“The Two Ways”
September 15, 2013
Jesus’ people prefer to choose Jesus’ way.
I. Prefer to choose the narrow way
II. Prefer to choose integrity of heart and hands
III. Prefer to know the Lord
IV. Prefer to take Jesus’ words seriously
I’ve been seriously reading science fiction a little bit longer than I’ve been seriously reading the Bible. So it’s inevitable that sometimes Scripture brings to mind a science fiction idea. This week it was what they call parallel universes: at every moment, or maybe every time a significant decision point is passed, the universe splits into two complete universes differing only by the outcome of that decision. At the next decision point the universes split again, and so on until you have an infinite number of parallel universes differing in greater detail. Oddly quantum physics may support this idea, at least conceptually.
So in one universe Hitler invades England, in the other he doesn’t. In one universe Chamberlain orders the charge down Little Round Top in another he doesn’t. In one universe you ask your wife to marry you, in another you don’t. In one universe you decide to live in Kingwood, not Clear Lake. I’ve often wondered what our lives would have been like if Gail and I had made that choice.
But Scripture doesn’t point to infinite universes with infinite endings, it describes one universe with the ending God promised. In this universe our choices are significant, because they have true and eternal consequences. Many of our decisions are choices between Jesus’ way and our own way. At the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus presents four choices that are really that one critical choice: his way or not. As Jesus’ people we must choose Jesus’ way.
We begin at Matthew 7:13, skipping over much of the Sermon on the Mount. Actually, Todd’s going to preach from chapter 6 next week while Gail and I go visit Bethany, so we won’t skip it all. Chapters 5 and 6 of the Sermon focus on our heart attitudes. The Beatitudes call us to radical dependence on God and the rest of these chapters call us to radical obedience at a heart level.
Chapter 7 begins with a command not to judge others, to remove the logs from our own eyes before we try to take the specks from others. It encourages us to ask, to knock and to seek from God, to trust that a good God answers these prayers. Finally, just before Jesus begins this contrast of the two ways, he summarizes much of his teaching with what we call the Golden Rule: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” The essence of his ethics is love for others.
In the next four paragraphs he lays out contrasts to show that we, as his listeners, can choose his way or the wrong way, the world’s way. We begin with 7:13-14:
“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
The culture we live in thinks there are many ways to God, or none, and that we should all make our own choices. But Jesus says there are really only two choices: man’s way and God’s way. The right way is a narrow path, but the wrong way is wide – so wide that the many entering it appear to have made wildly different choices: materialism, polytheism, atheism, dozens of works based religions, or blind preoccupation with pleasure or power. But all these share an essential self-focus; they depend on me to get me to heaven, or to defy heaven. And Jesus says all of these choices lead to one place, destruction.
God’s way is the narrow way that leads to eternal life. His way is, in a very real sense, Jesus himself. In John’s Gospel he says “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep… I am the door; if anyone enters through me, he shall be saved.” He says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” God’s only provision for man’s salvation and entrance to the Kingdom is faith in Jesus Christ as Messiah King and Savior.
So all people are faced with this choice. You can approach God trusting in the blood of Jesus, his sacrifice that paid the price of sin, or you can go through the wide gate with all its alternative philosophies and find yourself at the judgment seat of God still bearing your sin. Jesus gathers all excuses, evasions and alternate religions together under one heading, the wide gate, and says ‘here’s the place where everything divides, where choices are meaningful.”
This really bothers those who don’t believe: “Why do you Christians think you have the only way?” It’s true that sometimes Christians convey this truth with such superiority or pride or evident hypocrisy that we make it unappealing: we need to appeal to a dying world with humility and tears. But many would admit, if they could be honest, that they are not bothered by the fact that there is only one answer, but that to choose this way is to turn from their pride, their possessions, and their pleasures – and they don’t want to do that.
And they’ve got a good point: the path of the unbeliever is a road that is wide and seems easy. But the path you enter through the gate is narrow and hard. It’s fascinating that the word ‘narrow’ means compressed or pushed on and is the root word for persecution in the New Testament; God’s people walking Jesus’ way will be pushed on by the world: tried and tested and tempted by tribulation and trouble on the narrow way. Yet it is the way that leads to life.
So there are two ways, and your choice is meaningful. Have you chosen the narrow way of faith in Christ and trust in his redeeming sacrifice? Or are you entering the wide gate that puts faith only in yourself? We have to prefer Jesus’ way.
Part of the problem, of course, is that there are always those who are trumpeting and beckoning to the wrong road. Jesus says these false prophets can be recognized by their fruit. Verses 15 to 20: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
The New Testament inherits from the Old a recognition that some who claim to speak in the name of God are not genuine. They come, Jesus says, in sheep’s clothing. They seem committed to God, even to Jesus, they seem zealous, they seem to be looking out for the interests of others, but inside they are wolves whose purpose, often unadmitted even to themselves, is to tear others down. These false prophets, Jesus says, can be recognized by their fruits. A wolf, even wrapped in a sheepskin, is still ravenous, and ultimately shows itself.
