The Road Less Traveled by Rick Burdette
The Road Less Traveled
Matthew 7:13, 14
I’m not sure how many funerals I’ve done in 35 years of ministry, but it would be in the hundreds. I’ve done biker’s funerals, golfer’s funerals, hunter’s funerals, policemen’s funerals, veteran’s funerals, and the hardest of all, children’s funerals. I’ve dealt with sudden death and long illnesses.
I had a funeral last year where the family wanted two songs played: Brad Paisley’s “When I get Where I’m Goin’” and then right before I shared the sermon, Garth Brooks’ “I’ve Got Friends in Low Places.” I’m serious; I kid you not. But there is one thing I’ve noticed about every single funeral I’ve ever done…no matter who the person was or the life they’ve lived, someone will always say, “They’re in a much better place.”
I know that’s a comforting thought. I know death is painful. The separation hurts, and it’s easier to deal with if we can tell ourselves, “They’re in a much better place.”
The struggle I have with this is I can’t preach anyone into heaven at their funeral. The road they’ve chosen to walk here on earth has come to an end. For some the walk was long, for others much shorter, and I’m thankful God is the righteous judge of our lives and not me or you. But Jesus says something powerful about our steps here on earth and the road we’ve chosen to walk.
“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 7:13, 14).
Let’s look today at two very different roads and how essential it is to choose the one less traveled. As with any journey we start with the entrance.
1.What’s behind door number 2?
There are some very famous and easily recognizable entrances in the world. The gate in front of Buckingham Palace, the entrance to Disney World, the Gate in front of the White House at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. You see those entrances and you immediately know where you’re headed. You know what’s behind those doors.
Jesus describes two entrances, two gates that we face as we enter life. One is wide and the other is narrow.
These are not entrances we will face at birth. Some of us will be born with a silver spoon, others a plastic spork. We do not get to choose our parents, our gender, our race, or our personalities. God has designed those in the womb. Psalm 139 says, “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” Each of us was created by God and for God.
The entrances to life that Jesus is speaking of come with a choice, regardless of our differences. Each and every one of us will choose the purpose and direction of our lives. And it begins with the gate we choose to open and walk through. Jesus makes it clear most people choose the wide gate.
The wide gate is easy to recognize and even easier to walk through. It’s natural, it’s well lit, there’s no real difficulty in opening this one.
I remember being in line with thousands of people at Disney World early one morning. The entrances were well marked and the crowd surged easily toward them. They almost pushed you along. It didn’t take any real effort. Just go with the flow and pretty soon I was at the ticket window handing the smiling girl my Visa so she could charge 8 billion dollars on it. Then our crew walked on into the Magic Kingdom.
Jesus lets us know the first gate is much like the one at Disney World. It’s easy to recognize, it’s huge, the flow will push you toward it, and behind that gate is the promised Magic Kingdom.
But what if you looked to your left and there was a second gate? It was tiny in comparison and only one or two people were squeezing through it. And on the other side instead of “E” ticket rides were a cross and a basin of water and a towel. Pretty simple choice for most people, huh?
The narrow gate is shaped like a cross. If I walk through this gate I walk to my death. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me he must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” In fact, Jesus says, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved.” (John 10:9) He states unashamedly, “I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except by me.” (John 14:6)
Behind the wide gate I can be my own boss, go where I want, when I want. I care about me first and I make my choices in life accordingly. But behind the narrow gate lies a Savior who demands hardship. I have to lose my life in Him to find it. I have to die to self to live in Him. My feet are supposed to follow His. I’m called to take the next step: following Jesus into the unknown.
That’s exactly what Jesus says.
II. Choose carefully your traveling companions.
The way to heaven is not determined by majority vote. It is determined by whether you’ve entered by the small gate or not. And that’s a choice every single one of us will make with our lives. C.S. Lewis in “Mere Christianity” writes, “Every time you are making a choice, you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself…Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.”
That’s exactly what Jesus meant when he said (John 15:9-14).
