Title: Tenth Street and Fourth Avenue East
Text: Matthew 7:13-14
Thesis: Decisions at the cross-roads determine the path for life.
Owen Sound is an historic Canadian port city on Lake Huron that offers tourists a variety of activities. In fact, if I were to pick a Canadian summer vacation destination it would be Owen Sound. It is a hopping place with its Harbor Nights Concert Series, the Emancipation Festival (Owen Sound was a safe haven for the Underground Railroad), they have Tall Ships, a Salmon Spectacular, the Owen Sound RIbfest, and they even have a Buskerfest (a Buskerfest is a festival of street performers…Buskerfest is where freaks, geeks, oddities, artists and out of the box entertainers entertain.
Owen Sound is also known for its historic walking tours… one of the tours is the “Salvation Corners Route.” The prominent feature of the “Salvation Corners [walking tour] Route” is the intersection of Tenth Street and Fourth Avenue East where there is a beautiful limestone church on each of the four corners… This is no small thing. Owen Sound was once known as Corkscrew City and Little Chicago of the North. It had a reputation for “vice and villainy” for seaman on shore leave.
And while the corner of Tenth Street and Fourth Avenue East is known as “Salvation Corners,” one block away at the intersection of Tenth Street and Third Avenue East is “Damnation Corners” where four hotels of dubious reputation once dominated the intersection.
Our text today speaks of two intersections… one in, the New Living Translation, leads to the “highway to hell” and the other the “gateway of life.”
The four churches at “Salvation Corners” intersection may be thought of as a crossroads where we choose a path for our lives.
Our text today speaks to the direction we choose at such a crossrods.
I. The Christian life begins with an initial decision.
“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the Narrow Gate. The Highway to Hell is broad and its gate is a Wide Gate, for the many who choose that way. But the Gateway to Life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” Matthew 7:13-14
Intersections can be very bad places. There are number of factors that contribute to danger of any given intersection: The intersection voted the “Worst Intersection in America” in December of this year is the intersection where 132nd Street, Industrial Road, Millard Avenue and L Street converge in Omaha, Nebraska. It is where thirty lanes meet…there is a high volume of traffic, no sidewalks, no crosswalks and a tangle of lane markings for turn lanes. (Angie Schmitt, Streetsblog Network, Cleveland, Ohio, 1.31.13)
The danger at the intersection of Tenth Street and Fourth Avenue East, i.e., Salvation Corners, so to speak, is which way do you turn? Everyone makes a decision… everyone opts for a way of life that will either end in destruction or eternal life. People make an initial decision to enter each way of life through a gate that opens into either the Way of Life, i.e., heaven or, as the NLT states, the gate that leads to the Highway to Hell.
The first gate is a Wide Gate.
A. The Wide Gate opens to the way to hell.
“The Highway to Hell is broad and its gate is a Wide Gate, for the many who choose that way.” Matthew 7:13
Jesus describes the Wide Gate as being wide in order to accommodate the massive numbers of people who choose to pass through that gate. Most people opt, either knowingly or unknowingly, to go the way of least resistance. It’s a way you go when you want to go with the flow. It’s the way to go when you want to live life the way you want to live your life. It’s the way you go when you wish to be your own master. It’s the way you go when you want to believe whatever you want to believe. It is the gate where you shape religion to your liking. It is the gate where you can believe everyone prays to the same God and whatever religious path you chose leads to heaven.
But Jesus also speaks of another gate.
B. The Narrow Gate is the Gateway to Life.
“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the Narrow Gate. The Gateway to Life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” Matthew 7:13-14
The emphasis on this gate is in direct contrast with the description of the other gate. The other is a big, wide, expansive gate that opens onto a big, wide, expansive super highway. The other is a gate that is easy to find. In fact you don’t even have to look for it.
On my computer I have a default home page. When I turn my computer on it automatically goes to m Comcast home page. A default setting is a selection automatically used by a computer in the absence of a choice made by the user. Comcast is my default home page and unless or until I decide to change my default choice my computer automatically takes me to my Comcast home page.
The Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23 The Bible also says, “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life.” Romans 6:23 So by default, apart from Christ we are all automatically going to pass through that Wide Gate that leads to the Highway to Hell.
But the Narrow Gate that leads to the Way of Life is there and it is an alternate choice everyone can make. The wages of sin is death… but the gift of God is eternal life. There is another way and that way is described as accessible through a Narrow Gate.
A few weeks ago I went out to the Guitar Center to see if I could find a good wireless mic. I had never been in the store before but I found that upon getting in the front door I then had to pass through a turnstile in order to actually enter the store to shop. I don’t really like turnstile gates at stores or sports arenas or wherever. But one thing is certain, if I want to get into the Guitar Center I have to go through the turnstile. It is not designed for a fat guy but it is not designed to keep me out. However, if I really want to go in, I have to go through the turnstile.
Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6
In John 10:1-18 Jesus gave an extensive teaching about the Shepherd and His Sheep. In that teaching he described the sheepfold as a safe place for the sheep and as the shepherd for the sheep he not only leads the sheep into the safety of the fold but he also sleeps across the opening or door or gate to the fold. Jesus described himself this way, “I am the gate for the sheep. Those who come in through me will be saved…” John 10:7-8
Speaking of Jesus the Apostle Peter said in Acts 4:12: There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.”
The Narrow Gate is the place you decide to change your default destination. The Narrow Gate is the place you opt to receive Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord and become his follower.
The Bible says that if we confess our sins God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all of our unrighteousness. I John 1:9
The Bible says that to all who believe him and accept him, he gives the right to become children of God. John 1:12
The Bible says that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
Part of every wedding ceremony I officiate is a Declaration of Intent. The Declaration of Intent is where the groom and the bride declare their desire to be married to each other. Following the Declaration of Intent is the Exchange of Vows wherein the couple pledge themselves to each other for life.
