Editors note: This summer I am writing about the Gospels each Monday. In June we looked at how each of them opens, the themes that emerge in the first few chapters. This month, we are looking at the middle of each one—how does the narrative unfold, what does each author want us to see? Next month we will look at how each one ends. Because every great story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And this is the best story of all.
Matthew 7-20: a narrow road
After establishing that there is a new Kingdom, Jesus says, basically, the road to this Kingdom is a narrow one. Not everyone wants it, obviously, but not everyone “gets” it, either.
The Gospel of Matthew continues to offer more rules, such as the Golden One (7:17). And we are reminded again: the Kingdom is not just for the Jews, a radical idea at the time. This kingdom is for all peoples. “In His name the Gentiles will hope.” “Many will come from the East and the West and recline at table with Abraham (8:11).“
But just because it is for all peoples does not mean it is for all people.
“The way is hard that leads to life,” Jesus says. “And those who find it are few (7:16).” In fact, he continues, there will be those who call him Lord, cast out demons, prophecy in his name and do good works, who are, nonetheless, “workers of lawlessness (7:21-23).” As the Gospel unfolds, Jesus sets out the potential cost of discipleship, including persecution as well as loss of family and loss of life. It is those who endure who will be saved (10:22).
In some ways, it is hard to even understand what is going on here, when he heals lepers and casts out demons and then tells those he delivers not to even talk about it (12:15-16). They do, of course, and pressure mounts as the political and religious authorities become more and more concerned about how many people are flocking to him. But his efforts to tamp down the enthusiasm appear to be a way of buying more time for an important task—training his disciples (11:1). And defining who can be one. Even his parables are obscure, and there are those who “seeing, they do not see and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand “13:10-17).” This requires him to explain the parables to the disciples in private. And they don’t always understand. “How is it that you do not understand (16:11)?” he asks at one point.
So what gives? Doesn’t he want everyone to understand and believe? And why does he keep adding rules that are impossible to keep, especially with conditions about the heart, about obedience coming from inside (15:19)? Some of this is not clear until the end of the story, which we shall see in a future post. But some of this has to do with his own will, and his own choosing: “no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him (11:27).” This is a mystery. And no one really likes it, often not even those who believe it. (And we all should.) But the key is there, his constant reference to faith that saves, heals and delivers (8:13, 9:22,29). And then there is this, the thing the rulers did not understand:
“I desire mercy rather than sacrifice (9:13, 12:7).”
This is the narrow road. He wants to be merciful to us by his grace, and for His own glory. And we want to obligate him through our efforts. We want to earn what He wants to give. That’s not how this Kingdom works. It is revealed to us as helpless children, for such is the Father’s gracious will (11:26).” It is a kingdom for sinners, after all. It is for the poor in spirit, the humble, the meek (5:1-12). These are the ones to whom he chooses to reveal the Father’s love. These are the only ones.
If that’s you, then He is choosing you.
“He who has ears, let him hear (13:33).”
Take the challenge: Did you know if you read 4 chapters a day, only five days a week, you can read through all four Gospels in a month? Make a comment, or send me a message on Twitter or Facebook, if you will try to read the Gospels this summer. #gospelchallenge
And then there is this. If you like Gospel music, check out the Red Mountain Church’s Narrow Little Road.