The Greatest Sermon in History Part 20
The Great Divide
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
July 11, 2004

 

Main Passage: Matthew 7:13-14 (NLT)

 

Let me ask you a question. What are some of the choices you had to make to get yourself to Sunrise this morning?

PARTICIPATION
(What time to get up? Shower or bath or nothing? What to wear? What to eat? Which car do we drive? What do the kids need to wear? Which path will I take to get here?)

There are choices that we have to make each and every day. Some of the choices we make are significant, others are really pretty minor. Whether I use my 3-Wood or my 5-Wood is not all that significant. Either way, the golf ball is just going to roll down the fairway. Whether I cheat on my wife or not is a little more important. (Well, maybe more than a little.)


“Our lives are filled with decisions—what to wear, what to eat, where to go, what to do, what to say, what to buy, whom to marry, what career to follow and on and on. Many decisions are trivial and insignificant, and some are essential and life-changing. The most critical of all is our decision about Jesus Christ and His kingdom. That is the ultimate choice that determines our eternal destiny.”
~ John MacArthur

So everyday we are confronted with choices. Some minor ones that have very little impact on our lives… What do I wear today? Where do I eat? Paper or Plastic, Boxers or Briefs? And then there are major choices that can significantly change the course of our lives… Do I get married? Where do I live? Should I have children? What career do I chose?

In the passage we looked at earlier in the service, Jesus presents us with another choice… the most important one we can ever make. He tells us there are two roads before us, and whichever one we choose determines our eternity. So what I want to do this morning is take this most important of choices and break it down to five decisions we have to make along the way.

 

Four Critical Choices of Faith:

 

1. You Must Determine Your Destination

“If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else!”
~ Yogi Berra

Before you start on a journey, the first thing you should know is where you hope to end up. Otherwise you’ll just be wandering aimlessly and you’ll probably end up someplace you don’t want to be. Your destination determines your direction. It dictates the choices you make along the way.

Jesus reveals two possible destinations: Heaven and Hell.

Two Options: Heaven and Hell

I don’t think I’d be wrong to assume that most if not all of us here this morning would choose Heaven. If that’s not the choice you would want to make, then you’re really wasting your time here this morning. Because we’re going to talk about how you can reach the destination of Heaven where you can enjoy an eternity in the presence of God.

I do realize that there are some who claim that they would prefer Hell over Heaven. I talked with one man down at Tim Horton’s who has had a rough life and blames God for everything that’s gone wrong in his life. He told me that if there is a God he doesn’t think he wants to know him. And what’s more, he thought Hell sounded like a lot more fun than Heaven. He figures it can’t be worse than the life he’s had. Plus, all his friends and family are destined for Hell and he wants to be with them. Problem is, he doesn’t understand what Hell is really like.

The word “Hell” is just one of the terms we use to describe the final destination for people who reject God. For example, the terms Sheol in the Old Testament and Hades in the New Testament can be used interchangeable and literally mean, “the place of Departed Souls.” Sometimes the terms are simply used in reference to death or the grave, and in other instances the terms refer to an actual place.

In the New Testament there’s another term which Jesus used almost exclusively to refer to Hell. It’s the word Gehenna. It’s a Greek word which actually referred to a valley southwest of Jerusalem, known in Hebrew as the Valley of Hinnom. Here’s a picture of the valley today, as it looks toward Jerusalem. In Old Testament times, this valley was used by the Canaanites to sacrifice their sons and daughters to the false god Molech. In 2 Kings 23 we’re told that King Josiah put a stop to all of that by desecrating or defiling the valley. We’re not sure how he did that, but whatever he did made the valley unfit to be used.

By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, the valley had been converted into a garbage dump. All of the filth and garbage of Jerusalem, including the dead bodies of animals and criminals would be thrown out into this dump. Maybe the body of Jesus would have ended up here after the crucifixion if it hadn’t been for Joseph of Arimathea offering his tomb. There were always fires burning in Gehenna to consume all of the waste that was there. And think about the smell. It’s bad enough for me when I forget to empty the compost… I can’t imagine what that would have been like.

