March 11th, 2013: The Twenty-Third Day of Lent
March 11, 2013 § Leave a comment
“But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.”
Christ offers a bleak saying here. This teaching doesn’t read well on a billboard, or as part of some mass-marketing spiel. Maybe that’s why we don’t hear it so much. However, Christ wants us to know the difference between the paths that lead to life and death. The wide gate and easy road lead to death, and the narrow gate and difficult road leads to life.
This is just another paradox that we see within the Sermon on the Mount. We remember, “Blessed are the persecuted” (Matt. 5.10, 11), the need to be more righteous than the religious elite (Matt 5.20), turning the other cheek (Matt. 5.39), loving one’s enemies (Matt. 5.44), and releasing our worry regarding the basics of life (Matt. 6.31-33). None of these things make much sense, but Christ keeps adding on teachings that seem backward. Shouldn’t the way to death be difficult? And isn’t there something about the spiritual life that makes things easier?
Unfortunately, Christ does not promise his followers an easy life; in fact, here, he promises the opposite. Many people attempt to market Christian faith as some sort of cure-all for the difficulties of human life. Christ does not guarantee safety, wealth, total health, and ease. Even a cursory reading of the Sermon on the Mount will show this. Eugene Peterson translates Matthew 7.13, 14 like this in The Message: “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.”
This is not to say that the Christian faith can improve our lives. It can and does! However, it does this through grace, giving us strength and guidance so that we may be remade into the image of Jesus Christ. The Christian faith does not work by making our present circumstances easier.
Again, this isn’t a message that you’ll see very often. The last sections of the Sermon on the Mount contain several difficult passages that don’t get much airtime. Scriptures on difficult matters and challenge often get skipped over; such incomplete reading can only be called careless at best, despite the very careful efforts of some to bypass them! If we claim to have the full Gospel, we must read Scripture fully. This means that we’ll come across some difficult truths, but ones that we need to hear. Today’s verse is one of them.
Are you experiencing difficulty? Then maybe you’re not as far off the Christian path as you think you might be. Are you comfortable in your faith? It might be a good time to prayerfully consider why and to ask God to reveal which areas in your life need growth. The challenge of the “straight and narrow” applies, regardless of where we are in our spiritual walks.
Lord Christ, I confess that I have sought out the easy road. Sometimes, I see my faith as a lucky charm that is supposed to ward off difficulties; please show me that your grace helps me to rise above difficulties through a process of growth. Don’t let me shy away from difficulties, nor get tired of chasing after you. Amen.