There aren’t as many people on that narrow road because it’s very narrow in its focus. In fact there is an absolute that people who travel this road have accepted…Jesus is the only way to heaven.
Folks, that is not a popular statement or belief in this world’s current philosophy of salvation. It’s extremely narrow to say Jesus is the only Savior of mankind. Without Him you are headed to destruction.
Because most people believe you can work your way to heaven. “If I do more good things than bad I’m in.” Like a great heavenly scale we pray the good outweighs the bad. Then we can be “in a much better place” or if we believe in God then that belief gets us into heaven. “I know he never went to church or was really all that religious, but I know he believed in God.” Folks, works save none of us. Salvation is a gift from God by grace that we accept through faith. And believing? “Even the demons believe there is a God, and they shudder.” (James 2:19)
So most of the world is pushing along in the flow believing it can save itself or that simply believing is enough. All the while God says the narrow road and small gate require a new birth. If you want to see my kingdom, to enter my kingdom, it requires that you be born again. It is the spirit of Christ living in us that changes our hearts, refocuses our vision, adjusts our priorities and makes us long for home more than here. It’s that Holy Spirit who creates a new person as we die to self, are buried in Christ and rise to walk in new life.
You will not follow Jesus in the first step or the next step into the unknown without the influence of His Spirit. You can quench the Spirit, resist the Spirit, lie to the Spirit, or walk in the Spirit.
You can live your life influenced by your nature or God’s Spirit. Most will choose to be their own master. Choices will be made through that filter. Tip your hat at God, but the fruit of your life bears out where you are, and where you’re going. It’s really crowded on this road, too. So it must be right. Folks, if God is your co-pilot, you’re in the wrong seat!
Or you belong to Christ. His Spirit lives and works in you. It’s a growing relationship on the narrow road home, but the transformation of you becoming like Jesus is clear, to you and to others who share the same spirit and the same road.
Let me end by saying…
III.Both roads don’t lead to the same place.
“The narrow road leads to life. Only a few find it. The broad road leads to destruction and many enter through it.”
Choices become habits, habits become character, character becomes destiny.
Life is a vapor. It’s gone before we know it. We put our kids in the crib and the next day we hand them the car keys.
Satan’s most effective lie isn’t “there is no God” or “there is no heaven or hell” or “sin doesn’t matter.” Satan’s greatest lie is “there is a God, there is a heaven and hell, and sin matters, but I’ll wait until tomorrow to do anything about it.”
I’ll become God’s man tomorrow. I’ll start my walk with Jesus soon. But before we know it our choices have become habits, our habits have become our character and our character has determined our destiny.
Today, right now there’s still time to change the road you’re on. Jesus is still the gate; life on the narrow road is abundant and full of joy. And it leads to heaven. Most people will not choose it. But today you don’t have to be most people. You can be one of the few who find it.
Frances Chan tells the story of Stan Gerlach in his book, “Crazy Love.” Stan was a successful business man asked to give the eulogy at a memorial service for a friend. Stan said he decided to share the gospel at the end of the message. Stan told the mourners “You never know when God is going to take your life. At that moment there’s nothing you can do about it. Are you ready?” Then Stan sat down, fell over and died. His wife and sons tried to resuscitate him, but there was nothing they could do—just as Stan had said a few moments earlier.
Frances Chan said he’d never forget receiving that call and heading over to the Gerlach’s home. “Stan’s wife, Suzy was just arriving home. She hugged me and cried. One of the sons, John, stepped out of the car weeping. He asked me “Did you hear the story? Did you hear about dad? I’m so proud of him for doing what he loved the most, telling people about Jesus.”
Matthew 10:32, 33 say “Whoever acknowledged me before men I will also acknowledge him before my father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men I will disown him before my father in heaven.”
Can you imagine what if felt like for Stan Gerlach? One moment he’s at a memorial service saying, “This is who Jesus is.” The next he is before God hearing Jesus say, “This is who Stan Gerlach is.” One second he was confessing Jesus; a second later Jesus was confessing him. It happens that quickly. And it can happen to any of us. In the words of Stan Gerlach, “Are you ready?”