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The Greatest Sermon Ever Told | Narrow-Minded
January 28, 2024
13“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. 15Beware 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.
To discover and experience Jesus Christ in our midst
To cultivate mutually encouraging relationships
To participate in God’s mission to the world
Lord God, you know us to be set in the midst of so many great dangers, that because of our frailness we cannot always stand uprightly: Grant us such health of body and soul, that we may well pass and overcome all those things which we suffer for sin; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Responsive Prayer—Psalm 25
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
O my God, in you I trust;
Let me not be put to shame;
Let not my enemies exult over me.
Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
Teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth and teach me,
For you are the God of my salvation.
Summary and Connection
This week’s discussion is based on Matthew 7:13-20. Jesus is rounding off his sermon in this section. This is the application part of Jesus’ sermon. Here, Jesus not only emphasizes the absolute necessity of faith in God, and the value of right doctrines, but also the necessity of living out the gospel—practicing and implementing the faith and doctrine in all areas of life. Throughout his sermon Jesus has stressed that Christian life is not only distinct from the world, but it is also fundamentally distinct from the moralistic, and self-righteous religiosity of the Pharisees. Jesus has described the upside down nature of the kingdom, how it is unique, distinct, and separate from the world. In this section, Jesus presents two contrasting metaphors, or images to distinguish between the kingdom of God and the world, and between true followers of Jesus, and the false teachers, who claim to be true followers of God.
Firstly, in verses 13-14, Jesus distinguishes between the kingdom of God and the world. The kingdom of God is compared to a narrow gate that is hard to find, and the Christian life is compared to a narrow path that is traversed by fewer people. In contrast, the world is compared to a wide or broad gate that is easy to find, and the worldliness is compared to a wide path that is filled with people. It is vital for us to understand that according to Jesus, there are only two paths, and there are only two destinations — life, and death. In other words, there is no third alternative path. Jesus appeals to his listeners that included common people, disciples, and the Pharisees to enter the narrow gate and follow the narrow path. Jesus, in clear words, describes Christian life as hard, and in comparison to the world, it is confining. Yet, it is ‘The Good Life.’ The narrow path is the way of true human flourishing. In Jesus’ words we learn the all-encompassing scope of the gospel: The gospel not only offers eternal life, but also informs and sustains our life on earth. Remember, gospel is not just the ABC of Christian life — entrance into the kingdom of God, it is all-encompassing — the A-Z of Christian life.
In verses 15-20, Jesus distinguishes between true followers of God and the false teachers, in this case, Pharisees, who appear to be true followers of God. Notice how Jesus has narrowed the scope of distinction from the world to the realm of the people of God. It is vital for us to remember Jesus’ appeal to his followers: be in the world and not of the world. We are not called to totally cut-off from the world, creating Christian silos, rather we are called to be in the world — as salt and light, pointing the world to Jesus. In 15-20, Jesus presents a contrasting image, describing the threat of creating Christian echo-chambers, and living in a Christian bubble to such an extent that one fails to identify between true and false teachers. Notice, according to Jesus, the identity marker between true believers and false teachers has nothing to do with external appearances, mere outward display of piety and most importantly, theological knowledge. As religious authorities, the Pharisees displayed piety and impeccable theological knowledge. Yet, according to Jesus, they were the ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing — a bad tree! How else are we to distinguish between true and false believers? The answer has to do with what Jesus has been talking about throughout his sermon: internal, deeper, or the whole-person righteousness. Christians, by virtue of their union with Christ, and the work of the Holy Spirit in and through them, enter the narrow gate, and walk the narrow path, displaying the good fruit of the Spirit — life. In contrast, the false teachers, who appear to be true believers, in reality, are self-deceived, dangerous, and deceptive, displaying external pseudo-righteousness, thus inevitably producing bad fruit — death.
1. Looking at the Bible
Observation: Read the passage privately. What does the text say? What according to you is the theme of this passage?
- Read verses 13-14. What contrasting image is Jesus presenting here? What are the characteristics of the two ways? What does the destination tell us about the nature of the two ways?
- Read verses 15-20. What contrasting image is Jesus presenting here? What does Jesus warn us about? How are we to distinguish between true and false believers or teachers?
2. Looking at Jesus
At Central we believe that all of Scripture points to Jesus. In other words, Jesus is the theological center of the Bible. Every passage not only points to Jesus, but the grand narrative of the Bible also finds its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus.
- How does Matthew 7:13-20 point to the person and work of Jesus on our behalf?
- How is Jesus the true path leading to life and the good tree producing the fruit of life?
3. Looking at Our Hearts
The following are personal application questions based on the stages of growth in Christian faith.
- Take a moment to reflect on your Christian experience so far: How does the image of wide and narrow gates and ways resonate with your experience? Consider sharing how your Christian life has been difficult, yet rewarding.
- According to you, what is the true scope of the gospel in your life? Is gospel just the entrance/gate into Christian life or is it also the path? Discuss.
- Verses 15-20 has to do with appearance and reality. We tend to minimize the gospel and embellish our own righteousness by ‘pretending’ and ‘performing.’ How do you guard yourself against these tendencies? Consider sharing some helpful ways you apply the gospel to your life.
4. Looking at Our World
- How might this passage help you to be a faithful presence — following the narrow path, reflecting the love of Christ, and displaying true righteousness, pointing people to Jesus both in words and actions — in your community, and workplace?
God’s word is a lamp to our feet. Christ’s teachings are a light to our path. May God’s word take root in our lives. May Christ’s love nourish and sustain us. Amen.