As Don Carson says, “From a distance the berries on the buckthorn could be taken for grapes, and the flowers on the thistle might deceive one into thinking they were figs. But no one would be long deceived. So with people! One's "fruit"—not just what one does, but all one says and does—will ultimately reveal what one is. The test is certain, but not necessarily easy or quick. Living according to kingdom norms can be feigned, but what one is will eventually reveal itself in what one does. However guarded one's words, they will finally betray him.”
What are these fruits? We have to be careful, for false prophets can sometimes seem to have enviable fruit. They may be attested by convincing signs and seeming wonders. As Jesus says in verse 22: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophecy in your name, and in your name cast out demons, and in tour name perform many miracles?’” False prophets can appear righteous. Paul will later write “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.”
But if religious wonders and outward acts are not a reliable way to look for fruit, what is? Scripture gives us two reliable guides. First, doctrine. False prophets speak from their own delusion, not by divine command.
Jeremiah 23 describes this, saying things like “They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. 17They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’” Often these false prophets deny unpleasant subjects such as impending judgment. They say “‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.” They tell people what they want to hear. As Paul tells Timothy “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions.” Often they deny the deity of Christ or reject his work on the cross.
Let me bring this into the present tense. There are many popular Christian figures who believe false doctrine. Benny Hinn certainly does. T D Jakes has been rightly criticized for not believing in the Trinity, one God in three persons, though a year ago, in a talk with Mark Driscoll he said he was moving away from Oneness teachings toward a Trinitarian understanding. If so, praise God.
But this morning I want to focus on doctrinal error a lot closer to home, the heresies of the so-called mainline Protestant churches. Liberal heresies are old news, but they are accepted truth for a lot of churches and pastors. Many, if not most, of the churches around us don’t believe that the Bible is the Word of God, but is instead the fallible work of men, so that the life and teachings, even the death and resurrection of Jesus are thought to be mostly fabrications added by the early church to a thin framework of possible facts.
Most deny that Jesus is the only way of salvation, or that salvation is needed at all. God loves everybody and would never punish anyone. That wouldn’t be nice. Jesus was a good moral teacher who inspired his followers by his unfortunate death. And anything you don’t agree with in Scripture? Well, don’t we know more than the ancients? Tolerant, enlightened people like us don’t believe those things. I even read one long blog this week that was concerned about the growing number of professed atheist pastors in the Presbyterian Church.
Now can a person be saved in a liberal church? Yes. Some get saved by exposure to believers who still sit in those pews, or leaders who are saved but believe some of these lies, or through God’s word. I was saved in a liberal Presbyterian church because of a subversive youth pastor who really believed in Jesus.
But the common factor in these heresies and among false prophets is the refusal to take God’s word seriously and plainly. Whether it’s a Benny Hinn seeing health and wealth in a Savior who endured poverty and shame, or a mainline church that doesn’t see adultery or divorce or living together or porn or a homosexual lifestyle as sin, the issue comes down to taking Scripture plainly.
The second major category of fruit by which people can be judge is the evidence of their own moral character or the character they build in others. Paul’s letters to Titus and Timothy, Peter’s second letter, among others, warn God’s people against those who see so-called godliness as a means of gain; of power and influence, or financial gain, or sexual gain. Peter says that “many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.” He adds that they “indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority.” We’ve seen this kind of thing way too often among TV evangelists and others. I did a little painful research and found at least six mega-church pastors who have resigned this year because of sexual scandals. I’m not saying all of those were false teachers – temptation makes true believers stupid as well. But in several of these cases I do see hints of at least some degree of false teaching.
But we have to apply this to ourselves. Jesus says ‘So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.’ These are the two choices, although the choices actually precede these two outcomes, just as the choice to enter the narrow or wide way precedes the outcome of life or destruction. At some point you make the choice to take Scripture seriously and place yourself under it rather than over it. You make the choice to take righteousness seriously and to desperately seek the Holy Spirit’s help in dealing with sin. And if you make these two choices, to humbly submit to Scripture and to sanctification, your life will produce good fruit. But if you don’t submit to Scripture and you won’t recognize your need for sanctification from sin, you’ll produce rotten fruit.
It comes down to knowing Jesus or not. Verses 21-23: Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
In these verses Jesus expands the application beyond false prophets to what might be called false followers. There are some who through lack of relationship with the King they will not enter the kingdom, though they cry ‘Lord, Lord.’ Before the passion and resurrection the term ‘Lord’ did not carry all the weight that it would acquire for the early Christians. It essentially meant ‘Sir.’ But in this paragraph Jesus gives the term much of the meaning it would later convey.
Not everyone, even among those who know Jesus’ name and address him with respect or even reverence will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of his Father who is in heaven.
