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SERMON ON THE MOUNT: PART TWENTY-FIVE

PRESENTED ON 02-21-09

      

       With our discussion of the Golden Rule last week, we came to the end of the behavioral instruction contained in the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus now turns to instruction on what to do to insure the teaching He has provided is applied.  He begins by talking about the two gates.

       Matthew 7:13-14: Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

       Taken at face value, this teaching sounds rather scary. It is rather startling. Christ is talking about two gates.  There is this wide gate connected to a broad road that leads to destruction and many enter this gate and walk down this road.  Then there is this narrow gate that is connected to a narrow road.  This gate leads to life and only a few find it.  If destruction is to be associated with eternal death and life is to be associated with eternal life, you would have to conclude from this saying that the majority of the human race, past, present and future will be traveling down that broad road that leads to hell. Is this the kind of destruction and kind of life being addressed here?

       In traditional Christian teaching the narrow gate would be seen as the pathway to heaven and the wide gate as the pathway to hell.  But is heaven and hell in the mind of Jesus as He makes these extraordinary statements? 

       Jesus’ opening statement in the Sermon on the Mount was instruction to be poor in spirit in order to be in the Kingdom. Kingdom living is the focus right from the beginning of Jesus’ sermon.  We saw that to be poor in spirit was to be of a contrite heart.  Being humble before God and recognizing it is only by the grace of God that we can be in the kingdom.  To be poor in spirit is to admit to our spiritual poverty and destitution outside of the life giving power of the spirit of God.

       Jesus continued by instructing that those who mourn will be comforted. We saw the mourning is being grieved over sin and being grieved over sin flows from being poor in spirit. Mourning is the natural outcome of recognizing our total reliance on God and our need to respond to that condition by ordering our lives in accordance with Gods will.  To be poor in spirit is to discover our spiritual poverty which should lead to automatically being grieved at anything that would interfere with having reconciliation with God.  

       Jesus continued by teaching we are to be meek which we saw is not to glory in ourselves and to truly treat others as better than ourselves.  Just as being grieved and mourning over sin flows from being poor in spirit, being meek flows from mourning over sin and recognizing we humans are all in the same boat spiritually speaking and when we see faults in others we must realize we are no better and so in a spirit of humility we should help restore others who may be experiencing a trial or caught up in sinful behavior.  

       Jesus continued by teaching that we should hunger and thirst for righteousness which we saw as being in a continual mode of willingness to change and recognize that true righteousness is a function of the forgiveness of God resulting in the indwelling of the righteousness of Christ to which we respond by manifesting the law of love in our lives.

       Later on in His sermon Jesus instructed that our primary focus needs to be on the things of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus made it very plain in His closing remarks to the middle section of His Sermon that we are to seek first the Kingdom of God. 

       Matthew 6:33: But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

        The “all these things” Jesus is referring to are the physical things of this life that we have need of as is plainly seen in the proceeding scriptures of this passage.  God knows we need certain things to survive.  Those things, however, should not be our focus. God is concerned about where our focus is.  Is it strictly on insuring that we personally get all are needs met or is it one of seeing that the needs of others are met as well.  In the context of the Sermon on the Mount, what does it mean to first seek the Kingdom and the righteousness associated with it?

       A man came to Jesus asking what he must do to enter into life.  Jesus told him to obey the commandants and then Jesus recited several of the commandments governing human relations.  The young man replied that he had kept these commandments but wanted to know what else he needed to do. Here is Jesus’ reply.

        Matthew 19:21-22: Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. 

        Jesus didn’t tell this man to sell all his possessions. He didn’t tell him to become destitute, take a vow of poverty, join a monastery or become a ward of the state. Jesus told him to sell his possessions and give to the poor.  This man had great wealth.  He apparently had much more than he needed to meet his needs and the needs of his family. Jesus was simply telling him to share his wealth with those in need.  This apparently was more than this man was willing to do.  He went away sad because he had great wealth. He had treasure boxes filled with precious things and it was these possessions that held him captive.  It was in his possessions where his heart was. 

       In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is saying, “don’t accumulate treasures on earth which will deteriorate and be of no use to anyone.  Use what you have to facilitate the love of God and in so doing you will build treasure in heaven which is to say you will be pleasing to God. God wants us to invest in Kingdom living which is living directed to meeting the needs of others.

       As we saw last week, Jesus concluded the instructional content of His sermon by stating the Golden Rule and how all the law and the prophets are summed up in that one regulation. The focus of the Sermon on the Mount from beginning to end is Kingdom living.  Jesus mentions the Kingdom eight times in the Sermon on the Mount.  We are to seek to live by the tenets of the Kingdom.  Christ teaches those tenets in the Sermon on the Mount. 

