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Sermon Message


"Two Destinies - Two Gates"

Matthew 7:13-14
Theme: Jesus urges His listeners to enter the narrow gate and follow the straight path toward eternal life.

(Delivered Sunday, May 22, 2005 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)

I hope that, at some point in your life - if you haven't already - you'll take the time to read Pilgrim's Progress. I don't believe anyone has written a greater allegory of the Christian life than John Bunyan has in that wonderful classic. I hope you wont mind if I start off this morning by telling you a story from Pilgrim's Progress. (Who knows? It might whet your appetite to read the whole thing for yourself!)

One of the most important motifs in Bunyan's book is that of entering through a gate. And this particular story involves a very important journey to a very important gate.

* * * * * * * * * *

Christian, the name of the man who is the main character in Bunyan's classic, lived in a place called The City of Destruction. The story begins when he picks up a book - the Bible. He reads of its condemnation of his sin; and of the coming disaster that is about to befall the city in which he lives. And no sooner does he read of this than he discovers a heavy and cumbersome burden on his back. This horrible burden of condemnation presses down on him; and he becomes desperate to be relieved of it and to flee from the City of Destruction.

As he suffered in this burdened condition, he was met by a man named Evangelist. (You sure don't have to work too hard to figure out Bunyan's symbolism; do you?) Evangelist tells him that, to be relieved of his burden he must make his way up a to a small, humble looking little wooden entry-way called "the wicket-gate", and knock on it. Someone would appear, open the gate to him, take him in, and tell him what he must do from there. And so, ignoring the mocks and threats of family and friends, Christian ran with all his might to the wicket-gate to find out how to be relieved of his burden of sin.

Now, my guess is that many of you already know that much of the story. Perhaps you know that Christian eventually made his way to the wicket-gate, was invited in, and was led up a pathway to the cross of Jesus where his burden of sin fell away. It's one of my favorite scenes in the story. And that, of course, is only the beginning of Christian's adventures! But there was something that happened between Evangelist's instruction and the arrival at the wicket-gate. I believe that it's something that vividly illustrates this morning's passage of scripture.

You see; as he travelled toward the wicket-gate, Christian discovered that the journey was unexpectedly hard. In fact, it was downright miserable and dangerous! At one point, he was utterly caught by surprise, and fell into a horrible mud-pit called "the Slough of Despond" - and he almost sunk to his death in the muck because of his heavy burden. No sooner was he rescued from this disgusting mud-pit - trying to wipe himself off, and thinking of what a hard journey he was on - than he met another traveler named Worldly-wiseman. This man saw Christian's burden, and observed how he sighed and groaned along the way; and he asked where Christian was going. Christian explained that he had met with a man named Evangelist who told him to go to the wicket-gate, where he'd be told how to be relieved of his burden of sin. Worldly-wiseman scoffed at Evangelist's advice and said,

"There is not a more dangerous and troublesome way in the world than is that unto which he hath directed thee; and that thou shalt find if thou wilt be ruled by his counsel. Thou hast met with something, as I perceive, already; for I see the dirt of the Slough of Despond is upon thee; but that slough is the beginning of sorrows that do attend those that go in that way. Hear me: I am older than thou. Thou art like to meet with on the way which thou goest, wearisomeness, painfulness, hunger, perils, nakedness, sword, lions, dragons, darkness, and in a word death, and what not! These things are certainly true, having been confirmed by many testimonies. And why should a man so carelessly cast away himself by giving heed to a stranger?"

Then, this despicable character Worldly-wiseman give him some very bad advice - advice that had the appearance of being right, but in the end almost led Christian to the very destruction he was seeking to avoid! He says;

". . . Why wilt thou seek for ease this way, seeing so many dangers attend it? especially since, hadst thou but patience to hear me, I could direct thee to obtaining what thou desirest, without the dangers that thou in this way wilt run thyself into? Yea, and the remedy is at hand. Besides I will add, that instead of these dangers thou shalt meet with much safety, friendship, and content."

Well; of course Christian was interested in an easier way! Who wouldn't be? There was no doubt about it; the path that Evangelist sent him off onto was a very hard and unattractive one. And so, Mr. Worldly-wiseman sent Christian off on a much more attractive path - one that led him far from the wicket-gate. In fact, he sent him on a path that many people before him had chosen - the path of good works in accordance to the law of the Ten Commandments. But when Christian got to where that alternate path led, he found himself before Mount Sinai - and that the hill was too steep for him to climb. There were flashes of fire spewing out of the hill; and the hill shook and quaked so much, and the rocks and boulders that hung from it were so big precarious, that he felt for sure that he'd be crushed to death by them in no time. And worst of all, he found that the burden on his back had become more heavy and burdensome than ever. And so, there he lay before the mountain of God's law - in pathetic shape, and deeply sorry that he'd ever taken Worldly-wiseman's bad advice!

