I. Two Good Reasons NOT to Follow Jesus
Today’s Scripture comes from the middle of the Sermon on the Mount – it’s a very famous sermon that Jesus gave all about what it’s like to truly follow God. We’re in Matthew 7:13-14. It’s near the end of the sermon and it’s kind of a good summation of everything that Jesus has been talking about in the two chapters prior to this. It does an excellent job of describing to us what following Jesus is like. He says,
"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."
(1) It's Lonely
Let me direct your attention first of all to the number of people on each road – the popular opinion if you will. One road has many on it; the other road has few on it.
This might be something called the Popular Principle. Think about that. If you were downtown Raleigh and there were a bunch of food trucks set up – one with a line of about 30 people and the other without anybody in line, which one would you go to? If you’re in a hurry, maybe the shorter line. But there’s something about the longer line that says to you, “That might be better food. If there’s so many people who like it, I might like it too.”
Well, what about Jesus? Was he popular?
Jump back with me to presumably a bit earlier in Jesus’ life. In Luke 4, Jesus is in Nazareth, the town he grew up in. He makes his way to their weekly church service at the synagogue and everyone’s excited to see him.
“My how you’ve grown. I haven't seen you since you were a young whipper snapper”
“I hear you’re a teacher now. I’m sure your parents are proud of you.”
“Do you remember that time when you finger painted with my son Ezekiel? It was so funny how your people looked just like trees!”
As the synagogue service starts, the people settle down and the local rabbi asks Jesus to come up front, read some scripture and share a teaching. The reading for that Sunday just so happens to be an Old Testament reading about the coming of the Messiah.
As Jesus spoke, they all smiled at him. What a nice young man. A rabbi is a noble calling. We are excited to hear his exposition – as in – we’re excited for him to say what every rabbi says about this part of Scripture: The Messiah is coming and we must prepare our hearts for his arrival.
But after Jesus gets done reading, after he rolls up the scroll, after he sets it back in its protective case, Jesus preaches a different sermon:
“Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21)
As in, “The Messiah is no longer coming.”
As in, “The Messiah is already here.”
As in, “I am that Messiah.”
The people are shocked. Isn’t this Joseph’s son? Didn’t he grow up by us? How does he think he’s the Messiah?
And Jesus rebukes them. “No prophet is accepted in his hometown.” (Lk. 4:24)
And I am a prophet.
And you aren’t accepting me.
And you are sinning—You are rejecting your Messiah.
And do you know how the people respond?
No one claps.
No one says, “Amen.”
No one squeezes his cheeks, tells him how cute he is and hands him a lemon bar refreshment.
They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built in order to throw him off the cliff. (Lk 4:29)
Now Jesus escapes, but can you imagine the word that got around? Why would anyone want to follow Jesus if it meant you’d have to face an angry mob? Wouldn’t it be much easier to be a part of the angry mob? It doesn’t get any easier. There are hundreds, if not thousands, who shouted for his crucifixion just two years later!
It’s just what Jesus said, “Many and Few."
As in many don’t follow Jesus.
As in few do.
It was true back then, but is it true today?
Take a look at some research. This is from the Barna Pew Research group. From 2007 to 2012 they did a survey to discover the growth of certain religious groups. Check out some of the trends:
- The fastest growing group of religious affiliation is no affiliation. A group labelled the “nones” – as in: “In regards to religion, we have none.” This group has grown from 15% in 2007 to over 20% in 2012.
- Also, Islam, Mormonism and Buddhism have grown over that time period.
- Religious affiliation has gone down in only one category – Christianity. People confessing as Christians went down from 61% in 1972 to 51% in 2012.
- Of that 51% of self-identified Christians, only 37% said that they were active, in a church group, a Bible study or worship on a weekly basis. Which – isn’t the only indication of an active faith, but it is a very powerful indication. The Bible says that believers will want to grow in faith and desire to be encouraged and desire to encourage others)
- And might I point out that this was an anonymous survey. People could have lied. Instead, hundreds of thousands stated they don’t go. None at all!
