Community Group Study Guide — This is the Way
In this last section of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:13-26) Jesus turns our attention to a call to action. He will give he listeners a series opposites as he reveals the call to discipleship namely two paths, two trees, two types of prophets and two foundations to build one’s house on. The desire is for his hearers to respond to his message and to live as a citizen of his kingdom (the Christian life) and to take seriously the call to discipleship by discerning what path they are on, what kind of fruit they bear, who they are looking to for truth and what foundation they are building their life on. Jesus tells us that his way is a narrow and difficult path, but even though few are on it, his path still leads to joyful and abundant life. C.S. Lewis commented that following Jesus is both easy and difficult. It is easy because of the grace and mercy of Christ whose yoke is easy and burden is light (Matthew 11:29); however it is difficult because it demands your life. The interesting context of Jesus’ day versus our current cultural moment is that the wide and easy path that challenged following Christ was one of religious legalism and works based righteousness without a change of heart. Our current cultural moment offers a little different take on the broad and easy path that “many” follow, specifically one of individualism, self-expression and pleasure seeking. However, Christ’s word ring true and each and every culture will have idols it clings to that offer a vision of “the good life”, but Christ tells us the only path that really leads to life is devotion to him and being a disciple.
Christ draws your attention to a fork in the road and two different gates and paths you can take. If you’re a hiker or mountain biker you may be familiar with wide and easy trails often called fire roads or hiking paths and narrow trails called “single track”. Single track trails are paths where you typically have to travel one by one due to how narrow they are. There are usually added challenges like roots, rocks, step downs and such that make them more complicated and challenging. To hike, run or bike a single track requires focus, commitment and a sense of adventure which leads many to choose that path. If what you want is a nice quiet stroll for the day you should find a good, wide and easy path. But one should also consider the destination; a single track leading to a beautiful waterfall means the difficulty has a reward. Jesus uses such an image for us calling us to a difficult path that leads to a great reward.
Jesus compares the two paths in three ways:
- First, one is hard and the other is easy.
- Second, one leads to life and the other destruction.
- Finally, one is traveled by few and the other by many.
Jesus would have you choose to be one of the few who go the hard route that leads to life.
First, the narrow path is difficult. Notice Matthew 7:13 and the command to “Enter” by the narrow gate. This is an invitation to discipleship. The wide path is the default path you are on, unless you enter by the narrow gate through faith in Jesus that leads to following him as a disciple then you are on the path that “the many” take. We do not drift towards godliness so we need to recognize this is a call to action and a call to faithful trust as you enter God’s kingdom. This path of discipleship is difficult because it involves taking up your cross and denying yourself (Matthew 16:24-26). This means that no one comes to Christ an already finished product rather we are all renewed as we look to Christ, put sin to death and put on holiness. However, even though the path is difficult, what makes it “easy” is that the Lord helps us with his grace, the Holy Spirit, his word and fellow Christians. Yet you cannot be complacent and think that you’ll just drift towards following Christ or holiness. Following Christ demands your life.
Second, the narrow path leads to life. We are told to consider the destination as we travel. One would think that the path where “many” are traveling would lead to the best destination or that a narrow path would be stifling and rigid. However our worldly wisdom that what is popular must be right is backwards to God’s kingdom. Jesus says that the narrow path leads to abundance even though few take it. In John 10:10 Jesus describes his mission as to bring life and bring it abundantly; his goal in calling one into his kingdom is to bring them joy and life. Following Christ, even with all the difficulty of pursuing holiness and putting sin to death, leads to life both everlasting life and abundant life in the here and now. God made us to know him and be known by him and has called us to be set apart as his people and even though it will come with difficulty it will also lead to joy as we live as we are designed to life (John 15:11). People who are not followers of Jesus look at faith in Christ as rigid and stifling and Jesus wants us to understand that living according to his teachings and the Sermon on the Mount, specifically Matthew 5:1-7:12, leads to life and godliness in the way that we are designed to live.
Finally, the narrow path is not popular.
Jesus tell us that the narrow path will be chosen by few, whereas the wide path will be filled with many. The original audience that heard the Sermon on the Mount was filled with two groups of people. One group was on the margins of society and marked by poverty, sickness or disability; the other were the mainstream religious leaders known as the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees. Jesus had choice words for these religious leaders who taught a pathway to God marked by outward works and looking down on those who did not measure up. It is true that Jesus invites both groups to follow him, but marks out that this mainstream and popular message of the day (the message of the Pharisees) led to death and many were taking that path. Following Jesus, at every point in history, will be unusual and strange and not mainstream. If your hope is to do what is popular and accepted by society then you will be hard pressed to follow Jesus; and you should be spiritually alarmed if you find yourself in a place where your life matches mainstream culture. This is not permission to be purposefully weird, but 1 Peter 2:9-10 tells us that we will be marked out as different and unique because of Christ and those on the same path as us will be “few”.
As you look at your commitments, your heart and your life, which path are you on? Jesus invites us to enter the narrow gate, motivated by the life it leads to, despite the fact that it is not the popular path. Christ will be with you in your discipleship to him. It will not be “easy” because it requires learning the ways of Jesus, putting sin to death and learning how to pursue holiness, however it will be rewarding because it is the life you were designed to live before the foundation of the world and you will grow in your knowledge and love for God as you walk with Christ on the narrow path.
Jesus provides a way for us to have life and relationship with God the father but that path is difficult and unpopular. The call to follow Jesus will be difficult but worth it. Enter by the narrow gate and purpose to put into practice the ways of Christ in your life through faith.
At your community group:
Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.
How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week?
Read Matthew 7:13-14
How would you define what it means to be a “disciple” of Jesus? How do these verses relate to discipleship? Read Matthew 16:24-26 and 28:18-20 for some help answering this question.
Compare the two paths Jesus describes. What characterized the wide path in Jesus day? What characterizes the wide path today?
Why do people tend towards what is popular/the path the “many” take. Has that been a challenge in your life and how does God call us to a different way of measuring what is right?
The study guide mentioned that following Christ should be strange and weird in whatever culture you find yourself in. Read 1 Peter 2:8-12 and Matthew 7:13-14. How are Christians described in these verses? What should they be known for today and how would they stand out compared to the easy and wide path many are on?