The Narrow Road

MATTHEW 1 of 12

This morning we’re starting 12 weeks in the gospel according to Matthew. It’s the first book of the New Testament, so not terribly tricky to find. There are four gospels—four accounts of Jesus’s life—preserved for us in Scripture.

Last summer we did 12 weeks in Mark and we had such a good time that we thought we would do 12 weeks in Matthew. Matthew shares a lot in common with Mark. Like, a lot in common. If you go through and compare Matthew with Mark—you know, go through verse by verse, word by word, you’ll find that around ninety percent of Mark is actually preserved and embedded inside of Matthew. Matthew is almost twice as long as Mark, but most of Mark is still there. Sometimes it’s been rearranged, frequently material has been added around it, but it’s still there.

It’s like Mark is like a building to which Matthew has added on.

Most of us have been in a house or a building before where almost seamless additions have been made. That staircase definitely isn’t original—because the building didn’t originally have a second floor—but it matches so much of what was originally there. The wood, the stone, the style. The building is most twice as a big—and it feels so much different now—but ninety percent of the original building is still there in one shape or another. That’s what most scholars think has happened with Matthew and Mark.

Matthew was there—following Jesus. And he’s been following Jesus ever since. But as Matthew is getting older, Matthew is wanting to pass on the events and teachings and reality of Jesus. He knows that Mark’s account is circulating around… but it’s like Matthew wants to emphasize different things than Mark. He wants to accent things differently. And so most scholars think that Matthew has used Mark’s gospel as his foundation, but he has renovated it.

Last summer we said that Mark is like an action movie—it’s like the Matrix or Inception. A lot of action is happening, but all that action is serving a story—a story loaded with symbols and significance and meaning and depth.Matthew has taken Mark’s action movie and renovated it, supplemented it, added to it. To the point where Matthew doesn’t feel like an action movie.

Matthew feels more like a drama with dynamite dialogue. Have you ever watched a movie or a TV show where the dialogue—the words spoken by the characters—is just so unbelievably good that you just can’t wait for this character and that other character to have that conversation? If you were caught up in a TV show like The West Wing or Breaking Bad and someone were to yawn and say to you: “When are we going to get to the explosions?”

You’d probably think: “Didn’t you just hear that conversation? That is the explosion. That one conversation had me more on the edge of my seat than all of the explosions in that Transformers movie. Maybe this is an example of what I mean.

No explosions, nothing jumping out at us, and yet we’re on the edge of our seat. Even if you’ve never seen the movie, in just these couple of minutes, you want King George VI to speak. Because you sense that there’s more at stake than just him speaking. When he finally erupts: “I have a voice” that dialogue stirs something deep within us. Something within us resonates so deeply when we hear: “Yes. Yes you do.” We want to hear him speak. We want him to have a voice. Maybe it stirs something deep within all of us because we all want to have voice. We want other people to hear us—to know us. And we want to hear and to know other people. And the words between these characters—this dialogue—taps into that.

The best dialogue does that. The best dialogue invite us—teaches us, challenge us—to reimagine our lives. To live in a new kind of way. The best kind of dialogue can open up a new world before us.

That’s a bit like what Matthew is like. Much of the material with which Matthew has renovated Mark’s story is talking material. It’s teaching material. Jesus is like an action hero in Mark’s story—bursting onto the battlefield and conquering evil. As Jesus began his ministry in Mark, he was proclaiming the kingdom of God and casting out demons. That’s how Mark repeatedly described Jesus: he’s announcing the kingdom of God and trashing evil. That’s what Jesus does—he conquers evil. Matthew on the other hand describes the beginning of Jesus’s ministry this way:

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed; and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

Matthew 4v23 – 5v2

The announcing the kingdom is still there, and the trashing evil is still there… but there’s a lot more. In Matthew, Jesus begins to teach them. He sees all of the crowds but then disciples—students, learners—come to him out of the crowd. And then Matthew gives us three solid chapters—from chapter 5 to chapter 7—of Jesus teaching.

Those chapters are often called the Sermon on the Mount, perhaps you’ve heard of it? And that block of teaching is just the first of five blocks of teaching that Matthew gives us. In Matthew’s story, Jesus is a speaker of words. Jesus is a teacher. Jesus talks a lot more. Matthew has a lot more dialogue; and the dialogue is dynamite. There’s power in what’s being said.

So where do we begin with Matthew’s gospel? Last summer we spent 12 weeks trying to get a feel for Mark’s gospel. And that was a stretch. Mark’s gospel is 16 chapters. Matthew’s gospel, on the other hand, is 28 chapters. This house is almost twice as big. We’re not going to be able to exhaustively explore every nook and cranny of the house. We’re going to dip into key sections and stories of Matthew—especially some of the stuff that’s only found in Matthew.

Today, I just want us to hear something Jesus says near the end of the Sermon on Mount in Matthew 7. It’s only two verses—and they are verses that sound familiar. But these verses only show up in Matthew. Matthew is the only gospel-writer who preserves these words from Jesus, and I think they’re as good a gateway as any into the heart of his gospel.

