Matthew 7:12-14

12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

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. [1]

Preaching has several functions. Sometimes we mistakenly believe it has only one. But sermons are meant to instruct us, shape, and transform our thinking and feeling, and challenge us to a new course of action. Preaching lets God’s word loose, so that by its own power it changes the lives of its hearers.

That is likely one of the reasons Jesus regularly spent long periods of time preaching to people. That’s one of the neglected takeaways of his feeding multitudes. If these crowds had been with him long enough to need to be fed, he must have given them hours of teaching (Mk. 8:2). He was not merely toying with their wills, calling them to a decision. He was patiently expounding to them the truth of God, knowing that the good seed of the word has its own power when planted in fertile hearts.[2]

The Sermon on the Mount illustrates this principle. Everywhere we look in it we find moral challenge. But we also find instruction, illumination, teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16) through the law of God. In our section this morning, Jesus builds up to his conclusion of the sermon As he presents the decisions and choices that the law demands.

Throughout this sermon it has been obvious that there are only two ways to live: either we live according to God’s law, or we live according to the way of the world, the flesh, and the devil. In this conclusion, Jesus challenges us to make up our minds. There are certain issues that must be settled. There is no room for negotiation or compromise.


Jesus sums up God’s law this way: “12 So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” One thing is clear, to express this law in a positive form makes it extremely difficult. In fact, it makes it impossible for normal human beings to keep.

It has always been possible for people to keep outwardly the negative side of this saying. In its negative form the rule is a legal principle, and human law always has self as center. It’s possible for people to discipline themselves so as not to hurt others, mostly because they themselves do not want to be hurt in return. The average person stops at stop signs, pays their bills, obeys the laws of the land, and many other positive things.

A person can avoid overt acts of prejudice because they do not want to alienate another and thereby suffer retaliation. Such a person wants to keep peace, but wants to do so primarily so they will be able to keep on with the work of satisfying their own selfish needs and desires. Everyone naturally begins with self as the starting point. We naturally concentrate on the outward demand while ignoring the conversations we have with ourselves in our hearts.

However, if a person is trying to keep the positive form of this command, it becomes obvious early that this is exactly what we cannot do. And we cannot do it precisely because we are taking ourselves as the starting point. God’s law tells us what we must not do. The command the Lord Jesus gives in this sermon tells us what we ought to do. But no one can do what Jesus says unless their minds are entirely off themselves and fixed at all moments on the needs, cares, loves, joys, hopes, and dreams of other people. Jesus demands a radical change of heart as well as hands.

With this summary command of the law, Jesus is actually outlining the true nature of morality. And he is asking us to see that the way into heaven is either by supplying an inward perfection equal to God’s own love and grace and holiness (which no human can do), or else by turning from the demands of the law entirely in order to receive a new life from God which alone is capable of doing the things that God requires.

The major effect this Golden Rule was intended to have on human goodness was to condemn it. It wipes out human goodness completely. By this standard all natural, human goodness is condemned. Our self-centered idea of goodness is weighed in the balance and found wanting. The Golden Rule here in verse 12 is God’s straightedge by which a person may know how morally crooked they truly are.

That is the purpose of the whole law of God of which the Golden Rule itself is only a partial summary. Think of what Paul teaches about the law in his letter to the Romans, 3:20: “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” The New Living Translation paraphrases: “For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.[3]

Mere human morality tries to draw the straightest line it can without the straightedge of God’s law. But that doesn’t stop people from trying. We try to draw the straight line of human character and then compare our drawing to other people’s to see whose line is the straightest. But then God enters and produces his straightedge, and we see that all the human lines of moral character are crooked. If ever there was a human being who could meet God’s perfect standard and keep it entirely, that man could take over heaven and sit enthroned next to God.

On the other hand, if a man sees that he has not kept God’s law and that in his own strength he never will be able to keep this standard, then he must take his place with all lost humanity. He must admit that he has fallen short of the glory of God and deserves God’s judgment. To such people God comes with the offer of salvation, revealing that he has sent out his own Son to be their righteousness and to provide them with a heavenly life that alone of all lives is capable of pleasing him.

