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  • Writer's picturePastor Brett

Start with the End in View

Matthew 7:13-14

          A pastor asked Sam, a member of his congregation and a licensed electrician, to rewire the sanctuary.  The only way to reach the wiring as to enter the attic through a trap door over the altar and crawl through the narrow space, balancing on the rafters.

          Sam’s wife, Ann, thought this sounded more than a little unsafe, so she accompanied Sam to the church on a Saturday morning.  She waited quietly in a pew, her eyes on the ceiling, high overhead.

          Unbeknownst to Ann, a couple other members were in the foyer, removing Christmas decorations.  They were unaware of Ann’s reason for being there, but she appeared to be in prayer, so they left her alone and worked quietly.

          They were surprised when Ann suddenly yelled at the ceiling, “Sam?  Are you up there?  Did you make it OK?”

          Imagine their greater surprised when Sam’s voice issued from the altar, “Yes, I have made it up here and everything is fine!”

          It seems they assumed Sam’s destination was some place higher than the attic!  This story illustrates how important it is to know where you’re headed and arrive there safely.

You are on a path.  It will come to an end. Arriving at the right destination requires choosing the right path.

          CONTEXT = This passage is a section of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7.  The seventh chapter explores what it means to be a true follower of Jesus.  As with the entire sermon, these two verses are very provocative.  Over the years, people have attempted, in various ways, to tone down the Sermon on the Mount.  For those of us who take it seriously, however, these life-giving words confirm the way to follow Jesus.      

1. What Jesus was NOT teaching.

          He was not reaching pessimism, but realism.  Upon first hearing, Jesus’ words may sound pessimistic, the product of a negative worldview.  That would, however, be out of character with the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, which has high expectations and is generally positive.

          With perfect foreknowledge, God knows every individual’s outcome before they are born.  That is ultimate realism. Realistically, most people will choose selfishness and sin over self-denial and righteousness.  Those facts are established by God’s foreknowledge.  This outcome is consistent with vs. 21-23 which warns of surprises on Judgment Day.  Don’t be surprised by God’s just judgment, prepare for it by believing and following TODAY.

          Jesus did not teach that it is OK for us to give up on evangelism.  Knowing the future and merely allowing it to happen are two different things.  I believe God knows the future and actively works to change it for the better.

          Each person chooses the gate they enter and the path they follow and they are held responsible for their choice.  We should not get hung up on the word FEW but join God in working to change that destination for as many people as we can.

          Jesus was not trying to get us to be anxious about our salvation.  Since our eternal outcome is a choice that is ours to make, we can worry about the way our life is trending at the moment.  We get concerned about our destination when we know we’ve stepped on the wrong path too often.

          Resolving doubt is part of the struggle to have faith.  That’s part of a biblical understanding of human nature.  As we face our doubts, we need to remember that our salvation is not earned.  We cannot lose by our works what we did not earn by our works.  That’s part of a biblical understanding of salvation.

          We triumph over our doubts by reflecting on the nature of God; He is true to us even when we are not true to Him.  Since salvation is the gift of our faithful God, it cannot be as flimsy as our fears try to convince us it is. 

          Jesus did not teach about a limited opportunity for salvation.  God’s offer of salvation is universally offered.  God’s will is that all people should be saved.  As Paul wrote to Timothy, “God our Savior...wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3-4)

          What makes the word FEW realistic is the fact that, given our ability to choose, FEW people will choose God. The reception of salvation is limited to those who will receive it by faith, but God’s offer is not limited.

          Numbers are our measure of success.  If God intended numbers to measure our success in being the Church, then the words MANY and FEW would be discouraging.

          Instead, we are to see MANY as being a great need and a great opportunity.  MANY will choose to live their lives refusing God.  They alone will pay for that choice.  We should partner with God and with one another to turn aside as many of that MANY as we can.  We start by having a genuine concern for the one in front of us right now.

2. What Jesus taught.

          The primary lesson is that it is difficult to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Note the contrast of the paths and their difficulties.

