Pathway to the Kingdom
Pathway to the Kingdom Matthew 7:7-27
Pathway to the Kingdom – A few years ago someone sent me this story.
The other night my three-year-old son and I had been through the
regular nightly routine: story, prayer, hugs. Then as my hand slide
down the light switch, “I want a gink.”
He can’t say “drink” and I thought it was kinda’ cute, “gink.” But, I
was firm. “You just had a drink when you brushed your teeth. Now
it’s time to go to sleep.”
At last the kids were all in bed. Peace. Silence. I sat in the best
chair and begin to sort through the mail. “I want a gink!” from the
“Gink” lost some of its cuteness.
“No water! Go to sleep!”
Quietness reigned for at least 60 seconds. “Daddy, I want a gink.”
“I want a gink.”
I knew how Moses felt in the wilderness with a million Israelites all
crying, “We want a gink.”
Gink was no longer cute. I yelled down the hallway into the darkness,
“If I hear you ask for a gink one more time, if I hear one sound from
you, I’m gonna come down there and spank you and I’m not kidding. Now
be quiet and go to sleep!”
It was as quiet as a tomb, not a sound. You could have heard a pin
It was so silent I couldn’t concentrate on the mail.
Then the still small voice of a child who smelled victory. “Daddy,
when you come in here to spank me could you bring me a gink of
I thought about this story when I was reading through the very familiar teaching of Jesus in the seventh chapter of Matthew, the end of the Sermon on the Mount.
Pathway to the Kingdom – As I have mentioned, the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is teaching of the Kingdom of God that came with Jesus in part and for which we are still waiting the fulfillment. When we come into Jesus’ kingdom, when Jesus takes the throne and the devil has been cast into oblivion, then we will live fully the rules and ethics of the Kingdom of God. For now we struggle to live by this teaching of Jesus and although we will always fail, it is part of the work of God in our lives to make us ones who are increasingly successful in living by these teachings.
Matthew 7 lays out a pathway to the Kingdom of God but it all starts with an encounter with Jesus. On the front cover of the bulletin you see a picture of Jesus standing at a door and knocking. This is a very familiar picture and I tried to find the least Caucasian picture of Jesus I could. It is not easy to find pictures of a Semitic Jesus.
This picture is an artistic rendering of a verse from John’s revelation in chapter 3
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
From early on in our lives, Jesus stands at the door of our lives and knocks. Jesus stands, ever ready for us to open the door and invite him in.
In my life, several years before I opened the door and made a commitment to follow Jesus, I heard his knocks. There was one time on a church trip to the south of the US when I was feeling quite depressed and went walking outside in the night. I found a church that was open and went in and prayed and my prayers were answered. But that was not enough for me to open the door. After I made a commitment to follow Jesus I remembered a Sunday School teacher who had talked to us about Jesus in a way that was different. I remembered various ways in which Jesus had been knocking but I had not responded. But then at the age of 20 I opened the door and accepted the gift of salvation that had been so patiently offered to me.
In the artistic rendering of this invitation, there is not a knob on the door where Jesus knocks. There is not a way for Jesus to open the door. All he can do is knock. This is intentional on the part of the artist and speaks the truth that it is we who have to open the door. Jesus knocks but we will not be forced into faith in him. We have to respond. We have to open the door.
To enter into a relationship, both parties have to be willing. If you decide you want to marry someone but the other person does not want to make that commitment, the marriage will not take place. If you want to be a friend to someone but that person does not want your friendship, the friendship does not develop. What this means is that there is a risk on our part when we ask someone if they want to be our friend. When we ask someone if they want to marry us there is a risk that they will say no and we will be rejected.
Pathway to the Kingdom – In a relationship with God it is a lot easier. Jesus wants a relationship with us. We know this because he was willing to leave the privileges of heaven to be born in this world. He voluntarily walked to Jerusalem and to his crucifixion. We know Jesus wants a relationship with us because he died to make it possible. There is no risk on our part because Jesus has already declared his intentions.
It is up to us to want a relationship with him, to want to open the door and receive his gift of salvation. When we do so, we enter into a relationship with God and begin our pilgrimage to the Kingdom of God. Jesus has already asked us to marry him and all we have to do is say yes.
The teaching in this chapter of Matthew shows us how to walk toward the kingdom that has come and is promised to us.
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
It is not enough to one time in your life ask Jesus to come in. Jesus knocked and knocked and we finally opened the door but the truth is that we need to be continually be asking, seeking and knocking. This is in fact the tense used in these three verbs in Jesus’ teaching. Keep on asking and it will be given to you; keep on seeking and you will find; keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you.
I remember hearing a story of an old man in a church who when it was time to share testimonies of God’s faithfulness would stand and say, “Forty-three years ago I was saved and I praise God.” The next year he would stand and say, “Forty-four years ago I was saved and I praise God.”
