It seems like I spent much of my time growing up on the farm opening gates. Having hogs separated into several pens and feeding lots it was often my job to swing open the gate allowing dad to drive through with grain or farm equipment. It was inevitable that the hogs would crowd around the gate hoping it was feeding time, pushing and rooting toward the opening and surging ahead trying to get through. Hustling to open the gate while shooing pigs apart so dad could drive through before any sneaked past was a feat sometimes. Unfortunately more than once I ended up chasing pigs around the wrong pasture working to get them back into the right fences. After the equipment was through and all the animals were in the right pens I would close the gate jumping on the tractor or the back of the truck headed to the next one. Some fields had four gates to get through before making it to the point we could drop a plow down to begin working.
This familiarity was what formed a basis for my concept of “gates.” As I heard people read the Bible story from the “sermon on the mount” in Matthew 7 that says “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” I pictured the farm gates interspersed throughout our fences circling the fields. The wide gate mentioned I saw in my mind was just bigger making it possible to get larger things through like equipment. For a narrow gate I pictured a small garden gate made for a person to slip through. In my mind the wide gate led to destruction because more hogs could rush through destroying everything edible.
When in Israel I was able to get a different and more accurate picture of what this parable really is trying to teach. In Nazareth there was a building with a tall and wide doorway embedded with a huge door pounded out of metal. The opening allowed three or four people to enter side by side or for a tradesman to comfortably lead a camel or donkey laden with goods and wares to come into the settlement. By closing the gate at night or in times of danger everyone inside remained safe. How then did people get in after the gate was closed? By the narrow gate!
The narrow gate was inserted into the large gate. This gate was intentionally made so that a person had to duck down and turn sideways to get through. In the times of war or with marauding bandits in the area the wide gate was never opened. Why? Because mounted houseman could get through armed and ready for battle, trying to destroy all beyond the gate. The wide gate led to destruction. To enter the narrow gate one had to strip off any armor while setting down everything they were carrying so they could duck down and turn to enter the gate. As they entered the narrow gate they were exposed to whoever was on the other side and at their mercy. If you tried to enter with a sword you would be cut down immediately. One had to be known and allowed to enter this gate.
As Jesus gave this illustration the listeners would have understood what he was trying to teach. Anyone bent on getting through the wide gate no matter their motive or intentions could get past. It was open to all. They could go through under the guise of peace but have hidden weapons or ulterior motives, slipping though with a crowd if need be. To enter the narrow gate one had to bend down humbly to squeeze through while stripped of all things but the clothes on your back. If you were not wanted then entering was impossible and if you tried forcing yourself in you were killed or pushed back out. Few entered the small gate.
Jesus wants us to understand that to enter His kingdom we have to set down anything hindering us to humbly approach Him. We cannot sneak through with a pretense of submission and peace. We cannot have ulterior motives. Getting into His kingdom is at his pleasure when we have the right motives, attitude and necessarily the right relationship to the gatekeeper – Jesus.
This weekly devotion is written by John Key