A person once read this passage in Gospel for this morning. They sat down, squinted at the text, and thought for a while. You see, for them, this passage raised a lot of questions. “Go in through the narrow gate.” Well, that’s not very helpful. The Bible needs to tell me more about this gate so that I can make sure that I’m doing it right. And so, they went to find some people to answer their questions. Surely, there will be some Christians who know the answer to this, they thought. So, they went online, and typed: How narrow is the narrow gate?
How narrow is the narrow gate?
Another Gospel lesson from the lectionary this week tells us of the Jews who had some questions to ask Jesus. In the book of John, “They answered him, ‘We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, “You will be made free”?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
Answering this question of “how narrow is the narrow gate” requires us to focus on what Jesus is saying in this passage—you see, the Jews are under the impression that they’re already free. In their minds, just by the fact that Abraham is their ancestor, they’ve already entered the gate. They already know what this gate is—keep the ten commandments, don’t be unclean, and all of the other rules that they must follow. Essentially, they’re telling Jesus—“but the gate, as we understand it, consists of these rules”. Jesus says, well, you don’t understand what the gate is. Don’t you know who you’re talking to?
How narrow is the narrow gate?
Today we are celebrating the feast day of John Bunyan, who spent a lot of time reflecting on the Christian journey. He is most famous for his allegorical novel Pilgrim’s Progress, which tells the story of several believers on their various journeys to the Celestial City, representing heaven. Bunyan himself had quite a journey as well—this novel was written while he was imprisoned in England for preaching in congregational meeting houses (which was against the law at the time).
Although the religious establishment at the time did not agree with him, Bunyan never stopped proclaiming the word of God, even though he was imprisoned for many years. You see, he knew, as it says in Hebrews, that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword”. When you have something so powerful as the good news of Jesus Christ burning within you, you have to tell people about it.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in Life Together that:
“The Christian lives wholly by the truth of God’s Word in Jesus Christ. If somebody asks him, Where is your salvation, your righteousness? he can never point to himself. He points to the Word of God in Jesus Christ, which assures him salvation and righteousness.”
How narrow is the narrow road?
“The Christian lives wholly by the truth of God’s Word in Jesus Christ.” The narrow road that we walk on is the road of Jesus Christ, who suffered during His time on Earth so that we would have the opportunity to spend eternity with Him. It is because of Christ that we have the narrow path, and he is only way to life. The author of Hebrews writes that “We have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God…For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”
So how narrow is the narrow road? It is as narrow and as all-encompassing as Jesus Christ himself, because the way of Christ is the way that we must follow, in order to follow the narrow road. This is what the Jews were confused about-they thought they were already on the narrow road by following the law of Moses, by having Abraham as an ancestor.
At times, the world we live in makes it difficult to determine which road is the right one. We can be under the impression that, like the Jews, we’re already on the right path, because that’s what our ancestors did, our parents did, how it’s always been. Or, sometimes, the different philosophies and religions around the world can make it seem like maybe there isn’t just one road. Or sometimes, it’s easier to ignore the fact that there’s a road at all—that there are right and wrong paths. Why does it even matter? How narrow is the narrow road?
But Jesus, who is our great high priest, who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses, who knows the many difficulties we’re going through as we stand on the crossroads, is standing on the narrow path, beckoning us… “come. Follow Me.”
The way of Jesus Christ is the narrow path, and our task that we must do as we walk, or run, or crawl along, is to proclaim the Word of God. Bonhoeffer again writes that “When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others.” This is what we are called to do, as we follow the narrow path.
The narrow road is narrow in that the road is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the way, the truth, and our light. But we know that this road is as wide open as the arms of Christ spread out on the hard wood of the cross. The road is open to all of us. It won’t be easy—each of us find that day by day, we face new challenges, some of which seem impossible to get through alone. But like John Bunyan, we must be confident in the fact that we can endure and proclaim the Word of God while doing so, because we have a great high priest who in every respect has been tested as we are, and who promises us life eternal… if only we take the narrow path.
(Preached on 8/31/2016, transferred remembrance of John Bunyan)