The previous post was intentionally short so that Jesus’ staggering words would be permitted all necessary space to stagger you and me. The clearly message of the passage, Matthew 7:13-14, is that the majority of mankind will not be saved. Whether that means that 47% (I don’t think the language is pointing this way), 10% (maybe), or <2% (most likely) will be saved, it is plain that the bulk of God’s image-bearers are bound for eternal destruction, never to commune with Him in Paradise. With that said, now let’s take the time to put Jesus’ brutal statement in its proper context:
First, I want to point to what follows these words. Vv.15-20 is the timeless litmus test of essence: We know a tree by the fruit it produces. Good trees produce good fruit; bad trees produce bad fruit. Similarly, we have a good gauge of a person by the fruit of his life. Pretty straightforward. It gets a little uglier in vv.21-23. Here we have the end-times language of “in that day.” In v.22 people point to their own deeds–what they deem to be the fruit of their lives–as proof that their reservations have been made for the Kingdom. “We called out to you as Lord; we prophesied, we cast out demons, we performed miracles ALL IN YOUR NAME.” Back comes Jesus’ harsh reply, “I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.” But, Lord, the fruit of my life; the prophecies, the exorcisms, the miracles…. In our time we might say, “Lord Jesus, I walked the aisle; I made church attendance a priority; I went on mission trips; I taught Sunday School–ALL IN YOUR NAME!”
Again, Jesus’ harsh words leave us staggering. And so in our study we hobble back a few lines to the gracious verses preceding vv.13-14. Here we find the Jesus that we want to hear speaking words we very much need to hear:
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him? In everything, therefore, treat people the same way that you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
As an aside, this is a really interesting seat for the Golden Rule, isn’t it? Why in the world is it located in a passage about prayer and God’s graciousness, leading directly into the account of the small gate at the end of the narrow way? We may deal with that another time, but in this post I want to deal primarily with the text that I have italicized. Notice the word pair seek/find in vv.7&8. Who finds? The one who seeks. Now notice the way that v.14 describes entry to the kingdom: “For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Again I ask, who are these few who find the small gate on the narrow way? Vv.7&8 say that it is those who seek. Who will receive access? Vv.7&8 say that it is those who ask. For whom will the gate open? Vv.7&8 say that it will open for those who knock. Notice the contrast of the people in vv.13-14. The wide gate on the broad way is the default end point. There is no need to seek it out, because the standard route of human life leads you there, down the path of destruction. The small gate on the narrow way is the exception, for God-seekers. This is not a discussion about free will/determinism, predestination, regeneration/faith, the wooing of the Spirit, or any other peripheral concerns that consume so many pages. I don’t believe Jesus was overly concerning Himself about that realm in delivering this invitation. In fact, I think we may say that Jesus’ very words here may constitute God’s initiation, the Spirit’s movement commencing even as we read these words: There is a path that leads to life. It is a narrow way. It is the difficult road, entailing a great deal of suffering. Though few will seek it, those who do will certainly find it. Vv.13-23 (“There are few who are saved and chances are good that you’re not one of them…”) are terrifying verses that we might use as spiritual boomsticks on weaker believers to set them in a holy tremble. But that is missing the point of the whole chapter. In Matthew 7:11 Jesus calls us evil people. We are evil people, and yet he concedes that we understand how to give good gifts, how to show kindness to our own children. Father God is nothing like us–He is infinitely better in every respect. Does He not know at least as well as we do how to give good gifts to His children? Does He not know how to deal with His own disobedient, ungrateful, complaining, fickle, foolish, forgetful children? Of course He does! And yet to people such as us He extends the unmarked invitation: Those who ask will receive; those who seek will find; those who knock will find the gate open before them.
How can we know in that day, when judgment dawns, when we cry out with the others to Jesus, “Lord, Lord!” (vv.21-23) that He will receive us? Because we have asked, sought, and knocked; and so we have received, we have found, and we shall enter the gate (vv.7-14). The real fruit of our lives will bear the testimony of a change in intrinsic nature by the power of the Spirit. So often we neglect the doctrine of sanctification. By the interplay of Spirit and Word in us through the course of our lives, God leads us through a process of being changed, reborn, renewed, restored, cleansed, and purified so that just as righteousness is spoken over us in justification, it will also be born, nourished, and grown within us as Spirit-led children of God. Isn’t that exactly what Paul was saying in Philippians 1:6? “…He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus?” No, we do not fully achieve the perfection or holiness of God in time our earth (that will happen ultimately in glorification), but God fundamentally changes who we are over time so that, increasingly, good fruit begins to be produced from an increasingly good tree (vv.15-20). The scary warning of vv.13-23 is laid out for us so that we may understand the importance of vv.24-27: The one who endures unto salvation is the one who hears Jesus’ words, considers them, and puts them into practice, this of course because he believes Jesus and takes Him at His word (faith), receiving the Spirit who grants him the capacity to obey.