(Spoken at the Palo Alto Church of Christ on November 30, 2104)
Audience participation time! Everyone raise a hand. If you can’t raise your hand, raise a finger or just nod.
I will be looking for YES answers, or no answer at all.
How many of you have had a difficult time in your life?
How many have had to do a difficult task?
How many have had a difficult task and were tempted to find an easy way around it?
How many have actually chosen the easy way?
How many have discovered that the easy way is not easy?
How many have been attracted to something that you knew was wrong or bad for you?
How many people here have chosen that attractive thing that was wrong?
It looks like everyone here has had experiences with things that are not easy to do and have had problems being attracted to things that were not particularly good for you – even downright wrong.
This is a universal problem that has been plaguing man since the beginning.
The First Lady (Eve, not Michelle) had a difficult choice to make and she chose the more attractive one by eating that fruit.
Adam had a difficult choice to either obey God or go along with what his attractive wife offered him. He made the wrong choice and was kicked out of the Garden of Paradise.
I had a couple of very difficult choices to make recently. I went on a trip to Philadelphia by airplane.
Arriving at the airport at 4 in the morning, I checked in and proceeded to the gate and stood in line for the TSA inspectors.
After taking off my shoes coat and belt, I put my pocket contents like loose change, keys, cell phone and portable battery chargers, I stepped through the metal detector without a problem. I was then led into the machine that can count the hairs on your legs and underarms and asked to hold my hands over my head.
My first difficult decision of the day was whether or not to do a pirouette inside the machine and ask them if they wanted to examine anything else.
I chose to keep my mouth shut. I was rewarded by them asking me to remove the folded money from my pocket, fan it in front of them and resume the pose again with the money held high in the air.
Again, I had another difficult choice to make. I knew I had the right to be silent, but my patience was getting thinner by the second. I successfully won the internal battle and kept my lips closed.
The machine can also read minds because I was led over to the side and a guy with a wand gave me a once over.
A second person, a real BIG person with huge muscles grabbed hold of my shoulders. My first thought was he was going to massage my shoulders to calm me down after the searches. I was wrong. He proceeded to search my shoulder areas, underneath my arms, and down my sides all the way to my ankles.
I was tempted to knee him in the chin and say it tickled.
I made the final difficult choice and resisted temptation because I really wanted to get on the plane.
Remember this story, as it is important. I assure you will see this again in a little while.
As human beings, we face many difficult decisions and tasks. We also face many temptations that may lead to discomfort, pain and even death.
Like eating too much, as some of us did this past Thanksgiving. Or giving in to even worse temptations.
As Christians, we have all those human weaknesses and temptations. As Christians, we also have even more difficulties.
We have God’s commandments to follow. We also have even more difficult challenges as Jesus expanded His Father’s commands and made them even more difficult to follow.
We commit murder not only be killing an innocent person, but we also commit murder just by wishing someone dead in our mind.
On top of this, we have a weakness for giving into temptations, especially when those temptations may give us momentary pleasure or a sense of excitement.
And this is not all! We are surrounded by ungodly people who make fun of our beliefs and knowledge of God, His Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
They continually make fun of us, prod us into saying something unchristian-like so they can try to prove how wrong we are.
It’s not easy to be a Christian.
Many people have written about the uneasiness of life. I’m going to read this verse.
It’s not that easy being green;
Having to spend each day the color of the leaves.
When I think it could be nicer being red, or yellow or gold-
or something much more colorful like that.
Yes, this is the first song that I remember from Kermit the Frog.
Kermit knows about life’s difficulties. After all, hanging around Miss Piggy all the time can be frustrating, especially since she is a diva and constantly upstages him.
Being green is difficult. First of all, you often blend into the background of the lush vegetation and are ignored by some.
And being green, especially around all those other vibrant colors, makes you feel out of place and less important than others.
You are tempted to get out a spray can of flashy paint and be just like the other flashy people around you. Or maybe load yourself up with a bunch of bling! You will definitely stand out in the crowd.
And of course, there are all those shiny and colorful objects that captivate us. They tempt us into behaving badly and are a real threat when we try to act like non-Christians just to fit in.
You just might even just bend your Christian beliefs a bit to feel more like the “in” crowd.
Even worse, you could deny Jesus!
It isn’t easy to be a Christian.
So, I ask you: What are some of those shiny, attractive things that tempt us?
Kermit the Frog may have nailed some of the problems like jealousy, covetous, and selfishness, but he didn’t describe all the other challenges we have as Christians.
If you read Proverbs 10 through 29, the Proverbs of Solomon, you will find just about everything that makes God mad and what makes Him happy. No, I’m not going to read the hundreds of proverbs right now, but they cover everything from foolish sons to justice to dishonesty.
We have to be careful, because it isn’t easy to be a Christian.
Jesus tells us in three sentences how difficult it can be to get to heaven.