This is what Jesus was referring to when he said;

Mark 9:43-48 (NLT)
"If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better to enter heaven with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands. If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better to enter heaven with only one foot than to be thrown into hell with two feet. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. It is better to enter the Kingdom of God half blind than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, ‘where the worm never dies and the fire never goes out.’"

What was Jesus saying? He was saying, “If you want to know what Hell is like, look at Gehenna. The garbage, dead bodies, the fire, the smell… multiply that by eternity and that’s what the unrighteous have to look forward to in Hell.”

Hell is a place of darkness, pain and suffering. And it’s not a place you go temporarily… you don’t serve your sentence and get released and you don’t cease to exist. You’re there forever, and forever is a long, long time. Hell is not an eternal party. And no matter how bad life gets here on earth, Hell will be worse.

Now contrast that with Heaven. Heaven is the dwelling place of God. In Heaven there is no more death, no more sorrow, no more loss, no more pain, no more fear, no more confusion, no more sickness. Instead, it’s a place of everlasting joy, gladness, peace and celebration. Ever feel like you’re pushed to the margins of society? Not so in Heaven. Ever feel like your life is meaningless? Not so in Heaven. Ever feel betrayed or rejected? Not so in Heaven. Jesus said…

Matthew 13:44-46 (NLT)
“The Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure that a man discovered hidden in a field. In his excitement, he hid it again and sold everything he owned to get enough money to buy the field--and to get the treasure, too!
“Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a pearl merchant on the lookout for choice pearls. When he discovered a pearl of great value, he sold everything he owned and bought it!”


Heaven is going to be better than we could ever imagine, so as far as I’m concerned the choice of destination is easy. Once you choose your destination, then you need to decide how to get there. You must choose the right path.

 

2. You Must Choose the Right Path

Jesus tells us there are two roads. One road is heavily traveled, the other is found by only a few. One is big and wide, the other is just a narrow path. One has a huge gate, the other just a small entrance. The first leads to death and destruction, the other to Heaven and eternal life. Those are the two choices… the only two. It’s either A or B, there is no C. Most people choose the big, broad, more traveled road. It’s the easier of the two, and at first glance seems like the best choice. The majority of people will follow the wide path, but the majority is not always right.

Proverbs 14:12 (NLT)
There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death.

Only the ones who choose the narrow less-traveled road reach their desired destination.

Now, some people would disagree with that. Many people in the world today would tell you there are plenty of ways to God. They would say, whatever you want to believe is right for you. It doesn’t matter what religion or philosophy you pick, they’re all equally true and you can get to God any one of a variety of ways… they would say. They would say, it doesn’t make any difference if you are a Muslim and following the Koran, or if you decide to follow the ways of Buddhism, or if you subscribe to Eastern mysticism, or if you follow the beliefs of the New Age Movement, or if you rely on things like astrology, palm readings, tarot cards, and Psychics—all roads lead to God. That’s what they would say. But they’d be wrong.

I’m here to serve notice that if you’re counting on a religion to get you into Heaven, that’s not good enough. And if you’re counting on your own righteousness to get you into Heaven, you’re not good enough and you never will be.

Because Jesus taught that you don’t find God through any religion or philosophy. And you don’t find Him by being good enough. There’s only one way to God and that’s through Jesus Christ. Not through a religion, but through a relation. Jesus is the one saying…

Matthew 7:13 (NLT)
“You can enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate.”

Look at what Jesus said in the Gospel of John…

John 10:7-10 (NLT)
“I assure you, I am the gate for the sheep,” he said. “All others who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. Wherever they go, they will find green pastures. The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give life in all its fullness.”

E. Stanley Jones tells of a missionary who got lost in an African jungle. This missionary couldn’t identify any landmarks, he couldn’t find a trail, nothing. He was lost. Finally, he stumbling upon a small hut and found a native living there. So he asked the man if he could lead him out of the jungle.

