Scripture Reference: Matthew 7:13-29, John 6:40
The Two WaysRev. Philip Miller | July 31, 2022
Scripture Reference: Matthew 7:13-29, John 6:40
Selected highlights from this sermon
God is always bringing His people to the proverbial fork in the road, the moment of decision, the parting of the ways. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus presents us with two more paths: shall we go the way of the religious moralism or the way of Jesus?
Looking at Matthew 7:13–29, Pastor Miller compares and contrasts the way of the Pharisees and the way of Jesus. What tells them apart? And more importantly, what’s at stake?
Which path will you choose?
In the Garden of Eden, God presented Adam and Eve with two ways. Two trees: one tree that’s fruit was life, and another tree that’s fruit was death.
At the end of Deuteronomy, Moses presented Israel with two ways. “See, before you I have set life and death, good and evil.”
Joshua, having led the people of Israel into the Land of Promise, presented the people with two ways, to serve foreign gods, or the true living God. “As for me and my house,” he said, “we will serve the Lord.”
In the Proverbs we are again presented with two ways, the way of folly and the way of wisdom.
It seems like God is always bringing His people to the proverbial fork in the road, the moment of decision, the parting of the ways. And here, at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus once again presents the people of God with two ways.
Grab your Bibles. We’re going to be in Matthew 7, verses 13 down to 29 this morning. You’ll find today’s reading on page 812 in the pew Bible there.
We’re going to organize our thoughts this morning around three questions. Most of our time will relate to the first two questions, and we’ll quickly hit the third, but here they are: What are the two ways? What tells them apart? And What is at stake? What are the two ways? What tells them apart? And what is at stake?
Let’s bow our heads, let’s pray, and we’ll jump in.
Father, there are moments in our lives where we can go one way or the other, our hinge-point moments, pivotal moments, watershed moments. And having heard and digested and marinated in the Sermon on the Mount of the last few weeks and even months, Father the moment has come, the moment to decide, the two ways are before us. Help us, we pray, for Christ’s sake, Amen. Amen.
So first of all, what are the two ways? What are the two ways? In this masterful conclusion, Jesus presents the two ways by means of five pictures, five pictures. Let’s walk through each of them just to kind of orient ourselves to the material.
Matthew 7:13: “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
So the first picture here is about two gates. Imagine, if you will, that you’re in a strange city, another city, not Chicago, but you’re in an unfamiliar city and you are going to a sporting event, for example. And when you get there parking is difficult, and you have to pick a lot you weren’t planning on, and you’re not really sure where you are, which end is up, and how to get to the stadium. And you see two ways, two opportunities. You see a broad street with good paving, no potholes, clean sidewalks, and masses of people going up the street, and you see over here a little back alley with holes in it, potholes along the way, and just a few stragglers going along. Which way do you go?
That’s the picture. One way looks better than the other. Jesus is saying that there are two gates, like two gates in a city wall with two roads leading up. You can’t see what’s on the other side of the gate. You just see the gate. One is attractive; it’s wide, it’s easy, it’s popular. And the other one looks unattractive, and it’s narrow and hard and unpopular. But it turns out that the attractive, popular route ends in destruction, and the narrow, hard, unpopular route leads to life. The good-looking gate is a death trap. The bad-looking gate is life-giving. That’s the first picture.
Jesus continues. Verse 15: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”
So the second picture is of a herd of sheep, a bunch of sheep milling about. They all look like sheep, but some of them are secretly wolves underneath. You can’t tell by looking, but they can’t be trusted. They are only here to kill, steal, and destroy. They’re false prophets. They’re false religious teachers. They’re untrustworthy guides. They’re predators in disguise.
So you have two kinds of sheep, two kinds of religious guides. One looks like [a] sheep and is a sheep. It’s an authentic sheep and so you can get close to them and trust them and follow them. And others look like sheep, but are actually wolves in secret. You don’t dare hang around them because they’ll eat you for dinner.
The next picture, verse 16: “You will recognize them by their fruits.” And with the word “fruits” Jesus now shifts to horticultural image. “Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
In this third horticultural picture you have two trees, each of them bearing fruit in keeping with its nature. One tree is healthy and bears good fruit. If you eat it, you will live. One tree is diseased and bears bad fruit, and if you eat it, you will die.
It sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Remember back in the Garden of Eden. Two trees, two trees. The Tree of Life: Eat of that tree and you’ll live. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: Eat of that tree, you die.
So both of these trees have fruit. Both of the fruit look appealing and appetizing. But when you take a bite of it, you’ll know which tree is healthy and which tree is diseased. The one tree is rotten. The fruit is rotten as death, and the other tree, the fruit is sweet as life.
Then Jesus keeps going.