God announced there is a man who has kept his standard perfectly. Though he did not deserve it, he willingly offered himself up as a sacrifice for the sins of his brothers and sisters. He literally died and rose again and ascended to heaven to sit at the right hand of God. With his perfect righteousness – not a righteousness of our own making – we can and will be accepted before God forever in Christ.


If we were to stop our examination this morning at verse 12, we would have a good gospel sermon. But it would be incomplete. God’s law was given not merely to drive a man to Christ (though that is the first thing necessary), but also to set forth the standard of morality toward which God is constantly leading the believer.

Jesus makes this clear in verses 13 and 14. The sincere Jesus follower has choices to make in life about how he or she lives. “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.

Christ presents us with four contrasting choices: the choice of entrance; the choice of road; the choice of companions; and the choice of destinies. Will we choose the wide gate, or the small gate? Will we walk on the way that is broad, or the way that is narrow? Will we go with the crowd, or are we prepared to join the few? Will we choose life, or death?

In other words, Jesus is teaching that God did not redeem us so that we would remain in our sin. He saved us to make us like Jesus, and that means to live out this standard more and more by learning to see our sin more clearly and deeply and repenting more openly and quickly and asking the Holy Spirit to live through us more of Jesus’ life.

The Lord gives us one choice to be made between two possible alternatives. And he spells out in some detail the implication of those alternatives. Those implications tell us that the issues before us have a bearing on the entirety of our lives and bearing upon the whole of eternity. Jesus sets before us life and death. He invites us to look with him through the gate, right to the final destination. He draws our attention to where these entrances will lead. He unmasks false appearances.

Jesus begins this teaching on choices with a command: “Enter through the narrow gate.” Then, he gives the reason for the command: “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life” (v.14). Jesus is summarizing his sermon and teaching that everything he has preached forms a “narrow gate.” Those words have never been comfortable, but they are particularly offensive to 21st century ears. We can tolerate any number of descriptions like “vein,” or “proud,” or “ruthless.” But no one wants to be called “narrow.” Our Western culture admires the urbane, the worldly-wise, the all-accepting.

In our culture, narrow means unforgiving. It implies a closed off mind that is dwarfed and stunted by defective education and fear. No one likes to be called narrow! Christians, just like anyone else, can be narrow in a bad way. We certainly don’t want to be narrow and self-righteous like the list-keeping Pharisees. Nor do we want to be narrow and inflexibly dogmatic about matters in which the scriptures are not clear.

On the other hand, we have to embrace the narrowness Christ commands. He says there are only two roads. One road leads to destruction and one leads to life. And there is no middle way. Jesus never said anything by accident. What he said here was completely intentional. He knew that nothing is more calamitous than for someone to hear this sermon and meditate on its precepts, even bow in admiration, but never experience its reality. That makes Jesus’ conclusory remarks the most important words of the entire sermon.


For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.” Picture a large entrance to a walled city opening onto a broad paved boulevard. The road is spacious, so it is easy to locate and the easy to travel. Because of its size, there’s no limitation for baggage. You can take anything along that you want. Nothing has to be left behind. To stay on the road, all you have to do is follow your desires. It requires no effort.

This wide pleasant road imposes no boundaries on what you think or feel. Personal views do not make any difference at all. Everyone’s truth is their own truth. There are no uncomfortable opinions or actions on this road. It is a comforting an exciting journey. The road has plenty of room for everyone as long as one’s thinking does not turn into value judgments. It is perfectly fine to compare and contrast philosophies, but to say one is better than the other is way too narrow for this broad road. The relative is absolutized, and the absolute is relativized.[4]

The only limits on this road are platitudes about the good of the majority or the will of the people. The wide road imposes few boundaries on conduct. It infects its travelers with a deceptive sense of freedom and independence. But the trip itself is all it has to offer. It is an unsatisfying journey.

