Only Two Ways (Matthew 7:13-23)
Topic: One Lord: So Great a Salvation Passage: Matthew 7:13–23
Only Two Ways
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation)
July 21st, 2019
I. Only One Way?
I'm sure you've heard the expression, “There are many ways to God”. Especially today, in our highly pluralistic and highly sensitized society, this idea has become quite popular. The idea is that, even though one person might have what seem to be very different beliefs than their neighbor, in the end, every seemingly positive path of religious or spiritual faith will lead to God. No need to argue with one another when we should just accept one another instead.
Now, I would certainly affirm that genuine toleration is always important. But along with other followers of Christ, I would reject the notion that every religious/spiritual system reveals a right path to God. That idea flatly contradicts what is revealed in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. But... in one sense, I would also reject the Christian's regular rebuttal to this common claim, which is, “There is only one way to God.”
This morning, I believe Jesus himself will show us that there are, in fact, only two ways to God. Intrigued? Turn, if you would, to Matthew 7. We will be looking together this morning at verses 13-23.
II. The Passage: "You Will Recognize Them by Their Fruits" (7:13-23)
So, before we begin to work together through these verses, let me remind you of one of the ideas we discussed last time. You may remember that I suggested that when Jesus mentions “the Law and the Prophets” in 7:12, he was wrapping up his main block of teaching, a section that began back in 5:17. If true, that means 7:13 is the beginning of some kind of conclusion to what we've been calling the 'mountain message' of Jesus.
So let's see if and how these verses are tied together. We begin with verses 13 and 14, which describe for us...
1. Two Kinds of Paths (vs. 13, 14)
This is what Jesus tells his followers: “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.  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
The contrast here is clear, isn't it? In this life, there are two and only two paths. Furthermore, to travel these paths, you have to pass through one of two gates. One gate is described here as “narrow”, and one gate is described as “wide”.
I think what Jesus has in mind here, and what his audience would imagine, are two gates of a a walled city. Entering through that “wide” gate leads to a broad path, one described here as “easy”. But entering through that “narrow” gate leads to a “hard” path. That word “hard” in Greek is a form of the word we usually translate as “trouble” or “affliction”. Therefore, maybe a word like “pressing” would help us understand the path Jesus is describing here.
So if you were a traveler entering that city, a traveler arriving with loaded-up horses or camels, and with family in tow, which gate, which path, would seem more appealing to you? Would you rather travel up 'broad-way', or be pressed in as you press down that narrow street? As Jesus confirms, most people would choose and do choose that “easy” path. But notice where it leads. It leads to “destruction”. In contrast, those who enter by the “narrow gate”, though it is not the popular path, those individuals will find “life”.
Brother and sisters, friends, let's not forget that the opening words of verse 13, the opening words of this conclusion, are words of command: “Enter by the narrow gate.” But when it comes to finding that life Jesus speaks of, what else might help us identify the right path? Well consider what Christ goes on to tell us about...
2. Two Kinds of Prophets (vs. 15-20)
Look with me at verses 15-20. Jesus declares...
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.  A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
So not only are there two paths (and only two paths), but there are also prophets whose words will either direct us to that narrow gate, or to the path that leads to destruction. Not surprisingly, that second group is referred to here as “false prophets”.
How can one tell the difference between a “false” prophet and a genuine prophet of God? Well, that's where Jesus shifts the imagery from that of a city, with gates and streets, to an orchard or vineyard, with trees and fruit. Look at how Jesus answers our question about distinguishing prophets in verse 16: “You will recognize them by their fruits”.
But what exactly does that mean? Well if all prophets appear to prophesy, that is, they speak words that allegedly come from God, then I think when Jesus speaks about “fruit” here, he is more focused on their their practice, rather than their pronouncements; their lifestyles rather than their lessons. John the Baptizer challenged the Jewish religious leaders in this same spirit in 3:8. He told them, don't simply come to be baptized, and to have others see you getting baptized, but... Bear fruit in keeping with repentance; that is, demonstrate your repentance in how you live your lives.
Why is our “fruit” so important? Because, as Jesus explains in vs. 16-18, the kind of fruit a tree produces indicates the kind of tree it is. Everyday habits reveal the condition of the heart.
But don't miss the point of verse 19: like that wide gate and easy path, these prophets, led by their lies (and sadly, leading others), [they] are headed only to destruction.
But before we move on, we also can't overlook what verse 15 reveals. Right away in this section, we learn something very disconcerting about these “false prophets”. Jesus warns us that such individuals come “in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves”. At this point, you may have that cartoon image in your head: you know, the one of a crafty wolf who has pulled a sheep's skin over his body and is skulking through the flock at dinnertime.
But what exactly does this image tell us about such 'prophets'? It confirms for us the disturbing fact that these individuals look like the light, even though they are driven by the darkness. Jesus unpacks this idea for us in vs. 21-23. There we read about...
