KNOWING CHRIST - KNOWING GOD
Copyright © Rosemary Bardsley
STUDY FOUR: JESUS CHRIST - THE ONLY DOOR TO TRUE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD AND ETERNAL LIFE
[This Study relates to Knowing Christ - Knowing God Worksheet 4 designed for use in group study situations. Some of the suggestions in the Study Tasks are specific for group study leaders; these can be adapted for personal study.]
[To truly know God in Christ is to have eternal life - John 5:24; 17:3; 20:31; 1 John 5:12,20]
Whenever Jesus used the image of 'the door' it was in the context of false teaching and false perceptions: he used the image of the door or gate to teach that there is a narrow and exclusive entry point into the presence of God. By this image he passes judgement on all the religions and ideologies of men, on all those who preach and teach some other entry point into life with God, and on all those who have allowed themselves to be deceived by either by these false teachings and by the deceptive perceptions of their own deceitful and ego-centric hearts. There is in all of Christ's references to the door an urgent and powerful warning that we do not allow ourselves to be deceived. [Note that 'door' and 'gate' are the same word in the Greek text.] This image of Jesus Christ as the one and only door, standing in contrast and opposition to all other supposed doors, is the necessary and obvious companion truth to the two images we have already studied: Jesus as the Light of the world, and Jesus as the Truth.
A. THE DOOR/GATE IN MATTHEW 7.
'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.' [Matthew 7:13,14].
Task #1: requires the group to analyse Matthew 7 and identify the need for discernment and the significance of each point of this need for our lives. This can be done before, concurrently with, or after presentation of the material below. NB: be careful that the last point in this task is not interpreted legalistically.
Putting this statement in its context in Matthew 7:
A.1 Matthew 7:1-5: The plank in your eye.
When we compare this passage with its parallel passage in Luke 6:39-42 it is clear that Jesus is talking about our inability to see the truth, and not, as commonly assumed, about some sin in our lives. He introduces the Luke passage by saying: 'Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?'
The 'plank in your eye' is the great host of erroneous perceptions that we have inherited, been taught, learned or invented that blind us and prevent us from seeing the true truth. To see the truth, and thus be qualified to help another see the truth we must first recognize and jettison our own horde of error.
A.2 Matthew 7:6: The sacred trampled underfoot.
In the light of the command in verse 1 not to judge, this is an extraordinary and enigmatic statement (indeed the bulk of the chapter emphasises the urgent necessity for judgement). The 'sacred' and the 'pearls' are certainly references to God's truth - to the genuine Christian gospel. The rest of this statement commands us to exercise discernment concerning whom we give this message to - because there are those who will destroy both the message and the messenger. [We see this discernment exercised by Jesus (Mark 4:9-12; Luke 23:8-9) and Paul (Acts 13:46-51; 18:5-7)]. We need to recognize that there are people who are so enslaved and deceived by their own erroneous perceptions that their only intention on hearing the true message is to destroy it. It is not without significance that Jesus, the loving and compassionate Saviour who came to seek and save, identifies these people as 'dogs' (not family pets, but pariah type dogs) and 'pigs'.
A.3 Matthew 7:7-11: Asking, seeking, knocking ...
In the parallel passage in Luke 11:9-13 Jesus concludes by saying 'how much more will you Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!' With this in mind it is clear that, while Jesus here teaches us something that is true about prayer generally, in the context here he has in mind asking God for knowledge of his truth, for the Holy Spirit is the 'Spirit of truth' who teaches us all things about Jesus Christ [John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13]. Here, in Matthew 7, where everything else is focused on discerning the difference between truth and error, Jesus says 'Ask ... and the Father will give.' We are reminded here, by the continuity of asking, seeking and knocking indicated by the present continuous tense, of those Old Testament verses in which persistent seeking the Lord [as opposed to going after false gods] has its reward:
- 'if ... you seek the Lord your God, you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul' [Deuteronomy 4:29]
- 'In their distress they turned to the Lord, the God of Israel, and sought him, and he was found by them' [2 Chronicles 15:4]
- 'Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. [Isaiah 55:6,7]
- 'You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart' [Jeremiah 29:13].
A.4 Matthew 7:15: Wolves in sheep's clothing.
A clear call to acute discernment: here the false teachers/false believers are in the very midst of God's 'flock', actually so subtle and deceptive that they look like his sheep. Here again the destructive nature of false teaching/error is identified - the false prophets are 'ravening wolves'. The verses following indicate that false teachers can be recognized by 'their fruit'.
