I have shared this story with you several times, but never in its entirety. Let me correct that this morning. Years ago, I flew from Calgary, Alberta down to Lubbock, Texas to attend a Bible conference at the Tabernacle Baptist Church. Two of my closest friends in the ministry were there – E. L. Bynum, the host pastor, and Forrest Keener from Lawton, Oklahoma. Those two men were extremely close and probably considered themselves to be each others’ best friend. Both had a great sense of humor, and both poured that humor out on the other on many occasions. One evening during the conference, as Bro. Bynum rose to introduce his friend Forrest Keener as the next speaker, he went onto the pulpit with a handful of strips of paper. Earlier, he had taken twenty or thirty sheets of white paper and cut them lengthwise into strips 1″ by 11.” Then he introduced his friend, announcing he had special paper for those of us who liked to take notes. He said that Forrest Keener was one of the deepest, but narrowest, of all the preachers he knew, and that this kind of paper would be perfect for notes on his message. Of course, most of the congregation burst into laughter, I included. But then I looked over at Bro. Keener and noticed that he was not laughing, or even smiling. He was either already plotting some sort of friendly retaliation. Or perhaps he didn’t particularly like being described as “narrow.”
I think I can safely say that most people do not like being described as “narrow.” Sometimes that implies that we are “pharisees” condemning everyone but ourselves. Of course we should resent that kind of implication, if it is not true. Sometimes “narrow” means we aren’t as loving as we should be – we aren’t as loving as our Saviour. “Narrow” is often thrown into the faces of Christians by broad-minded, unthinking people who believe that God, or godhood, can be reached through many religions and by traveling up any of many paths. They say, “Christianity is a restrictive religion practiced by spiritual elitists, religious snobs and hypocrites.”
If we could somehow avoid all the negative adjectives, to be narrow is a good thing. If it is good for a mathematician to be narrow, why is it evil for a Christian to be narrow? Is it narrow to insist that 1+1=2, and it is never, never, never anything else? That is not “narrowness;” it is simple accuracy. If it is important for the physician to narrow his diagnosis to one problem or one disease, why is it evil for the gospel preacher to narrow his diagnosis to one problem – alienation from God caused by sin? If someone has stomach cancer, the surgeon needs to determine where, or if, to operate. Simply to open up someone’s abdomen and start rooting around among the organs is not good medical practice.
Looking at our scripture, Who was the speaker – the teacher? This is part of the so-called “Sermon on the Mount,” so these are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ. (In my Bible they are printed in red ink.) It is the Son of God, the Second Person of the God-head who also says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” – John 14:6. It is Christ Jesus who narrowly says, “Enter ye in at the strait gate, because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” But on the other hand “ wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.”
The title of this message is “The Narrow Way,” and I’ve taken those words from what Christ says. “Enter ye in at the strait gate, because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life.” This is obviously a metaphor – the use of one thing to speak of something more important. Do I have any right to suggest that Christ was calling Christianity “the narrow way?” I believe that I do. With two dozen scriptures which we might use to say the same thing, let me share just a couple. When Luke described Saul’s attack upon Christianity, he wrote: He “desired of (the high priest) letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of THIS WAY, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem” – Acts 9:2. And Paul himself confessed in Acts 22:4 – “I persecuted this WAY unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women.” Paul was looking for Christians to arrest and imprison. Luke and Paul describe Christianity as being “this way,” and Christ Jesus added that it is “narrow.” And when Jesus said, “I am THE way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me,” He was saying that He is the ONLY way to God the Father – only Christianity possesses salvation from sin And as I say, there are a couple dozen other verses which support the conclusion that when Christ spoke of the “narrow way” He was referring to what we now call “Bible Christianity.”
Christ speaks of a nice, broad, smooth thoroughfare with lots of travelers.
“Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.” This is the road down which the vast majority of humanity is walking – and sometimes running. Jesus contrasts “the many” on this road to “the few” which be on the narrow road. And by comparing this scripture with others, it is safe to say that there may be as many as ten times, or maybe twenty times, as more people on this road than on the other. In fact, by applying Jesus’ metaphor, it looks like everyone, all humanity, are on the broad way until they enter in at the strait gate. Sadly, most people never do; they never leave this pathway. Billions of souls are on this broad road which leads to disaster. In Luke 13 we find another occasion when Jesus uses the same illustration, but this time adding, “STRIVE to enter into the strait gate.” Strive, fight, work hard if you have to to enter through the strait gate. The Greek word is “agonizomai” (ag-o-nid’-zom-ahee). Agonize to enter the strait gate. It takes a broken heart to turn away from the broad way into the strait gate and narrow way.
I spent as much time as I could on Thursday thinking about these two ways – analyzing and comparing. I tried to jot down the advantages and disadvantages of both these roads. You might be able to add to my list, but I hope you agree with my abbreviated version.
What are some of the advantages to walking down the broad road? First, that is the road everyone is on from the moment of their birth. It doesn’t take any choice on our part; there is no agonizing decision to be made; this is our road. You might call this “Humanity’s Highway.”
A corollary is that – “MANY there be which go in thereat;” there is plenty of company on this pathway. Don’t picture this way as Interstate 90 or one of the bigger highways like I-5 in Seattle or I-10 out of Los Angles. This not a highway full of cars. It is a smooth pathway full of people, chatting and enjoying themselves. These people are bumping shoulders, catching conversations, glimpsing smiles and hearing jokes. I suppose that many of them are walking along in cliques and groups – the Mormons with groups of Mormons, Muslims with Muslims, patriots with patriots and Canadians with Canadians. They may frown at others from time to time, but there is enough fellowship in the smaller circles to make the journey pleasant. It’s not that there isn’t terrible sin and the heartache which sin causes, but it can be a fun journey. And on this road, you’ll see a great many famous people from all walks of life – movie stars, politicians, well-known scientists and local celebrities. There is nothing to suggest that this is not THE path to take through life. Human GPS suggests that this is the best route. And science, philosophy and politics agree.
As I read and re-read this paragraph Jesus’ words – “broad is the way” – my mind the word “Broadway” – one word. In many cities across America one of the main roads is called “Broadway.” While maybe not be true in Spokane Valley, but often Broadway is four or six lanes and lined with the most fashionable stores in town. It is often the epitome of “downtown.” Broadway in Seattle is a major north/south thoroughfare, and Broadway in New York is world-famous. On the broad way are all the stores and conveniences necessary to make one’s journey pleasant.
Englewood, Colorado, is one of the suburbs of Denver, although at one point it was a major city unto itself. Several times, I have driven down Broadway in Englewood, looking for a specific store or building. In fact, one of the largest Baptist churches in Colorado is right on Broadway, trying to draw travelers from the Broadway through the strait gate and into the narrow way.
Driving down Broadway in Englewood, Seattle or New York might be a dangerous venture due to all the cars, pedestrians and distractions. But the broad way of which Jesus speaks is smooth, easy and comfortable, despite the murders, muggings, rapes and sin-caused illnesses. The broad way is easy on the eye due to all the entertainment along the roadside – both good and sinful. And it is easy on the foot, because it is not made of concrete but soft soil covered with fallen leaves – which perhaps should be a warning in itself. As travelers walk along they can smell the fragrances wafting out of the fancy restaurants and perfumeries. Plenty of traveling music can be heard, and there is WIFI every step of the way. In addition to that, it is slightly downhill – not dangerously so, just slight. So there is no strenuous exercise to dissuade people off the road. But there are parks, overlook turnouts above beautiful lakes, soaring birds and even puppies and kitties to keep every happy and amused. (Am I going too far in all this?) Suffice it to say that mankind has taken Satan’s basic engineering and made it into a very pleasant road.
But what about the disadvantages to taking this highway? I’ve already mentioned the presence of open sin and all of the disasters which flow from that. Other disadvantages will become apparent as we look at the advantages of the narrow way. But the major problem with the broad way is in its destination – its only destination. “For wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction.” This broad way doesn’t come to a stop and an intersection, with a sign post pointing to Nirvana in one direction, Purgatory in another, Heaven off to the right, and the empty hole of death straight forward. No, the Lord Jesus has said, “wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to DESTRUCTION.”