The native nodded, got up, and walked directly into the bush with the missionary following right on his heels. For over an hour they hacked their way through a dense wall of vines and grass. Eventually the missionary became worried and asked, “Are you sure this is the way? I don’t see any path.”

The African chuckled to himself and said over his shoulder, “Bwana, in this place there is no path. I am the path.”
(Today in the Word, May, 1996, p. 24)

John 14:6 (NLT)
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”

Jesus said that He is the way. He is the path. There is no other way to God the Father but Him. That same truth is echoed in the teaching of the early Church in the book if Acts…

Acts 4:12 (NLT)
“There is salvation in no one else! There is no other name in all of heaven for people to call on to save them.”

You must choose the right path… Jesus Christ.

 

3. You Must Start on the Way

“Some seek out the narrow road but never choose to walk on it. They decide it’s too narrow, requires too much sacrifice and that it would be too uncomfortable walking upon the rocky surface.”
~ Bruce Hamsher, The Narrow Road, http://sermoncentral.com/print_friendly.asp?ContributorID=&SermonID=56734

How many times do we do that? How many times do we decide we’re going to do something but never do it because it just looks too hard? I was watching Joan of Arcadia this past week, and one quote caught my attention…

“Searching for something of value is never easy.”
~ from Joan of Arcadia

Jesus isn’t looking for people who agree with Him. He’s not looking for you to give Him your nod of approval. He’s looking for commitment. He’s looking for disciples.

Jesus wants followers, not admirers.

John 8:12 (NLT)
Jesus said to the people, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t be stumbling through the darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.”

In Mark 10, there’s the account of a blind man named Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus had heard that Jesus was nearby, so he started calling out to Jesus. The people around him tried to tell him to shut up, but he shouted even louder. (Sounds a little like parenting, eh?) Anyway, Jesus heard his cries for help.

Mark 10: 49-50 (NLT)
When Jesus heard him, he stopped and said, “Tell him to come here.”
So they called the blind man. “Cheer up,” they said. “Come on, he’s calling you!” Bartimaeus threw aside his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus.

When Jesus called him, Bartimaeus didn’t sit there and weigh the options. He didn’t decide that it’d be a good thing to do when he was older. He didn’t reason that Jesus would probably be passing by again the next week and he could wait until then. No, he immediately responded. In fact, the Bible says he even threw his coat aside. Remember, this guy was blind and his coat was probably the most valuable possession he had. It is quite likely that his coat had saved his life on more than one occasion. Yet he throws it aside into the crowd of people pressing around Jesus, fights his way through the crowd, and comes to Jesus.

What a great example for us. We need to listen to Jesus when He calls us. But more than that, we need to respond. We need to start down that narrow path today and not delay.

 

4. You Must Stay on the Right Path

Proverbs 4:26-27 (MSG)
Watch your step, and the road will stretch out smooth before you. Look neither right nor left; leave evil in the dust.

Some people start on the right path and then stray from it when the road gets rough. So let me warn you, just because you’re on the right path doesn’t mean everything’s going to be easy. If anything, it’s going to be harder. We’ve been walking through the Sermon on the Mount for a number of weeks now, and we’ve already heard Jesus say that we would be insulted, persecuted, and lied about all because of our relationship with Him. It’s a given, so don’t be surprised when it happens. And don’t throw in the towel, either. Because the end result is worth any amount of junk we have to crawl through to get there.

James 1:12 (NIV)
Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.

If you persevere… if you stand the test… if you stay on the right road… you will reach your destination.

Hebrews 10:36 (NLT)
Patient endurance is what you need now, so you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.

Proverbs 24:16 (NIV)
“…for though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity.”

So some stray because the road gets rough. Others stray from the road because they’re lured off of it. They see something off the road that they want even more. How many singers get their start singing in church and following God, but become enticed by all the trappings of fame? How many businessmen betray their faith because it gets in their way as they try to climb the ladder of success? How many young adults cash in their sexual purity in order to gain a few minutes of pleasure? How many athletes compromise their Christian morals because they might prevent them from achieving their dreams?

I heard a story this week about the world-class hurdler, Tasha Danvers-Smith. Tasha is Britain’s top hurdler and has won silver and gold in several European competitions over the past few years. She even ran in the finals at the Olympics four years ago in Sydney. As of last year, she was ranked #6 in the world and rising. She even married her coach last year, and everything was looking great for her. She had a great shot of winning a medal, maybe even the gold, at the Olympics in Athens next month. And that would mean lots of endorsements and financial security.

But then this season started. Everyone had felt she was in the best condition of her life and this would be her year, but she started off kind of sluggish. She couldn’t figure it out… she just felt tired all the time. Then in May she discovered she was nine weeks pregnant. Of course she knew the option… a quick trip to the local abortion clinic would solve the problem. She could reason, “It’s not the right time, it’s not convenient, we don’t have the financial stability for a child…” And she even admitted that those thoughts were tempting for a time. But Tasha recalls,

“This line from the Scriptures kept coming into my head: ‘For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul?’ For me, the whole world was the Olympics. At the same time, I felt I would be losing my soul.”
~ Tasha Danvers-Smith after Olympics hopes are dashed by pregnancy

So she decided to value life over accolades, to live up to her faith instead of cashing it in for fame. She resolved to forego the Olympics this summer and start preparing for the Commonwealth Games in 2006 instead. Plus, she hopes to participate in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Chuck Colson commented about Tasha…

“Whether or not she wins medals in a future Olympiad, Tasha has already exhibited a strength of character that is more enduring than an Olympic medal, and she provides an example of what it means to see life and then act on it from a Christian point of view—and just when I wondered if there were any heroes left.”
~ Chuck Colson
http://www.pfm.org/BPtemplate.cfm?Section=BreakPoint_Home&Template=/ContentManagement/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=12672

But the temptation to stray from the narrow path is not exclusive to the famous, the career-minded, or the super-ambitious. We all face obstacles and opportunities, challenges and compromises which can lead us astray. That’s why you must choose now that when the temptations come your way you’re going to stay on the narrow road. Because there’s nothing that could take you away that’s worth it.

Sometimes it’s good to look back down,
We’ve come so far - we’ve gained such ground.
But joy is not in where we’ve been,
Joy is who’s waiting at the end.
~ Mike Hudson


So if you’ve already chosen the right path and you’re traveling on it, then let me applaud you this morning. And let me encourage you to be faithful. Don’t give up on Jesus for anything. Don’t be enticed away by the empty promises of fame, riches, pleasure, power, prestige… nothing’s worth it.

If you’re here and you haven’t chosen to travel on the narrow road, then I need to inform you that by default you are already traveling on that broad road that leads to death and destruction in Hell. We’re all born on that road. And only when we choose to accept Christ into our lives can we switch over to the narrow road that leads to life. Maybe you’re thinking that the Broad Road isn’t that bad. Maybe you’re even enjoying it. But let me ask you, as nice as the road may seem, is it taking you where you want to go?

You see, God doesn’t choose to send anyone to Hell… that’s where we’re already heading. We’re born heading down that broad road. What God does is offer us the alternative. He makes it possible for us to choose life over death, Heaven over Hell. He provided for us to cross from the broad road to the narrow road through the cross of Christ.

Take a moment to contemplate your life and which road you’re traveling. If you’re traveling the narrow road, take the opportunity to pray for your friends and family who may not have made that same choice yet. Perhaps you need to take the initiative to join you on that road.

If you’ve never made that choice for yourself, ask yourself why. And be honest. Are there issues of pride or arrogance? Or is it simply that you’re procrastinating? Ask yourself why you haven’t made that choice, and then why not go ahead and make it? Make today the day of decision when you decide to choose Jesus Christ and to follow Him from this point on.


[OPTIONAL - PLAY POINT OF GRACE’S SONG/VIDEO – THE GREAT DIVIDE]


 

 

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