And it was then that Evangelist found him. Evangelist gently rebuked him for forsaking the right path and settling instead for an easier one. But he mercifully sent Christian back once again to the pathway that leads to the wicket-gate and far from the City of Destruction.

And here's the part that I want you to especially notice. In Bunyan's story, Evangelist sternly and clearly exhorted Christian with the words of our passage this morning - the very words our Savior Jesus Christ spoke in His Sermon on The Mount:

"Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:23-24).

I'd say Bunyan captured the spirit of those words very well; wouldn't you?

* * * * * * * * * *

I believe the context of these words is very important to consider. They were spoken by our precious Savior AFTER He had given us the main body of His great sermon. Matthew 7:13-27 give us His concluding remarks; and these concluding remarks constitute a bold call to action.

It's not enough that we hear all the wonderful teaching our Savior gives us in the Sermon on The Mount. They aren't merely pretty words meant to give us good feelings inside. They are spoken to be put into action. And so, Jesus gives His listeners a series of admonitions that are meant to force them to a choice. We must now make a decision to put what He says to action in our lives.

Look a little further ahead, and you'll see what I mean. In verses 15-20, he tells us to beware of false prophets who will come along and teach us contrary to what He has said and will lead us astray. He warns that we will know these false teachers by the fact that they do not themselves do what Jesus says. They are characterized by "bad fruit"; and so, Jesus tells us, "Beware!" "Therefore by their fruits you will know them" (v. 20). That's a word of warning we need after hearing such a sermon!

Then, in verses 21-23, Jesus warns us that some people who claim they are His followers will not be allowed to enter the kingdom of heaven. He says that they will talk a great talk! They will call Him, "Lord, Lord!" They will even appear to do miracles in His name. But their downfall will be that they don't do what He says. He will reject them, saying, "I never knew you you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!" (v. 23). How horrible! We need this warning, too!

Finally, in verses 24-27, He teaches us that those who hear His words of instruction in this great sermon - but do not do what He says - are like fools who build their house on sand. The wind and the rains will cause the house to fall. He also teaches us that those who hear His teaching - but then follow it up by obediently and faithfully doing what He says - these are like wise men who build their house on solid rock! You're probably familiar with that passage; but did you realize that it was intended to be understood as a call to obey what Jesus says in the Sermon on The Mount? We certainly need that warning as well!

In all of this, the cord that ties these passages together is the idea of a call to action and application! Choose! Decide! Stop sitting there passively; but arise and do faithfully what Jesus says. He is the King! These are His mandates to His subjects! Therefore, obey your King! And if I may, I suggest to you that the most important call to action - the initial one - is the one in our short passage this morning. It's not very long; so let's read it once again. And this time, hear it as a sober call to action!

"Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:23-24).

* * * * * * * * * *

The first thing I'd like to point out to you in this call is that . . .


You may have heard people say, "There are many different paths to heaven." But you'll notice that, in this passage, Jesus dispels that idea. There really aren't many paths to heaven - or "life". There's only one "gate" to life - not many "gates"; and there's only one "way" to life - not many "ways".

But I believe we can take it from Jesus' words that there is more than one ultimate destination. In fact, there are two - and only two. The first one that Jesus mentions is the destination of "destruction".

The Greek word translated "destruction" (apőleia) is one that can mean "waste". When a woman poured an alabaster flask of very expensive perfume on Jesus, His disciples were upset at her for doing so; and they used this word, saying, "Why this waste?" It gives us a picture of pointless loss. But it is also used to describe "ruin" or "destruction" or "annihilation" in an ultimate sense - "perdition" as it is sometimes translated. Paul, for example, used this word to warn about the dangers that come from a sinful love of money; "But those who desire to be rich fall into temptations and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition" (1 Timothy 6:9). The apostle Paul wrote of those upon whom God will show His wrath - "vessels of wrath", he called them, "prepared for destruction" (Rom. 9:22).

Jesus speaks here of an ultimate destiny - "destruction" in a complete sense; a state of complete spiritual loss and eternal ruin. It's a destiny that Jesus once described in horrifying terms as being "cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched - where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:45-46; see also Isa. 66:24). No one spoke more in the Bible about the horrors of hell than Jesus; and here, He lets us know that there is a "gate" one may choose to pass through, and a "way" one may choose to follow, that will ultimately lead to that end.

