The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.
Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.
My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.
Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.
The Golden Rule
12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
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. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount continues (Matthew 5, 6 and 7).
‘So’ in verse 12 follows on from what Jesus said in verse 11, covered in last week’s post:
If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
It also ties in with His words in the first two verses of Matthew 7, which I also wrote about:
7 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
Matthew Henry explains our Lord’s use of the Law and the Prophets in this context (emphases mine):
It is the summary of that second great commandment, which is one of the two, on which hang all the law and the prophets, Matthew 22:40. We have not this in so many words, either in the law or the prophets, but it is the concurring language of the whole. All that is there said concerning our duty towards our neighbour (and that is no little) may be reduced to this rule. Christ has here adopted it into this law so that both the Old Testament and the New agree in prescribing this to us, to do as we would be done by.
Whilst we often hear Matthew 7:12 quoted, even by secularists, we hear the next two verses much less often. It is easy to forget them in an era when everything goes in today’s churches.
Verses 13 and 14 are particularly crucial and pertinent to those notional Christians who say that everyone will be saved. That is not what Jesus says. He tells us to enter by the narrow gate. The broader way is easier and ‘leads to destruction’ — eternal condemnation.
Also worth noting is His statement that the way leading to life is ‘hard’ and ‘those who find it are few’.
Does that sound like ‘all are saved’?
A similar passage is Luke 13:22-30, which begins as follows. (Similar wording is also in Matthew 7:21-23, part of the three-year Lectionary readings.)
The Narrow Door
22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’
There is no excuse to be made for heresy, syncretism, sin, ‘lifestyle choices’ and whatever else today’s churches are wrongly advocating. Powerful, apostate clergy will be among those crying out for the Lord to open the door on Judgement Day and His response will be that He never knew them.
Laypeople would also do well to ensure they do not fall into the same fatal trap, in particular, telling their children that the Lord loves everyone and will save them. It isn’t going to happen.
Henry sums it up this way:
There are but two ways, right and wrong, good and evil the way to heaven, and the way to hell in the one of which we are all of us walking: no middle place hereafter, no middle way now: the distinction of the children of men into saints and sinners, godly and ungodly, will swallow up all to eternity.
Henry and John MacArthur explain more about the narrow gate. In the King James Version the words used are ‘strait’ — small, tight — and ‘narrow’.
First, That the gate is strait. Conversion and regeneration are the gate, by which we enter into this way, in which we begin a life of faith and serious godliness out of a state of sin into a state of grace we must pass, by the new birth, John 3:3,5. This is a strait gate, hard to find, and hard to get through like a passage between two rocks, 1 Samuel 14:4. There must be a new heart, and a new spirit, and old things must pass away. The bent of the soul must be changed, corrupt habits and customs broken off what we have been doing all our days must be undone again. We must swim against the stream much opposition must be struggled with, and broken through, from without, and from within. It is easier to set a man against all the world than against himself, and yet this must be in conversion. It is a strait gate, for we must stoop, or we cannot go in at it we must become as little children high thoughts must be brought down nay, we must strip, must deny ourselves, put off the world, put off the old man we must be willing to forsake all for our interest in Christ. The gate is strait to all, but to some straiter than others as to the rich, to some that have been long prejudiced against religion ...
Secondly, That the way is narrow. We are not in heaven as soon as we have got through the strait gate, nor in Canaan as soon as we have got through the Red Sea no, we must go through a wilderness, must travel a narrow way, hedged in by the divine law, which is exceedingly broad, and that makes the way narrow[;] self must be denied, the body kept under, corruptions mortified, that are as a right eye and a right hand daily temptations must be resisted duties must be done that are against our inclination. We must endure hardness, must wrestle and be in an agony, must watch in all things, and walk with care and circumspection. We must go through much tribulation. It is hodos tethlimmene—an afflicted way, a way hedged about with thorns blessed be God, it is not hedged up. The bodies we carry about with us, and the corruptions remaining in us, make the way of our duty difficult but, as the understanding and will grow more and more sound, it will open and enlarge, and grow more and more pleasant.
Thirdly, The gate being so strait and the way so narrow, it is not strange that there are but few that find it, and choose it. Many pass it by, through carelessness they will not be at the pains to find it they are well as they are, and see no need to change their way. Others look upon it, but shun it they like not to be so limited and restrained. Those that are going to heaven are but few, compared to those that are going to hell a remnant, a little flock, like the grape-gleanings of the vintage as the eight that were saved in the ark …
John MacArthur likens this small, narrow way to a turnstile, through which only one person can enter at any time. This reinforces the idea that families and groups will not be saved, rather individuals. He says that Jesus was speaking of the Pharisees and the Jewish people of His time:
… many commentators would say that the best expression of this in a contemporary way would be a turnstile. One of those things which you have to go through all alone; the metal is very close and there’s a little arm there that you push, and you go through. Now, I know our family, when we go to the zoo, or we go to get on a train somewhere, or go somewhere on an airplane, every once in a while you’ve got to go through something like that, a turnstile.
