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).