The Choices We Make - Matthew 7:13–29

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for that the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

The Choices We Make - Matthew 7:13-29

[We were unable to record the first few minutes of the sermon.]

Robert Frost published those words, (which he titled The Road Not Taken) in 1915. Today, it one of the most well-known poems in American literature, and also considered one of the most widely misread poems. Frost said he wrote it as a joke for a friend who was constantly indecisive in his choices and always second-guessing the choices he had made. Over the years, the layers of meaning in the poem have been analyzed and debated, but at least one thing is clear: the poem reminds us that life is inevitably filled with choices. For the traveler in Frost’s poem, the paths or choices looked similar, but he said his choice made all the difference. Our choices do make all the difference. In fact, our choices dictate the course of our lives, which can be concerning. Why?

Because we can be deceived in our decision-making. Bad choices can be appealing to us, because in this life, things are not always as they seem. And yet Scripture tells us that God clarifies life’s choices for his people that we may choose rightly. God is able to protect us from the poor choices to which we are prone because of our sinful and self-absorbed nature. So, our desire should be for God to guide us as we face choices in life. But for what kinds of choices do we need God’s guidance and wisdom? Well, certainly there are many, but in our focal passage today, Jesus describes three choices that all of us must make.

To this point in Matthew, Jesus has preached a sermon contrasting godliness and worldliness. And as a model for all Biblical preaching, Jesus calls his listeners to makes choices. Those choices are listed on page 6 of your WG. We must choose the way in which we will walk, the teachers to whom we will listen, and the foundation on which we will stand. The choices have drastically different consequences, just not in the present life, but in eternity. This portion of God’s word is the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. So let’s look together at each of these choices.

According to Jesus, life presents a choice between two very different entryways onto very different paths which yield contrasting experiences and lead to entirely different destinations. Look again at 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.

[14] For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. Two choices: destruction or life. The language translated here as “destruction” is used in other NT passages and it consistently points to eternal destruction, eternal ruin. You could call it “death.” The destruction is not just destruction or death in this present life, but a hopeless final destiny – being plunged into hell.We make a choice between a narrow gate onto a hard way and a wide gate onto an easy way. This hard way is hard from the beginning. It requires something of us. It’s not easy. But then this easy way is easy from the start. Jesus says many are on the easy path to death, but far less people on the hard path to life.

Have you ever heard of “easy believism?” The term was coined to describe the idea that because it is faith through which a person is saved by grace, it makes no difference whether or not the person submits to the Lordship of Christ. In other words, those who teach and believe this view say that a person can go on in willful rebellion against the commands of Jesus, but as long as they have intellectual faith – as long as the person at one time said or repeated a prayer to receive Christ – he or she is saved. But what we learn in the Scriptures is that true faith will be demonstrated by a life that is increasingly obedient to God’s moral law. Attempting to explain this, John Calvin wrote, “It is…faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone: just as it is the heat alone of the sun which warms the earth, and yet in the sun it is not alone, because it is constantly conjoined with light.” True, saving faith is a visible, evident, living faith. Faith without works is dead.

We are called by Jesus not just to believe, but to repent. That doesn’t mean we won’t fall in sin or make mistakes – we most definitely will. But the person of true faith is compelled to become more like Jesus, all the while understanding that works

don’t contribute to salvation. Like many of you, I was given the impression when I was young that if I was convinced by what the preacher said and I repeated a Sinner’s Prayer, then I would be saved. Certainly, you must believe, and the words of a Sinner’s Prayer are fine.

But telling people that they are undeniably saved because they intellectually agree

with the gospel, have been perhaps been emotional stirred by it, and then repeated a prayer is misleading. You might hear someone say that Christ became their “Savior” at a certain age but “Lord” at a much later time. That has no Biblical merit. And I’ll tell you where people get that rhetoric from. From preachers. But where in the Scriptures is Christ described as being someone’s Savior and not their Lord? Where is someone called only to believe but not to repent and surrender their life to Jesus? Jesus is calling the lost not only to believe in him, but to follow him. The gate is narrow; you must understand that Christ demands all of you. That’s hard. And then once you pass through, the way is hard. There are preachers who would lead you to believe that the Christian life should be easy.

Christ is king so believers should live as kings and queens. I’ve heard this spewed this TV and the radio; you can pick up books propagating this most anywhere books are sold, but what they are saying is not founded on the Bible. The way of Christ is a hard way. And just because it is hard, that does not mean you don’t have enough faith. Paul told the Philippian church, [29] it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake. Isn’t it true that when suffering comes, when the way is hard, you find out who truly believes?

Do you understand what the Lord Jesus requires of you? To what he has called you?Few people find the narrow gate and the way to life, because few seek it. But the easy life – a life unconcerned about the commands of God and his eternal moral statutes – many seek that way, and you know what? Many find it. Many scoff at the hard way and opt for an easy entrance onto an easy path, on that path is easy all the way down to hell. As we go forward in the book of Matthew, you’ll notice that Jesus mentions eternal punishment multiple times. And for those present as he preached, he cautioned them about turning from the hard way, and so, I caution you. You must choose the way in which you will walk.

And going hand-in-hand with that, we must choose the teachers to whom we will listen. Jesus describes a choice between two different kinds of teachers claiming to speak for him and know him. Naturally, Jesus follows verse 13-14 about the way

with these words about the men who preach the way. Jesus talks about false prophets here.

