God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. The two portals are graphically pictured in the 1561 edition of John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. On the title page is a picture of them. The one is narrow with a thorn bush in the entrance and a crown over the top; the other is broad with a flower in the entrance and a flame over the top.
Two kinds of people travel different paths to different destinations. One kind is the “many,” who go to destruction. The other is the “few,” who go into life. This is Jesus’ answer to the man who asked, “Lord, are there few who be saved?” Implied in the contrast is the truth of divine double predestination. Jesus himself said, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” The elect of God are always the minority, a small remnant. The vast majority take the easy route to the wide gate. These are the only alternatives.
Nevertheless, it is possible that the travelers change ways temporarily. Some may leave the wide way and try the narrow trail for a time. But this does not last long, because the way is too difficult. Some on the narrow way may veer off the trail and try the freeway for a while. Humanly speaking, this is understandable. We all like the easy way just because it is easy. Why take the arduous trail? The freeway looks good: why struggle along the rough trail when the freeway is so near and so easy? The freeway has nice motels and restaurants. The hikers on the trail carry their tents on their backs and have just enough rice and beans to last them one day. If they switch routes, they are looking only at the easy and attractive way, not at the destruction to which it leads. But if they truly belong on the narrow way, they will return to it.
Christ commands his hearers to travel the narrow way and enter the strait gate. According to Luke, he says, “Struggle to enter in.” In a general sense this command comes to all who read Christ’s words in scripture and who hear them in the preaching of the gospel. Everyone is obligated to walk the trail to the narrow gate. Most do not obey. They are reprobate who go down the broad way and in the way of their sin pass through the wide gate into eternal destruction. Only the few, God’s elect, by the word of the Holy Spirit, can hear the word of the Lord and obey it.
I have not in every instance drawn every point of comparison between Jesus’ analogy and our spiritual life because I do not believe that this is necessary. The meaning of the figure is sufficiently clear. But let’s apply the metaphor a bit more specifically.
We are instructed that there are two possible destinations for our lives: life and destruction.
Young people, toward which destination are you traveling in your young lives? Travel you must. Everyone must walk the road of life, and everyone must enter life or destruction, heaven or hell.
Through which gate will you enter?
It matters, because this concerns your eternal destiny.
It matters, because the gates determine the ways. The broad way leads to the wide gate, and the narrow way leads to the strait gate. If you start on the broad way, where will you finish?
You can’t take the wide freeway of life and then at the last second veer off and duck through the narrow gate. That would be nice, wouldn’t it? But it doesn’t work that way.
So what way are you on?
Don’t say, as especially you young people are apt to do: “I think I’ll take the freeway for a while. I can always try the trail later.” That’s a great temptation for all of us, perhaps more so for young people than for mature people of God. But there are no shortcuts to heaven. Christ commands us to strive to enter the kingdom. This means in our whole life, not just at the end of it. The acorn of regeneration must grow into the oak of sanctification in our entire lives.
So, young strangers and sojourners, heed the word of the Lord.
In obedience is blessing, both now and eternally. It may not appear to be so, because the way is a struggle; how is struggle a blessing?
Scripture gives the answer in Psalm 34:19: ”Many are the afflictions of the righteous.” The promise is, “But the Lord delivereth him out of them all.