       To understand Jesus’ presentation of the two gates we must place this teaching in the overall context of what He had taught to this point.  To this point, Jesus is teaching what it means to be in the Kingdom.  What it means to live by Kingdom standards. He is showing that Kingdom living is not some far off goal to be attained far into the future or first attained once we leave this physical life.   Jesus is teaching how we are to live in the here and now.  Kingdom living is what Jesus came to preach.  After His baptism and after John was put into prison what do we see Jesus doing?

       Mark 1:14-15: After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. "The time has come," he said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!"

       This is just one of dozens of references in the gospels that show Jesus preaching and teaching about the Kingdom of God and showing it is something we can enter now while in this physical life and something Christ expects and exhorts us to enter.  The whole intent of the Sermon on the Mount was to provide a road map as to how we are to behave as citizens of the Kingdom. 

       When Jesus instructs us to enter the narrow gate rather then the wide gate He is not talking about heaven versus hell.  He is not talking about eternal life versus eternal death.  He is talking about living according to the instruction He had just provided which He summarized in stating the Golden Rule.  He is talking about experiencing the benefits of living according to the standards of behavior He had been teaching, standards which if followed, lead to a life of joy peace and success as opposed to the destructive consequences of living a life characterized by behavior that is contrary to the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. 

        Jesus is laying before His listeners the choice of the narrow or wide road.  The one road is called the straight and narrow because it is a road that has perimeters of behavior.  It is a road that establishes a specific direction in which to travel.  It is like a spiritual GPS, )Global Positioning System), which some of you have in your cars.  The narrow road maps out the route we are to travel in order to fulfill the way of life God wants for us to have.  Jesus says “enter this gate.  Go down this road.  The result will be a satisfying life.

       The wide gate leading to the broad road doesn’t have a GPS.  This road doesn’t have set parameters.  This road doesn’t have a specific direction.  This road often changes direction and does not have an established route of travel.  This road can lead to all sorts of problems and difficulties in life.  This road can lead to destructive consequences that bring pain, suffering and tribulation.   This road can bring gloom, despair and agony. Several of the cast of the old Hee-Haw show featuring Buck Owens and Roy Clark use to sin a song that went like this:

       Gloom, despair and agony on me.  Deep dark depression, excessive misery

If it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all. Gloom, despair and agony on me

       In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was showing the way to avoid gloom and despair. Jesus provided the pathway to healthy, robust and successful human relations.  He now is characterizing this pathway by calling it the straight and narrow gate. Christ is asking His listeners to choose the narrow road and in doing so they will choose life.  Not life in the sense of eternal life versus eternal death but life in the sense of living the way God intended rather than suffering the consequences of living contrary to what God intended. 

       From the beginning God has given man the choice to choose between right and wrong, good and evil, life and death.  God gave Adam and Eve this choice.  They made the wrong choice.  God gave Israel this choice and they largely made the wrong choice.  Christ is now teaching His listeners that thy have this choice and He indicates that many of them will make the wrong choice.  The history of the world to the present day shows that the many make the wrong choice.

       Deuteronomy 30: 15-20: See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

       Jesus came to introduce a new land.  Not the physical land of Israel but the spiritual land of the Kingdom of God, a spiritual Kingdom that is characterized by righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. These are all spiritual attributes. This is how Apostle Paul defined the Kingdom. 

       Romans 14:17-19; For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

        The Sermon on the Mount is all about living according to the tenets of the Kingdom of God.  Paul said the Kingdom is a matter of righteousness, peace and joy.  In the same context Paul writes of behaving in a way that leads to peace and mutual edification. 

       What is the Sermon on the Mount all about?  What does Jesus teach in the Beatitudes?  Blessed are the Peace makers.  As to teaching righteousness, that is what the entire Sermon on the Mount is about.  Christ told His audience that unless their righteousness exceeded the righteousness of the religious leaders, they would not enter the Kingdom.  When Jesus speaks of the straight and narrow way He is speaking of the way of righteousness.  When He speaks of the broad road He is speaking of the way of unrighteousness. 

       The Kingdom of God is all about behavioral dynamics.  It is all about how we relate to our fellow man and how we relate to our fellow man dictates our relationship with God.  God wants us to live the law of love.  God wants us to be Golden Rule Christians.  When we practice Golden Rule Christianity, which is the only legitimate form of Christianity, we will be pleasing to God.  We will be traveling the straight and narrow road.  If we are on that other road, we will not be pleasing to God.   

