Sermon, Title: The Road Not Taken, Text: Matthew 7: 13,14


Introduction

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. These words from the mouth of Jesus who said I am the way. The renowned American poet Robert frost gave us the memorable poem entitled,

The Road Not Taken

“TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood And looked down one as far as I could To where it bent in the undergrowth; Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear Though as for that the passing there Had worn them really about the same, And both that morning equally lay In leaves no step had trodden black. Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back. I shall be telling this with a sigh Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”
  Hear the last three lines again, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” Jesus is also saying that there are two roads and the one we choose makes all the difference. Many people are like Einstein in one respect only. Albert Einstein had trouble finding his way home from work. One evening as Einstein sat deep in thought aboard the train that brought him home each night, the porter approached to collect his ticket. Einstein rummaged around in his coat, through his pockets, in his shirt, and everywhere else he could think of, growing alarmed at his inability to find the ticket. “That’s okay, Dr. Einstein,” said the porter. “I know you ride this train every day. I can collect tomorrow.” “That’s fine for you, young man,” Einstein replied, “but how am I supposed to know where to get off the train without my ticket?” A lot of people don’t even know where to get on the train. Or they are like Harry Truman’s Floogie Bird. A little wooden bird with  sign around its neck that said “I fly backwards: I don’t care where I’m going, I just want to  see where I’ve been.”  Twice in Proverbs we read that there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death (14:12 & 16:25). In November, 1975, 75 convicts started digging a secret tunnel designed to bring them up at the other side of the wall of Saltillo Prison in northern Mexico. On April 18, 1976, guided by pure genius, they tunneled up into the nearby courtroom in which many of them had been sentenced. The surprised judges returned all 75 to jail. In the NT and early Christian literature Christians were known as keepers of the way. They knew the Way. In Acts 19 we read that some in the synagogue at Ephesus spoke evil of The Way and later among the Gentiles there arose a great commotion about The Way. (Capitalized). Since this is the ultimate choice we’re going to try today to throw some light on the Way. Three things are necessary: Change, Commitment, Continuation.


I Change

“Enter” - is Jesus’ command. There must be a choice brought about by a revolutionary change  in the individual. The Bible calls this being born again, birth from above, regeneration. In John 3: 5-7 Jesus talks about the necessity of being born again. First of all he says, unless a man is born from above by water and the spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. “Enter” That’s what he is talking about in our text. The entering is impossible apart from the new birth. Now then Jesus repeats in slightly different language that Nicodemus should not be surprised that Jesus is telling him “You must be born again”  First of all Nicodemus was supposed to know this. Jesus asks him why he, a leader in Israel does not know this. There are many predictions of the last days in the OT that speak of this. Isaiah 44:3 says Fear not for I will pour water on him who is thirsty...and I will pour my Spirit on your descendants. (Also extensively in Ezekial 36). Secondly, It is important to note that the translation you must be born again has certainly engendered a lot of confusion and bad interpretation. The Greek word simply means “it is necessary” A lot of preachers have made it sound like Jesus is issuing an imperative to Nicodemus. Jesus is making a statement of fact. He is not saying this is something you must do, because you cannot do it. The Lord does it. It is comparable to me watching you try to go out to the hall through the closet. I say to you it is necessary to go through the door. It’s just a fact of life. But in the case of Nicodemus, the door is locked until the Lord opens it. Cutting through the confusion of many let us be clear. You can repent, you can believe, but you cannot create new life. Only God can create and only God can raise the dead. The new birth is invisible and takes no human agency. The effects of the new birth, repentance and faith are visible and require human agency. Max Lucado said, “If there are a thousand steps between us and God He will take all but one-The final one is left to us.” I must respectfully disagree. God takes all the steps before we are enabled to take one. Here is a long staircase, like Jacob’s ladder. Angels of God ascending and descending. It is not for Jacob to go up, but for God to come down. Repentance and faith occur when God has come all the way down to the bottom, and then he picks you up and by His divine enablement you start back up. Unless you are mentally disabled or die in infancy, without repentance and faith it is impossible to please God. As the puritan Thomas Watson said, “God will not pardon you because of your repentance and faith, but neither can you be pardoned without it.” A new beginning, an entrance via repentance and faith, a change, is necessary but so is commitment and it’s not too popular. I saw a cartoon of two men marooned on a desert island. One of them started to pray, Lord I’ve broken all your commandments and I am a terrible sinner, if you spare me... His companion interrupts “hold it! Don’t commit yourself-I think I see a sail.