Please turn to:
Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV)
I invite you to read along with me:
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.
14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
The original Christian movement, the followers of Jesus, was called The Way. So it is befitting that Jesus refers to roads and gates.
It is interesting that Jesus refers to public and private roads. During Jesus’ time Public roads had to be 16 cubits (24 feet) in width. Private roads were restricted to a maximum of 4 cubits (6 feet).
The public roads were well-traveled, easy to follow and generally in good repair. After all, the Romans placed great importance on the roads to keep their empire under control.
The private roads were much smaller. They generally were crooked to bypass hills and obstacles. The Romans had the manpower to level hills and remove boulders from the path of their roads while the private citizen had much less resources. Passage was a lot more difficult on the private ways.
Jesus’ choice of the word gate is also interesting. The Jews referred to a gate as an introduction or a means to acquire something. For instance, after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, God shut the gate of paradise. God also opened up the gate of repentance.
Let’s look at the wide gate and broad road.
Imagine a large gate opened up leading to a broad road. The surface is covered with smooth bricks or flat stones. It is well worn and comfortable to walk upon.
Now imagine all the shiny things, the bling, the dazzling colors everywhere. Imagine all the enticing food that will lead to perpetual, selfish gluttony.
Imagine all the beautiful temptations of the flesh. Imagine all the easy shortcuts in life inviting you further down the road.
You can see the promises of being god-like and having infinite wisdom a little further down the road. This road is truly lined with roses and no thorns to scratch you.
Every good-intentioned act that leads to evil is present and if you are on this well-travelled road you will have a lot of company.
After all, many men and women will follow their own earthly passions down this path. Didn’t Jesus say that most people will follow this path save for a few?
Those who willfully break God’s commandments will feel welcomed here. Those who sin and refuse repentance will be comfortable travelling along the wide road.
The evil murderer walking side by side with the false preachers will follow the easy road. There are many choices you can make that will keep you on this road.
The big surprise is at the end of the road. Hell and destruction loom ahead!
Imagine a wasp trap that a lot of people use at picnics to keep the yellow jackets and wasps at bay. It is very wide at the top and gradually gets smaller and ends with the tip of a funnel. A solution that attracts the wasps and maybe some fresh meat is put in the bottom of the bottle.
The wasps are attracted with all the irresistible aromas and fly down the funnel. Once inside they cannot fly out. They are trapped and doomed to eventually drown in the liquid.
The wide gate and the broad are just as irresistible to most people as the wasp trap is to the wasps.
Let’s look at the narrow gate which is referred to as the straight gate in some translations.
A narrow gate is usually a small door in a larger gate. Only one person can go through it at a time. Often these narrow gates were disguised among scrollwork or wooden decorations and patterns on the larger gate. If you didn’t know what to look for, you could easily miss the entrance.
You also can find narrow gates hidden along walls, and they are well-hidden.
Once you have recognized the narrow gate, you enter in and find a narrow, or private, road. This way will be difficult at times.
You may find rocks over which you may stumble. You may find it crooked and you may not see the final destination around the bend.
You will find pain and suffering along the way. The road is narrow and is easy to step off into the gutter.
Eventually, you will reach the end and enter into heaven. You will have everlasting life.
I have some questions:
How do you get off of the wide road?
How do you recognize the narrow gate?
How do you overcome the hardships while you are on the narrow road?
How do you get back on the narrow road when you fall into the gutter?
How can we stay on the narrow road?
Let’s look at the wide road again. You can only get turned around one way: that is through repentance.
When you confess your sin or sins AND turn around your behavior that caused the sin, you can then turn around on the broad road and back out the wide gate.
Recognizing the narrow gate is accomplished by repenting your sins and accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Once you have done this the Holy Spirit, our counsellor that Jesus promised to send once he returned from heaven, will be our guide and we will have that narrow gate opened up for us.
We can overcome the hardships we encounter along the narrow road through prayer and help from Jesus (our intercessor), God and the Holy Spirit. If we trip on a stumbling block help is available as long as we follow the Way. Prayer is a great help during the difficult times.
If we happen to fall into the gutter and sin, there is a way to get back on to the Way: repentance!
We can stay on the narrow road by following the words of God and His Son, Jesus. We have to choose to follow the Way. Our decisions which we make in day-to-day life will select either the narrow or broad path.
It isn’t easy being a Christian.
Remember my experience at the airport? I could have easily chose the path to hell on earth, but the reward of getting on that airplane and flying to the heavens was a greater incentive for me.
Do not put worldly things in front of your spiritual life. Yes, it is hard to resist the temptations of life and we cannot resist them all by ourselves.
We will need God’s help through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
It doesn’t matter if you are green. It doesn’t matter what color you are or how vibrant your clothes are. We will all have difficult times, but all of us can receive help to stay on the narrow Way to heaven.
Be vigilant, because being a Christian isn’t easy.
Let us pray.