Matthew 7:13-14

Although I haven’t seen one, I understand that the title page of the original publication of Calvin’s institutes bears a picture of two portals, or entrance ways – one very narrow and hidden behind a tangle of brushy thorns.  And it has a crown over the top of it.

The second portal is very broad and clearly seen, and it has a flower in its entrance.  And flames are flaring over the top. 

Now, I don’t know the history of the publishing well enough to speculate on whether publishers, in Calvin’s time, had sufficient liberty to design a jacket for a book, and to formulate the marketing strategy, without the author’s direction or input.

The way it’s described here, it would certainly be a rather dramatic beginning to a work which holds a very special place in the history of the Church.  I just don’t know if Calvin would have wanted it on the jacket of his book or on the title page!  Because I don’t think that what’s described is a true picture of what Jesus is saying here.

If there was a crown on one of the portals and on the other one there was flame flaring up over the top, then that would identify the portals as being the entrances into heaven and hell.

But look at the two verses.  That’s not what Jesus is saying at all!  He’s not saying “If you choose this other one, you’ll go to hell.”  What’s he saying? Let me read it again.

“Enter in through the narrow portal!  Because broad the portal and wide the passage which leads away in ruin, and there are many entering in through it.  How narrow the portal and constricted the passage leading away into life, and there are few finding it.”

The idea you would get from an artist’s conception such as the one done for Calvin’s book is that there must be all the multitudes of people born into the world just crowding around outside these two portals trying to make a decision about which one to go through and that, somehow, even though they see the flames leaping up over the top, they end up choosing the gate into hell!

One of the culprits of misunderstanding of course is the one we talk about all the time – lifting a passage of Scripture out of its context and seeing it only through the eyes of twentieth century people in the twentieth century Church.  (flat perspective)

And rather than trying to see the world which Jesus had just entered, and to which He had only just begun to minister – and attempting to reason with the world-view perspective of God Himself, and attempting to keep the history of Israel and the current state of affairs in mind, and rather than continuing to place every word Jesus says in the sequence of His Own sermon, we, instead, bring it all forward to our own time, and our own lives, and we interpret it according to us as if it had no history!  And how egocentric that is!  How self-centered that is – to read the Word of God as if it has no other context than me, and the time in which I live!

But, looking at the passage closely, I don’t see any multitudes trying to decide what to do!  Nobody’s looking from one to the other and calculating their best move!  The picture isn’t two portals side by side – one wide and beautiful and the other narrow and ugly; and I don’t see any flames described on top of the wide portal.  Or a crown on the narrow one.

What I do see is Jesus using a very familiar figure to describe life and death.  One nice, open, broad portal with an equally wide “way” on the other side.  On the other hand, there is also a difficult to see portal which is the narrow entrance to a tight, constricted “way.”  And the way Jesus describes it here is that many people are streaming into the broad portal and very few are even finding the narrow one.

Now, that’s a very simple figure.  One doesn’t have to search for the meaning.  And it doesn’t have to be augmented and embellished – allegorized - in order to make it more exciting.  And we don’t have to add plots and characters.  And we don’t have to devise elaborate descriptions of things that aren’t even here!

But, as I said, it’s a very simple figure.  This is a very simple sermon.  It’s the sermon that nobody wants to hear, but it’s simple nonetheless!

Jesus’ mind of course, is the mind of God.  And, therefore, has no bounds.  And sometimes His figures cover a wide range of information and carry subtle meaning which, although very evident to the people of Israel, might be a little shadowy to us.  Such as the portal, for example.

Please remember that this is the Kingdom business, now!  As children of our Father, asking of Him and receiving every good thing from Him, as we heard last Lord’s Day, we are to now be intent on the business of the Kingdom – what is right! The right “way.”

But the portal has always been something of importance in the history of God’s people.  And the Word of God treats it with some value.  Now, the portal itself, although a formidable concept, doesn’t seem to be the specific point of reference in any case.  What is the specific reference is the fact that the portal is the entrance to something on the other side.  And speaking of the portal is exactly the same as speaking of that thing – whatever it is – to which it opens!

Let me give you some examples.  In Luke thirteen we have a parallel passage to the one here in Matthew.  And Luke quotes Jesus as Jesus was preaching through these issues on another occasion.  And Jesus specifically mentions the portal through which one enters into the eschatological banquet.  And Luke reflects the critical nature of coming in now – due to Christ’s imminent destruction of Israel!