It is wonderful that God came into his life, but what has happened since? If the only testimony you can offer about your relationship with Jesus is that one time, long ago, you were saved, then you don’t have much of a relationship. At our Easter morning service we have people stand and tell their resurrection stories. What makes these stories each year so meaningful is that they speak of what God is doing in lives now, not just one time a long time ago.
All of us who are followers of Jesus can stand and tell of how God came to us. It might have been a moment in time or it might have been a gradual process but we can tell of that experience. But the scriptures talk of salvation in three tenses. We have been saved; we are being saved and we will be saved.
We have been saved but how are we being saved? The picture of Jesus standing at the door and knocking is not just a one-time event. After we open the door and gratefully receive his gift, he does not go away on another errand. Jesus keeps on knocking at the door of our lives, wanting us to accept him more fully.
And we need to keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking. We need to grow in our hunger and thirst for a deeper, more intimate relationship with Jesus.
Pathway to the Kingdom – What is amazing to me is that we stop asking, seeking and knocking. We get busy with our lives. We wake up in the morning later than we wanted to because we stayed up the night before later than we should. We wake up and make a dash to the bathroom and get dressed and rush out to take kids to school, go to work, go to school, go to the appointment we set up and then the day rushes by and as we drift off to sleep we might remember to say thank you to God for the day.
After having read the Bible many times we think we know all there is to know about Christianity. When a preacher reads a text we think back to other sermons we have heard about that text. We open the Bible and it seems too familiar to us.
We get tired of the discipline of Christian life. It is easier to grab an extra hour of sleep and then wake up and read the paper with our breakfast than it is to get up early and find a quiet place to journal, read and pray. It is easier to coast through life than to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow Jesus. It is easier to eat than to fast. It is easier to indulge than to deny and so we drift away from asking, seeking, knocking.
I have talked about my experience a couple years ago when I came to the end of my spiritual and emotional rope. I was completely depleted and had nothing to offer. I had been reading the Bible to prepare sermons but had not been taking the time to journal and meditate for myself on what I read. I had neglected my prayers and so I came to a point of desperation. I did not have what I needed to lead as pastor of this church and I did not have what I needed to lead in other things I do in Morocco.
So I began journaling after a five year absence from this part of my life. I began reading the Puritan prayers that I sneak into our services once in a while. I began to pour living water into the dryness of my life and amazingly I began to regain strength.
Jesus never left me but I had stopped asking, seeking and knocking. I had stopped opening the door and suffered because of that. When I came to my senses and once again began asking, seeking and knocking, there was Jesus ready and willing to fill my dry life with his living water.
I have recently talked with a couple other people who have experienced the same thing.
We can go for a time without eating or drinking but not for long. Our body screams at us and forces us to find bread and water. Our spirit also cries out for bread and water and we need to pay attention so that our spirit can be nourished.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
9 “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
It can be scary opening a door. Who knows what or who is on the other side? This is why some doors have a little peephole through which you can look to see who is there before you open the door.
Jesus stands at the door and knocks, but if you open the door, what will he want from you? What will he do to you?
If you give your life to Jesus will he take you from your comfortable world and send you to be a missionary in some remote part of the world? If you give your life to Jesus, will he take you away from the pleasures you enjoy and turn you into some kind of religious fanatic? If you open the door to Jesus will he disrupt your plans and take you into some unknown direction? If you open the door to Jesus will he make you give up something or someone you love?
These are fears most of us have had at some point in our lives and Jesus knew that we would have these fears so after teaching about our need to keep on asking, seeking and knocking, he reminds us that our heavenly father will give good gifts to those who ask him. When we open the door to Jesus and surrender our will to his we will be given only what is good for us.
I can tell you as a father and now a grandfather, I want only good things for my daughters, their husbands and my grandson. I have been preparing for the arrival of John and Caitlin and now Sam for several months. I have been praying for a place for them to live for the year they will spend studying French here in Rabat. I have been looking for furniture for them. I have been looking for a car for them to use and all of these have fallen into place. In the next couple weeks I will be moving furniture into the apartment I found for them. I will have an ADSL line installed so they can do internet. I will have a phone for them to use. I found a baby crip and all kinds of baby things for them. I will have the apartment set so they can walk in the door and have a comfortable place to live. The only thing they will have to do is hang pictures where they want them to be hung.
Why did I do all this? Because they are my daughter, son-in-law and grandson and I love them.
And Jesus taught
If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
If I with my sinful human nature can give good gifts to my children, how much more will God give good gifts to those who ask him!
Pathway to the Kingdom – It is because God loves us so deeply and purely that we open the door repeatedly to him and invite him into our lives, into every part of our lives. We open the door and tell him we are willing to go anywhere he wants us to go because he will send us to where it will be good for us to go. We open the door and tell him we are willing to have any gift he wants us to have, even the ones that make us nervous because any gift he gives us will be good for us. We open the door and tell him we are willing to do whatever he asks us to do, no matter how intimidating it may seem because the tasks he gives us will develop our gifts.