But He also tells us that there is a second destination - the destination of "life". I believe that we should take Him to be referring to "eternal life" - that is, entry into our eternal home in heaven for eternal fellowship with Him in glory.

Throughout His sermon, He gives hints of the ultimate destiny of heaven: saying, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (5:3); or warning that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, "you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven" (5:20). He speaks of taking care how we do things, "Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven" (6:1); and tells us to "lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven" (6:20).

The ultimate destiny of "life", then, is referring to an eternal home in heaven in our Father's house. And Jesus is telling us that there is a "gate" and a "way" that leads to "destruction"; and another "gate" and "way" that leads to "life".

* * * * * * * * * *

These are the only two destinies. There are no others. In another place, Jesus told us this as plainly as a thing could be said! Listen to His words. Do not resist them; because one of the things they do is confirm to us that there really are only two destinies. He said;

"When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, 'Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.' Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?' And the King will answer and say to them, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.' Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.' Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?' Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me'" (Matthew 25:21-45).

Then, hear carefully what Jesus says:

"And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life" (v. 46).

There are only two destinies: destruction or life. There are no others than these two. That's why there are only two "gates", and two "ways".

And before we go any further; let me pause to suggest to you that it is a great act of mercy on the part of our precious Savior that He tells us this! Every person in this room will experience one of those two destinies; but it isn't His desire that anyone of us face destruction as our ultimate destiny. He invites us to experience the destiny of eternal life.

You may be here this morning on the path of destruction. In fact, you may even know it very well. You may be just like Christian in Pilgrim's Progress - that is, you know that you have that horrible burden of sin on your back, and you know that you are doomed. But I hope that you can see the wonderful invitation that Jesus makes in this passage. He says, "Enter by the narrow gate" - that is, the gate to life. In fact, that is the main point of this whole passage - the invitation to you to "enter" at the right gate and be relieved of the burden of sin.

But it's up to you to make a choice of which gate you will enter; and which destiny will be yours. That choice is being offered to you authoritatively by the Son of God Himself. And He is inviting you today to choose the destiny of life. I hope and pray that you will.

* * * * * * * * * *

So then; there are only two destinies. One is of destruction; and the other is of life. This leads us to our second point; that . . .


Look at the three things that He is calling us to choose. First, He calls us choose to enter by the narrow gate. The narrow gate is the one that leads to life.

I believe that the "gate" is meant to be understand as none other than Jesus Himself. Elsewhere in scripture, He has said, "I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture" (John 10:9). He told the disciple Thomas, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6). He is the one through whom we have access to eternal life. As the apostle John says, ". . . This is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life" (1 John 5:11-12).

And do you notice that this gate is called "narrow"? I can almost hear someone complaining that the idea that Jesus is the "only way" is so "narrow". And indeed it is! Jesus - the Son of God sent from heaven - lets us know that, from the standpoint of men, the way to life is indeed very narrow. You have to squeeze your way through it. I believe that the extreme narrowness of this gate was described by Jesus for us when He said,

"If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it - lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26-33).

I'd say that is a very, very narrow "gate"; wouldn't you? There is only room for you to barely squeeze in - and you must leave all behind!

Contrast this, by the way, with the gate that leads to destruction. It is "wide". It doesn't require any sacrifice at all. Everyone who passes through it is "comfortable" and "unconstrained". There is no pressure. There is no sacrifice. Everyone prefers it. It's the popular gate to go through. No one makes fun of you when you choose it, or calls you names like "Jesus-freak" or "religious nut" or "fundamentalist wacko". It's decorated nicely and appeals to the fleshly passions. It's the respectable gate. And what's more, because it's so wide, there is room for you and for all the things of this world you want to bring with you - through this gate that leads to destruction.

But as the Bible warns, ". . . The world is passing away, and the lust of it . . ." (1 John 2:17). Oh, how much better it is to suffer the constraints of the narrow gate that leads to eternal life, than the comfortable passage through the wide gate that leads to destruction!

* * * * * * * * * * *

And having entered through the narrow gate, Jesus calls us to choose to walk upon the "difficult" or "straight" way. It is the path that leads from the gate and onward to eternal life.

Personally, I have come to understand this "difficult way" as a picture of the walk of a disciple of Jesus Christ - a faithful follower of His who lives life in accordance with His commandments. In fact, the Christian life is called "The Way" in the book of Acts (Acts 9:2). Jesus calls it a "difficult" or "straight" way; and the verb that is used (thibő) is one that means "to be compressed". It' s a path that is a real struggle to walk upon. And the verb is in the perfect tense; suggesting that it is always this way - that this is it's nature throughout our walk on earth as followers of Jesus.