3. Two Kinds of Professors (vs. 21-23)
No, I'm not referring to college professors. I'm simply talking about those who profess; specifically, those who make a profession of faith. This is what Jesus reveals... (v. 21)...
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Notice how all the ideas from the last section are woven in this next section. Who are the individuals mentioned here? They are those who (v. 22) “prophesy”. And what kind of “fruit” is on display here? In addition to prophesying, we hear that they “cast our demons” and “do many mighty works”. But aren't all these good things? Didn't Jesus and his apostles do these very things? They did. But by themselves, such “mighty works”, even miraculous works, do not confirm that a person belongs to God or is telling the truth about God. From Pharaoh's magicians in Exodus 7 to the signs of the false prophet in Revelation 13, God's word confirms that the powers of darkness can deceive people with false miracles.
But please don't miss the “sheep's clothing” on display here. These individuals have the look of the light, don't they? They remind Jesus, “We have done all these mighty works 'in your name'”. Even more that that, they address him not with one “Lord”, but with two: “Lord, Lord”. And yet, according to Jesus, they have not done “the will of my Father who is in heaven”. Instead, they are labeled with this severe and sobering title: “workers of lawlessness”.
Now, looking back over this whole section, consider how these verses truly are tied together as a conclusion to the 'mountain message' of Jesus. What have we seen? Jesus has called us to carefully consider two kinds of paths, two kinds of prophets, and two kinds of professors. And what stands out here is the need for discernment. We might think, “Two paths. Two gates. Got it. One's wide and one's narrow. That shouldn't be hard to spot. No problem.” But as the passage continues, it becomes obvious that Jesus is not simply talking about a path of worldly decadence versus a path of spiritual devotion. No. He's describing two paths of discipleship, one genuine and one counterfeit.
Sure, it might be easier for us if Jesus said something like, “Hey, pray don't party. Get baptized not drunk. Choose fellowship over fast cars, fast money, and fast women. Love what is pious, not what's popular. Read God's book, not that New York Times' bestseller; etc., etc.”
But it's not that simple. What Jesus is calling us to do here is not to distinguish between worldly sinners and worshiping saints (we should do that as well), but to check and double check which version of Christianity you've accepted: the genuine article or a counterfeit.
III. Check the Road Signs
So how can someone know? How can you know which gate you've entered through? Which path you're on? When I was recently in California, there is a point in San Diego county where several lanes of I-5 southbound splinter into the 805. But if you've ever driven that section of freeway, it can be very confusing which lanes are going which direction. At least two times I've gotten onto the 805, when I intended to stay on the 5. But when that happened, I wasn't quite sure which freeway I was actually on. What did I have to do? I had to look for the signs.
The same is true here. When we talked a few minutes ago about two kinds of professors, we talked exclusively about those false professors. But what about the genuine professors? Remember, both groups profess the same thing, that “Jesus is Lord”. But those who genuinely make that profession, will genuinely bear fruit that confirms which kind of tree they are. They are the ones who (v. 21) do “the will of my Father who is in heaven”.
And what does that “fruit” look like, that lifestyle, those habits, that pattern of living, that gives us reassurance we are, in fact, on the narrow path that leads to life? It looks like everything Jesus just described for us in this 'mountain message'. Do you see why Jesus is finishing the message in this way? Because he knows false prophets will come. He knows false Christs will appear (Matthew 24:5). He knows that very reality to which Paul would later attest:
For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions... [II Timothy 4:3]
The conclusion of Christ's message is a call not to compromise. Yes, the revolutionary, the radical, the counter-intuitive, the inside-out kingdom righteousness that Jesus describes for us here is a hard path. Far from popular, it can be painful. But it leads to life. Believer, press on down that pressing path. But let's be clear: this lifestyle of kingdom righteousness doesn't earn us new life. It is a sign; it is evidence of new life. It is confirmation that we have become (v. 17) a “healthy tree”; that we are (v. 23) known by Jesus.
As we've talked about throughout this series, the genuine path of discipleship to Christ is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit. And the gift of God the Spirit is only possible because God the Son died for our wrongs and rose for our redemption. The Teacher lived out the lessons he taught. He turned the other cheek and loved his enemies. To “enter the narrow gate” is to come to Christ as your only hope, in faith, forsaking all other paths.
I said at the outset there are, in fact, two paths to God. What did I mean? Well, notice that in v.22, even those false professors end up in God's presence “on that day”. But they will not remain there. Two paths. Both lead to God. But one leads to God's condemnation, while the other to God's consolation. One path leads to destruction; the other to life. Yes, there are many on that broad path who do not look anything like the light. But they share the very same me-centered impulse. Friends, which path are you on this morning? There are only two. It is either one or the other. Let's ask God for discernment this morning, and the faith to follow.