And when you see “prophet” you may naturally think “future teller.” That came from God’s prophets sometimes, but primarily they were not “fore-telling” but rather, “forth-telling.” They were speaking forth the truth of God. Look again at verse 15. Jesus says [15] “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. The message of a false prophet might sound true. It may be appealing and resemble sound doctrine or contains aspects of it. How can that be? Well, because the wolf in sheep’s clothing looks, at first, like a sheep. He looks or sounds like a true follower of Jesus.

Remember Little Red Riding Hood? The young girl got close to who she thought was her grandmother. And then she noticed the ears, and the eyes, and then the sharp teeth. Dressed in Grandma’s clothes, lying in Grandma’s bed was a ravenous wolf.

We don’t use the word “ravenous” much nowadays. That’s too bad. “Ravenous” meant a robber, someone who obtained something by violent force. A thief. Of what does the false prophet rob someone? Life in Christ and all that goes with it. All the blessings of the narrow way: truth, peace, joy, comfort, hope, eternal life. But how blessed are we that in God’s universe – God’s system – there will be clear visible evidence distinguishing true and false prophets from one another. Notice verse 16: [16] You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? [17] So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. [18] A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.

These false prophets will do things like cause division, turning people against one another. They will be self-promoters rather than humble Christ-promoters. They may be greedy, may be driven by lust, steeped in sexual immorality. They may be harsh and controlling, unrepentant and devious. They may resist outside input. Keep in mind that it takes time for the fruit of a true to develop. Listen to the words and watch the actions of the man. Is he prideful? Is he shallow and superficial? Is he unloving? Is he unconcerned about the truth of Scripture?

And there is a definite fate for the false prophet. Verse [19] Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. [20] Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. God has no use for a false prophet, except to demonstrate his justice when he punishes one or to use that false prophet to bring judgment on people who reject the narrow way for the wide road to destruction.

I first heard Dr. Mark Ross – a wonderful pastor, Bible teacher, and theology professor –reference John Calvin’s comments on God’s uses of wicked prophets and leaders in the Bible. Essentially, Scripture shows that when God judges a people, he gives them wicked leaders. Dr. Ross pointed out how in his many years in ministry, he had seen this in churches. If a church won’t remain faithful to God’s Word, God will give them leaders who will lead them further down the path of unfaithfulness. Yet the leaders, the false prophets, may appear to be doing good things. But notice verse [21]. Jesus says, “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. [22] 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?’ [23] And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Saying “Lord, Lord” was meant to signify a close personal relationship. These false prophets claim to have one with Jesus. But even though they’ve done what seems to be the works of the Lord, including the casting out of demons (which Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus, does in Matthew 10), those things don’t matter.

What matters is sincere obedience from the heart to God’s will. There must be true faith and the life that flows from that faith.

If you would follow Jesus, you need discernment. Christ tells his disciples in Matthew 10, [16] “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. In other words, be wise, be intelligent, be smart. Don’t be foolish. Keep your eyes peeled. Be a student of the Scriptures and learn how to sniff out a lie. People are not always so concerned with discerning a true prophet. They can be more concerned with what seems to be his big results or his dynamic personality. And results and personality are not bad. But the “workers of lawlessness,” or wickedness, described in verse 23 likely had big followings and they were entertaining and engaging. You must discern the heart of the preacher or teacher or author or blogger with the Word and Holy Spirit as your guide. False teachers lead people down a bad path.

As goes the teachers, so go the students. We must choose the teachers to whom we will listen.

And finally, Jesus describes a choice between two different foundations on which to build our lives. Take a look again at verse 24. Jesus says, [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. [25] 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. [26] 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. [27] 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.”

Two house are built, probably looking very similar – from a distance. But on the turbulent day of the final Judgment, only one will stand. Why will only one stand? Because on the day of Judgment, the houses must rely on the security of the foundation on which they were built.

I see many people building a life, running here and there, accomplishing this and that, receiving awards, enjoying rewards, experiencing things and posting the pictures online. What is the foundation on which your life is being built? Is it the finished work of Jesus and his holy Word? Is it the perfect life, the sacrificial death, and the glorious resurrection of Christ and his eternal authority and truth? Will your house stand in the storm? There are storms in this life, and of course the final storm, so to speak, on the Day of Judgment. I pray this for all you - may the storms of this life blow down your house if that house is built on anything other than Jesus Christ. At least then, God-wiling, you may cry out to Jesus with repentance and faith.

Now look quickly at verse 28. Matthew says, [28] And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, [29] for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. Dr. Sinclair Ferguson points out that Matthew describes how the people wondered at Jesus, but he does not say they obeyed Jesus. No one had ever heard a better sermon.But Jesus wasn’t trying to impress them; he was calling them to total obedience and self-surrendered trust in himself.

As we go to the table today, we meet with the great Savior and Lord who presents us with these choices to make. Normally, I ask “Do you know him?” But let me word it differently today: does he know you? Have you met him at the narrow gate, and by repentance and faith, have you come to know him more and more along the hard, narrow road of your life? Have you come to know him more through his true prophets who humble explain his Word? And have you come to know him more as you build your house – your life? If not, pray and receive him today. If so, renew that commitment to follow hard after him.

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.

Let’s pray together.