In Robert Frost’s famous poem, “The Road Not Taken,” he speaks of two paths, one which was obviously well-trodden and the other equally obviously not. While literary scholars may debate his intent behind this poem, the line about which one made all the difference, and whether or not that should somehow be prescriptive for our own lives, in Matthew 7, Jesus presents his audience with two paths and gates. This comes as Jesus is concluding what we deem the Sermon on The Mount and Jesus is bringing the hearers to a moment of decision. Essentially, after all they have heard about the demands of righteousness to right with, which path will they take? Will they be like most people and take the broad and easy path where there is plenty of room to move about, or will they choose, instead, the narrow gate and path with obstacles and difficulty?
Unlike Frost’s poem, this is more than just a thought exercise or for one to ponder reflectively on their own path through life. This really is a momentous decision with one way leading toward God and, thus, life, and the other leading away from God and, thus, destruction. Jesus offers no rose-colored glasses here and makes the case plainly that the one that will ultimately be better for us will be the more difficult and it is precisely that reason, the inherent difficulty that causes so many not to go that way. Why? Because people are much like water and will, when given the option, take the path of least resistance. Sure, in times of difficulty and great stress, not unlike we are in now, some will rise to the occasion and present the “best” of humanity, but most are perfectly happy to simply bob along through life hoping for as much comfort and as little complaint as possible. Perhaps a throwback to the fact we were designed to live in a garden with every need freely supplied in ample abundance rather than toil for our existence. Still the choice remains.
This is precisely what Jesus does anytime we encounter him – he makes us decide. There is no middle path; there is no having it both ways; there is no fence-sitting here. Either you are one road or the other, and, just so you know, the broad road is the default setting. If you haven’t decided to follow Jesus, then you are on that road. You have to decide not to be on it and decide to enter the narrow gate. The gate does in fact represent Jesus. The obstacles that would prevent our access to him are mainly pride, fear, and doubt. Our pride tells us that we don’t really need him and we can do it ourselves. Again, our present world situation ought to let us know that even really tiny things can destroy us and leave us weak, vulnerable, and powerless. Our fear tells us that God would sooner blot us out of existence than forgive us. Our doubt tells us that there is no way this Jewish man from 2000 years ago could be the Son of God or have risen from the Grave. We must overcome all of these, humbling ourselves and trusting in God and trusting in Christ. The road beyond will be difficult. Again I’m reminded by another Frost poem, “Stopping by a Snowy Woods,” where he gives the refrain “miles to go before I sleep.” Often it will seem like that on this road, with miles to go before we sleep. But sleep, or rest rather, we will and have it in spades once the journey is finished.
It is not just the rigors of God’s righteousness which make the road so difficult; it is more the opposition of the world that we are even on that path. Never forget that the world is opposed to God and Christ, and will at all times seek to deter the traveler who would seek to follow them. Jesus says there is one way; the world says there are many. Jesus says love everyone and hate no one, always seek to help and serve others. The world says take care of yourself first and foremost. Jesus says don’t build up treasure here, while the world says be materialistic and your worth is determined by your bank account, zip code, and appearance. So how with so much difficulty does anyone make this trek? Simple. They do not walk alone. They walk with Christ and the Holy Spirit leading the way and they walk with the immense family of God.
Lastly, understand that while God has a high standard, he knows we can’t live up to it. In fact, while he wants us to try and avoid sin, he knows we will at times stumble. If we could live a sinless life, why would Christ have come and died? So the reward of Heaven is granted as soon as we come to Christ. After that moment, it’s not about proving how moral we are, how many gold stars we can get, or how righteous we can be. That stuff only leads to false pride or anxiety. No, the journey from then on is about getting to know God better and him working to change us from the fallen and broken creature we are to being like Jesus. So, yes, there are miles to go before we sleep, but the choice remains. Which path will you take?