Verse 21: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
So now we have a fourth picture. It’s judgment day, and everyone is gathered before the judgment seat of Christ. You have two groups of people, both want to get into the kingdom of heaven. One group is understated, but have quietly done the will of the Father, and are welcomed in. The other group is verbose and gives us their religious résumé, and you would think these people would get in. Right? But Jesus says, “I never knew you,” and they are left out. So two groups: One is welcomed into the kingdom, and the other is cast out.
And now the final picture, verse 24: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
So now in the last picture we have two houses. Both look good from the outside. They are well-designed. They are freshly painted. They have great curb appeal, if you will. But as with all real estate, it comes down to location, location, location, and underneath, their foundations are radically different. One is built on the rock. The other is built on sand, and it’s only when the storms come that you can tell which is which. The storm reveals the foundation of the house.
So here we have, we’ve got two gates, two sheep, two trees, two groups of people, and two houses, pairs all the way down. And in each pairing we have the same type of dynamic at play. Something looks really good from the outside, but it is revealed over time to be fake on the inside. You’ve got a good-looking gate, but it leads to destruction; you’ve got a good-looking sheep, but it’s secretly a wolf; you’ve got a good-looking tree, but it’s fruit is poison; you’ve got a good-looking résumé, but you won’t get in; you’ve got a good-looking house, but there’s no foundation.
You see? And in each case we have a better alternative. We’ve got a gate that leads to life; we’ve got a sheep that we can follow; we’ve got a tree that’s fruit that is life-giving; we’ve got a welcome into the kingdom of heaven; we’ve got a house that is built on a rock.
Now, so what are the two ways? That’s the question. We’ve got the metaphors, the analogies, but what are the two ways? Before I studied this passage in earnest and in context I had always assumed that these two ways were the way of the unrighteous versus the way of the righteous. That’s what I grew up understanding. I thought that the wide, easy, popular gate that leads to destruction—that that must be the way of the world. You know, these are the unrighteous people just living it up on their way to destruction. They’re the unhealthy trees, theirs is the bad fruit, and they’re the fools building their house on sand, unrighteous people. And Jesus’ point here is “Don’t be like those unrighteous people. Be righteous because the righteous people take the narrow gate. They are the healthy tree. They have good fruit. They wisely build their houses on rock.”
That’s what I thought. I had always assumed that, but it turns out I was wrong, very wrong, because in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is not contrasting the way of the unrighteous with the way of the righteous. That’s not the contrast throughout the sermon. He’s contrasting the way of the Pharisees versus the way of Jesus. That’s the contrast throughout the Sermon on the Mount.
“Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
“You have heard it said...but I say to you…”
“Don’t you be like those hypocrites when they give and pray and fast so that others would see them. When you pray, give, and fast, you do it in secret because your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”
The way of the Pharisees, the way of Jesus.
Throughout the Sermon on the Mount Jesus has been pitting Himself against the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees, and here, in the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, He is still drawing that distinction. And if you look carefully, you can see that. But if the contrast, for example, is between the unrighteous and the righteous, then the language here of false prophets doesn’t make any sense. The false prophet’s issue is clothing. Prophets are those who claim to speak for God, so the wolves in sheep’s clothing are people who are teaching the Word of God. They are religious leaders. They claim to speak for God but they are false guides. They are using the sheep for their own selves.
And in the judgment day scene, you’ll notice that the people who are cast out are not cast out for being worldly. They’re not cast out for being worldly. They’re actually really religious people, aren’t they, all the things they’re doing? They’ve done lots of good. They’ve built a lot of their religious résumé, but they don’t know Jesus, and these are the Pharisees, you see.
Look at Matthew’s summary of the sermon as he wraps it up in verse 28: “And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.”
So even in the close, Matthew says, “This is how you’re supposed to read this: Jesus versus the scribes and Pharisees. So we have the way of Jesus and the way of the Pharisees. The way of the Pharisees, the way of Jesus. The wide, easy, popular gate that leads to destruction is the way of the Scribes and the Pharisees.
The Pharisees are the wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are the diseased tree with the bad fruit. They’re the ones with the religious resumes who will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. They’re the ones with the good looking house built on sand that cannot withstand the storms of life. But the narrow, hard, unpopular way, that gate that leads to life? That’s the way of Jesus. He’s the authentic sheep, the true prophet of God, you can trust Him. You can follow Him and get close to Him. He’s the good tree with the good fruit that gives life. And on judgment day, if you are known to Him, the gates of heaven will open wide to you. And if you build your life on His word, you will have a house that is built on the rock.
You see the distinction, the two ways, the way of the Pharisees and the way of Jesus. Now, what tells them apart? What tells them apart? Let’s walk back through this passage and look for clues. Okay?