Even though it is the wrong road, Jesus says that “many enter through it.” The highway is heavily traveled. Most people prefer it that way. You are never alone on the broad road. Eventually, however, the road comes to an abrupt end at the edge of the abyss. The road stops there, but the traveler does not!


14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Jesus asks us to picture a tiny gate that is easily overlooked. You have to search for it to find it. And when you do find it, the road is narrow. No matter how far or how long you travel it, it never gets wider. It suggests an entrance so narrow no one can bring any baggage with them, they must leave everything behind.

The great Scottish preacher Alexander MacLaren, over 100 years ago, poetically pictured the first two Beatitudes as the side posts for this small gate. One side post stood for awareness of spiritual bankruptcy, and the other stood for mourning over sin. To enter this gate one must leave behind their self-righteousness and pride. We must come with nothing in our hands, with inadequacy and our consciousness of sin.

Having entered through the gate, the traveler sees that the road remains narrow just as Jesus promised it would. The Lord Jesus Christ is no salesperson. He offers no puffery for his followers. It is not simply that the road will be difficult at first but eventually become easier. The truth is, those who follow the road have to take up their cross and continue to die to themselves and to live for Christ (Mark 5:10).

The road is not only difficult, but it also imposes boundaries on what we think. Yet it is not a repressive path. This narrow way enhances logic and aesthetics and science. Christ is the one who made the universe. He declared himself to be “the way and the truth and the life.” On this path, our thoughts are both enlarged and confined.

Truth is not left to the tyranny of democratic consensus. If you follow Christ you will not and cannot believe what most people believe. No one on this path is popular for their beliefs. Our thoughts about God are narrowed. Some conceptions of God are true, and others are false. Certain views of him are degrading, and others are exalting. But when God shows us his biblical truth, our vision of him goes far beyond any ever dreamed by anyone on the broad road.

The biblical vision of God is sublime. What human could ever conceive of a God who was not confined by nature but was above nature, who holds all things together by the word of his power, who is our Father and our Judge but who also became a man in order to purchase us out of slavery to sin. The narrow way offers a spectacular, immense conception of God.

Our thoughts about how to be right with God are also narrowed.

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). And those who have preached salvation through Christ have exhibited the same narrowness. Consider Peter before the Sanhedrin: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).[5]

The path also provides borders for our affections because we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our might (Deuteronomy 6:5), to put no one else above or equal with him. As our affections change, so does our conduct. There are things we cannot do. But in our boundaries, we find liberation socially, sexually, ethically. The only free person in these areas is the one who walks the straight and narrow path.

The narrow way is thoroughly fulfilling. It provides freedom and joy. Ultimately it leads to eternal life that Jesus defines as knowing him and the Father. Jesus said, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.[6] At the end of the narrow road there is no abyss, only unspeakable glory!

Jesus intentionally placed these words at the beginning of his conclusion to the sermon. He knew that when he was finished some would stand at the foot of the magisterial immensity of what he taught and praise it, yet never enter the Kingdom. The opening line of his concluding remarks is a command: “Enter through the narrow gate.” The parallel passage in Luke 13:24 is just as striking, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.” It is not enough to simply hear about the gate, you must enter through it.

Jesus does not offer anyone a neutral stance. You are either on the broad road leading to destruction or on the narrow road leading to true eternal life. You can never accidentally enter the narrow gate. You cannot enter it unaware. You must enter it thoughtfully and purposefully. Have you done that? You must decide. No one else can do it for you. Moses told the people of Israel:

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live….[7]

Joshua called upon the people:

And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.[8]

In the earliest preaching of the gospel message, Peter declared:

Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself. [9]

Finally, just in case you’re still wondering what this gate is Jesus declares in John 10:9, “I am the gate.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Mt 7:12–14.

[2] Ferguson, 161.

[3] Tyndale House Publishers, Holy Bible: New Living Translation (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), Ro 3:20.

[4] Hughes.

[5] Id.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jn 17:3.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Dt 30:19.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Jos 24:15.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ac 2:38–39.