But the point I’m trying to make is that the portal is the entrance to the banquet.  The banquet is the specific reference point, but the portal seems to carry approximately the same value since it is the entrance!  The portal is an important concept in itself.

All cities had defensive gates in those times.  And the Scriptures speak often about the gates of Jerusalem – as if the gates were the same as the center of the city itself!  And there is, in the Hebrew language, a word translated gate which actually means the central place of judgment and political management of the city.  I don’t think that has much to do with Jesus’ mention of the two portals, though.  But the gates of Jerusalem does!  Because the gates of Jerusalem represented Jerusalem itself – the City of God.  The portal to life!

Another example of the value of the portal is found later on in this Gospel.  And I don’t want to preach that passage this morning, because I won’t have anything else to say when I get there.  But there is only one place in all of Scripture where the portals of hell are mentioned.  And it’s in Matthew chapter sixteen, verse eighteen.

Jesus says that the portals of hell shall not prevail against His Church because it’s built upon the rock.  Now, in order to understand, you have to know that the temple of God – where the sacrifices were made foreshadowing the coming sacrificial Lamb of God – was built on solid bedrock.  It was called the temple rock.  In fact, it’s several hundred feet thick!  And God’s Word is very careful in describing the portals through which one entered into the temple, and into the inner chambers of sacrifice and then into the holy of holies.  This was the center of everything in Israel!  It was the entrance to the presence of God, Who is life!

And the portals through which one entered were the portals of life!  And they were always there because the temple was built on the rock!

Do you see Jesus’ point of reference?

Of course hell – or Hades – embraces the realm of the dead.  And Jesus indicates in that chapter sixteen passage that the portals of that realm are formidable defenses.  In fact, the way He speaks of them, they almost become hell itself!  It’s as if they come to life and assail the Church, which is no longer built on the temple rock, but the Rock Himself, which is Christ!

But when the portals of the temple were destroyed in 70 A.D. by the forces of hell, and there was no more sacrifice, it wasn’t the destruction of the Church that occurred, but the establishment of it!  The rock is no longer that which is under the old temple, but Christ is the Cornerstone of the New Temple.  So the most terrible assault didn’t overcome the rock.  The portals of hell are the aggressors, but they cannot vanquish – they cannot prevail against the advance of the Kingdom, for it stands on the bedrock which is God the Son, the eternal, immovable One.

Now, the third example is the most crucial for you to see.  And it will ultimately turn us loose to understand what Jesus meant in our passage this morning, which was spoken before any of these things happened. 

But in Hebrews thirteen, verse twelve it says that Jesus went outside the gate – portal – of Jerusalem to suffer and die.  And then verse thirteen says, “Let us go forth therefore unto Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.”  Our Lord Jesus went through a very narrow portal, a refuse gate, and went along a restricted path to a place of death called “the skull” – Golgotha.  And there He was sacrificed for us.

I suppose you could say that He exited Jerusalem through this small portal in the city wall.  (It wasn’t the big beautiful front city gate.)  But I prefer to think that His procession through this gate was an entrance.  An entrance to suffering and death – for His Father’s chosen people.  For the covenant.  For the Kingdom.

And when the writer to the Hebrew Christians says, “Let us go forth therefore unto Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach….” What he’s saying is that we, too, have to go out through the narrow refuse gate.  And we have to join Him on that way – that very narrow and constricted way to be put to death.

And that little refuse portal in the city wall is hard to find.  It is completely foreign to our nature to hunt for the refuse gate and seek to go through it.  So it is exceptionally hard for us to look for it and find it.  In fact we don’t want to look for it and find it.  And if we did see it, we wouldn’t want to go through it, because it leads to Golgotha.  And it leads to reproach.  But that reproach is life – and it leads to eternal life – but it is reproach, isn’t it?

We would much rather just stay on the main road where everybody else is.  It’s straight and wide.  And the portal through which it emerges is wide and beautiful.  And everybody seems to be here.  There’s no reproach – no shame – no refuse.  But what everybody doesn’t know is that at the end of this “way” is ruin.  Not destruction or annihilation – ruin.  Separation.  Chaos.  Darkness.  Eternal death – like the eventual fate of the city of Jerusalem in 70 A.D..

