“The Narrow Way To Heaven” (Matthew 7:13-14 sermon)

A few years ago Cheryl & I were going to a big public event, and we were looking for the line to get in. We saw this one big crowded line, so we figured: That must be the one we need. So we got in line and waited — and of course, when we finally got up to the front, we found out that was NOT the right line. That was the line for those who had no tickets, and we already had ours. We should have been in the little short line instead; and if we’d taken it, we’d have been in much earlier!
Maybe you have been in that kind of situation before; and you found out that just “following the crowd” doesn’t necessarily get you to the right place.

Nowhere is this more true than in spiritual things. “Following the crowd” is a foolish policy. Just because “everybody” thinks something is true, does not mean that it is. In fact, you can pretty much count on it: if “everybody” thinks it’s true, it probably ISN’T! Following the crowd will not lead you to heaven.

Now someone may say: “But SURELY what virtually everybody thinks, cannot possibly be wrong!” Yes, it can! In fact that is exactly what Jesus tells us here in Matthew 7:13-14:

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

 

I. The Wide Road To Destruction

Jesus said: “The gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.”

He says several important things here: He says there is wide, broad way, that many people are taking — a lot of people think it’s right — but Jesus said that way leads to destruction. He is saying that a lot of people are going to think they are on the right road to heaven, but they aren’t. And in fact this is exactly what we see today.

The predominant religion of America today is NOT Biblical Christianity. What most people in our country believe today is a mix of deistic, “pop-religious” beliefs:
— That there is a good God in heaven; and all religions worship this same God, whatever their specific doctrines and beliefs.
— This God is a benevolent, grandfatherly figure who, like a grandparent, spoils you and won’t discipline you and would certainly never judge you.
— You can pretty much do whatever you want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody, and God will overlook it.
— We are all imperfect, but unless you are really bad — like a Hitler or Stalin or a mass-murderer — we will all go to heaven, as long as you are “sincere.”

An ABC news poll backs this up: 3/4 of Americans who believe in heaven think that people of all kinds of religious beliefs will be in heaven. Only 21% believe that only Christians will be there. So a vast majority of Americans think that any kind of religion will get you into heaven as long as you’re sincere. This is what most people believe.

I know of a pastor not long ago who ran into a person like that. He had just preached a message on Sunday about how Jesus is the only way to heaven, and later that week, he met a woman in the post office who saw him and said: “I visited your church Sunday, and I heard your message, but I disagree with it. She said, all the different religions are just different roads to heaven; you can take any of them, and we will all end up in the same place.” She said, “It is just like this Post Office: you and I came by different roads to get here, but we both arrived at the same place.” The pastor said: “There’s only one problem with that: when I die, I don’t want to go to the Post Office!” He went on to say: I want to go to heaven, and the Bible clearly teaches there is only ONE WAY to heaven, and that is through Jesus Christ.

Most people believe that “all religious roads lead to the same place”, but the problem, Jesus says, is that most people are WRONG. He says this “broad road” that most people believe in, leads to destruction — to HELL!

But can all those people really be wrong? Listen: one of the most oft-repeated lessons of the Bible is that the crowd is rarely right:
— In the days of Noah, the crowd laughed at Noah and his foolish “ark.” But the crowd was wrong. And they were wiped off the face the earth.
— When Joshua sent the spies to the Promised Land, 10 of the 12 said the obstacles were too great, and they couldn’t take it. But the majority was wrong! God WOULD have given them the land if they’d have believed and gone in, but instead, all but two of them died wandering in the wilderness, because they followed the crowd instead of what God told them.

That is the lesson Jesus is getting across here: don’t follow the crowd; morally, spiritually, in virtually any way. The crowd is going to lead you in the wrong direction.

There are some of us here today who have put yourselves in a dangerous position, because you are getting in the habit of following the crowd. You are following them in your clothing; you are following them in your entertainment; you are following them in your opinions and habits. You are getting in the bad habit of following the crowd, and Jesus says the crowd will lead you to destruction. Listen: it can be good to have friends, but quite honestly, it is better not to have any friends at all, than to have so-called “friends” who are leading you in the wrong direction. They will lead you into all kinds of destructive consequences here in this life, and if you continue to follow them, they will lead you to hell, because Jesus tells us that is where the crowd is eventually going.

So God’s message for some of us today is: get out of the line the crowd is in. That’s the wrong line! Just because there are a lot of people are in it, doesn’t mean it’s the right one for you! The broad way, the way of the crowd, leads to destruction.

