Truth or Consequences ~ October 21, 2018 ~ Matthew 7:13-23
This month we are looking at chapter 7 in the gospel of Matthew. Last week we talked about prayer and the Golden Rule. This week we are going to pick it up at verse 13 with the narrow gate. Please join me in the unison prayer as we prepare to study the word of God. Let us pray together.
Lord, upon the pages of this book is your story. It is also our story. Open our eyes that we may see, our ears that we may hear, our minds that they may understand, and our hearts that they may be transformed. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Jesus is continuing his Sermon on the Mount here in chapter 7. He just finished last week with the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and he continues in verse 13.
“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life…”
– to salvation, to heaven –
“… is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)
So, out of the seven billion people on the face of the planet, only a few will find the narrow gate. Now, that is a theme that is common. It’s a plot that we’re kind of used to. We’ve heard this story over and over again throughout our lives. For instance, in 1957 there was an author by the name of Nevil Shute, and he wrote a book called, On the Beach.
Phenomenal book, I would highly recommend it, it still stands up today. The plot of On the Beach is set in 1963 (it was a pretty good year). World War III had just taken place, and it devastated most of the populated earth, polluting the atmosphere with nuclear fallout, and killing all human and animal life in the Northern Hemisphere. Global air currents, however, were slowly carrying this lethal cloud of radioactive fallout across the globe. The only part of the earth that was still habitable is down under in Australia. There’s nothing anyone can do. It’s only a matter of time before the nuclear, radioactive cloud will get to them, and will kill them as well. They don’t know how long it will take for it to get there, or how much time they have once it does. They just know it’s coming, and it cannot be stopped. The end is near.
It’s a common theme, is it not? How about 1998’s Armageddon?
Remember that movie? Where an asteroid is on a collision course with Earth. The resulting impact could cause an extinction event similar to what happened to the dinosaurs, and we need Bruce Willis to save the day (and a good Aerosmith soundtrack). And then there’s the 2004 film The Day After Tomorrow.
It talks about a catastrophic climate shift where it ushers in global cooling and leads to a new Ice Age and millions of people perish. How about the 2012 film called 2012, which portrays a fulfillment of that Mayan calendar prediction some said would be the end of the world, remember that?
There were people wondering. Oh, come on, it’s just a bunch of Mayan mooha. But I wonder, you know? December 31, 2012, is that it? Then there’s one of my personal favorites, the 2018 Netflix reboot series of one my favorite shows from when I was a kid, Lost in Space. The aftermath of an impact event threatens the survival of humanity, and the Robinson family is chosen for the 24th mission on the Resolute, an interstellar spacecraft carrying selected families to colonize the Alpha Centauri star system.
Wouldn’t it be cool to score one of the tickets to get on that sucker?
The theme of all of these films is the same: life is coming to an end, and only a few will survive. Why do we keep telling this story over and over and over? I’ve asked this question before. Where are the films, and the books, and the television shows that say, “In the far distant future, in 2089, we are going to recreate paradise on earth. There will be no sickness, no death, no war, no starvation. Everyone will get along!” Where are those movies? It’s always this story, over and over again. On the Resolute, or maybe on one of those nine arks that they built in the 2012 movie. They have these huge, giant arks, that much bigger than the largest ocean liner, to save some people.
A small number of people. There’s 7,000,000,000 people on the planet. How many people can we fit on nine of those? Not 7,000,000,000. Besides, the cost of a ticket to get on one of those babies in the movie was 1,000,000,000 Euros per person. That means in US dollars, that’s $1,168,360,789.81. Do you have $1,168,360,789.81? If you do, you’d best be making a gift to the church. But if you don’t, you’re out of luck. You’re condemned to die. So sorry.
It seems we keep telling the story again and again and again in books and films, on television. Why? I believe, because the best fictional stories are those that have a hint of truth to them, something that makes us say, “That could happen.” It pulls us in. “That’s possible.”
