Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Judged by a T, Saved by a ♰

"That road you're on is crowded, boy. Do you know where you're going? You're going to Hell, son!"

It was the summer of '79 (not '69, no matter what Bryan Adams says). I was 15 years old, and I was on the beach in Charleston, S.C.

"You're going to Hell, son!"

Never mind that I was there with my church youth group, in town to attend the Southern Christian Youth Convention. I had been singled out for a verbal assault about my eternal destination.

"You're going to Hell, son!"

Now, to be completely transparent, I was wearing a black, three-quarter-length sleeve baseball t-shirt with some rock-and-roll slogan on it (sorry - it's been too long to remember. I do know that it looked a whole lot less lame than the picture above). I had seen the shirt in a bar on the boardwalk the day before and, because I wasn't old enough to go into the bar myself, had asked one of my sponsors to buy it for me.

Okay, that was pretty transparent.

But the shirt was pretty tame. I mean, I know for a fact there was nothing on it about sex and drugs. I could never have brought that home and hoped to have it washed, much less wear it again, even to mow the backyard!

And yet, the rebuke was pretty public, and pretty loud:

"You're going to Hell, son!"

Maybe you've had a similar experience. Maybe, like me, it was a street-corner (or boardwalk-corner) preacher with fire in his eyes and anger in his voice. Or maybe it was some well-intentioned (or not so well-intentioned) friend or co-worker.

Whatever your experience, it's possible that it is all brought back to the surface when you read Jesus' words in Matthew 7:

"You can enter God's Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way." (Matthew 7:13 NLT)

It certainly sounds like Jesus is talking about an eternal destination, doesn't it? But what if that wasn't His only intent?

You know, when I first had the idea for our JustJesus blog, my thoughts were that it would be a good outlet for Scott and I to dig deeper into Matthew in a way that we couldn't on Sunday mornings, or to address any text that we didn't get the chance to deal with.

It's the latter in this post, because somehow, at RCC, we completely missed teaching Matthew 7:13-14, not because it is controversial, and not for fear of offending anyone. No, we just missed it. I just missed it.

So, if you will, join me for a few moments in a study of this powerful (and maybe misunderstood) text.

I grew up hearing Jesus' words from the NIV:

"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destructions, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it." (Matthew 7:13-14 NIV84)

Before we go any further, here's a quick original language lesson from somebody who only had one semester of Greek (and made the "Delta" Society, not in a good way).

The word Jesus uses for broad can also be translated "easy." The word narrow can also be translated "hard" or "difficult." And the word road comes from the Greek word ὁδός (hŏdŏs), which can be translated as "way."

All three of those choices were used in the English Standard Version's translation:

"Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14 ESV)

hŏdŏs in the New Testament
That Greek word hŏdŏs, or way, appears exactly 100 times in the ESV. While Matthew uses it more than any other writer, the word is used in thirteen different New Testament books by at least nine different writers. In addition, for many early Christians, Jesus' teachings, including the Sermon on the Mount, were simply known as the way.

The imagery is that Jesus, as our Rabbi, is out in front on the road of life, while we, His disciples, His followers, are behind Him, staying close to Him by following His teachings. In fact, long before the church was ever called the church, Christians were called "followers of the Way." (Acts 9:2)

So, for the early Christian community, Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7 - the Sermon on the Mount - was an important road map for them to navigate the road of life. And at the end of His sermon, Jesus says, "Okay, listen up! Don't go through the wide gate. And don't take the broad, easy way."

In Jesus' world, towns were built with walls, and in those walls were gates. Some gates were really wide... I mean hundreds-of-men-women-children-donkeys-camels-oxen-carts-wagons-all-going-through-at-once wide.

But other gates were small, and narrow, and sharp. You could only go through those gates one at a time.

Like with all of His teachings, Jesus was using imagery that made perfect sense to first-century ears.

But what was He saying?

I believe that Jesus' point was, "Don't follow the crowd. I know that everybody is going through the wide, easy gate, but there's another way to live - My way - that goes against the flow of traffic. You go through the small gate. And you walk down the narrow, hard way."

What exactly is the small gate? Or, put another way, Who is the small gate?

For those of you who aren't tracking, I'll go ahead and give you the answer (and, by the way, it's usually a good answer to give to most Bible questions):

The answer is Jesus. Jesus is the small gate.

Later, in John 10:9, Jesus flat out says, "I am the gate," meaning, "I am the entrance to life."

So, if Jesus is the small gate, what is the hard, narrow way or road? (By the way, Jesus is not a good answer to give here.)

Well, if you remember from like two minutes ago, way can mean "teaching." The narrow, hard way is Jesus' teachings, including everything that He had just taught in Matthew 5-7.

"Love your enemies."

Is that the easy way or the hard way?

Are you kidding me? There's nothing easy about it.

"Live with generosity... with open hearts, open palms, and open pocketbooks."

Is that easy?

Absolutely not.

"Put your treasure in God, not in stuff on Earth, and in doing so, be set free from your worry and anxiety."

Is that easy?

Not even on a good day!

So, Jesus says, "Every day, you have a choice. There are two roads. You can go down one, and it's really easy. I mean, it's downhill. It's paved. Everybody's on the road - just follow the crowd. But here's the problem with that: It leads to destruction."

And now, we're back to my t-shirt.

Notice how ambiguous and elastic that word destruction is. There are no time-tables. Jesus doesn't say when. He doesn't say how. Jesus simply says, "Destruction."

In the age to come? In eternity? Absolutely, I mean, I do think that's in there, but also here and now, in this life.

There are ways of living that the crowds go after that are destructive in nature. Would you agree? At first, they feel like life and freedom and fun, but at some point, you wake up and you're in chains. The next thing you know, your life is marked by pain, and regret, and shame, and consequences, and brokenness. It leads to destruction. It is destructive here and now, and into eternity.

But Jesus says, "There's another way to live... My way... My teachings... and it's really hard."

Don't you love Jesus' honesty? He would have made a lousy salesman! I mean, there's no sales pitch or gimmick - "It's a small gate, but it's cozy. It's a narrow road, but it's level. And there's air conditioning... and free iced-tea!"

There's none of that.

It's narrow. It's hard. It's difficult.

But it leads to life!

If you have followed Jesus for any length of time, you know that is spot-on! Obedience to Jesus is difficult. It takes energy. It takes time. It can be costly.

But it leads to life!

Life in the future? Absolutely! But life today as well. Joy, peace, freedom from anxiety, freedom from fear...

Jesus' way... obedience to Jesus' teachings leads to life.

Put that on a t-shirt!