A Commentary by John Stott
Matthew 7:13-14. A Christian’s relationships: to false prophets.
A number of commentators suggest that the main body of Jesus’ Sermon (or teaching) is now over, and that with verse 13 the application or conclusion begins. Certainly he emphasises here even more strongly than before the necessity of choice. *Enter by the narrow gate*, he begins. That is, the contrast between the two kinds of righteousness and of devotion, the two treasures, the two masters and the two ambitions has been fully portrayed; now the time for decision has come. Is it to be the kingdom of Satan or the kingdom of God, the prevailing culture or the Christian counter-culture? Jesus continues with his presentation of the alternative as he describes the two ways (broad and narrow), the two teachers (false and true), the two pleas (words and deeds) and finally the two foundations (sand and rock).
1. The inescapable choice (13,14).
What is immediately striking about these verses is the absolute nature of the choice before us. We would all prefer to be given many more choices than only one, or better still to fuse them all into a conglomerate religion, thus eliminating the need for any choice. But Jesus cuts across our easy-going syncretism. He will not allow us the comfortable solutions we propose. Instead he insists that ultimately there is only one choice, because there are only two possibilities to choose from.
First, there are two ways. This concept is found already in the Old Testament. Psalm 1. for example, contrasts ‘the way of the righteous’ who delight in God’s law, bear fruit and prosper, with ‘the way of the wicked’ who are driven like chaff before the wind and perish. Now Jesus elaborates the picture. One way is easy. The word means ‘broad, spacious, roomy’ (AG), and some manuscripts combine these images and call this way ‘wide and easy’. There is plenty of room on it for diversity of opinion and laxity of morals. it is road of tolerance and permissiveness. It has no curbs, no boundaries of either thought or conduct.
Travellers on this road follow their own inclinations, that is, the desires of the human heart in its fallenness. Superficiality, self-love, hypocrisy, mechanical religion, false ambition, censoriousness – these things do not have to be learnt or cultivated. Effort is needed to resist them. No effort is required to practice them. That is why the broad way is easy.
The *hard* way, on the other hand, is narrow. Its boundaries are clearly marked. Its narrowness is due to something called ‘divine revelation’, which restricts pilgrims to the confines of what God has revealed in Scripture to be true and good. C.S.Lewis described in his autobiography how as a schoolboy of thirteen he began to ‘broaden his mind’. ‘I was soon (in the famous words) altering “I believe” to “one does feel”. And oh, the relief of it! … From the tyrannous noon of revelation I passed into the cool evening twilight of Higher Thought, where there was nothing to be obeyed, and nothing to be believed except what was either comforting or exciting’. It is a fact that revealed truth imposes a limitation on what Christians may believe, and revealed goodness on how we may behave. And in a sense this is ‘hard’. Yet in another sense, as Chrysostom pointed out centuries ago, Christ’s hard and narrow way is also to be welcomed as his ‘easy yoke’ and ‘light burden’. (Mt.11:30).
Secondly, there are two gates. The gate leading to the easy way is *wide*, for it is a simple matter to get onto the easy road. There is evidently no limit to the luggage we may take with us. We need leave nothing behind, not even our sins, self-righteousness or pride. The gate leading to the hard way, on the other hand, is *narrow*. One has to look for it to find it. It is easy to miss. As Jesus said in another connection, it is as narrow as a needle’s eye. Further in order to enter it we must leave everything behind – sin, selfish ambition, covetousness, even if necessary family and friends. For no-one can follow Christ who has not first denied himself. The entry is also a turnpike gate: it has to be entered one by one. How can we find it? It is Jesus Christ himself. ‘I am the door,’ he said, ‘if any one enters by me, he will be saved.’ (Jn.10:9)
Tomorrow: Matthew 7:13-14. A Christian’s relationships: to false prophets. (continued).
|The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of the Sermon on the Mount. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.|