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 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 fallen human condition. I am quite sure that He always wants it to be otherwise, but Truth is truth. Far from being a condemnation or sentencing of His own people to Hell, these words should be taken as a warning for us all when we think irresponsibly that we are already saved and bank on Cheap Grace or think that our religion and good works are going to save us. 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, the narrow way that alone leads to salvation.
Of course, none of this is pleasant news and too many Christians threaten their salvation by believing untruths like my God wouldn’t damn anyone. Many Christians don’t think. Of course, God damns people. If He didn’t, He wouldn’t give them the respect they deserve as being free willing creatures that can choose irrationally to reject Him. God creates man with reason and free will and to discover their respective perfections. So, our Good God loves us so much that he allows us not to want, find, love, or put Him above all things so that we can go to Heaven. Our God is Good and so never compels anyone to love Him enough to be saved. God gives to every man his due or will render to every man according to his deeds. (Romans ii. 6) So, we might want to wake up to the fact that man’s deeds come from man’s choices. Man’s choices are the result of his free will. What moves and defines us mostly means that we have used reason to will freely and to determine the character, state, and condition of our souls, forever. This is God’s loving justice. He respects us enough to allow us to fall in love with Him, or not.
So, if we hope to be saved, we must want it. To want it, we must find it. To find it, we need look no further than God’s revelation of it in His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus says, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. (St. John xiv. 6) Christians believe that salvation comes to fallen man through Jesus Christ by participating in the Redemption He has worked out for us, fulfilling Divine Reason and freely willing it. Jesus died and rose for us. Now, it is up to us to want, find, and love it more than all other things. Of course, we cannot really want, find, and love it more than all other things, unless we need it. Coming to discover that we need it is the hard part. To need it comes only when we have taken a long, hard look at ourselves and found ourselves to be, on the best of days, destitute of that joy and happiness that God’s Reason and Will alone generate for us in Jesus Christ.
I have said that needing what Jesus brings is the hard part. Most of us, wouldn’t you say, think that we are alright, are good enough, and shall, more than likely, just scrape by to enter the Kingdom? Such wishful thinking on our part. Jesus says that we must find the strait gate and enter the narrow way if we hope to be saved. And the strait gate and narrow way reveal no easy business. The old adages no pain, no gain, no suffering, no salvation, and no Cross, no Crown take in Jesus Christ’s pattern of suffering and death. What we need is the strait gate and narrow way of Jesus’ Passion for us. We can only come to need it if we realize what Christ has done for us.
We can only realize what Christ has done for us when we come to know ourselves as sinners. In these dark, dark days, where the idolaters of our world convince us that God loves us just the way we are, this is challenging. But surely, we don’t really believe that we are pure and righteous. St. James, long ago, knew that Man never is, and so 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 Christ came into the world to help us to need God when He promised to send the Comforter unto us, [who] will reprove the world of sin. (St. John xvi. 8) The Comforter, Christ’s Holy Spirit, longs to awaken us to our sins,born of self-reliance and self-righteousness, which kill the Word of God, Jesus Christ, in our souls. God’s Word is the expression of His Reason and Will for us in Jesus Christ. St. Thomas Aquinas says
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)
What we come to need is the Comforter, or the Holy Spirit, who fills our hearts with the charity of God, which has conquered all our fear with the strength to rebuke all sin on Jesus’ Cross. Next, Jesus say that the Comforter will reprove…the world of righteousness. (Ibid, 10) Aquinas, with St. Paul, the greatest of convicted Christians, proclaims 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 by the righteousness that [we] have ignored or neglected. (Idem) Through the Spirit, the Father lovingly shows us that we have rejected and neglected God’s Crucified Son. The Father made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor. v. 21). Finally, the Comforter will rebuke…the world of judgment because the prince of this world is judged. (Idem) Aquinas insists that the devil has received his due. 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, we discover that we need and can find, want, and love the strength to know that Satan has been judged. (Idem)
When we come to need Jesus, we begin to find and want and love God’s Reason and Will for us. In Christ, our faith must be tried and tested by His Crucifixion. This is where the rubber meets the road.
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)
If we are made one with the Cross of Jesus, we shall be hated by the world. Christ’s Victory over sin, death, and Satan in the Crucifixion enables us to order [our] unruly wills and affections [as] sinful men. (Collect Easter IV) The Holy Spirit strengthens us to become servants of Christ’s righteousness as we endure this world’s hatred. The Holy Spirit will enable us to love the thing that the Father commandeth and love the thing He doth promise. (Collect…) 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 longs for more in us. He persuades us to need, want, find, and love Him inwardly and spiritually. This is why He must depart from us in the flesh. St. James writes Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. (St. James i. 19.20) Christ desires to dwell in our hearts by faith. With Christ living in us, through the Holy Spirit, if we are swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath, (Idem) we must resist all vengeance. Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. (Romans xii. 19) To journey from Christ’s Crucifixion into Resurrection is difficult but filled with the belief that God is the judge and will give every man his due, what he wants, with neither force nor compulsion. So, St. James concludes:
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)
Christ is with us truly in spirit and in truth. Our temptations now can become good and useful ways to help us to need, want, find, and love the way that overcomes all our sins. Jesus, the Word of Truth, will soften our old hardened, sinful hearts, convict us through the Holy Spirt and give us new hearts of love, leading us through the straight gate and narrow way that lead to salvation.
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, who cometh down from the Father of Lights, whose Reason and Free Will with neither shadow of turning always long to beget us anew, whose Good News is the strait gate and narrow way that enable us to need, want, find, and love Him and the salvation He has won for us forever.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: