The Only Way to Life
Dr. Jim Denison
Where did you go on vacation this summer? How much work was it to prepare? You studied your options, read travel brochures, contacted travel agents and friends. You chose the location and manner of travel, reserved plane tickets and hotel rooms and admissions. You chose your clothes and packed them the night before. All to go someplace for a few days or weeks.
Janet is the vacation planner in our house. For our vacation this summer, she read more material than I had to master for my dissertation. I don’t even want to know how many hours she spent booking flights, confirming flights, and checking on details. The rest of us just did as we were told. And all was well.
Now let’s think about our final destination in life. Not just the place we’ll spend a few days or weeks, but all of eternity. If you could stretch a measuring tape from here to the farthest star, your lifespan on earth would be less than a hair on that tape. You’re en route to that final destination, right now. Are you ready to go? Are you sure? Are the people you care about? No trip could be more important than the one before us today. Let’s learn from the only One who knows the way.
Own the correct map
Jesus says there are two “gates” you need to know about for your trip.
Some gates are “narrow.” The Greek word means to be compressed, to be narrowed as in a tight place between rocks or walls, as with gates leading to narrow alleys between buildings. This is a gate you can enter only by yourself. No baggage, no companions. Just you.
Other gates are “wide.” They thought of the gate leading into the city. The gate which is so wide an army could march through it, ranchers and shepherds could bring their animals to market, a gate which is easy to see, to choose, to enter, with as much baggage and as many companions as you like.
Next, our Lord tells us about the two roads in life, connected to these gates.
One is “narrow.” This is a different word from the one found in v. 13; it means to be pressed down, the weight they used to crush grain into flour. The road which leads to oppressing and suffering, the way of unpopular persecution.
The other is “broad,” the Main Street to which the city gates opened, and the wide highway which led to it. A road which is level, easy to walk, with as many people and as much luggage as you like. The way that is popular.
Now Jesus tells us about the two crowds we will find in life.
The narrow gate and road have on them “only a few” (v. 14).
The wide gate and broad road have large crowds, for “many enter through it” (v. 13).
And these gates and roads lead their crowds to the two destinations of life.
One is “life.” This is the first use of this word in the Sermon on the Mount. It means life now and eternally, the “abundant life” he came to give us (John 10:10).
The other is “destruction.” The word means absolute ruin, total despair, death now and eternally.
According to the Lord Jesus, this is the way life is. Only two gates, only two roads, only two crowds, only two destinations. Life and destruction. No third choice.
I admit that his words are not popular or politically correct today. Intolerance is the great evil in our society. Live and let live. There’s no such thing as absolute truth (which is an absolute truth claim). Just do what’s right for you. All roads lead up the same mountain. Whatever God is to you is fine, so long as you’re sincere.
But may I ask you: upon what basis are you sure that you are right and God and the Bible are wrong? What evidence? Do you want to stake your eternal destination on what you hope is true, or have heard somewhere, or seems popular? Would you do that with surgery for your temporal body? Investments for your temporal money? Don’t we want the best experts giving us the best advice, backed by the best evidence and facts?
Here the God of the universe, the One who created all that exists, the only One who knows the future, tells us how life and eternity really are. Begin your journey by owning the correct map.
Avoid the wrong destination
When we choose the right map, we learn to avoid the wrong destination. What is this place of “destruction” about which Jesus warns us?
It is a real place. The Bible tells us what will happen for many people when their road comes to its end: “Each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:13-15).
What is the name of this place?
The Greek New Testament calls it tartarus, translated “hell:” “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment” (2 Peter 2:4).
And it calls it gehenna, the most common Greek name translated “hell.” This was literally the garbage dump outside the city walls where children had been sacrificed in earlier centuries.
Jesus used it as a metaphor for hell: fires constantly burning, stench and smoke everywhere, disgusting and revolting.
What is it like?
It is a place of torment: “In hell, where he was in torment” (Luke 16.23).
A place of fire: those who reject Christ “will be tormented with burning sulfur” (Revelation 14:10).
