We have many choices and decisions to make in life. Columbia University recently did a study and found that the average person makes about 70 decisions every day. That’s 25,500 decisions a year. In a 70-year lifespan, it is 1,788,500 choices we’re making. We are truly fearfully and wonderfully made!
We are created in God’s image. We have a mind with which to think. We are eternal beings. We have a will, which enables us to make choices. What a wonderful thing that is! Think of all the choices we make: Where we live, who we will marry, which school we will attend, and what our career choices will be. In today’s passage, it turns out that we have an important choice to make in regard to our relationship with Jesus Christ.
Jesus is now at the end of His sermon on the mount. After He announced the kingdom of God was at hand and called people to repentance, He preached this sermon to a huge crowd and to His disciples. We call it the Sermon on the Mount. In that sermon, He describes kingdom-of-God living about Christian character, the way of being blessed by God, and the influence we can have in our world being salt and light. He is describing inner righteousness (not just external righteousness), but living from within in a right relationship with God. He talked about religious piety (how we pray, fast, and give) and our priorities (seeking first His kingdom). And He talked about our relationships and how we treat other people.
Now His sermon is drawing to a close. The main body of it has been given and the instructions have been laid out for all to hear. Notice how Jesus ends it. It turns out He wasn’t preaching for applause or just reflection, but for a decision. Every good sermon, I’ve learned along the way, goes for a verdict. It ends with a motion to act upon what has been preached. Jesus did this in the final section of His presentation. He gave us two options – only two. Not a third. No compromise. No middle of the road here. You have to choose between the two.
Jesus lays out the choices in this way. First, know this. We have two ways to go – two gates, two roads. One way is very broad. Jesus describes it as easy. It is popular and requires little of those who choose this way. It holds moral laxity and no boundaries of thought or conduct, no need for repentance or change. You can just follow the desires of your own heart. Little is required of you.
The other gate is narrow. It’s not the most popular choice. It’s difficult, uncomfortable, and inconvenient. Its boundaries have been given by divine revelation, by God’s Word. God deems what is true and good behavior.
This is not an easy path, for no one likes to be considered narrow by others, even though the truth is narrow. We know 2+2 = 4, no question about it. The truth is narrow. Jesus commands us to enter the narrow way.
Why? Because each way has its own destination. The broad way leads to destruction, the narrow way leads to life. Jesus says to choose the narrow way, which is Him. He is the way, the truth, and the life.
Jesus goes on to describe two trees – a bad tree, which bears bad, inedible fruit, and a good tree, which gives good fruit. He is actually warning us about false teachers within the Church. They may seem to have all the answers. They are very likable. They are charismatic, and their teachings are easy to swallow. They are dangerous though and deceptive as wolves. They are like wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are like bad trees, which yield bad fruit. They say things like,
Live for number one. You have to take care of you. It’s all about you.
It doesn’t matter what you believe; all roads lead to God.
You can earn your eternal life.
These people are dangerous to your spiritual health. Jesus says they can lead you to ruin. Instead, stick with good teachers who cling to God’s Word and teachings.
Good teachers pass on truths like those from the Sermon on the Mount:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who recognize their spiritual bankruptcy before God, and their need to ask for His grace.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, who want a right relationship with God and to live rightly in His sight. They hunger for righteousness not only for themselves but also for the whole world. Their desire is God’s will be done.
These good teachers will tell you to
Rely on God in absolute dependency.
Know Him as your heavenly Father who loves you.
Expect to suffer for the cause of God’s kingdom and the Gospel.
Pray for your enemies instead of hating people.
Forgive as God has forgiven you.
Let your light shine before others so they see the good deeds you do and give glory to your Father in heaven.
This is what life is about in the kingdom.
Good tree or bad tree? The choice is yours, of course. But know this: one way gives life and the other leads to ruin.
Jesus also says we have two ways to respond to Him and His message. We can choose to just give Him lip service. Those who choose this way profess all the right things and even do religious things, but they continue to retain control of their own life. They post a “No Entrance” sign to Jesus in certain areas of their life. Deep down, they want to hang onto things that are spiritually unhealthy. They don’t want to change, so there’s no repentance, no surrender. They act like spiritual chameleons who like to blend in. They stand up for Jesus on Sunday, but will not stand out for Him on Monday. Jesus says that on the last day when they stand before Him and call out, “Lord, Lord!” “Lord, Lord!” He will respond that He doesn’t know them. He will refer to them as evildoers because they are just playing religious games.
Or we can give Him our life. Don’t just talk a good game. Do what He says, which is the will of the Father. He doesn’t want just lip service, but your life.
Finally, Jesus points out that you can choose to just hear Him and go on your merry way, or you can hear Him and act upon His message. He says, “Everyone who hears my words and then acts on them is like a wise man who builds his house upon a rock. It stands strong, even in the worst storm. But those who hear my words and do not act on them are like the foolish man who built his house on a foundation of sand. The storms came, and the house was easily destroyed.”
As you read all the statements Jesus makes in this section of Scripture, you really can’t miss what He wants us to choose. There really are only two options, two gates, two roads, two teachers, two responses, two foundations. Only one choice is right for you – devote yourself to following Jesus Christ. Jesus is not looking for your applause or your admiration. He wants people like you and me to make a choice to follow Him, to live under Him in His kingdom, love Him, and serve Him.