          One way is the path of least resistance; it is easy to find and walk upon.  The GATE is WIDE.  It is easy for the MANY to ENTER through it.  The way is like a HIGHWAY; it is BROAD, with lots of room for the many people who choose to walk upon it.  It is the popular choice, but it is a HIGHWAY TO HELL, ending in DESTRUCTION.

          The other way is a path of greater resistance.  The GATE is VERY NARROW, permitting only a FEW to enter by it.  The way is DIFFICULT and hard to find, potentially causing people to not choose it.  It will be an unpopular choice but it is the entrance to GOD’S KINGDOM, the place of eternal and abundant LIFE.

          From a merely worldly perspective, the path of least resistance is the most desirable one, but Jesus warned that it was the wrong path to find God.  It is worth the difficulties that followers of Jesus experience.

          Jesus’ followers will face hardship.   Especially in the three years of His earthly ministry, Jesus overcame many hardships.  If we are to follow in His footsteps, we shall have to do the same.  The Apostle Paul taught, as recorded in Acts 14:22, “We must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.”

          Jesus’ followers will face persecution.  Jesus faced opposition.  Every word He said and everything He did was subject to criticism.  As His followers, we will share that experience.  Jesus warned His disciples, “All nations will hate you because you are my followers.  But everyone who endures to the end will be saved.”  (Matthew 10:22)

          Jesus’ followers will always be in the minority.  The world exerts immense pressure to conform to its values.  Paul instructed the Roman believers to resist that pressure; “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.  Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

          This is not a New Testament concept only, but also appears in the Law given to Moses.  In Exodus 23:20 we read, “You must not follow the crowd in doing wrong.”  We are called to a higher standard of behavior which reflects our intimate relationship with God.

          There are at least three secondary lessons in this teaching.

          First, evangelism is a matter of getting people to switch paths.  If our love is genuine, our concern for their eternal destination is real.  This does not mean we need to be in a constant panic or be pushy.  1 Peter 3:15-16 requires us to have a ready answer to questions about faith and a winsome lifestyle that will appeal to unbelievers.

          Second. other approaches to God don’t work.  There is only one GATE and Jesus positively identified Himself as that GATE in John 10:9, “Yes, I am the gate.  Those who come in through me will be saved.”  To worldly minds, this truth appears to justify discrimination.  Instead, it is acknowledgement of an essential biblical truth.  We are saved by faith in Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12)

          Third, honest self-examination is necessary to assure yourself of the path you are on.  God’s will is that His people should be confident about their salvation.  One way we gain confidence is by looking at our feet, identifying the path upon which we are walking.  It is a matter of being assured by the general direction of our lives, not any feeling of confidence based on our good deeds or any other worldly measurement.

You are on a path.  It will come to an end. Arriving at the right destination requires choosing the right path.

          In closing, allow me to read to you a brief excerpt from a sermon entitled “Revival or the Spirit of the Age.”

          “There has never been a nation in the history of the world that has ever improved morally apart from a revival.  History gives us one remedy, and that is spiritual revival.

          “I warn you - the issue in the United States at this moment is not political.  It is spiritual.  What are we going to do with Jesus Christ?  That’s the question that should confront every person today.  The modern expressions of revolutions are the natural results of a lawlessness in the hearts of men.  We are rebels against God.

          “We have come to a place where we must have another revolution if we are to be saved.  The church must lead this revolution.  We must have a revolution against corruption in high places, against immorality, licentiousness and sensuality, which are pervading every realm of our society.

          “Christianity is not a religion for weaklings.  The challenge of the hour in which we live is so tremendous that it calls for the very best in us.  We must be strong, virile and dynamic if we are to stand.  The only thing that can give us this moral spiritual strength is a return to Christ.  Unless we turn to Christ, I despair for our future.  We are at enmity against God.  We have disobeyed His laws.” (pp. 26-27)

          Billy Graham preached this sermon.

          In 1957.

          You decide how relevant it is 67 years later.

 

RESOURCES:

          Message #798

          Billy Graham, “Revival or the Spirit of the Age,” Decision, January 2024, pp.24-27.

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