This is the sermon nobody wants to hear, because there’s no middle ground here.  There’s a portal which leads to reproach and mortification in Christ.  And there’s one which seems easier.  (There’s no reproach for Christ’s sake.)

But there’s not a third portal!

Dante said, “Hell is hottest for those who, in the midst of moral crisis, took a neutral position!”  And that’s entirely true, for Christ hates the so-called neutrality!

But neutrality belongs to the wide portal – and the easy way – and it leads to ruin.  There are only two “ways” – the one which follows Christ our King, and the other one.  And all men, now and throughout history, shall have entered these two portals and been on these two ways.  And Jesus even says, in that Luke chapter thirteen passage I mentioned earlier, that many men will seek to enter from the little refuse gate, deceiving themselves that they wanted to suffer reproach for Christ, and they won’t even be able to enter!

You see, men carry baggage.  Depravity, iniquity, sin – vices, hypocrisy, self-righteousness, egocentricity, anthropocentricity – every other so-called “god”, every other “way” to get to the “True” God!  You just can’t get those big things through that little portal!

But you can get anything through the big portal – everything goes through it – every god – and there’s a lot of friends and neighbors to help you carry all the baggage on that big, open “way.”

Jesus says that many are on the broad “way.” 

And people have a tendency to ruin each other, don’t they?  It’s so much easier to say “yes” than to say “no.”  All the idolatrous baggage is acceptable on the broad way.

But that narrow way is difficult.  No is no – and it separates, doesn’t it?  And it causes reproach.  It’s strange to be separated from the vast majority as if we weren’t a part of the race.  It’s hard to mortify the lust of the flesh in the reproach of Christ – in order to pass through the little refuse gate.  It’s hard to be the butt end of jokes and talk and ridicule, and to be separated out from the others when we refuse to participate.  It’s hard to be singled out as “odd” when we don’t act and talk and think the way everybody else does.  It’s hard when we get the stares and silence after we address an issue with straight, Biblical logic.  And it’s hard when parents of our children’s friends ostracize us when we don’t let our children participate in things!  And it’s very hard when you don’t have many friends because of the way you are.  And sometimes, many times, even family is on the “other side.”

The fight with personal sin is brutal.  It isn’t fun.  It isn’t easy.  Other people think you’re insane when you fight with yourself to kill yourself.  When everybody in the world has been conditioned to believe that we ought to build self-esteem and self-worth and self-confidence, here we are struggling to mortify the old self in Christ Jesus the Lord!  When nearly everybody else in the world is trying desperately to bring attention to themselves, we’re dealing with Kingdom issues and trying to refocus attention on God our Father.

People this little gate leads out to the place where people have dumped their fecal material – their refuse pots and their garbage.  And it leads to the hill which looks like a skull – where we must be put to death in Him.  That’s life!  That’s victory in Christ!  This is the portal which opens into the new Temple built on the rock which is Christ – a Rock which will never be moved.

It does lead to reproach and ridicule and persecution, and pain and hardship and separation – but, it is the door through which one enters into the banquet.

As the doorway with the blood on it was the entranceway to life in the Passover meal, there is a small portal – an entrance to life.  This is a Kingdom figure, and, as we’ve already seen, it has to do with the sacrificial Lamb, signified by Passover; it has to do with the Rock which is Christ, and it has to do with the Groomsman and His invitation to the feast.  On the other side is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  And it has to do with the life in the Kingdom – a Kingdom already definitively won at the Cross, but being subdued in space and time until Jesus returns to finish the annihilation of His enemies.

And while we work to this end we are to remember Him often as we signify and seal His promises to every one of His elect.  The Son of God has been sacrificed to God the Father to propitiate His wrath toward us.  His blood was shed for us – in our place.  The sacrificial Lamb was slain for us – outside the gate – portal.  And, having gone through it, following Him, we are safe inhabitants of the new household of our Father.  The blood of the God-man has been shed!  He became refuse for us.

And now we actually participate in the virtues and character of the God-man.  We really participate in His Divine nature, according to Peter!  Not that we take on Divinity, but that we are beneficiaries of the nature, being one with Him!  And the sign and seal of that unity in Him is the new and better Passover – the Lord’s Table.  A banquet.  This is the sign and seal of the fact that we have passed through the refuse gate into the narrow way with Him – to join Him in His reproach and that we are a part of His very body! – signified and sealed by this bread and this wine.