Focus Verses: 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
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’. Matthew 7:13-14; 21-23
I don't know about you, but I wasn't the most popular kid in school growing up. In my senior year, I was voted "Most Likely to Succeed", but not "Miss Popularity". I was a nerd for the most part. My hubby wasn't either. He and I were talking the other day about popularity and bullies. He shared about a bully in school who picked on him. This bully was very popular, with quite a following. Interestingly, when this young man graduated college, he ended up working under the management of one of his former school day victims! Talk about irony. Following the crowd, doing what the popular people do, isn't always the better thing. It can take you to some pretty awful humbling places.
Jesus just entered the third year of His ministry by this point in the book of Matthew. He left Galilee, Peter, James, and John's hometown, and stopped in the region of Judea past the Jordan River. There was a huge crowd that gathered around him. At this point in Jesus' ministry, He was famous. Many wanted to be healed or hear Him teach. It would be like having a famous evangelist come to your area, everyone from the local churches would want to go hear him. But as was usual, there were the hecklers of His day in the crowd. They wanted to "trip Him up" by asking questions that would condemn Jesus of heresy (false teaching according to the Jewish law). Jews in that day followed all the laws and the extra rules the Jewish teachers added just in case a law in the book of Moses wasn't well understood. Essentially, these religious police were bullies, and very popular. They were listening in to find something that would incriminate Him worthy of death in their custom.
I chose the Matthew passage because of the richness of this passage in Jewish culture. Keep in mind that Mark gives us a "snapshot" view of Jesus' ministry leaving out the tricksters and Luke gives a glimpse of these bad popular boys at the beginning of Luke 18, but the finer detail shows up in Matthew 19. It is like painting a picture with the broad strokes first, the additional color which shows a bit more of what the picture should be, then all the fine strokes that bring out the depth of beauty in the painting. It is important here to see the deep, deep darkness of following the religious popular crowd.
The rich young man was doing the popular thing by keeping all the rules. As he heard Jesus teach about the Kingdom of God, it evidently struck him that he might need to do some other deeds to earn his way into the Kingdom. He was a good Jew of the time, probably the epidome of Judaism because he was blessed with great wealth. Jesus cut to the heart of this man's question, though: leave what is near and dear to your heart and follow me. He walked away sad because he couldn't give up his wealth. When the disciples heard this, they were concerned they might miss out as well. But Jesus pointed out that entering the Kingdom of God is impossible without the work of God in a person's life. He went on to tell them they would sit on the twelve thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel. What irony! That certainly would have been a slap in the face of the religious popular crowd.
It may be popular in your church to go to certain events or hang with the popular people in church. It also may be the thing to do by only greeting people in the worship service who are "somebody" but ignore those who aren't so popular. There are things people may do at work that are part of the "in crowd", but may not be right. I know I would certainly be popular if I taught yoga or a relaxation meditation class, but I don't because it's not right in God's Kingdom. I could lead people to destruction instead of the Life Jesus offers. By doing the right thing, you will probably find yourself walking a long, lonely path to the Kingdom of God. The widely traveled highway of wrongness leads to destruction, but the narrow path of God's rightness leads to life. There are few people who will be traveling it with you, but it will certainly make all the difference in the Lord's eyes. Which one will you take?
May God bless you.
Stand Out by Thomas Lefebvre on Unsplash
Two Paths by Caleb Jones on Unsplash
Church People public domain from Pixabay