Luke 14:26-27 – “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters–yes, even his own life–he cannot be my disciple.  And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
Luke 14:33 – In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
You Better Think About It First
It wasn’t the approach most wanted to take today back then nor is it so today. Jesus wasn’t very seeker-friendly, at least here. His message wasn’t a bait-and-switch tactic to get folks in the door. Instead, it was truth in advertising. The issue? That following Jesus requires everything, including one’s very life, so you better count the cost before signing on the dotted line.
In Matthew 7:13-14, after three challenging chapters, our Lord taught his disciples, and would-be disciples, that the gate by which they must enter, if they would follow him, is a narrow one only a few find. Furthermore, that gate opens onto a hard road. Nothing Pollyanna about this discipleship program. This way was not for those who were looking for something easy and non-committal.
However, there is a road to accommodate those who have such desires. It’s the only other option available and many find and travel it. But its destination is the City of Destruction. The narrow gate, however, which leads to the hard road is the only way that leads to life.
Standards of the Way
Disciples of this way must live a radically countercultural lifestyle. They are poor in spirit, mourn over sin (their own and the world’s), are meek, hunger and thirst for righteousness, show mercy, are pure in heart, make peace and willingly accept persecution as the price for such convictions.
They are the salt of the earth and light of the world. They obey the commands of the Lord of the Narrow Way. In fact, their righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law.
Not only must they not actually murder anyone, but they must not be unrighteously angry with another. These followers of the King must not commit adultery and, moreover, must not even look at another person lustfully, which would be to commit adultery in their hearts. Faithfulness in marriage is expected and required. Truth-telling in all situations is the norm of this Kingdom. Humble submission characterizes those who would enter this gate and walk this road.
Love for both one’s neighbor and one’s enemy is a sign that one follows this way.
Followers of the Hard and Narrow Way give to those in need, do not pray to impress people, and fast in secret. They invest in eternity by storing up treasures in heaven and not on earth. Their trust in God enables them to avoid worrying about their circumstances in this life. Instead, they seek first the Kingdom of God and the righteousness that attends it, and they count on God to provide what is needed for living in this world.
Spiritual self-examination is another mark of these followers. And while they are called to discern between good and bad fruit, right and wrong, that which pleases God and that which doesn’t, they first investigate their own souls and remove that which hinders their pursuit of Christlikeness. Then and only then may they humbly approach a brother or sister to serve them in fighting sin in their life.
There are false prophets on the prowl who, like ferocious wolves in disguise, would lead many down the broad and easy road to the City of Destruction. The fruit they bear is bad which is in marked contrast to the fruit the Lord of the Way requires.
Carrying Our Cross Along the Way
So that leads us back to our text. The gate is narrow and the way is hard, but it leads to life. Furthermore, the cost is great and must be considered before entering through the gate and upon the road. Hatred of the world – even of one’s own family (in comparison to one’s love, allegiance, and submission to Christ) is absolutely required. We must pick up our cross and follow Christ wherever he may go. Becoming a disciple, and living as one, can be fulfilled along no other path. Everything must be given up to be Christ’s disciple. Complete surrender to his lordship is expected. This is normal Christianity, not super spirituality.
It’s not an accident that Jesus closes this thought with these words: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” Supernatural ears are a must to truly heed what our Lord is saying. Joyfully obedient self-denial is the norm of the Kingdom of the Hard Road and Narrow Way. There is no room for one’s desire for autonomous freedom (which is really slavery in disguise). The extra baggage, sinful and unbridled love for self and the world, must be discarded at the beginning of the journey, for it will not fit through the narrow gate.
Jesus Is the Gate. Jesus Is the Way.
If all of this seems impossible to you, then you’ve understood perfectly. Left to ourselves, in our fallen, sinful natures with the corrupt mindset and behavior that goes along with it, we cannot enter through such a gate, nor will we even want to. But the good news is that Jesus is the gate through which we enter and the way upon which we walk. To begin that journey we must first kneel before Jesus as our Lord, trust in him alone as our Savior, turn our backs to the wide and easy road we once traveled, and walk along his path in complete dependence upon his Spirit and grace. Then and only then will we be able to experience the abundant and eternal life he has promised those who follow him.
Read through the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). What’s your initial reaction to learning about the norms and expectations of the Kingdom found in Jesus’ words? In your own strength, do you think you could realistically expect to fulfill that standard? What “standards” have you heard from others regarding how we should live in this world? What is Christianity’s answer to our sinful condition, to our inability to meet the standard required by God? If you have never sought God’s forgiveness and placed your trust in the work of Christ alone, then humbly pray to the Lord and ask him to help you do just that. Talk to a trusted Christian friend and ask him or her to help you, if necessary.
Grace and Truth,
Matthew 13:44-46 - “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.  “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls.  When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.
Football Games, Concerts, and the Kingdom of God
Why aren’t people lined up at the doors of the church each and every Sunday morning? Why is only a fraction of the membership of the average church involved in the life of its ministries? People stand in line for hours to purchase concert or football tickets. They tell anyone who will listen about the experience afterward. Why is there not the same passion for God and his Kingdom?
