Easter IV 2022
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way,
that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way,
which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
St. Matthew vii. 13, 14
Our opening quotation, taken from St. Matthew’s Gospel, gives us a useful segue into our study of the meaning of Resurrection in this Eastertide. In it, Jesus Christ, true to himself and candid as always, basically tells us that most people go to Hell and few go to Heaven. Pardon me for cutting to the quick, but these are Jesus’ words, and this is Jesus’ analysis of the human condition. I am quite sure that He always wants it to be otherwise, but His words remain. Far from being a condemnation or sentencing of His own people to Hell, these words ought to be taken seriously by men in all ages, and especially by Christians who think that they are “saved” before the gift is bestowed, bank on Cheap Grace, or think that their religion and all their good works are going to save them. None of this is good theology and it certainly isn’t Biblical. Most men go to Hell because they choose the broad way over and against the strait gate and the narrow way that alone lead to salvation.
Of course, none of this is pleasant news. Christians protest, didn’t the Angel Gabriel proclaim to the shepherds, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord? (St. Luke ii. 10, 11) And didn’t Jesus Himself speak often of His mission to bring the Gospel, which means Good News, to all nations? He began His ministry by sending John Baptist’s disciples back to him saying, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: 5 the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the Gospel preached to them. (St. Matthew xi. 4,5) And St. Paul, repeatedly insisted that he was a bearer of the Gospel or Good News to all people. For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. (Romans i. 16) How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! (Romans x. 15) The Gospel of Jesus Christ is always the Good News of the salvation that Jesus Christ brings to all men in all ages.
So, Christians have every reason to rejoice in the knowledge and love of God found only in Jesus Christ and to believe that the Good News or Gospel alone leads us to salvation. But there is more. Jesus also says, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (St. John xiv. 6) Salvation means the return of man to God, through the Redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ, and by participating in the Atonement He has made for us. Jesus died and rose for us and yet it is up to us to respond. Jesus has won our salvation and we cannot have it except by and through Him. This means that Christ expects us to have a relationship with Him. Unless we find the strait gate and enter by the narrow way by that He establishes for us, we cannot reach Heaven. And this means that the life that He lived, the unearned, unmerited, and undeserved suffering He endured, and the Resurrection He commenced must all become our own or something that we participate in willingly, sacrificially, and joyfully. This is the message of Eastertide.
To find the strait gate and to enter the narrow way is no easy business. The old adages no pain, no gain, no suffering, no salvation, and no Cross, no Crown are all consecrated by the earthly life our Lord lived and intends to share with us. Christ will sanctify us by the Father’s Grace in a patient progress that leads us out of sin and death and into righteousness and new life. The pattern He consecrates and blesses will involve suffering and death before we find new life. Christ never promised us immediate and paranormal perfection and salvation now. This is a gift to be bestowed upon us as we find the strait gate and enter the narrow way that leadeth unto life. (Idem)
Therefore, what we have before us is the promise of a gift and reward to them that embrace Jesus Christ. Embracing Jesus Christ will be the hard part. In Eastertide we learn that no sooner has Christ risen from the dead than He tells His Apostles, Now I go my way to Him that sent me; and none of you asketh me, Whither goest thou? (St. John xvi. 5) Like men in all ages, we want God with us and for us, tangibly present in the flesh. We want the immediate gratification of Christ’s nearness. We believe, immaturely, that His absence from us in the flesh will breed catastrophic sadness and sorrow. Yet we, with the Apostles, must learn that Christ cannot save us unless we are willing to share in His sufferings to gain His victory. His tangible Incarnation is only the beginning. We must find the strait gate and narrow way that leadeth unto life inwardly and spiritually through His indwelling Holy Spirit. Christ intends to come alive in our souls by working His redemption into us. Christ desires to dwell in us. If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. (St. John xiv. 23)
With the Father, Christ intends to come to us and pitch their tent on the soil of our souls. The Resurrected and Ascended Lord wants to live on in us from Heaven to Earth as His all-saving life takes root in our hearts. It will be as full of Satan’s tempting and troublemaking as it was for Him. His Redemption accomplished once for all must be tried and tested from the ground of our souls through persistent faith.
If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you….The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me. (St. John xv. 18-21)
The Incarnation of Jesus Christ is no miracle recipe for instant gratification and premature salvation. Salvation is a process whereby Christ will be born in us and grow up in us through the Holy Spirit. The whole point of Christ’s Victory over sin, death, and Satan in Crucifixion and Resurrection was to order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men. (Collect Easter IV) The comfort and strength of the same Holy Spirit will enable us to love the thing that the Father commandeth and love the thing He doth promise (Collect…) in His Son. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. (St. John xvi. 7)
Christ will come to us from the Father inwardly and spiritually. St. James exhorts us to Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. (St. James iv. 7,8) Jesus tells us that when He sends the Comforter unto us, He will reprove the world of sin. (St. John xvi. 8) We must be convicted of our sins, which were the cause of Christ’s passion. We must repent and embrace the Father’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit. St. Thomas Aquinas says that he will convince, rebuke, the world, as the one who will invisibly enter into their hearts and pour his charity into them so that their fear is conquered and they have the strength to rebuke. (Aquinas: John’s Gospel) We must not only repent but rebuke all sin in the Name of Jesus. Next, the Comforter will reprove…the world of righteousness. (Ibid, 10) Aquinas reminds us that St. Paul, the greatest of convicted Christians, proclaimed that we are sold under sin… There is none righteous, no, not one. (Romans iii. 10, Ibid) and that the world must be convicted always of the righteousness that [we] have ignored or neglected. (Idem) Through the Spirit, the Father will show us how we have rejected the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Finally, the Comforter will rebuke…the world of judgment because the prince of this world is judged. (Idem) Aquinas reminds us that we shouldn’t blame our sins on the devil. Thus, the world is reproved by this judgment because being unwilling to resist, it is overcome by the devil, who although expelled is brought back by their consent to sin: "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies" (Rom 6:12, Idem) In Christ’s death, the Devil was robbed of any power he had over us. In the end, through the Spirit, we shall rebuke Satan if only we believe.
Christians should never seek an easier, softer way. The journey into Christ’s Resurrection is difficult but filled with all faith, hope, and love. St. James exhorts us:
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience… Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.
(St. James i. 2-4)
This is all Christ’s precious gift to us. St. James continues:
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the Word of
Truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (St. James i. 17, 18)
The gift of the Father is Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Word. Jesus longs for the power of His Crucifixion to lift our redeemed hearts into His glorious Resurrection. Jesus, the Word of Truth, will prune away the deadwood of our old hardened sinful selves to implant the new life that He has in store for us as the beauty of the Holy Spirit convicts us towards this end, leading us through the straight gate and narrow way that alone ensure our salvation.
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