Verse 13: ”Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”
So the way of the Pharisees is wide, it’s easy, it’s hugely popular. The way of Jesus is narrow, hard, it’s less popular. The scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day were very popular. They had all the power, they ran all the synagogues, and they taught that if you would just be good enough, God would bless you with a good life. So here are the rules, keep them and God will be happy with you and He’ll give you a good life because good people get good lives. That’s the message of the Pharisees. Good people get good lives. So shape up. Clean up. Get in line. This is the way to earn God’s favor and to enter into the kingdom of heaven. Friends, this is the message of religious moralism, religious moralism. Just be good. Act right. Go to church. Love people. Give to the poor. Do good because God will see your religious, moral efforts and reward you with the blessings of a good life. And in Jesus’ day, as well as ours, this is the way most people relate to God. It has broad appeal. It’s easily understood. It is the way most popular religion works. But the way of Jesus is altogether different, because Jesus tells us you’ll never be good enough. You’ll never be good enough. “That’s why I will come and be your substitute. I have come to exchange My life for yours. I will take your sin and bear your death and I will give you my own perfect righteousness, so that you might life forever, clothed in my righteousness, accepted by God as children forever. I will make you right with God by grace through faith, aa you entrust yourself to me.”
My friend, that is good news. That is what the Gospel means. It means good news. Religious moralism offers good advice. Here’s what you’ve got to do. It’s the way of the Pharisees. The Gospel offers Good News. This is what Jesus has done! This is the way of Jesus. It’s the narrow gate, friends. It’s the hard path. It’s the less popular route, but it is the way to life, the abundant life of the kingdom of heaven.
Verse 15: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” In other words, they are wearing a disguise. Where have we seen that imagery in the Sermon on the Mount of wearing masks or disguise[s]? The hypocrites, the actors, the mask wearers, the Pharisees.
“You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”
So the Pharisees with their religious moralism are diseased on the inside. That’s what this metaphor is showing us. The Pharisees lived in behavior modification and sin management. They look good on the outside. They’re upstanding and moral citizens, but on the inside their hearts are full of disease, because if you’re a Pharisee, there are only two ways that you can actually be good. You can use fear and pride to make yourself good. You know, “Be good, you don’t want to get caught!” Fear. “Be good, people are watching!” Pride.
And notice what you’re doing is you’re being good not for God or even for goodness sake. You’re being good for yourself. You’re leveraging your own self-interest to try to modify your behavior. And when you do good it ends up feeding your pride, and you go “Look at me, I’m on a roll! Thank God I’m not like those sinners.” And when you mess up and sin, it feeds your fear. “What if people found out who I really am?”
Friends, religion is a burden because you’re never good enough. And friends, the bitter fruit of religious moralism is a life of fear and pride. It is a disease that eats away at our hearts. But the Gospel of Jesus is altogether different. The Gospel slays our pride because all of our righteousness is like filthy rags. And we are far more sinful than we ever dared realize. And then the Gospel relieves our fears because we are fully accepted by grace, clothed in the righteousness of Jesus. And so we are far more loved than we ever dared hope. And having been so loved, it melts our hearts and makes us want to love God in return and do what pleases Him. And so we start obeying Him from acceptance instead of obeying God for acceptance. Do you see the difference? Religious moralism obeys God for acceptance. A Gospel person obeys God from acceptance.
Imagine with me, you have two people: a religious moralist’s son who is not sure if his father loves him. He’s trying really hard to prove himself, so he comes home and sees the lawn is unmowed, and goes, “I know. I’m going to mow the lawn and prove to my father that I am worthy of his love.” So he mows the lawn. And the Gospel son comes home and knows that they are loved by their father. He wakes up in that love, sees the unmowed yard and says, “You know what? I know how I’m going to say I love you today. I’m going to mow the yard.” Both mow the yard. Both do the good behaviors, but it comes from totally different hearts. A religiously moral heart is totally different from a Gospel-centered heart.
Friends, the sweet fruit of the Gospel is a life of love. That’s the healthy heart at the core of a Gospel life. The heart that is full of religious moralism cannot help but bear the fruit of fear and pride. I know. I lived many years of my life in this, but a Gospel heart, the tree that is full of the Gospel will always bear the fruit of love. It makes all the difference in the world. Jesus says, “You will recognize them by their fruits.”
And it all comes out in the end. That’s what Jesus says.
Verse 21, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Where did this group of people go wrong? They have good theology. “Lord, Lord!” They call Jesus “Lord.” Good theology. They’re earnest and sincere, “Lord, Lord!” When you repeat in Hebrew culture it’s to show earnestness and emphasis. They mean well. “Lord, Lord!” And they’re doing all the right things. They’ve got impressive religious resumes. They’ve spoken the words of God. They’ve wielded spiritual authority. They’ve done mighty works in Jesus’ name. You see, they’re poster children for religious moralism! They’ve done it all. They’re the best of the best. Their résumé is on the top of the pile. And yet they’re cast out! Where did they go wrong?