Jesus knew the answer to that question. Perhaps that’s why he finished so many of the parables with words such as, “Let him who has ears to hear, hear.” Humanly speaking, not everyone who hears the gospel of the Kingdom of God “gets it.” Light bulbs go off for some while others remain in the dark.
We Need the Light of Grace
The Kingdom of heaven is in direct antithesis with the values, morals, and thought-patterns of our fallen world. It just doesn’t make sense to those “of the world” (“worldlings”). They don’t see what the big deal is.
But when the light of grace breaks through and shines in the heart of such a worldling, something truly miraculous happens. (I know, for I was one.) Life appears where before there had been only a frozen and lifeless corpse. Spiritual synapses start firing. Blood starts flowing. The bulb comes on.
Suddenly, the treasure that is the Kingdom of God is discovered and seen for what it is. Joy saturates the soul. Whatever cost there is for this treasure is gladly paid in order to have it. No price is too high.
But I guess that’s the rub. For the price is your own life. It’s your pride, dependence upon yourself, love of self, commitment to gratify sinful desires, love for the world and its way of thinking and living, and a thousand other things besides. But at the end of the day, the cost of the Kingdom is your life – your very self. That has to die with Christ. And it hurts. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis, Eustace, who had turned into a dragon because of his love of the world, discovered his many scaly skins had to be peeled away by Aslan’s powerful and sharp claws. There was no other way.
But just as we die with Christ, we are also raised anew with Christ. We share in new life through his resurrection. Behold, he makes everything new.
The Beauty of a New Life
Everything new looks different. Colors are vibrant. Scents smell fresher than ever before and remind you of a home you have never visited – your real home. Sounds are clear and beautiful. The veil has been lifted and you see life as it was intended – life in the Kingdom – life of the Kingdom.
What a treasure! What a pearl of great price! And it only costs you your life. A small price to pay if you have eyes to see and ears to hear.
Do you remember when you first discovered the “treasure hidden in the field” or “pearl of great price?” What did you feel at the time? How did you describe it to people? After a long period of time, our enthusiasm, even about something as wonderful as this treasure, can wane. Why do you think that is? Write down the names of three people you want to share your discovery with and how it impacted your life. Begin to ask God to give you opportunities to share your good news with them.
Grace and Truth,
From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. (Matthew 11:12)
Extending the Kingdom
One of the emphases of my teaching ministry is to call followers of Christ to “extend the Kingdom of God into every sphere of life.” The word “extend” means to stretch, lengthen, prolong, continue, expand, enlarge, offer, put forth, give, impart, and present, just to name a few. While each of those words is similar, each represents a slightly different emphasis which is key in understanding our Christian mission.
However, in our text today, Jesus focuses on his Kingdom “advancing.” This has a military ring to it. Jesus adds that forceful men lay hold of this forcefully advancing Kingdom. My NIV footnote says,
“They enter the kingdom and become Christ’s disciples. To do this takes spiritual courage, vigor, power, and determination because of ever-increasing persecution.”
John Piper says advancing the Kingdom of God in such a way requires a “wartime mentality.” The kingdom of heaven is forcefully advancing yet the kingdom of darkness actively resists it. As men seeking godliness, we are daily fighting for our lives and for the lives of those we love and who’ve been entrusted to our care. The world, the flesh, and the devil are formidable adversaries. If we do not maintain a wartime mentality, being ever vigilant and standing firm in our faith, then we, and those we love, will suffer the ravages of war, the consequences of our poor preparation.
Therefore, we must fight the good fight of faith. We must enter the battle 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 (Matthew 7:13-14). This narrow gate is Jesus himself. Living life as his disciple means entering into new life through him and traveling the “Kingdom road” he has set before us, regardless of how narrow and hard it is. Peter says many will leave this Kingdom road and wander off because they love the wages of wickedness (2 Peter 2:15), which results in death (Romans 6:23). The battle rages all around us, but we must stand firm in our faith, or we will not stand at all (Isaiah 7:9).
Standing firm takes a wartime mentality. We cannot assume we are ever safe from attack. We must be ever watchful and on our guard. We are called, commanded, and expected to fight, persevere, press on, and stand firm. But we are never asked to do this in our strength, but the Lord’s.
The wonderful paradox of Scripture is that while we persevere, our hope is not in ourselves. Our hope is in the Lord. The battle is ultimately his.
Forceful men lay hold of the Kingdom of God, which our Lord causes to advance in and through his power. Therefore, we work through his power (Colossians 1:29). God’s Kingdom advances as faithful men represent their King in every sphere of their lives, even in enemy-occupied territory.
Such faithful witness will not be easy. After all, it is a war. There will be a cost which we’re commanded to consider before we enter the fray. The enemy shoots his fiery darts at us daily (Ephesians 6:16). He hides and waits to devour us (1 Peter 5:8). The world sends out its false teachers to lead us astray (2 Peter 2:1ff).
And yet the Kingdom advances still.
What are three things you can begin doing today that will help you foster a “wartime mentality?” What are three practical ways you can “stand firm in the faith” in the various spheres of your life – home, work, community, etc.? How can citizens of “enemy-occupied” territory resist the Kingdom of God? How can you graciously and lovingly represent your King in such situations?
Grace and Truth,
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