Unfortunately a lot of people think that becoming a Christian is as simple as a Confession of Faith. While that is true it is also true that a Confession of Faith is something of a Declaration of Intent. It is intended to be more like an Exchange of Vows in which we commit ourselves to be followers of Christ along the entire Path to Heaven.
This passage is much more than a simple primer on how to get to heaven by deciding to go through the Gateway to Heaven.
II. The Christian life is much more than a once for all decision. It is a way of living between the initial decision and the final goal of salvation.
“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The Gateway to Life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.” Matthew 7:13-14
My sense is that Matthew 7:13-14 is not just about a choice of gates at the cross-roads but also a choice of paths or roads in or for life. Salvation is not just a decision of destiny but a choice of a way of life. Hence the tension of life lived on the “Highway to Hell” verses living life on the “Road to Life.”
There are a couple of things we need to understand. First…
A. The decision to become a follower of Christ includes the understanding that you do not bring your old way of life with you on the Road to Heaven.
Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21
The significance of the narrow gate is not simply a matter of understanding that Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven. The significance of the narrow gate is also that you must drop your un-Christlike attitudes and actions when you pass through. You can carry on whatever you wish and carry-on however you wish on the other road because it’s wide and accommodates all that baggage.
“When you follow the desire of your sinful nature, the results are clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissention, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
These attitudes and actions do not characterize the life of the person who has passed through the gateway of life and is on the path to heaven. You have to leave that stuff at the gate.
Interestingly, in the teaching that immediately follows Christ’s teaching on the Narrow Gate is a teaching on the Tree and Its Fruit. A good tree produces good fruit and a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit… and every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. You can identify a tree by its fruit and you can identify people by their fruit. Matthew 7:15-20
When a person becomes a follower of Christ he or she passes through the Gateway to Heaven and as a new creation in Christ, begins to live a new life in Christ.
However, the great danger for many is two-fold:
1. The first danger is, once through the Gateway to Heaven and onto the Road to Heaven we want to reclaim some of the things we dropped at the gate (the bad fruit of the sinful nature) and try to bring those things along with us on the way to heaven as part of the Christian life.
2. The second danger is, once through the Gateway to Heaven our primary objective is to no longer produce bad fruit. So we stop doing all those things that characterize the sinful nature… we don’t do sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissention, division, envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these.
When I grew up we had a little mantra we repeated in jest: “I don’t smoke, drink, dance or chew nor go with the girls that do.” And in the culture I grew up not doing those things was what made for life on the Road to Heaven.
Unfortunately, not producing bad fruit is not the same as producing good fruit.
When I was a kid we had an orchard. We had cherry trees, apple trees, apricot trees and pear trees. Now imagine my mother could have had a conversation with say, the apricot tree. The apricot tree had not been doing well; in fact it was producing terrible apricots. So my mother said to the tree, “Apricot tree, you are producing terrible fruit. I want you to stop producing bad fruit!.” The apricot tree said, “Okay, I’ll stop producing bad fruit.” The next spring the apricot tree did not blossom. That summer the apricot tree did not produce a single bad apricot… but neither did it produce a single good apricot.
Not producing bad fruit is not the same as producing good fruit!
The second thing a decider needs understand is this:
B. The decision to become a follower of Christ also includes the understanding that on the Road to Heaven we are to be conformed to the image and character of Christ and bear the good Fruit of the Spirit.
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Romans 12:2
Once a person passes through the Narrow Gate that person begins to produce or bear the Good Fruit of the Spirit, demonstrating the life and character of Christ.
Living the life of Christ and bearing the Fruit of the Spirit isn’t easy. It is much easier to just go with the flow and carry-on with all your carry-on baggage over at the Wide Gate. It is even easier to simply stop doing the stuff you used to do, i.e., simply not produce any bad fruit. The hard work of it is in bearing the Fruit of the Spirit. The road is described in Jesus’ own words as “difficult.”
Being angry is the easy way. Being critical is the easy way. Being out of control is the easy way. Being stubborn is the easy way. Being proud is the easy way…
The difficult way is the way the produces the Fruit of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Galatians 5:22-23
The challenge is not simply to come to Christ through the Narrow Gate; it is also to become Christlike on the Road to Heaven.
I read this week that the most “Dangerous Crossroads in America” is the intersection of Flamingo Road and Pines Boulevard in Pembroke Pines, Florida. State Farm Insurance stated that there were 357 crashes at that intersection over a two-year period. (ABC News, 10 Most Dangerous Intersections, June 27, 2013)
Life is full of what may be described as the “Worst Intersections” and Dangerous Crossroads”… and we are all at one this morning. Making the right turn is the difference between making the worst decision or the best decision of your life. Making the right turn is the difference between making the most dangerous decision of your life and making the safest decision of your life.
1. Some are standing at the Narrow Gate trying to decide if you want to follow Christ or take your stuff and move on to the Wide Gate. The decision is to accept Christ as the Way, the Truth and the Life. The decision is to turn from your old way of life, receive the free-gift of forgiveness and salvation in Christ and start down the Road to Heaven. Today you need to commit yourself to Christ and to becoming a devoted and lifelong follower.
2. Some are standing in the middle of the Road to Heaven seriously lacking in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. Today you need to renew your commitment to Christ and to cooperating with the ongoing work of God’s Spirit in your life so that “He who has begun a good work in you may continue that work until Jesus Christ returns.” Philippians 1:6
The challenge is not simply to come to Christ through the Narrow Gate; it is also to become increasingly Christlike all along the Road to Heaven. It’s decision time!