During the introduction and the closing of this sermon, Matthew tells us there were actually two groups of people listening to Jesus as He talked about living in the kingdom of God that day – the huge crowd and the disciples.
When Jesus called for a verdict, there were two responses. The crowds were astonished when Jesus finished His teaching. They were impressed and admired Him. “Such authority in the way He speaks!” they said to one another. But Jesus wasn’t looking for admiration. He wanted them to follow Him and live their lives under His authority. Yet only a few listeners dropped everything and followed Him that day, choosing to surrender their lives to His leadership and live with Him and under His authority. Those who surrendered their lives to His leadership and chose to live with Him and under His authority were right to do so. We discover at the end of the Gospel story that Jesus truly did have authority.
As we enter into this holy week, we know that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world. We know He rose again on Easter morning, which was God’s “Yes!” to the authority of Jesus. He truly is the one to be trusted and followed!
What about you? What crowd are you in? Are you an admirer of Jesus or are you a follower? Have you made that choice yet in your life? Have you made a conscious commitment to be a follower of Jesus, to do what He says, to live with Him and under His authority, to let Him be the master of your life and to live for Him? Maybe you have never done that. Maybe you’ve never been given an opportunity. Many, even within the church, haven’t made the choice. Like drawing a line in the sand for Christ.
Samuel Shoemaker, an evangelist and wonderful pastor from the past, said “I am shocked to learn how many people in our churches have never anywhere made a decisive Christian commitment. They kind of oozed in the church membership on a conventional kind of basis, but no one has ever effectively dealt with them spiritually or helped them make a Christian decision.”
Have you made a decision to follow Christ? Let me share an image of what it means to follow Him. It’s the story about a man from the past named Charles Blondin, one of the best-known tight rope walkers in the world. He became obsessed with crossing Niagara Falls. So he strung a hemp cord 1100 feet across and 160 feet above the falls and announced he was going across from one side to the other. He was quite a showman, and a crowd of thousands gathered to watch him attempt the walk that day.
There he went – inch by inch. Tension was in the air. Life or death, no safety net below him. He crossed all the way over. People were taking pictures of him. So he did it again. He actually brought a camera with him that time and took a picture of the crowd taking pictures of him. He went another time with a chair, balanced the chair on the rope, and stood on the chair. When he went another time and took a wheelbarrow across, the crowd just went crazy. This man walks his rope with such authority!
Then he turned to the crowd and asked, “Do you believe I can do?” Of course they all believed. They cheered. Then he asked, “Who will get in the wheelbarrow with me?” And it got quiet. “Do you believe in me?” No one answered.
One man named Harry Colcord knew Blondin. He’d worked with him and had seen them do this hundreds of times. He got into that wheelbarrow, and they went step-by-step cross Niagara Falls. Can you imagine being Colcord, how it must have felt to take that ride? Well, they made it to the other side and the crowd went nuts again. But the crowd didn’t get in the wheelbarrow. They applauded him. They admired him. But only one man trusted him. The walk they went on together, neither one would ever forget.
My dear friends, have you gotten in the wheelbarrow with Jesus? Have you devoted yourself wholly to Jesus Christ as your Savior, the Lord and Master of your life? Maybe you’ve thought to yourself, I don’t know if I have a right to do something like that. I have some sins and regrets from the past. My life is not together enough to be a disciple of Jesus.
Jesus would say to you, I know you well. Your sinfulness is a big problem. Your heart is messed up and filled with all kinds of filthiness you can’t fix on your own and you can’t clean up in order to stand before God and look good. But I can take care of that! I died on the cross for you. If you will confess your sins and repent (which means asking God to forgive you and help you to change), I will wipe the slate clean. Just put your past sin and guilt in the wheelbarrow. Then put your present and future in the wheelbarrow – your time, your energy, your resources, your relationships, your mind, your emotions, your attitude, and your work. They don’t belong to you anymore but to me. If you say you can’t live this kind of kingdom life on your own, just ask me to come in and I will live my life in you.
Commit yourself to do what He says, knowing you will mess up along the way. You need His forgiveness and His power, and He will always give it to you. Simply form the intention saying Jesus, with your help I’ll try the best I can to do what you say. I give you my life, my time, my obedience.
Choose to get in the wheelbarrow today. Jesus has told us clearly that the day will come when all of humanity will be in one of two camps: those who choose to follow Him and those who reject Him. On that day, where will you be? This is your moment to choose.
Evangelist Billy Graham once said, “The destiny of your soul is in your own hands by the choice you make.” So friend, why not settle that today and choose to be a follower of Jesus Christ. In fact, if you want to be a follower, I invite you right now to close your eyes. If you are sitting, stand up so you can make a statement with your body as well as with your lips. Then repeat after me.
Jesus, I choose to follow you, to live under you in your kingdom, to do what you say, and serve you all the days of my life. Forgive my sins. Help me to change. I need you in my life. Amen.
If you prayed that prayer today with me, congratulations! You’re in for an adventure, and you can be sure that Jesus is smiling because He’s absolutely delighted by your choice. Amen.
Rev. Steve Kramer