“Destruction” – This word is also translated “perdition,” “to die” and even “damnation.” Christ said, this was at the end of the road which Judas Iscariot followed – he was a “son of perdition.” Clearly, the Lord is saying that at the end of this broad way is Hell and the Lake of Fire. Your argument is not with me; it is with the Lord Jesus.
It does not matter how pleasant a man’s journey might be, if it ends in this destruction, it is a BAD road. It doesn’t matter how many friendly companions there might be along the way it still ends in the same place. Some people are running with all speed toward disaster, while others are slowly sauntering and meandering along. It doesn’t matter if “Google maps” said this was the “best route,” the Bible says that it couldn’t be worse. Christ says, “Strive to enter into the strait gate” – agonize to get off this path. Plead with God to give you direction, repentance to forsake the sinful way and faith to enter the strait gate.
In contrast to that, consider the strait gate and narrow way.
“Enter ye in at the strait gate: strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” Reversing the order this time, what are the disadvantages to taking THIS route toward the end of life? The first disadvantage is the strait gate. It is easy for modern readers to misunderstand, or misrepresent, this gate. Notice the spelling of “strait.” It is not the word which means moving forward without deviation from the path. It is not “straight as an arrow.” It is “strait” as in the “Straits of Magellan” – that narrow slit of water at the end of South America where ships pass from the Atlantic Ocean into the Pacific, or the “Straits of Gibraltar” into the Mediterranean Sea. As your 1828 Webster’s dictionary will tell you, it refers to “strict narrowness.” This gate is “strait” like the eye of the needle through which the camel could not pass. “Strait” is not the same Greek word as “narrow,” but the meaning is essentially the same. The Greek version of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, uses this word in Numbers 22:26 when Balaam was riding his donkey to meet Balak – “And the angel of the LORD went further, and stood in a narrow place, where was no way to turn either to the right hand or to the left.”
The gate into the narrow way is so constricting that only one person can enter at a time, and they must squeeze their way through. The average person isn’t going to be willing to pass through this door. He is going to have to leave some of his sinful baggage behind; he’s going to have to “repent.” It may be agonizingly painful to admit to his wickedness, his transgressions and the pain he has caused others. He will have to admit that he has lived like a God-denying atheist – in practice if not actual principle. This is an extremely “strait” gate through which only those whom the Lord has prepared and made determined will pass.
And the sinner needs to know that once he gets through that narrow gate, he’ll find few who will join him. It is not popular to be the kind of Christian which Christ loves and the Bible pictures. Most people don’t want to give up the pleasures of the flesh in order to make this journey. They love their idolatries, their adulteries, their gluttonies and their worldly prosperities far too much to enter the strait gate and walk down the narrow way. Only those to whom God has given new hearts will go through this gate.
And their reputations… To live the Christian life; to walk the Christian walk and to talk the Christian talk will draw the attention and ridicule of those still on the broad road. They can’t see the advantage of the peace that eternal life offers, so they will try to turn that advantage into a disadvantage. The world loves to make fun of the child of God as he walks up the narrow pathway.
So this traveler won’t have as many friends as he once did. He may loose brothers and sisters. And the friends that he has now walking up the narrow way, he didn’t have before. In other words, he will find himself among people with whom he had nothing in common before turning off the broad way. Hopefully they will be people worthy of his respect and friendship. They all have the same Heavenly Father and they are walking in the same direction.
Oh, and by the way, this road isn’t easy to trod; he may need to lean on those new companions. This road is going up, not down. It is reaching up into the rarified air, but where the Son is brighter. There are rocks on the road, and Satan is not very far away hurling his fiery darts at the travelers. The Lord Jesus is implying that this is not an easy road.