 

II. The Narrow Way to Heaven

But Jesus said there is another way: “But the gate is small, and the way is narrow, that leads to life; and few are those who find it.”

Jesus said following crowd will lead you to hell, but He says there IS a way that leads to “life”, and by “life” there He means “eternal life.” There is eternal life to be attained — but He says most people are not going to get it. Again, this flies in the face of popular opinion, which thinks that most people are going to heaven — but Jesus says, NO: “few” are those who will find eternal life, because the way there is “narrow”; there are not “many ways” like the crowd thinks; in fact, Jesus says, there is ONE gate — and that one gate is small — there is only one way in.

If that is true, then the most important question of life is: What is that way? How do you get into heaven? We don’t have to wonder what it is; because it is so important, the Bible makes it very clear:
— In John 10:9 Jesus said: “I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved …”. Jesus said, I am that door; I am that “narrow gate” that leads to heaven.
— In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
Jesus says if you want to get to heaven, there is only ONE way to get there, and that is through following HIM as your Lord & Savior.

People say: that is so narrow-minded! But don’t you see, that is EXACTLY what Jesus says the way to heaven is: He said it is NARROW!
Now if you think that doesn’t seem right, consider that all truth, by definition, is narrow, isn’t it? Whenever we assert that one thing is true, that means that all other alternatives to that, are NOT true. That is just reality, in every area of life.

For example, in math, we assert that 2 + 2 = 4. That is an absolute truth, isn’t it? But the fact that that is true means that all the alternative answers to that, are false. If 2 + 2 = 4, and that is true, then it CANNOT also be 5, or 3, or 6, or 1, or anything else. 2 + 2 is 4, and only 4. Someone may say that is “narrow” — a child who gets that answer wrong on a test might accuse his teacher of being “narrow minded” — but the fact is, it is TRUE, and that truth by necessity excludes the other possible answers.

So in the same way, Jesus being the only way to heaven is not “exclusive” or “narrow minded,” it’s just the truth. And when you see the real condition of man, and the nature of God, you can understand WHY that is true:

See, the Bible tells us we were all made by God, in His image, to know Him and have fellowship with Him forever. But being made in His image, He made us with real personalities, and genuine free will. We are not robots; we are free to make choices: to freely love God, or not. And in fact, the Bible tells us we all freely chose to walk away from God, to disobey Him, and sin. God — not the god of some people’s imaginations who is like a benevolent grandfather, but the true God of the Bible — is a holy God. Sin can no more dwell in His presence than a piece of kleenex could lay undisturbed on the surface of the sun! It would be vaporized! Sin cannot dwell in heaven with God. And we have all sinned. All of us deserve to be cast away from God’s presence forever in hell. So if God had done nothing, and just left us alone, and let us go to Hell, He would have a been a good and perfect and just God. We would have just gotten what we deserved, and none of us could have complained about it.

But amazingly, God didn’t leave us like that. Even though we had turned our backs on Him and walked away and disobeyed and sinned, He still loved us, and showed mercy on us, came down to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ, who was 100% God, but put on a 100% human body that first Christmas, so that He could live a perfect life, and die as a real man on the cross to pay for the sins of mankind. And that was the ONLY way that our sins could be paid for. Hebrews 2:17 says “He had to be made like His brethren … to make propitiation for our sins.” It was the only way it could be done. We know that, because when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, and He knew the wrath that was about to come upon Him for our sins on the cross, He cried out to God the Father, asking if there were any other way, to let this pass from Him. But God sent Jesus to the cross because THERE WAS NO OTHER WAY! (You catch that: there was no other way!)

So Jesus died on the cross, paid for our sins, rose from the dead to prove who He was, and now He offers forgiveness to everyone who will turn from their sins and follow Him as their Lord & Savior. But that is the ONLY WAY. Not because we are “narrow minded;” not because we want to be “exclusive”; but because it is the truth, just like 2 + 2. There is no other religion that deals with the reality of man’s sin the way that Christianity does. All the other religions of the world can be summed up, in that they tell you “good works” to do to try to make you right with God. That is what all of them are about. But they are all inadequate; we can never be good enough. They don’t deal with our sin. And no other religious figure has done what Jesus did. Only He was the 100% God, 100% man, who died on the cross to pay for our sins and bring us to God. No one else has done that. Just as Jesus said in the Garden of Gethsemane, if there were any other way, He wouldn’t have had to do it. He would have just let us come those other ways! But the fact is, there was no other way. That is not being “exclusive;” it’s just the truth. There is only one way to heaven, and that way is through Jesus Christ.