Do you see their problem is their religious moralism? That’s their problem. They are bringing their own righteousness to the bar of judgment. “Look what we did! We were so good, Jesus! We did so much! We are enough! Let us in!”
Their faith isn’t in Jesus, you see. It’s in themselves. They’re resting not in His perfect righteousness, but in their own filthy righteousness. They’re standing not in grace, but on their own merits, and Jesus says, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness. All your righteousness is unlawful to the core. If you’d come to me, I would have known you. If you have believed in me, I would be enough for you. If you had fallen on my mercy, I would hold you fast.”
“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40)
And notice, friends, that those who are welcomed into the kingdom of heaven don’t even say a word, do they? They don’t even say a word. They don’t plead their case, because what case is there to plead? They know they are great sinners, and their righteousness is filthy rags. And so they have nothing to say for themselves. All they can do is look to Jesus. And Christ opens the door for His own. Do you see this? And they walk into the kingdom of heaven clothed with a righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees because by grace through faith in Christ they have been clothed in the righteousness of God Himself, and they enter into the kingdom of heaven because they belong to Jesus.
And not only is the Gospel life at the very end of time. It is life here and now, which is where Jesus ends.
Verse 24: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on a rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
Friends, when the storms of life come and beat against the life of a religious moralist, their world collapses. Religious moralists cannot handle the storms of life. Think about it. If you’ve got this transactional thing going with God where you’re good and then He blesses you, you bring your goodness and then He brings His blessings. It’s a transaction. The moment the storms of life hit you and you get sick, or you go through a breakup, or you lose some income, or you face rejection, as soon as the blessings aren’t coming there are only two explanations for the situation. Either God broke His end of the deal...Right? You’ve been good and He’s not blessing you. He’s dropping the ball in which case you have a theological crisis, or you’ve broken your end of the deal, and apparently there’s something wrong with you, and you wouldn’t be suffering like this unless you had done something really bad, and so it puts you into a personal crisis of faith. And either way, your religious moralism stops working. Your formula doesn’t account for the data. The foundation of your life gives way. Do you see that?
But when the storms of life come and beat on a Gospel person, it’s a radically different experience. I may get sick, and that’s tough, but I know that Jesus has already healed me of the ultimate sickness and disease of sin and death, and I am forever secure in His arms.
I may go through a breakup, and that hurts, but I know that I have the everlasting love of a God who will never let me go.
I may lose income, and that’s painful, But I can take refuge in the reality that I have an inheritance waiting for me that will never perish, spoil, or fade that is kept in heaven for me.
I may face rejection which hurts tremendously, but I can run to the reality that the one Person whose opinion matters most in the universe has already accepted me, and He calls me friend.
Do you see what a difference it makes? When the storms of life come, a Gospel person drives the pylons of their foundation even deeper into the Rock which holds them fast through the storms of life. The hardships and pressures of life serve to actually anchor and tether us increasingly to the person of Jesus who is our only hope in life and death. Amen?
Radically different! Religious moralism versus the Gospel of Jesus. Radically different. It’s running all the way through this conclusion. Do you see it, this contrast? Religious moralism and the Gospel are different.
Now, finally and quickly, what’s at stake? What’s at stake? What difference does it make? The way of the Pharisees versus the way of Jesus. Religious moralism versus the Gospel of Jesus. One way looks broad and easy, but it ends in destruction. You get eaten alive, the fruit is rotten, there’s no kingdom in the end, and the storms of life will wipe you out. Or this hard narrow way [which] leads to life, and there’s a guide you can follow and the fruit is life-giving and the kingdom of heaven opens wide and the storms of life will secure your soul even more deeply. Friends, in the end, it’s the difference between an impermanent life and an indestructible life. An impermanent life and an indestructible life!
Here, at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus presents us with the two ways. Which way will you choose? Which guide will you follow? Which fruit will you eat? Which righteousness will you pursue? Which foundation will you build?
There are two ways to live. Which one will you take?
Father, one of the greatest dangers to church-going people is that we can read the same Scriptures, say the same prayers, serve on the same committees, act in the same way, sit in the same chairs, and have hearts that are utterly different.
The religiously moral heart can hide a long time in the walls of the church, but there’s no life. Father, teach us to live in the Gospel of grace. Teach us to cling to Jesus and His righteousness alone. Teach us to lay down our deadly goodness, and cling to the only righteousness that matters in the end. Teach us to fall by grace through faith on Jesus, and Jesus alone. He is our only hope. May we cling to Him. Change our hearts and make us new. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” In Jesus’ matchless name we pray, Amen.