But it is a blessed road, with advantages which make it worth the journey. And one of them actually IS the paucity of travelers going down that narrow road – that small number. The best people in the world are those who been permitted to enter this pathway. They have new hearts, and as a result their lives should be different from the many on that other road. They should be more loving, forgiving and helpful than any this newcomer has ever met since leaving the arms of his mother. They should be able to sing the praises of the King of kings and of the grace which they have been given. Every mature Christian should go out of his way to make every new Christian feel as special as they really are.
But it’s not our fellow travelers which make this narrow road so desirable. “Enter ye in at the strait gate: strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life.” “Which leadeth unto LIFE.” Don’t those other people wandering down the broad road have life? Yes, they do, or they wouldn’t still be on the road. They have physical life, like the life of the squirrel in your back yard or the sparrow at the bird-feeder. When they come to the end of the road and die, then they face eternal destruction.
But for those who enter the strait gate and begin to walk down the narrow way, their lives end in yet more life – better life – abundant life. That is the life about which Christ loved to talk – eternal life. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” – John 3:36. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life” – John 5:24. In speaking of these travelers the Saviour said, “And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” – John 10:28. In contrast to the wrath and condemnation of God upon the unbeliever, Christ offers eternal, or everlasting life, to those who repent and trust Him. There will never be a single soul who enters this strait gate and who walks this narrow way who will not enjoy eternal life. That life comes through the merits and sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ.
With that I would like to return to where we began a few minutes ago.
Are you one of those people who despises the narrow restraints of Bible Christianity? For example, do you say you don’t like the Sermon on the Mount and the Ten Commandments? You don’t like to be bound to ancient rules and regulations. You don’t like the Bible. Let me just say that if everyone in the world followed the Ten Commandments there would be no more war, no broken homes, no drunkenness, no theft and murder. Even for a world without regeneration, this would be a wonderful place to live if God’s rules were followed.
But much more important that, let me point you toward Christ. Have you ever considered the strait gate through which the Son of God passed in order to deliver us from evil? No one has been through gates more strict and strait than the Lord Jesus Christ.
Think about it – the Bible declares that the Christ who hung on the cross is in fact the Creator of the universe. If you need scriptures for each of these points come to me later, because I assure you they are there. Christ is the Second Person of the Trinity – the God-head. And as such He is infinite – wider and more broad than your sanctified imagination might ever reach. He encompasses everything you know. It was nothing to Him to create the wide expanses of the universe.
At some point in eternity past Jehovah chose to permit man’s into sin. At that point, or shortly thereafter, the broad road which leadeth to destruction was designed and engineered. But then, in infinite grace, the Lord chose to create the narrow way and the strait gate. In order to do that He began to implement some strictures – He began to narrow things. “When the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law.” The infinite God confined himself to the body of a man. “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace” – Isaiah 9:6. Then began a short ministry in which His primary message was “repent” – “Enter ye in at the strait gate.” Then Christ permitted himself to be bound and to walk between several soldiers to be tried by wicked men. He further narrowed His divine glory when he consented to be nailed to the cross – a wooden stake. Do you see this – the infinite God becoming more and more narrow for the purpose of saving a few souls? And then finally He passed through the straitest of all gates – the gate of death.
I earlier quoted John 14:6 – “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” Let me add that He also said, “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture” – John 10:9. Christ IS the strait gate, and He is the narrow way which leads to the Father and eternal life. When you meet someone who complains about the narrowness of Christianity, if you get the opportunity point out that the infinite Saviour, limited Himself – narrowed himself – in order to make a way for us to escape the broad road which leads to destruction. “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?” How shall YOU escape if you neglect the door, and the only way to the Father and eternal life?
I have seen illustrations printed on gospel tracts, depicting a number of people on one side of a deep ravine and on the other side in the distance was Heaven with God the Father. That canyon so wide that no one could jump across, and there were no ladders or planks long enough to reach the other side. But then God made a way. Across the vast empty expanse the Lord laid His blood-stained cross. In order to reach Heaven, those people whom the Lord made willing had to walk the 6 inch width of that cross all the way to the other side.
With Christ’s own words I implore you, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”