And everybody is in a big hurry, and we always realize when we get there that we can’t all go through together, can we, children? We must go through one at a time. That’s the way it is with a narrow gate. You don’t come to the kingdom of Christ in groups. The Jews believed hey, we’re in the kingdom, we’re all on the road together, we all came through together, based on Abrahamic heritage, based on Jewish ancestry, based on circumcision, we’re all here together. And I think there are people who think that they’re on the right road to heaven, they got on when they got to church. They came to church, we’re all in the church and the whole church got on together. There are no groups coming through the turnstile, folks.
You go through all alone. Salvation is individual. People have never been saved in pairs. Oh, when one believes it may influence another to believe, but everyone’s salvation is exclusive and intensely personal. It admits only one at a time. And that’s kind of hard, you know. Because all our life is spent rushing around with the crowd. All of our life is spent doing whatever everybody else does, being a part of the group, being a part of the gang, being a part of the system around us, being accepted. And all of a sudden, Christ says, “You’re going to have to come, and you’re going to have to come through this deal all by yourself.” And to a Pharisee, that meant you’re going to have to say goodbye to those people and that system, and step out alone.
There’s a price to pay, a real price. It isn’t enough to claim your Abrahamic ancestry, it isn’t enough to go back to your circumcision, it isn’t enough to say, “I was born in a Christian family; I’ve been in the church all my life.” You don’t come into the Kingdom in groups. You come in an individual act of faith. You must enter, you must enter the narrow gate, you must enter alone. Listen to this one: you must enter with great difficulty – with great difficulty …
He acknowledges that this encourages unbelievers to be hostile to Christianity. It is interesting to note that he preached on Matthew’s Gospel in the 1970s. Even then, there was hostile opposition:
People say, “You know, Christianity doesn’t give room for anybody else.” That’s exactly right. We don’t do that because we’re selfish, or because we’re proud, or because we’re egotistical; we do that because that’s what God said.
If God said there were 48 ways to salvation, I’d preach all 48 of them. But there aren’t. “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be” – what – “saved.” None other name. Jesus – Acts 4:12. “I am the bread of life – I am the way the truth and the life – I am the door – anyone who comes in any other way is a thief and a robber,” John 10. “There is,” I Timothy 2, “one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” Only one, no other name, Christ and Christ alone, it is that narrow, it is that prescribed. There are no alternatives. You must enter. By an act of the will, an act of faith, you have to enter on God’s terms through God’s prescribed gate; and Christ is that gate. He is that way. And holy God has the right to determine the basis of salvation, and He has determined that it is Jesus Christ and Him alone, and that’s the way it is.
For this reason — and because many cannot give up their attachement to the world — it is hard to accept our Lord’s teachings. MacArthur cited one pertinent example:
A West Indian who had chosen Islam over Christianity said this: “My reason is that Islam is a noble, broad path. There is room for a man and his sins on it, and the way of Christ is far too narrow.”
Hmm. It seems to me that man knew very little about Christianity before he converted to Islam. Whilst he was right in saying Christ’s way is very narrow, he misunderstood the concept of abundant divine grace and mercy with regard to our sins. However, Christ, with His love and forgiveness, makes no allowance for sin.
In closing, MacArthur has good observations about the Sermon on the Mount, which many people misinterpret:
Let me suggest to you there are two things you cannot do with the Sermon on the Mount. One of them is you cannot stand back and admire it. Jesus is not interested in bouquets for His ethics. Jesus is not interested in folks who want to just admire the virtues of the ethical statement of the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus wants a decision about your destiny. I believe there is a second thing you can’t do with the Sermon on the Mount, and that is to push it into some prophetic tomorrow. I don’t think Jesus is suggesting that this is for some far future era.
I think He is demanding a decision now, in this time … What Jesus demanded was a choice, an act, an ultimate decision, to be made at that time and that moment, on the basis of what He had just said. A deliberate choice has to be made. Christ came to bring a kingdom. He was a king. He was the King. He was the King of kings. And He came with a kingdom that was unique, and special, and separate, and different from all the kingdoms of the world.
The Sermon on the Mount is much more than ethics; it is about following Christ our Lord, the eternal King of Kings.
Next time: Matthew 7:15-20