Still, people will call us “narrow” for believing that — but perhaps we should actually take that as an encouragement — because Jesus said “the way is narrow that leads to life.” If the crowd is telling us we are “narrow-minded;” then we should rejoice — because Jesus said it is the narrow way that leads to eternal life.

And this truth is clearly taught in scripture:
— Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am THE way … no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
— The Apostles said in Acts 4:12 “There is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.”
— John said in I John 5:12, “He who has the Son has the life; he who does NOT have the Son, does NOT have the life.”
Nothing could be more clear from scripture; nothing is more central to Christian belief and teaching, than that Jesus is “the narrow way” and the only way to heaven.

But listen: this truth is under assault today — even in some Christian circles. There is now emerging a generation of people you would consider to be good, mainstream evangelical Christians, who are saying that there are people who will be saved who have never heard the name of Jesus. I heard on the radio the other day an author and broadcaster I generally respect (Eric Metaxas) who said he believes that there are “good” people all over the world who will be saved who will never hear Jesus’ name.

This particular man used the example of Cornelius, the Roman centurion, whom Acts 10 says was a God-fearing person. This man said there are people like Cornelius all over the world, who will be saved, but who, like Cornelius, don’t know Jesus’ name. But there are several things wrong with that example:
— For one, yes, Acts says Cornelius prayed, and gave alms to the Jews; he was what many would call a “good man.” But the Bible tells us that when Peter came to this man, who had done all these good works, HE WAS LOST! He was saved later in the chapter when Peter preached about Jesus, and he heard the message and he believed in his heart, and the Holy Spirit came upon on, and he was saved. But what this tells us is that this “good man” who had never heard the gospel, was LOST until he heard about Jesus through Peter!
— And it is significant that when there was this “god-fearing” man, who evidently had some kind of faith in God, though incomplete, GOD MADE A POINT TO GO TO GREAT LENGTHS TO SEND SOMEONE TO SHOW HIM JESUS! God gave him a dream, and told him to expect Peter to come; and then God sent Peter a dream, and told him to go to Cornelius. God went to what we would consider a lot of trouble to do it, but He got the message of Jesus to this man who wanted it. But why bother with all that, if Cornelius was already saved anyway without Jesus? The truth was, he wasn’t saved, he was lost, and that’s why God did all that to get the gospel message to him. Because it was the only way he could be saved.

And I think that one of the lessons here is, that whenever there is a person who really wants to know salvation, God will show them Jesus, just like He did to Cornelius. My sister, who serves with the IMB in southeast Asia, is an example of that. She went to a village some years ago where there was a man who told her: some time ago, I wanted to know the one true God, and know how my sins could be forgiven, and God gave me a dream and told me that someone was going to come and show me the truth. And he said, YOU are the answer to my prayer, and to my dream!
See, just like Peter with Cornelius in Acts, God will send His messenger to anyone who is really seeking Him — even from halfway around the world.

Now we don’t know exactly how that works in every situation, and people are so good at coming up with all kinds of “hypothetical situations” like “Well what if there was a person in such and such a place, and the gospel could never get to them” — but the truth is, God doesn’t work in “hypothetical situations;” He works in real life cases. And in real life cases, we see over and over that God gets the gospel to those who need it. And we can be confident that as a good God, He will always do what is good and just in every situation. As Abraham said in Genesis, the Judge of all the earth will deal justly. No one will ever say to God in eternity, “You did not treat me fairly.” We may not always know what that is; our knowledge is limited.

But one thing we must NOT do is compromise God’s word. So many people are saying, “Oh, God is not going to judge anyone and send them to hell. There are other ways to get to heaven besides Jesus.” But this directly contradicts what God has clearly taught us in His word.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we must be committed to believe the word of GOD, not our own logic, or what “sounds good” or “makes sense” to most people. There are going to be things that are not popular, or may not make sense to us, because we are not God, and “His ways are higher than our ways” (Isaiah) but we are to trust what HIS WORD says, and live by it, and take our stand on it, when no one else believes it, and it is unpopular and even dangerous to do so. This is a test of our faith.