In chapter 6, which we jumped to get here, Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Those who do not pray that prayer and receive God’s gracious answer to it are not part of the Kingdom.
And that has what commentators call ‘eschatological implications.’ Eschatology is the study of the end times, and students of Scripture have spent many hours discussing what kind of eschatological views Jesus had. Here, for example, in verses 22 Jesus talks about ‘that day.’ This is a common Old Testament phrase and looks forward to the day of judgment, the day of the Lord, the day of ultimate rescue. On that day, Jesus says, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord.’
There is a wonderful claim here. On that day, Jesus claims, he himself will be the one people appeal to! He depicts himself as ‘Lord’ in more than a polite sense, in the Old Testament sense where Lord substituted for ‘Yahweh’. He claims the same rule and authority, and claims to be the kingdom’s gatekeeper.
Now when these people appeal to the Lord for entrance in the kingdom, they bring forth a powerful argument: “did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” This strikes us as pretty strong: how could these things happen if God was not involved with them and approving of them. Well, I don’t think they could happen without God. God can permit Satan to counterfeit these things, as might still happen at times today. He can also do these things for his own purposes without necessarily having to use redeemed people. He can, if he chooses, answer a prayer even from an unrighteous person. He’s done it for me.
So God may have his good reasons for allowing these people to have some spiritual impact, but that’s not going to influence their eternal destiny, for he judges by what is in their hearts. John’s Gospel says “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”
He looks on their hearts and says, verse 23: “And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” The key word is ‘knew,’ the strong knowledge that comes with relationship. Certainly he knew about them. They knew about him, but there was no relationship forged in his love and their trust. So all the works they were doing to earn his favor were worth exactly nothing in that day. And again, notice that it is Jesus who decides who enters the kingdom and who is banished from his presence. This whole paragraph is remarkably clear evidence of the deity of Christ, and of the fact that he knew he was God.
So here the contrast is between knowing about Christ and knowing Christ. Those who enter the wide way may know about Christ, as so many do in our culture. They may have grown up in a mainline church where they heard about Jesus and his love, but never heard the heart-changing truth about sin, their personal need for him. Or they may have grown up in an emotional, wonder-working church where they thought they saw many miraculous things, and where they might have been drawn into many emotions – but maybe they never engaged with sin and sanctification. So all they do on that day is to try to take credit for things that God did. But they never knew Jesus in a relational way to receive his forgiveness and redemption and to walk with him personally.
But Jesus doesn’t leave it there: he gives one more keenly practical contrast. Verses 24-27: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
This is one of the most familiar images in the whole Sermon, and a fitting conclusion not just to the section we’re looking at today, but to all that Jesus taught in these three chapters. Once again, it shows two ways, two ways of building, two foundations for life. One builder builds his house on sand. It may be a good house, but it has no foundation. The other builder finds the rock and he builds his house; maybe the same house. But one of these houses is a fake, like the false prophet with no fruit, the wide road to destruction, the people who don’t really know Jesus. The other is the real deal.
And what’s the difference? The one building on the sand hears the words of Jesus but does not put them into practice. The one building on the rock hears those same words but does put them into practice. He’s the wise man; the other is foolish. And so when the rain falls and the flood comes and the wind blows, the house built on the sand, the life that hasn’t put God’s word into practice, is devastated. But when those same rains and floods and storms fall upon the house built on the rock, the life that takes God’s words and its choices seriously, that life, that house stands.
Each house looks secure in good weather. But Palestine is known for torrential rains that can turn dry sandy wadis into raging torrents. Only storms reveal the quality of the work of the two builders. A wise person puts Jesus' words into practice; building to withstand anything.
Those who pretend to have faith, who have a merely intellectual commitment, but don’t follow Jesus are foolish builders. When the storms of life come, their structures fool no one, above all not God.
The sermon ends with what is implied throughout: a demand for radical submission to the exclusive lordship of Jesus, who fulfills the Law and the Prophets and assures the disobedient on the wide road of rebellion, self-centeredness and eternal destruction that they can enter the narrow way of obedience, righteousness, and life in the kingdom.
So the question for us is, which of these two choices are we making? Our personal universe divides and divides again as we make choices, but we can never unmake them or cross to a parallel universe. Our choices have consequences. The good news is that it’s never too late to make good choices. The narrow gate is always miraculously standing right there, and the hard narrow way, though it may include persecution or suffering is always available to us. We don’t save ourselves by these choices – we give up on ourselves and depend on Jesus alone when we walk through that narrow gate.
That’s the way to go today if you want to be saved. It’s the way to go if you want to bear good fruit – in doctrine and in life. It’s the way to go if you want to know Jesus – really know him and be known by him. It’s the way to go if you want a life built on a rock that can stand the rain and the floods and the wind of this life. There are two ways; you have a choice; and choices have consequences.