       I want to repeat at this point that the two road analogy that Jesus gives is not specifically dealing with eternal life as opposed to eternal death.  It is not specifically dealing with salvation issues.  Jesus doesn’t discuss salvation issues in the Sermon on the Mount. The audience He was addressing did not know who He was at this point in His ministry.  He apparently gave this sermon shortly after He began his ministry.  They didn’t know He was the promised Messiah.  They didn’t know He was born to be their Savior or the Savior of the world.  There was no altar call connected with the Sermon on the Mount.  Christ didn’t invite anyone to accept him as their Savior.

       As we discussed at the beginning of this series, a major focus of Jesus in this sermon was to expose the religious leaders to be the hypocrites that they were and to warn the people not to behave as they do.  Remember what Christ said near the beginning of His sermon?   

       Matthew 5:20: For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

       The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were traveling down the broad road with the wide gate, the gate and road that led to destruction.  They were righteous on the outside but not on the inside.  They had a form of Godliness but denied the power thereof. This is why we see Jesus calling them whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside, are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean..  

       The really sad part is that they thought they were on the right road.  They thought it was they who were entering the narrow gate.   Jesus showed them to be traveling the broad road.  Jesus came to teach a better way.  This wasn’t a new way.  We saw last week that the Golden Rule and law of love are plainly taught under the Old Covenant. But the religious leaders had made a virtual god out of the letter of the law while ignoring the spirit of the law.  Jesus was stressing the spirit of the law as the foundation of the Christian ethic.  This is why He spoke of the Golden Rule summing up the law and the prophets.  

        Jesus was introducing a kind of Kingdom that was little understood.  The religious leaders and many of the people were looking for a physical Kingdom to replace Roman rule.  What Jesus was teaching didn’t fit their paradigm of the Kingdom.  Love your enemies?  You got to be kidding.  Do good to those who persecute you?  Only a fool would do that.  Be a peace maker when the Romans are breathing down our backs.  Give me a break. 

        What Jesus was teaching must have sounded strange to many of His listeners.  But Jesus was showing that the Kingdom of God was a matter of the heart.  It was a matter of how we behave toward one another and toward God. It is a matter of what is in you and not external to you.  Jesus made this very plain in responding to a question of the Pharisees.

       Luke 17:20-21: Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, "The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation,  nor will people say, `Here it is,' or `There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you."

       Some translations translate “within you” as “among you,” as an alternative meaning. Among you is not the common meaning as shown in Arndt, Gingrich and Bauer’s Greek Lexicon. For example, in Matthew 23:26, Christ told the Pharisees to, “First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside will be clean.” The Greek word translated “inside” is the same word translated “within” in the above quote.  It is sometimes explained that Christ was referring to Himself as the King of the Kingdom being present with them and therefore among them. But Christ was obviously visible to the Pharisees and he is here answering their question about when the Kingdom will appear by saying it does not come visibly. Jesus appears to be teaching the Kingdom is a matter of what is inside the heart.  It is constantly associated in scripture with the practice of righteousness and Jesus shows in numerous statements during His ministry that the Kingdom was something that could be entered into at that time. Matthew recorded that Jesus said:

       Matthew 11:12:  From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. 

       This should plainly tell us that the Kingdom is not a phenomenon that is yet to arrive but was a happening that was developing in the first century.  We know John preached that the Kingdom was at hand and that people should repent.  Jesus preached the same thing.  To repent is to change ones way of doing things.  Kingdom living is all about a changed way of living.  It is all about the narrow road.

       There are scriptures that teach the Kingdom is an ongoing and eternal experience. There are scriptures that indicate the Kingdom involves power, authority and rulership. But there are dozens of other scriptures that show the Kingdom to be a present reality involving a way of life. There are multiple dozens of scriptures that discuss the Kingdom and if you carefully examine them you can’t help but see the Kingdom as pertaining to a way of life characterized by righteous behavior.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus discusses the Kingdom in this manner.  When Jesus speaks of the narrow road He is speaking about the Kingdom road.  He is speaking about a way of life that reflects Kingdom living.

       Why does Jesus say the many enter the wide gate and only a few enter the narrow gate?  Looking at the history of the human race, it can be seen that it has been the many who have entered at the wide gate compared to the few who have entered at the narrow gate. But remember that many and few are relative terms. Millions compared to billions is to compare few to many.  Billions may have entered the wide gate while only millions have entered the narrow gate.  Does this mean that the billions are lost forever while only the small group of millions, comparatively speaking, will have eternal life? 

       Remember, the subject here is not eternal life versus eternal death.  The subject here is living your life as a citizen of the Kingdom while in this physical life as opposed to having to experience the destruction that living contrary to the Kingdom life brings to our physical lives.  While living the Kingdom life as opposed to not living it has associations with eternity, this is not the immediate focus in the Sermon on the Mount. 

        Next time we meet we will examine Jesus’ teaching about the good and the bad fruit.

SERMON TWENTY-SIX