I tell our new members in our Discovering The Ridge class that the word of God is the foundation for everything we believe and do in this church. And that is where we are going to take our stand.

The last day of this month, we celebrate how 500 years ago, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther took his stand on the word of God against the false teachings of the church of his day, proclaiming: “Don’t tell me what the pope said; don’t tell me what the council said; SHOW ME SCRIPTURE! Here I stand; I can do no other.” And God is calling those of us who would be His people today to do the same thing. No matter what the crowd says, we must take our stand on the word of God.
— And His word says: “The gate is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.
— His word says: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
— His word says: “There is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.”
As followers of Jesus Christ, and believers in the word of God, HERE WE STAND, WE CAN DO NO OTHER!

But what we also need to understand is that “the narrow way” is not merely a “doctrine” for us to believe. If we really mean it, we’ve got to put it into practice:

— First of all, that means we need to make sure that we ourselves actually enter through that narrow gate. It is not enough to “know” in your head there’s only one way to heaven. You must personally turn back from the direction “the crowd” is going; you’re headed off the cliff with them right now, and you need to change directions. Turn away from the crowd — and turn to follow Jesus, who is “the narrow way.” Make Him the Lord & Savior of your life. And when someone asks you: “How are you going to deserve to go to heaven?” say: “I DON’T deserve it; but Jesus died on the cross for me, and HE is my only hope of salvation.” Put your faith in Him today and make sure that you yourself are entering through “the narrow gate” of salvation through faith in Jesus.

— And then secondly, if we really believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven, then we should be telling people how to get to heaven through Him. It doesn’t have to be a big theological presentation; just say: “The only way I’m getting to heaven is through what Jesus did for me on the cross.” You can do that! But we’ve got to tell people. If we really believe Jesus is the only way, then we’ve got to share that. Some of us today need to pray and ask God to help us point people we know to Jesus as the only way to heaven.

— And then, if we really believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven, and that all those other religions are false, then we’ve got to be committed to give and pray and go on mission so that people around the world will know that one way of salvation through Jesus! Just like Romans 10 says: “Whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved … but how will they believe in Him whom they have not heard … and how will they preach unless they are sent?” We’ve got to go; we’ve got to pray; we’ve got to give to send people to go tell:

— We need to give to send our 12 students to Germany to share the gospel. We brought in over $1000 last week on the youth missions lunch; that’s a good start but we’ve got a long way to go; let’s keep giving.
— Let’s give to the Operation Christmas Child we’ll be doing in November that gives gifts to kids around the world and tells them about Jesus.
— Let’s give to build the church in India that Bro. Ray is going to tell us about next Sunday where people are being told about Jesus.
— Let’s plan to give to the Lottie Moon offering we take at Christmas that supports our almost 4000 Southern Baptist missionaries around the world.

If we really believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven, then we need to give like it’s saving people’s lives. Oscar Schindler was a German businessman who lived during the Second World War, who employed Jews in his factory. At first he did it for profit, but over time he began to really love those people. He built a relationship with German SS officers, and bribed them to keep his workers out of the concentration camp. Over the years he ended up giving everything he had, to save their lives, until he eventually went bankrupt. Schindler gave everything he could, because it was purchasing freedom from death for over 1,200 Jews.

We should be that same way with missions today. People may say, you guys sure take up a lot of missions offerings. But we don’t do this just because it’s a “nice thing to do” that makes us “feel good.” We do it because all these people need to hear about Jesus. There needs to be a church in India where those villagers can hear about Jesus. There’s some students in Germany who need our young people to tell them about Jesus. We shouldn’t be like “Oh, I have to give again;” NO, instead we should be cutting every corner, we should be giving everything we can at every opportunity we can. We should almost bankrupt ourselves like Oscar Schindler did, because we know that every dollar we spend on something else could be going not just to save somebody’s life, but to change somebody’s eternity!

Should we really give that radically? Well, it all comes down to this: Do we really believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven? If we do, then we are going to live like we believe that:
— If we really believe it, then we’re gonna get on that road ourselves.
— If we really believe it, then we are going to tell people about it.
— If we really believe it, then we’re going to give like it.

And if we really believe it, then when the whole world is going the other way, and pressuring us to go along with them, we’re going to take our stand, even if we have to do it all alone, and we are going to keep walking in the other direction. Because we know that it is Jesus Christ Himself who told us: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide, and the way is broad, that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter through it. But the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.”

 

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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