I grew up in a time when I was a teenager, a younger teenager, a tween, during the Cold War, where nuclear war with the Soviet Union was highly possible. You never knew, day to day, when the USSR might launch an ICBM, or when the United States would then have to retaliate. It wasn’t something you lost sleep over, so to speak, but it was possible. It was on your mind. We heard all the stories about what Nuclear Winter would look like, and how few people would survive such an exchange. That’s why the On the Beach book resonated with me. I grew up during the time of Mutually Assured Destruction – that was our military philosophy, make sure we have enough nuclear weapons to respond so viciously that it would cause the end the earth – and that response will inhibit the Soviet Union from launching first, because they know the response would be the end of it all. That was the strategy, Mutually Assured Destruction.
So, On the Beach resonated with me. How many people do you know got caught up in that whole Mayan calendar thing in 2012? No, it’s a bunch of hobo jobo! But then again, what if it’s true? What if on New Years’ Eve 2012, that’s it? How often do we hear in the news about an asteroid passing really close by to the earth? What happens when one of them hits? We go by the way of the dinosaurs. That’s why before he died, Stephen Hawking, and Elon Musk are big proponents of building rockets to colonize other planets. We’ve got to leave Earth, because it’s dying, we’re killing it, and someday it’s going to get hit by an asteroid. Now, I’m a simple man. I don’t quite understand – if we leave this planet and go to a different planet, why there’s a less chance of a catastrophic climate event or getting hit by an asteroid in that other planet as there is on this planet. I’m not sure of the math. But nonetheless, they believed that we need to leave, like Lost in Space, we’ve got to go, because one day there will be an end. And that’s a reality. One day there will be an end. And end to our lives – we’ll take our last breath here on earth – or an end to it all.
Jesus talks about it. He’s asked by his apostles in Mark 13, and he says look, I’ll tell you, when that happens:
“At that time, after the anguish of those days, the sun will be darkened, the moon will give no light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” (Mark 13:24-25)
So, I tend not to worry about all of these other scenarios, because I believe the lord, and when the end does come, you won’t be wondering about it. “Oh, I wonder, is this it?” No! When the stars fall from the sky, it’s going down. But until that point, don’t lose any sleep over it.
But there will come a time when:
“the sun will be darkened, the moon will give no light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then…”
– says Jesus –
“… everyone will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds with great power and glory. And he will send out his angels to gather his chosen ones from all over the world – from the farthest ends of the earth and heaven.” (Mark 13:26-27)
So many people love these stories, watch these movies and television shows. I do. But fewer like to talk about this one [the Bible], because this one’s true! It’s easy to watch 2012 in the movie theater, because you know Bruce Willis isn’t going to save anything, it’s just a cool flick. This hits a little closer to home, because this is not fiction. Jesus will one day send his angels to gather his chosen ones. The question is – for all of us – will you be taken? Will I be taken? Will people we love and care about be taken, or will they be left behind?
You know the percentage of people who can fit on spaceships, or who can cram into that ark, is exceedingly small. Out of the 7,000,000,000 people on Earth, there’s not enough metal, steel, existing to build enough arks or to build enough ships. A small number of people in those films will be saved. Similarly, Jesus says:
“… the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few will ever find it.”
And we can’t buy a ticket for this. There’s no way to purchase our way in. there are those who try to tell you there is. Jesus talks about them next. He says in verse 15:
“Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves. You can identify them by their fruit, that is, by the way they act. Can you pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.” (Matthew 7:15-20)
There are people, and there are pastors everywhere, telling you that if you just do more, or give more, you’ll be fine. As long as you do good deeds, as long as you go to church regularly, and put money into the offering plate (or in the new offering box), you’re good to go. Just make sure when the end does come that you have done more good things than bad things, and you don’t have anything to worry about! Please. Don’t ever tell that to someone you love. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that. It is a flat out lie, it is not true. People who say that are false prophets, vicious wolves who are trying to lead you down the highway to hell. The purpose of a Christian life is not to build up a resume. We’ve all made out resumes, right? And when we make out a resume, by the time we’re done, don’t we all kind of look like a cross between Bill Gates and Mother Theresa? Come on, we all look awesome on paper. And if you think that every time you do a good thing, you’re going to list it on your resume, and when the time comes you’re going to approach Saint Peter at the gate and you’re going to hand him your resume and say, “Look at all of the good things I’ve done!” If you think that’s how it works, you are going to be eternally disappointed. You can’t earn your way into heaven. The standard is perfection. We need to be perfect. In fact, our resume compared to Jesus – God gives us a little bit of an insight in Isaiah 64:6
We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. (Isaiah 64:6)
My good stuff compared to perfection, compared to Jesus, compared to what he did, is like a filthy rag. It’s not even close.
Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind. (Isaiah 64:6)
So, people who are telling you that as long as you’re basically a good person who does good things, they’re lying to you. They are vicious wolves. I’ll tell you what, oftentimes you look at the people who are saying those things – look at their lives. Frequently you will not see fruit. Upon closer inspection, you will see greed, selfishness, dishonesty, rationalizing of sin. Like, since we’re on a movie kick (you know me, I love movies), who’s seen the Godfather movies? Awesome films. But it’s always weird to me that in one scene, they’re planning the destruction, the murder, of a competing family, and they’ve got it all planned out. “You hit him at this place, at this restaurant, at this time. Take this guy with you.” And then boom! The very next scene they’re standing in the church in front of the priest, going to be a godfather to a little baby who’s going to be baptized! And I’m sitting there going, what? You know a tree by its fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit. What they’re thinking is, as long as I do good things; as long as I show up to church; as long as I check that block, I’m going to be fine. The fact that yesterday I was planning the death of a dozen people – I’m coming to church today! I’m going to be fine! People who tell you that – pastors who tell you that stuff – are going to be thrown into the fire. And you do understand, I’m sure you do, in Matthew when Jesus says every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown in the fire, that the fire is a euphemism for hell. You get that, right? The folks that tell you that stuff, that do that stuff, are going to be thrown into the fire – not just because of their own choices – but for deceiving you, for trying to lead you astray.
Look, the truth is there are consequences. Nobody likes to talk about it. Nobody likes to hear about it. But someday, an asteroid will hit earth, a nuclear weapon will go off (most likely not from Russia nowadays, but from some rogue terrorist nation will sneak something in), it’s possible. And then, it will all be over. One of these days, one of these movies will become true. When that happens, everyone will call out for God, won’t they? I know there’s an image in my mind that really rattles me, because I never really thought about it for a long time. But you know the Noah story, right? Noah’s building an ark. Keep in mind, it had not rained yet. No water had fallen from the sky since the creation of the earth, and Noah’s living in the desert and he’s building a giant boat. He was getting mocked, he was getting ridiculed, he was getting persecuted… until it started raining. Imagine. Just put yourself in those shoes for a minute. You’re out there, you’re making fun of Noah and his sons, they’re building this wooden craft in the middle of the desert, and you’re calling them all kinds of names and then something hits you in the head. Why is water coming from the sky, that’s never happened before. The image that gets me, is at what point did they begin to realize, did the lightbulb go on – maybe Noah was right! At what level did the water rise to before they all ran to the ark and started pounding on the side? Noah! Let us in! Can you imagine being Noah and his family on the inside, hearing people pounding on the ark? Let us in!
Yeah, when the you-know-what hits the fan, everyone’s going to call out to God. But Jesus says in verse 21:
“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name!’”
Look at all the good stuff I did! Check out my resume!
