“you can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.”Matthew 7:13-14 NIV
Let’s be honest with ourselves. This is a terrifying statement by Jesus. Especially when the verse we are all taught as children, or in general as one of our first Jesus quotes is:
“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, So that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”John 3:16-17
That really sounds like quite a contrast, doesn’t it? One makes it sound like an impossible feat; the other sells really well inside of mega churches. One sounds like you’re not good enough; the other sounds like you just need a stamp on your hand to get in. This is something that I have struggled with personally. Which one is it? All come in or few come in? Does this mean that Jesus doesn’t love us? Are we suppose to jockey for position to get to the pearly gates? Then why does he say we just have to believe in him? There has got to be something we are missing, right?
I think the answer lies in the feeding of the five thousand and what comes to pass after. Jesus had become quite popular. He was starting to get some serious clout around town because he was doing some serious miracle work. My guess is that a lot of these people were selfishly following Him around because they had some aliment that they were hoping to get cured. That is just an assumption though. Anyway, the people are all following him from place to place. Jesus had managed to make a break for it for some much needed time to Himself up on a hill. I can only imagine that it looked like an army marching towards him when He looked out and saw all of the people who had been following Him coming in search for Him.
Jesus starts the discussion up about feeding these people and coyly asks Philip where they would possibly get enough food for all of these people. I like to imagine Jesus had just a hint of sarcasm in his voice when he asked him, “Where can we buy bread for all of these people.” Jesus knew exactly how, but he wanted to see if Philip had caught onto who he was following around yet. Of course, as the disciples often did, he failed the test. (thankfully Jesus is full of grace.) Now the heading of this story in the Bible is very humble, and as the story goes on it states that actually the declared number of five thousand was just men alone. There were a lot of people who wanted to see what Jesus could do for them. Of course most of us are familiar with how this story plays out. Five loaves of bread and a couple of fish, not just feeds, but fills everyone, and 12 baskets of leftovers are brought back.
At this point everyone around him is ready to drop tent right there and declare him their King. They are so stoked that this Jesus guy is feeding them and healing them, that they don’t want Him to leave their side ever. I mean imagine it. A kingdom where the king can produce enough food for everyone every day, and he can heal everyone? I mean who wouldn’t want to lounge around all day and have the king swing by to feed you and heal your bed sores? Talk about a win for them! However Jesus wasn’t interested in just working for them. He needed to know that they wanted to pay their dues also.
I want to take a moment here to point out that this is the way many of us live. We are all about Jesus when he is working miracles in our lives. We are all about watching Jesus perform his super-human tricks to better our lives. We all give thanks when the cancer is healed, when the relationship is brought back together, when the money for rent magically shows up. We are so thankful when Jesus feeds us like the five thousand, but lets get back to the story.
Jesus bows out and heads stage left. He goes out to the hills for some much needed alone time and r&r. His disciples are also ready to go, so much so that they wait for Jesus until dark and then decide to go on and skip town without Him. I’m not sure what that was all about, but I do find it interesting that in John’s rendition of this they decided to make their way without Jesus and a storm hits them. Sound familiar? But I digress. He assures them, and then gets in the boat and its smooth sailing from there.
Meanwhile, everyone finally wakes up from their food coma, and realizes that Jesus has skipped out on them. They quickly confiscate a few boats and make way across the sea. Obviously someone sold him out! I imagine them running up to him thinking, Oh man, just in time for breakfast! “Rabbi, when did you get here?” they say as they unfold their napkins. (If you haven’t noticed by now I am using a lot of narrative liberties, Hollywood call me.) Jesus has had enough of the me, me, me, and decides to hit them with a cold hard truth. (He wasn’t always tender.)
Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.”John 6:26-27
Kind of a gut punch huh? Of course, being that they are hungry, they are willing to say whatever they need to to get their next meal. “We want to perform Gods works, too. What should we do?” Roughly translated into, “Hey man, sounds good, sure we will do whatever you ask, just keep feeding us!”
To this, Jesus replies, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he as sent.” (29)
Stop the tape. Okay, here we go! Two votes for just believe, right? Man, I am feeling really good about this now! I just have to believe. I don’t know though, this is starting to hit me a little differently the second time through. Anyone else feel that way? I mean clearly they believe in Him. They’ve just witnessed miracles, and He is feeding them. Whats not to believe in right? Almost sounds redundant if we are to just take it as believe. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus has something else in mind when he says believe. Roll tape!