View Study Guide Notes
Question 1a. Jesus’ images are simple and clear. There are two gates and two paths. There is no third alternative. One way is wide and easy — broad, spacious, and roomy. Think about the hot button issues of our culture: inclusiveness, justice, tolerance, expressive individualism, absolute freedom to make choices without inhibitions. We can carry anything and everything in this way. After all, the path is wide. In other words, this path is easy as very little effort is required to indulge in what the world has to offer. In fact, it takes immense effort to resist the world. Clearly this path has many travelers. Who wouldn’t want to be inclusive, tolerant, and free to make choices? However, according to Jesus, and the Bible, this is the way of the world: secular culture, patterns, customs, and beliefs. This is the way of the first Adam: sin, pride, lust, greed, self-centeredness. We aimlessly wander in the broad path, seeking validation, satisfaction, and meaning in the vague, abstract and material things the world has to offer. The wide path leads to death as everything it has to offer is bound to be destroyed.
In contrast, the narrow way, by nature, is confining. You can only find the narrow gate by grace and walk on the narrow path by faith. Remember, you are saved by grace through faith in the person and work of Jesus on your behalf. In order to enter this gate, we must leave everything — deny self and carry the cross of Christ. Nothing about this path is easy: poverty of spirit is not easy, resisting temptation is not easy, prayer is not easy. In other words, sanctification is not easy as it happens in the narrow path of the wilderness of life on earth. Why follow Jesus then? Dietrich Bonhoeffer gives a compelling answer: “The path of discipleship is narrow, and it is fatally easy to miss one’s way and stray from the path, even after years of discipleship … The way is unutterably hard, and at every moment we are in danger of straying from it. If we regard this way as one we follow in obedience to an external command, if we are afraid of ourselves all the time, it is indeed an impossible way. But if we behold Jesus Christ going on before step by step, we shall not go astray. But if we worry about the dangers that beset us, if we gaze at the road instead of at him who goes before, we are already straying from the path. For he is himself the way, the narrow way and the strait gate. He, and He alone is our journey’s end.”
Question 1b. Refer to the summary and connection. Jesus gives a clear warning that false teachers and believers are deceptive and dangerous. In fact what makes the false teachers both deceptive and dangerous is the fact that they are self-deceived. Think about it, oftentimes a false teacher or a believer is someone who firmly believes that he is a genuine believer. It is hard to identify a false teacher or a religious hypocrite based on external religiosity, piety, church-attendance, giving, prayers, or theological knowledge. In fact, they might even appear more pious than a true believer. However, according to Jesus, we ought to be careful in making external religiosity and theological knowledge as identity markers to distinguish between true and false teachers.
According to Jesus, ‘fruit’ is the identity marker. For ‘fruit’ is either good or bad. You can only expect apples from an apple tree. Fruit is organic. It is indicative of organic, and therefore, imperceptible growth. Fruit, by nature, takes time to appear, grow, and ripen. We are called to be patient and wise in our conclusions. We are called to examine our own hearts, and the life of a person closely, for it is not always possible to recognize a tree and its fruit from a distance. At the same time, we shouldn’t be unnecessarily probing into private lives, presumptuous, or quick in calling someone a false teacher or a believer. Needless to say, it is vital for us to heed Jesus’ warning here: If we fail to identify false teachers, the threat of judgment looming over their heads becomes a threat to the lives of many others.
Question 2: In John 14:6, Jesus says: “I am the way, and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father, except through me.” Jesus is not an ethical teacher or Godly man who offers a path to salvation to merit. What Jesus offers is infinitely more valuable and eternal: Jesus himself is the way, the truth, and the life. What Jesus commands his followers to do, he provides for them in himself. Remember Bonhoeffer’s words: Christian life is hard and we are constantly under the threat of straying from the path; however, God has not left us to walk alone. We are to look to Jesus as we walk in the wilderness of life. He is our anchor. He is our guide. We can truly and fully trust Jesus as he has walked the narrow path before us. He perfectly obeyed the law of God, and fulfilled the righteous requirement of the law by carrying our sin and shame on the cross. Jesus offers us life by dying on the cross. We can trust Jesus in our walk, irrespective of our circumstances, as he has offered himself for us as the way, the truth, and the life.
Jesus is the righteous one of Psalm 1 who is compared to a tree planted by the streams of water. By his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus yields the fruit of righteousness. Jesus is the true vine described in John 15:4. We, as branches, receive life, and bear fruit by abiding in Jesus. In your suffering and struggle look to Jesus, the way and the life, for strength. Look to Jesus, the good tree, and the true vine, to produce the fruit of the Spirit, for your good, for the edification of other Christians, and for the glory of God.
Question 3: These are personal application questions. Here are some pointers for discussing ‘pretending,’ and ‘performing.’ When we don’t root ourselves in the gospel, relying on Jesus, we shrink the work of Jesus on the cross by either pretending or performing. According to Bob Thune, author of Gospel-Centered Life, “pretending minimizes sin by making ourselves out to be something we are not. Performing minimizes God’s holiness by reducing his standard to something we can meet, thereby meriting his favor. Both are rooted in an inadequate view of God’s holiness and our identity.
Consider asking these diagnostic questions:
- What do you count on to give you a sense of personal credibility, validity, or acceptance? Jesus is the right answer, anything other than Jesus indicates your tendency to minimize your sin by pretending to be better to seek validation.
- This reveals our tendency toward performance: as God thinks of you right now, what is the look on his face—is it anger? Disappointment? Indifference?
Question 4: This is a personal application question.