What’s the point? Christianity is declining. It is not the bandwagon anymore. To be fair, it may have been at one point – and maybe that’s why it was higher in the past. “I’m Christian. Why? Because everyone I know is Christian.” But it’s fading, quickly in the U.S.
But maybe you don’t need facts. Maybe you’ve noticed on your own.
Maybe you’re the only Christian at work, on your block, in your family, at your house!
It feels lonely.
It feels lonely when you’re the only one bowing your head for a prayer.
It feels lonely when your Jesus comment sits on Facebook without any likes.
It feels lonely when your minivan that sits 6 only sits 1 each Sunday…every Sunday…again & again.
It feels lonely to follow Jesus when no one else does…But understand it’s exactly what Jesus said it would be: “Many follow the other roads….Few follow Me.”
(2) It's Hard
But why? Why is it that so many people are not following Jesus? He offers forgiveness of sins, eternal life, & salvation! That’s sounds pretty good, right?
I suppose we could look at all the stats, pour over my Barna research polls, read book after book written on the subject. (There might be some value in doing so). But if you’re looking for the short, quick and entirely accurate answer. Look no farther than Jesus. Hear the second good reason not to follow Jesus.
For…broad is the road that…many enter through it. But narrow the road that... a few find it.
How many of you like going into a crawl space? It’s narrow. The ceiling is low. It’s easy to bump your head. You might even have to drag your knees across sharp gravel. Wouldn’t you rather pick a big door? Maybe one of those doors that they have at the mall where both sides of a door open up at the same time with plenty of room on both sides for you to walk, hand in hand, with a friend!
It’s the same spiritually. One is an easy walk. One is very challenging. That word narrow there means “hard pressed, squeezed.” Who likes being hard pressed? Who likes being squeezed? That’d be like going through each day while a professional wrestler is putting you in a sleeper hold! Who would choose that?
Jesus says that’s exactly why so few follow him. It’s not easy. It’s hard.
That’s what happened even at the time of Jesus. Look at John 6. Jesus had just gotten done feeding close to 10,000 people with a few loaves of bread and two fish. (A miracle). People were full. People were happy. Many wanted to make him their king.
But then Jesus began teaching again. He told people that “whoever believe(d) in him would never be thirsty.” (v.36) He said that “everyone who looks to Me and believes in me shall have eternal life and He would raise them up on the last day.” (v.40) He told them that “He was the bread of life & unless people ate his flesh and drank his blood, that would not have eternal life!” (v.53)
And the people said…
You’re crazy. Your flesh isn’t bread. Your blood isn’t drink.
You’re crazy. You can’t bring us back to life.
You’re crazy. You aren’t the Messiah. I won’t trust in you. I’m a good enough person on my own to get to heaven without – some carpenter from Nazareth!
v. 66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
People who had seen the miraculous feeding of the nearly 10,000…People who ate of his bread and tasted the fish. People who saw the 12 baskets left over. People who had no problem taking his food – that was easy – found it too hard to follow him.
And they left him.
Isn’t it the same thing today?
Do you know what a MEME is? It’s a photo or graphic with a brief message on it. Some are funny. Some are interested. Some exist to make a point. And in our YouTube, I don’t want to read, show me a photo society – these one sentence picturesque memes are popular. They’re all over social media.
Some aren’t very flattering to Christians. Try this sometime. Google “Stupid Christian memes.” Make sure you put a filter on your search phrase though, because they can get very crude and profanity filled, very quickly. I found one that’s not super crass – but still makes my skin crawl. Ready for it?
Religion - Helping stupid people feel important since the dawn of man.
How’s that make you feel? Good? Do you like it? It’s ok to say “no who would?“
Here’s where the devil does his best work:
Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to be on the bandwagon?
Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to just be quiet?
Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to not have to hear people call you awful names?
Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to stop following Jesus?
Here’s the reality. It would be.
It would be less lonely – There’s lot of people on the other road.