Enter 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 7v13-14

“Narrow is the road that leads to true life,” Jesus says. “Small is the gate… but it IS possible. And I’m inviting you to find it. To enter through that small gate. I’m inviting you to walk that narrow road.”

So many people miss it—they chase all kinds of things but miss out on real life. But Jesus want us find it. That’s one way of thinking about the good news according to Matthew. About all of the teaching and dialogue and what Matthew wants to emphasize. The gospel according to Matthew is good news of a narrow road.

That seems a little counter-intuitive. Right? We hear these words of Jesus—we hear about a narrow road—and it doesn’t sound like good news. I’ve heard some preachers make Jesus’s words here sound like a threat. You better toe the line, you better walk the narrow path, or—man oh man—is God going to get you. This passage doesn’t sound like gospel—like good news. It sounds like bad news. But in reality, this passage might just summarize the good news according to Matthew.

Jesus invites us to a different path, a different way, a different kind of life. There is a kind of life that really is life. And we can find it. It’s difficult. It’s hard. It’s takes time and patience. But Jesus is the one calling us onto this narrow road, so God must make it possible.

The call to the narrow road is extraordinarily difficult but it’s also the best news imaginable. The narrow road is good news. Anyone who has practiced anything can tell us about this. Anyone who has ever practiced swinging a baseball bat or a golf club has experienced the narrow road. Anyone who has ever practiced learning a musical instrument, or a new language, or baking a particular dish… they know about the narrow road.

There is a narrow road. You need to hold the bat—hold the club—in a specific way. There are scales to practice, the verb goes at the end of the sentence in German, the ingredients need to be mixed in a particular way in particular order otherwise the whole thing won’t work. The narrow road isn’t bad news—it’s just the way things are. When someone who can’t hit a baseball is told about the narrow road of batting practice, they don’t despair. They don’t look at a coach and say: “What horrible news! Why are you so awful to me?” They say, “Ah ha! That’s the way. What good news. This narrow road is the way I’ll learn to hit the ball.”

To switch back into the metaphor of movies and film, you can see the narrow road on full display if you watch the behind the scenes material of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies. In all of those movies, all of the actors and performers had someone training them how to move. In those movies, you’ve got elves and dwarves and orcs and all kinds of creatures coming to life on the screen. And behind the scenes, there’s a guy developing and designing and training people how to move. Literally there’s this guy who is showing dozens and dozens of people:

“You’re playing a dwarf? You’re playing an elf? Ok. You’ve got to move like this. Hold your self this way. Handle your armor this way. Handle your sword this way. You’ve almost got it. Try it again.”

Dwarves and elves and orcs all move in a particular way. We’ve never seen what these creatures before, so all of the performers need someone to show them how they’re supposed to move. And so there’s a guy teaching everyone a dwarf moves like this, an elf moves like this, an orc moves like this. It’s a narrow road. It’s a narrow way. But if you want to be a part of this new world coming into existence on the screen, this is the way it looks.

As we begin studying Matthew over the summer, we begin here: Jesus has come to show us the way a human being moves. None us quite know this strange creature that we call a human being should move. And Jesus brings us good news:

“Here is the way. A human being moves like this. It’s a narrow road. It’s a small gate. So many people are missing it—but I’m inviting you into it.”

That’s why we do anything we do as a church. We want to come to Jesus and learn the narrow road from him. That’s Matthew’s goal for us. Not that we would gain trivia about Jesus. Not that we would get more knowledge about history. But that we would learn the true way of being human. That we would become disciples of Jesus.

That’s why Matthew writes his gospel. If the life of Jesus isn’t frequently course-correcting the way we move through our lives, Matthew would say then we’re just fooling ourselves. And that is a frequent theme in Matthew. People who are interested in religion or history or moral behavior, people who are fascinated by the Bible, but who refuse to embrace Jesus. That’s who Jesus is warning the most strongly in the gospel of Matthew: fine, religious people who refuse to let Jesus reshape their lives. Until we’re letting Jesus teach us how to move, we’re missing true life. Until we really want Jesus—the living Jesus—more deeply, more intimately than we want anything else, we’re fooling ourselves.

Jesus has come to teach us, to say to us: “You want to reflect the image of God? Ok. You’ve got to move like this. Hold your soul this way. Handle your anger this way. Handle your sexuality this way. You’ve almost got it. Try it again.” Jesus shows us what real life looks like.

And this is nothing close to us saving ourselves. God by his grace in Jesus is always the one who saves us. That’s what all of the gospels are about: the way that God in Jesus is saving us. But we’re invited to participate in his salvation. To work out this salvation in our lives. To learn what it means to a part of the new world that’s coming into existence by his grace. That’s something Matthew doesn’t want us to miss. Like anything of any value, it’s a narrow road.

May we not fool ourselves. May this study, may this series, may this summer, be the season when we embrace Jesus as deeply as Jesus embraces us. May we be haunted by the dialogue of Jesus—by the love and teachings and living presence of Jesus. And may Matthew’s gospel teach us to move like him.

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