At this point their mouths are salivating. They are hungry and this man has food for them at His fingertips, literally. Why does he keep holding out with all of this believe mumbo jumbo? “Yes we believe! We saw it with our own eyes! We believe, just feed us already. “Moses gave our ancestors bread, why are you holding out?”” (look up 30-31 for context)
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, Moses didn’t give you bread from heaven. My father did. And now he offers you the true bread from heaven. The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to this world.”John 6:32-33
To which it seems to imply they say, “Thank you! You get it! Feed us every day and we will be happy!”
Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But you haven’t believed in me even though you have seen me. However, those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them. For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. For it is my Father’s will that all who see his Son and believe in him should have eternal life I will raise them up on the last day.”John 6:35-40
I can see the confused wheels start trying to spin. What on earth is this guy talking about? Were asking for bread and he is saying He is bread. He’s doing a lot of talking and not a lot of bread breaking. Is he going to feed us or what already? As Jesus can see everyone starting to lose focus he decides it is time to try and perform professional career suicide as a rabbi.
“Yes, I am the bread of life! Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all died. Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bred, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.John 6:48-51
“Woah, did this guy just tell us to eat him? I mean, listen, Jesus, we are all about eternal life and all, but we don’t think cannibalism is the way. Plus, that’s in direct violation of our rule books. If we eat you, how are you going to keep feeding us?” At this point the confusion is just overwhelming. The crowd is getting grumpy because they are hungry and Jesus is telling them to bite him. (I believe Jesus can appreciate that pun.) He repeats himself (I’ll spare you another quote), and everyone is just purely lost in what he is saying. They aren’t comprehending what it is he is talking about, and they decide its time to get off the train and head home. It was a fun ride while they were getting fed, but now he’s just starting to ask strange things of them, and they just thought this was a free buffet. Even most of his disciples jumped ship, but the 12 stayed. Here Peter, whom I like to pick so much on, gives us a little nugget of wisdom. The path got too hard, the message became unclear, and the rest of the flock abandoned Jesus, but Peter says, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe , and we know you are the Holy One of God.” (68-69)
I don’t know about you, but the word belief seems to have become a whole lot more complex to me. What sounds like a friendly catch phrase to draw people in on Sunday, suddenly takes a deep, dark, twist. To believe doesn’t just mean you just raise your hand when the preacher says, “Who here wants to follow Jesus.” It’s not about raising your hands when the worship song hits the right note. Its not about lifting your hands when God is raining down blessings on you. Belief is a rumbling stomach that turns to God and says, “you are enough.” Belief is losing your job and saying, “You are enough, God.” Belief is standing alone with Jesus and saying, “I know it’s just you and me now, and I couldn’t imagine better company.” It is so easy to say we believe, the word has lost its meaning to us just like its lost its meaning to the crowd. The fact of the matter though, is that the two quotes I posted at the beginning of this writing are not contradictory. As I have stated before, the contrast is in our human loss of meaning in the word belief, and the definition that God gives for belief that never loses meaning.
When Jesus says the road is narrow, it’s the truth. The road is narrow and if you’ve walked it for a while you’ve seen people fall off of it. You’ve seen people put their first foot in the grass and before they know it they are somehow walking the other way. We have this very feel good sense that if you said you “believed” once then you are golden. You’ve covered your basis and whatever happens after that you are good. Just make sure you come to church every Sunday, and you get to ride the gravy train. It just doesn’t work that way. Belief in Jesus is a commitment to love Him and follow Him. Will we fail? Will we have moments where we lose our faith? Absolutely. Jesus calls out his disciples all the time in the New Testament for not having enough faith. He didn’t fire them, though. He didn’t tell him that they failed the test, so they needed to go back to being fishermen. He scolded, but he also had grace. He understands humanity, but what He is asking of us is to love and trust Him even when our humanity gets the best of us. He is asking us to reach out for Him when we fall. He is asking us to always know that He is the way to salvation, and that you are going to have to work, but not in good deeds. You are going to have to work on your relationship with Him as though you are married to Him. You commit your life to Him. That is belief. That is faithfulness. That is the narrow path leading to the narrow gate.