It would be easier – It’s wide and you aren’t hard pressed on any side.
Why, then? Why then would we keep following Jesus?
One reason. LIFE.
II. One Even Better Reason TO Follow Jesus
Read the passage from Matthew one more time. 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.
Zero in on that word destruction. Honestly there’s not a way that I can fluff up that word. There’s not any way to sugar coat it. That big road? The one that’s easy? The one that’s apart from Jesus? The one that lots of people are on and is such a nice & pleasant trip?
When you get to the end it stops being pleasant – real quick.
There’s the burning, incredible wrath of a sin-hating, all powerful, holy God.
There’s hellfire. Forever. In Hellfire.
But the other road? The one that’s lonely. The one that’s tough. The one that isn’t all that pleasant. The one that’s filled with ridicule and scorn and memes mocking you for taking the road?
That road leads to life.
As in, no destruction.
As in, no annihilation.
As in, no hell.
As in, eternal life.
As in, everlasting peace.
As in, glory — forever.
If you’re thinking that sounds crazy – remember that’s the very reason the road is challenging. It seems crazy.
Kind of like when Jesus said he would feed 10,000 some people with a few loaves of bread and two fish—and he did.
And kind of like when Jesus said they could kill him, but he would come back to life three days later – and he did.
The stark contrast in the two roads couldn’t be more clear.
One road seems nice but leads to eternal destruction.
The other road seems tough, but leads to eternal life.
If you’ve been following the wrong road.
If you’ve been choosing the broad road, feel your pulse. Your time is not up. There’s still room on the road to life.
Jesus walked a tough, awful, lonely road to get you back on the right road.
He was left behind by his followers.
He was betrayed by a dear friend.
He was beaten by the people he came to save.
He was crucified by the humans he created.
He died as His Heavenly Father forsook him & abandoned him because of our sins.
But he did all this to make you a path – the only path – to God.
A path of forgiveness.
A path of peace with God.
A path to heaven.
III. What now?
1) Watch Out for Bandwagonism
The Super Bowl is today -- and while I’ve gotten over the fact that this is #NotMySuperBowl – I’m still not certain who I’ll cheer for. I’ll probably just hop on the bandwagon of whatever team the majority of people at the Super Bowl party are cheering for.
What’s a bandwagon you ask? A bandwagon is…
Hopping on the bandwagon, then, is a phrase that means you will cheer for a team, not because you like the way they are coached. Not because you think they’re good. Not even because you think their mascot is cute. Hopping on the bandwagon means that you cheer for a team, simply because everyone else is.
And the bandwagon is fun! You get high fives from lots of people. You cheer with lots of people. You get to sample people’s hot wings & bratwurst – just cause “You’re a fan of my time.” No one mocks you. No one makes fun of you. You laugh together. You win together. You lose together.
It is much more difficult to go against the bandwagon. If you are the only one at your Super Bowl party today cheering for the Falcons & everyone else is decked out in Tom Brady jerseys – that’s not as much fun. You can’t celebrate with all the gusto you want. You feel like you have to smile politely when something good happens – that’s all your celebrations are limited to. You have to endure teasing & raucous cheering when things go bad. Essentially – you, by yourself – are the enemy.
Don't be a bandwagon fan when it comes to Jesus.
Don't do it just because your family did.
Don't follow just because your friends do.
Follow because Jesus leads to life.
(2) Remember the Goal
As Jesus watched the backs of thousands of people, people who had been sitting at his feet just yesterday – but now were leaving him because he was crazy. He looked back at his closest friends – Peter, Andrew, James and John – the men that he had called from the fishing boat “Follow me.” He said, “You don’t want to leave too, do you?”
It was quiet.
The men looked at each other.
All eyes focused on Peter.
He nodded his head and stood up.
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
Peter was right.
There was no other road for him.
There was no other road for the other disciples.
There was no other road for life.
And even if it was hard, even if it was lonely. There was no way he was turning around.
May God impress upon us the exact same confidence to follow Jesus…even when we’re all alone. Amen.