Sometimes, people say that the entry through the gate is hard but the way itself gets better and better every day. And please understand - I can testify myself that my life IS much better and much happier as a follower of Jesus than it ever was apart from Him. But let's not do any false advertising here. It's better because I have Jesus as my Friend and Helper through all the many trials and difficulties. I have Him as my Teacher and Master to guide me through the rough and treacherous journey. But it definitely isn't "better" in the sense that it's "easier". Every day, I have to confront sins in my life that didn't bother me before I followed Jesus. Every day, I have to wrestle with opposition from the philosophies and values of this world. Every day, I have to seek to live my Christian life in the midst of a world that is hostile to my Lord and Master. Every day, I have to keep on my guard against an enemy who prowls around like a roaring lion - seeking whom he may devour. Every day, I have to say "no" to my own self in order to say "yes" to Jesus. Every day, I have to go across the grain of my own culture; and fight upstream against a world that is going in the opposite direction. Every day feels like I'm walking "up" on a crowded "down" escalator! Every day, I have to bear the shame of the cross. Every day that I walk this "way", I have to die.

As Jesus said, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it" (Luke 9:23-24). And as Paul has testified, ""I affirm, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily" (1 Corinthians 15:31). He once described his 'stroll' along the "way" that leads to life in these terms:

. . . in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness . . . (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).

And again, contrast this with the way that leads to destruction. Jesus says that it is "broad" or "spacious". It's a roomy road! It's a nice ride! There are lots of people on it. No one makes fun of you when you travel on it. No one persecutes you on it. No one tells you what to do. You can believe what you want to believe, or do what you want to do, or live how you want to live. It's the way that the world considers "free" and "open-minded" and "intelligent" and "respectable". It's the way to go if you want to go with the flow - to destruction.

But as the Bible tells us, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Prov. 14:12). How much better it is to suffer the temporal unpleasantness of the "dirt road" that leads to eternal life, than to ride "first class" on the well-paved highway that leads to destruction!

* * * * * * * * * * *

Jesus calls us to choose. He calls us to choose the "narrow gate" of faith in Him. He calls us to choose the "straight way" of discipleship. And finally, notice that Jesus calls us to choose to be identified with "the few who find" that path to life.

Jesus warns us that "there are many who go in by" the gate and along the way that leads to destruction. Literally, He uses a present tense participle - indicating that there are many who are doing so even now! And what's more, He lets us know that "there are few who find" the gate and the way that leads to eternal life. It's not that few go through it; it's that few even find it! And again, literally, He uses the same kind of verb to indicate that their are few even now who are finding it.

And while I would want to be careful about imposing aspects of the culture in which we live onto the things the Bible says, I think it's fascinating that even the people of this world speak in terms that affirm what Jesus says. Those who seek for eternal life through Jesus and follow the hard path of a disciple are called "narrow-minded" and "exclusivistic". We're told that we're "out of the mainstream". But those who walk through the "wide" gate along the "broad" way are called "tolerant" and "open" and "inclusive".

The people of this world agree 100% with Jesus' analysis of the two gates and the two ways. They even agree with Him in terms of the numbers that constitute the two crowds. But what they don't understand is that there are two destinies involved - nor do they understand the nature of those two destinies. How important, then, that we choose the "narrow" gate and walk the "straight" way with the "few" who find the path to eternal life! How much better it will prove to be to suffer the "light affliction, which is for a moment" in order to gain "a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Corinthians 4:17).

* * * * * * * * * *

In Pilgrim's Progress, Christian does make it through the wicket-gate. He does follows up the pathway to the cross of Jesus where his burden of sin falls away. A long and hard path of discipleship is stretched before him; but onward he goes on his pilgrim's journey to the Celestial City and to his heavenly home.

And along the way, Bunyan puts a little poem in Christian's mouth. I think it's a good poem with which to close off our look at this morning's passage:

The hill, though high, I covet to ascend,
The difficulty will not me offend;
For I perceive the way to life lies here;
Come, pluck up, heart, let's neither faint nor fear;
Better, though difficult, the right way to go,
Than wrong, though easy, where the end is woe.

Dear friend, which way are you on? To what destiny are you heading? The nature of Jesus' instruction in the Sermon on the Mount requires that you choose! And He points out to you today the way to eternal life!

Please choose life!

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