“But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)
The truth is there are consequences. There was a TV show – I used to watch the reruns, it was a little older than me, but maybe some of you have ever heard of the TV show “Truth or Consequences?” It was a funny game show where contestants were asked to answer a particular trivia question correctly, and if they did not, they had to suffer the consequences, which was usually doing some sort of embarrassing stunt of some sort. And they used to throw out any answer, whether it was comedic, or wrong, they just didn’t want to have to do the stunt because if they didn’t answer the question, there were consequences. The hard truth is there are consequences to our choices in life, including eternal ones – heaven and hell. And let’s face it. As Jesus points out, there are a lot of people who talk a good game – “Lord, we did this in your name, and that in your name, and this in your name!” – Yeah, a lot of people talk good game, a lot of people on Sunday are Mother Theresa. Sunday morning. Sunday afternoon, maybe not so much. I mean, we can all be on our best behavior on Sunday morning. We can all do that for an hour or two. That’s not that hard. But there are 166 other hours in the week, and I see God as kind of like Missouri – the Show-Me State. God’s like, “Don’t tell me what a great Christian you are! Show me!” Show ME. You don’t have to show us, show him. Monday through Saturday. Because only those who do the will of the Father will enter the Kingdom of heaven. Only those that do the will of the Father. What is the will of the Father? Jesus says to the crowd in John 6:29:
“This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29)
Don’t try checking blocks. Don’t try earning your way. All you have to do is believe in the one he has sent. Once you truly believe in the one he has sent, you won’t be able to stop yourself from doing good things. It will just become a part of who you are. But believe in the one he has sent. I cannot talk a good enough game, I cannot do enough good deeds or give enough money to enter in through the narrow gate. No one can come to the Father except through Jesus, so please, do not leave your family, your friends, your co-workers, people you love… “Livin’ easy, livin’ free, season ticket on a one-way ride…” Don’t leave them on the highway to hell. Share with them the truth that is Jesus Christ. The highway to hell is broad and many choose that way. Tell them about the other way, the only way, the only truth, the only life that is Jesus Christ.
Look, I know it’s hard. That’s why I chose specifically for my doctoral project to implement an evangelism ministry team here. Why? Because it scares me to death, and I wanted to get over it! So, we did some training, we finished it last week. Wednesday we went out for our first time. Four of us went downtown behind the statehouse to the bus station, handing out cards. “We’d like to invite you to church! If you have any questions there are free answers in the videos on the back!” Jordan was a superstar! Michael Serrano was a superstar! Bob Surmolian from the first service was a superstar! Pastor Adam choked. I did. I didn’t hand out one. Kicked myself all day, all night, the next day.
It’s hard, I know it’s hard. Don’t think because I get to stand up here it’s easy. It’s not easy.
The next day, Thursday, we tried again. This time it was me, and Renée, and Bob Surmolian. We stood outside the deli. I gave out six cards! (Renée gave out a bunch too, many more than six, and Bob Surmolian did a bunch as well). Because I care about these people. I don’t want them to get left behind. Jesus doesn’t want to leave anyone behind. That’s why he tells us, “Go and make disciples of all the nations!”
Please – one day the end will come. I don’t know when, I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. I’m going to be fine. I know where I’m going. Are there people in your family, are there people amongst your co-workers, are there people who are your friends that you can say you’re not sure? Just say, “Hey, I’d love to invite you to my church. If you have any questions, there are some video answers on the back, you can look them up on your own time.” That’s it! It’s that easy! (And it’s that hard). But I’m telling you, there’s not going to be any more arks. There’s not going to be any more spaceships. The stars are going to fall from the sky, and the only ones who believe in Jesus will be saved. And I mean, not just believe in him, that you know who he is. We have to trust in him.
Let me tell you quickly the difference between belief and trust. Have you ever heard the saying, “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.” If you’re going to defend yourself in a court of law, and you do not have a law degree, there is a word for that – which I can’t use in church! That’s just dumb! Ask yourself, “Is that my plan? Am I going to stand before the Lord on judgment day and try to present my own defense?” “Hey, Lord, look at my resume! Look at all the good things I’ve done, all the righteous deeds, all the filthy rags.” Or, am I going to trust in Jesus to plead my case? Is he going to stand up and give an account for me? The question is, when Jesus stands up, will he look at me and say, “I don’t know you. Get away from me, you who broke all of God’s laws.” Or will he say, “Hey, I know you! You sat in the sixth pew on Sunday at church! And you have been talking to me (that’s what we call prayer) since you were a little kid!
Sit down, don’t worry about a thing. I’ve got your back. Trust me.” That’s the difference between belief and trust. We want to trust in Jesus to present our case.
The truth is there are consequences for our choices. That’s why it is so important to evangelize, to share the gospel, because without Jesus there is no hope. With Jesus, there are no consequences. He suffered them all for us. When you trust in Jesus, you have found the narrow gate. He is the narrow gate. He said,
“I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep… Yes, I am the gate, those who come in through me will be saved… I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.” (John 10:7-11)
Yes, when you trust in Jesus, you have found the narrow gate, and he will open it for you. The end will not be an end, but a new beginning. And all God’s people said, AMEN!