II Commitment

Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way that which leads to life. Have you ever heard of easy believism. It is the perversion of the Gospel that leaves men with the impression that if you just make a decision for Jesus that is all you have to do. The unmentioned corollary is the assumption that, after that, life will be a breeze. I read a book by a teacher who left the big city for a rural life in Vermont. Her old friends were always asking her how can you stand being shut in by the snow. She observed that snow removal in Vermont was a lot better than in Boston or New York. That reminded me of the time we had to travel to Philadelphia on a trip to a physician. Dorsey’s Dad was along and it had snowed. There were the city workers trying to clear the streets with little shovels about the size that you would use in your garden. He laughed. Once in upstate New York Dorsey and her family were snowed out of their home. When they finally got through it was because the plows, unable to clear all the snow had plowed a tunnel through it. Yes when it snows anywhere in the north the way becomes difficult. The path that leads to life is filled with obstacles of one kind or the other. This is something about which many so called Christians are naive. This would never have happened in the old days when reading John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress was required in the schools. The very title of the book suggests the difficulty of the way. The whole book is the story of all the obstacles Pilgrim encounters after he has left the city of destruction and is on the way to the celestial city. The names of the people that try to deflect him from his path are such as Worldy Wiseman, Pliable, Mr.Legality, Formalist, Presumption, Hypocrisy, Apollyon, Talkative, Envy, Ignorance and one of my favorites Guilt who clubs Little Faith over the head. Of course there are those who help like Evangelist, Faithful, Hopeful, Mercy, but these are all people who experience the same difficulties and obstacles. There are also places such as Doubting Castle, The Hill of Difficulty, The Valley of Humiliation, Vanity Fair, and the Valley of the Shadow of death. But The Narrow Way is my favorite - so narrow you can hardly negotiate it with a ditch on one side and mire on the other, and with the screams and fumes of hell assaulting the senses. I guess that’s enough to tell you that no child who read Pilgrim’s Progress in the 1800’s would ever entertain the idea that the way is easy, nor would he appreciate much of modern evangelism. What was that which Jesus said? Narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life. Jesus’ evangelism was clear. If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross.

III Continuation

And there are few that find it. In other words there are many who deceive themselves. Lane Adams, an associate evangelist with Billy Graham wrote a book entitled, “How Come It’s Taking Me So Long?” He compares our conversion to a beachhead established on an island during war. I quote, “There is a sincere but mistaken form of evangelism which gives the impression that the total conquest of the island is accomplished by mere invasion.” Actually, taking the island may be a lengthy and costly job. Both human experience and the Bible support the view that the same thing is true of the Christian life. But having said how difficult it is, we must hastily observe that Bunyan’s pilgrim reaches the celestial city because it is God who called him out of the city of destruction, and the Bible says in Romans 8, “those whom He predestined He called, and those whom He called He justified, and those whom He justified He glorified.”  This should not only remind us that we must continue or persevere in the Way, but also that if we are genuine Christians we will continue. Jesus says to His disciples, he that endures to the end will be saved. He does not mean that our endurance saves us. He means, as Paul said, that it is impossible to be an authentic believer, that is, a true follower, and not persevere. The German philosopher Frederich Nietzsche said that in the end the thing that counts most is a long obedience in the same direction. He also said "It is not the strength, but the duration, of great sentiments that makes great men." After I had been a Pastor for about 30 years, someone wrote that about me. When Ted Kennedy died recently, although I disagreed often with his lifestyle and his political goals, I had to admit that this much was true of him, he like many others was successful, because he did not waver from the goals that characterized his life. It would be good if as much could be said of each of us. Paul writes to Timothy in I Timothy 6:12, Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession. He needed to lay hold because he was Called, Committed, and Continuing on the right path. As the poet Wadsworth writes, “The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they, while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.” Someone has said “The only difference between a rut and a grave is the depth.”  Not exactly true! In the human journey there is the smooth and paved broad way that leads to the grave and many follow it. There is also the  narrow way that may be rough and rutted, but it leads to eternal life. O Grave where is thy victory? In John 14 Jesus says that he is going away to prepare a place. Thomas says, We do not know where you are going, how can we know the way? Jesus says, I am the way. All you need for the narrow path that leads to life is Jesus. It starts with Him, it continues with Him, and it ends with Him.