A place which is eternal and permanent: “Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us” (Luke 16:26).
A place of wrath: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36).
Jesus warned us constantly about this place of destruction. Eleven of the 12 references to “gehenna” in the New Testament come from his lips. In fact, he spoke more about hell than he did about heaven.
Dante captured the essence of this place in his Inferno:
I am the way to the city of woe.
I am the way to a forsaken people.
I am the way into eternal sorrow.
Abandon all hope ye who enter here (Canto 3:1-3, 9).
Choose the right destination
We don’t want to end up here. So let’s consider our other option: the road which lead to “life.” How do we find it? How do we walk on this road?
Jesus tells us: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out and find pasture” (John 10:7-9). With this result: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (v. 10).
The Bible says, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). We find life only through faith in Christ.
But we must choose to enter this life. If we are not on this narrow road, we are on the wide path. If we did not “enter” through the narrow gate, we have come through the wide one. If we are not intentionally on the road to life, we are on the road to destruction.
No one becomes a Christian by nationality; you are not born onto this road by the country of your origin. No one becomes a Christian by inheritance; your Christian parents or the grandfather who was a preacher are not enough. None travel this road by proximity, as though being around Christians and churches will do it.
We cannot be neutral. There is no third way, no third gate, no third road, no third crowd, no third destination. You have either made the deliberate and intentional decision to step through the gate of faith in Christ and travel the road of salvation, or you are on the road to destruction, whether you know it or not.
Let me speak plainly. Jesus’ parable makes clear the fact that you can be on the road to hell and not know it. You can think you are saved when you are not. Satan loves nothing more than to escort people to hell who are shocked when they arrive. No wise person would step onto any road without knowing where it will end. Are you certain you know where your current road is leading you?
Theologian John Hick pictures the situation this way. Two men are traveling a road together. The first believes that it will end in the Celestial City; the second believes that it will lead nowhere. Neither can see the end of the road, of course, so both are traveling by faith. They stroll together down the same hills, and climb the same mountains. They endure the same thunderstorms and enjoy the same periods of sunshine and warm breezes. All the while one believes he is traveling to the Celestial City, and the other to nowhere at all.
Then they come to the final turn in the road, and one will be right, and one will be wrong. Which are you?
If you know beyond doubt that you have chosen Jesus, that you are traveling his narrow road of life, let me ask: who are your bringing with you? Will you pray by name for a lost friend this morning? Will you make a prayer list of lost people and pray for them by name every day? Will you to become concerned about the eternal destination of the people you love? Will you pay any price to help them choose the road of life?
Ask them where they’re going. Take a chance, risk their response, decide that their eternity is worth whatever your witness costs you today. Don’t let them spend eternity in “destruction.” Make it your life purpose to help as many people as possible follow Jesus. Use your career and school, friendships and influence and opportunities for this sacred purpose and highest of callings. Orient your life around this one goal: to bring as many to Jesus as you can. And know that they will spend eternity thanking you, and the Savior to whom you have led them.
Nate Saint was one of five missionaries stabbed to death by Huaorani Indians in Equador in 1956. 40 years later, his son Steve was able to travel back, befriend those who had murdered his father, and learn the rest of the story. Here’s part of the report he wrote:
“Dawa, one of the three women, told me she had hidden in the bush through the attack, hearing but not seeing the killing of the five men…She also told me that after the killing she saw cowodi (foreigners like the five men) above the trees, singing. She didn’t know what this kind of music was until she later heard records…and became familiar with the sound of a choir.
“Mincaye and Kimo confirmed that they heard the singing and saw what Dawa seems to describe as angels along the ridge above Palm Beach (where the missionaries’ plane had landed). Dyuwi verified hearing the strange music, though he describes what he saw more like lights, moving around and shining, a sky full of jungle beetles similar to fireflies with a light that is brighter and doesn’t blink.
“Apparently all the participants (in the killings) saw this bright multitude in the sky” (Steve Saint, “Did they have to die?” [Christianity Today, September 16, 1996]). If you have chosen the road of life, so will you one day. This is the promise of God.