God will not give us something, takes us somewhere, ask us to do something that is not ultimately good for us because he loves us far more than a father or mother can love their children or grandchildren. If you are not opening yourself to all that God has for you, you are missing out on what is good for you. If you are not opening yourself to all that God has for you, you are settling for mediocrity. You are missing the best.
Pathway to the Kingdom – Are you asking, seeking, knocking? Have you settled into a rhythm of life that does not centrally involve a seeking for God? How hungry and thirsty are you for Jesus? How long has it been since you sat down to have an uninterrupted time with God? When is the last time you read the scripture and then sat and meditated on what you read? When is the last time you spent a sustained time praying about the events and concerns of your life, listening to what God might have to say about your life? Is there a regular, consistent discipline in your life of taking time to sit with God and read, study, reflect, write and pray? If not, you have either settled into mediocrity or you are heading for a breakdown.
It is good that you opened the door and let Jesus enter your life but that is only the first step toward the Kingdom of God. Keep making steps that will take you nearer to what will fill the deepest desires in your life.
There is one more part of Jesus’ teaching I want to look at this morning that will help us on the path to the kingdom.
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
When we pray for an awakening or for a revival, our prayer envisions that the whole of a country or the whole of the world will awaken to faith in Jesus. We look at the statistics of the growth of the church and imagine how that could continue until all the world believes. Against that desire we have for all to believe, verse 14 comes as a shock.
But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
Pathway to the Kingdom – The Kingdom of God is growing and one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. But in each generation, it is only a small portion of that generation that finds the small gate and the narrow road. The small percentage of each generation adds to those in each preceding generation who entered into the kingdom so that the eternal kingdom of God grows from strength to strength. But that is an eternal kingdom, not an earthly one.
Here on earth the church rises and falls. The churches of the world may be full for a period of time but they will be empty at another time. The success of the Kingdom of God is not
measured by how full our churches are. It is measured by the steady inflow of those who find the small gate of the narrow road that leads to life.
Our hope is not that the churches of the world will be full but that the Kingdom of God will grow steadily with those from each generation that enter into the kingdom.
The truth is that whenever Christianity has become the dominant religion in a country, there has been something deficient about that Christian faith. Look at what dominant Christianity has produced: the Crusades, the Inquisition, a smothering, intolerant faith.
Although over 3/4 of the US population call themselves Christians, more precise polling indicates that there is only 10-18% of the population that is living out a Christian life.
Africa was called the Christian continent because of the rapid growth of the church but this “Christian continent” produced the horrors of Rwanda. This Christian continent is plagued with corruption and AIDS.
Here is the truth: Africa is not a Christian continent. The US is not a Christian country.
small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
This is not new. If you read the history of the church, whenever persecution has come, the majority of the church has denied faith in Jesus. It is only a small percentage that remains faithful to Jesus and suffers for his name.
Pathway to the Kingdom – Here is one of my rules in life. Look around and identify what are the cultural values that dominate the culture you live in and then try to understand how those values are un-Christian. When you see most people believing or acting is some way, step aside and consider what is wrong with what they believe or with what they are doing.
In the US people pride themselves on being self-sufficient, strong, capable of handling things on their own. Our cultural icon is Clint Eastwood who can handle anything that comes his way. But Christians are intended to be dependent on God and on each other. We are intended to be vulnerable, acknowledging our weakness and confessing our sin so we can be strengthened with the power of God in our lives.
In the US parents sacrifice so their children can go to the best schools, get the best education, get the best job, earn as much money as possible. This is what is viewed as success. There are those who do not come overseas in response to a call from God because they fear their children will miss this track.
God may have a plan that is much more fulfilling than earning a lot of money and people miss out because they follow the wide road.
Pathway to the Kingdom – Jesus stands at the small gate of the narrow road and knocks until you open the door and accept his invitation to walk in toward the Kingdom of God.
But look at the verse that precedes the invitation in Revelation 3.
Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
If I love you I will rebuke and discipline you. Be earnest and repent and now open the door.
Who wants to open the door when the person on the other side tells you he has a paddle and is ready to use it to discipline you? This is why few people find the small gate and take the narrow road.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.
Who wants to deny himself? The wide road is easier. The wide road seems more exciting. But the wide road leads to destruction.
The narrow road requires more sacrifice. The gate is small. The road does not seem as promising. But the narrow road leads to life.
Pathway to the Kingdom – So here is my call to you. Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of your faith. Fix your eyes on Jesus, not on the crowd. The crowd will almost always lead you astray. If you do what everyone around you is doing, you will head off on the wide road that leads to destruction. It will not seem a bad road but turn around a few bends and you will eventually come to regret having taken that road.
Make a list of what all your friends, your classmates, your peers do and what they value. Check yourself against that list. Pray through that list and see where it is you need to change your behavior. See where it is you need to change your goals and your dreams.
Take time to sit and reflect and hear Jesus knocking on the door of your life. If you are not eager to open the door, pray for hunger and thirst until you will be eager to open the door.
Persist like the little boy in the story at the beginning of the sermon. Even if it costs a spanking, keep on asking for a gink of water.