‘But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it’ (Matthew 7:14).
Nestled between Patisserie Valerie and Greggs Bakery on Exeter’s High Street lies the narrowest street in Britain. Parliament Street measures just 25 inches at its slimmest point and 45 inches at its widest. Now that is narrow! Apparently, it’s just about wide enough for one person to walk down, and would be easy to miss when you’re out shopping.
Then there’s a road in Bolivia. Although it’s called the North Yungas Road, it’s also known as ‘Death Road’. The road has narrow and uneven tracks — some less than 10 feet wide — with very steep mountains and sheer drops of up to 3,280 feet. The road surface is unstable, waterfalls cascade down the side of the mountain, and dense cloud cover makes visibility poor.
I wonder, would either of these be what Jesus had in mind when he talked about the ‘narrow road’ in the Sermon on the Mount?
‘I am the gate’
Jesus loved to use parables, and many of the stories He told were used to illustrate something far deeper than their literal meaning.
For Christians, Matthew 7:13-14 paints a picture of Jesus as the sole way to salvation. The gate that leads to eternal life is called ‘narrow’. That doesn’t mean it’s restrictive in the sense that it’s difficult to become a Christian. It means that there is only one way to heaven, and that is through Christ.
This is why, in John 10:9, Jesus says, ‘I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.’
You may have heard the concept of the narrow gate being used as a warning to avoid the allure of worldly pleasures, or employed to promote a message of self-satisfied exclusivity concerning the ‘elect’. The last bit of Matthew 7:14 — ‘only a few find it’ — could certainly give that impression. But although the road and gate may indeed be narrow, I believe that they’re still sufficiently wide enough to accommodate the entire world, should people accept it.
As Revelation 7:9 indicates, God is yearning for ‘a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language… standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.’
With this in mind, I wonder if our interpretation of the narrow road has become a little ‘narrow’.
One of the wisest ways to read a passage of Scripture is by doing so in the context of the whole chapter.
Interestingly, when we read Matthew 7, it’s quite a while before Jesus even mentions the narrow road. Instead, He begins by cautioning us, ‘do not judge, or you too will be judged’.
He also warns against hypocrisy and failing to value others. This gives the narrow road narrative a slightly different perspective, with some biblical commentaries suggesting that Jesus was aiming His words at the Pharisees.
The truth is a narrow road with trenches on either side. If we lean too far either way, we can find ourselves stuck in a ditch. On one side, there’s legalism, pride, judgment, self-righteousness and intolerance. On the other, there’s cheap grace, ‘easy-believism’, and a lack of repentance.
Balance and humility are key.
Although it seems as if we live in an ‘either/or’ culture, Jesus is calling us to have a more ‘yes/and…’ approach to life. He is calling us to walk the narrow road with compassion and discernment, grace and wisdom.
Surely the story about removing the plank out of our own eye before we try to remove the speck of dust from our brother’s (7:3-5) is a warning not to be pious and judgmental, but to take a good look at our own failings first?
It is also a challenge to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him’ (16:24); recognising the cost to self as a follower of Jesus.
His grace is enough
Thankfully, God’s grace goes beyond our human limitations. He sees us the way He created us to be — full of potential, kindness, goodness and self-control. We are made in His image after all.
Despite our flaws, His Spirit continually calls us on, gently quickening us to walk humbly and mercifully. He understands the ‘why’ behind our misconceptions, and sees our scars and hurts.
His love is redemptive, patient and incredibly forgiving.
So, whether the path you walk is crazily narrow and easily missed like Parliament Street, or you find yourself stumbling along an unstable North Yungas Road, blinded by the storms of life, remember that Jesus continues to lead the way.
He encourages us to move forward with the invitation to keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking
— His ultimate promise being that we’ll eventually find what we’re looking for.
The narrow road doesn’t exist to keep people out. As Jesus Himself said, ‘Everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened’
Why not take some time on this cold January day to chat to God about this — laying aside any preconceptions and judgments you might have, to ask, ‘Who can I invite to walk down Jesus Street with me today?’