A.5 Matthew 7:16-20: Good trees and bad trees.
A further statement making a distinction between truth and error and the teachers/adherents of both, in which their 'fruit' is that which identifies them. No indication is given as to what this 'fruit' is, other than that it is either 'good' or 'bad'.
A.6 Matthew 7:21-23: Not everyone who says ... 'Lord, Lord' ...
Here Jesus states that there are many people who address him as 'Lord', and who are engaged in 'Christian' activities - preaching in his name, driving out demons in his name, and performing many miracles - and yet he does not know them. He calls them 'evil doers' and says they will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. The following verses indicate that these people had never really put the words of Jesus into practice.
[We can gain insight here from John 2:23-25 where many people 'believed in his name' when they saw his miracles, but Jesus did not believe (same word in the Greek) in them for he knew what was in their hearts. What appears to our human perspective to be believing or following Jesus is not all that meets the eye - Jesus knows who is really following him.]
In these verses Jesus identifies the 'fruit' that is the expression of true faith and the necessary companion of it: doing the will of his Father who is in heaven. To really acknowledge Jesus as 'Lord' and to live contrary to his teaching are incompatible. The life denies the integrity of the confession. [This not doing the will of the Father, as well as including a lifestyle of straight disobedience to straight commands, also includes the whole mentality of life that is contrary to the mind of God as revealed in Jesus Christ - including any man-centred, performance based mentality such as that evidenced by the rejected people here in Matthew 7:21-23.]
A.7 Matthew 7:24-27: The two foundations.
The lives of false believers and false teachers are not built on the foundation of the teaching of Jesus Christ; these people may have heard it, but they have not put it into practice. Only lives built on that foundation stand. The words of Jesus contain much more than commandments to be obeyed; his commandments are set in the context of his teaching about his identity as the Son of God who reveals the truth about God and as the Saviour who came to seek, ransom, save and forgive the lost - not on the basis of their religious resume, but on the basis of God's mercy [Luke 18:9-14; compare Philippians 3:1-11]. This passage stands as a severe and terrible warning to all of us to make sure that our lives are grounded firmly in, and demonstrating the truth of, the teaching of Jesus Christ.
Conclusion: In the light of the context, when Jesus says 'Enter through the narrow gate ... small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it' he is speaking of the exclusiveness of the truth. The truth rules out all error. The truth disqualifies all that is not the truth. It is absolute. It cannot be distorted or diluted or diminished and remain the truth. Here the warning stands: don't try to get to God by any other 'door' or 'gate' no matter how many people use them: any other supposed 'truth' that claims to lead us to God and to salvation (and that is what all false religion does in one way or another) will only lead to destruction. Learn to discern, don't be deceived. The majority, the great crowds, are wrong.
B. THE DOOR/GATE IN MATTHEW 25:1-13
'Later the others also came. "Sir! Sir!" [KJV: Lord, Lord; Greek: kurie, kurie ] they said. "Open the door for us!" But he replied, "I tell you the truth, I don't know you." Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.' [v.11-13]
Although there is no mention of false teachers in this passage it is certainly dealing with deceptive and false perceptions, with a group of people, who right up to the last hour were not noticeably different from genuine believers, but who have deceived themselves into thinking they are okay and that they can enter the kingdom on their own terms and at their own time. As in Matthew 7:23 Jesus, here called 'the bridegroom', states that he has no knowledge of these people. When they come to the door they are not recognized. They had a form of belief - they expected that the Bridegroom would come, and they fully expected to be let in to the banquet; sadly, their knowledge and their expectation were not significant enough to impact either their mindset (they were 'foolish', 'blockheads' - the same word as in Matthew 7:26 - from which our English 'moron' comes) or their lifestyle (they took no trouble to prepare themselves); they were not ready when he came: they did not go in with him [verse 10] therefore they could not go in at all. Clearly they had no real relationship with him.
Task #2:The specific answer here is that the bridegroom did not know them. The relevance is that those who know and are known by the Bridegroom are ready to go in with him when he comes. The meaning of this readiness will become clear in later studies. Don't let a legalistic meaning be read into it here.
C. THE DOOR/GATE IN LUKE 13:23-30
'Someone asked him, "Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?" He said to them, "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, "Sir, open the door for us." But he will answer, "I don't know you or where you come from." Then you will say, "We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets," But he will reply, 'I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!" There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all of the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out ... '
Again we have people living out their lives with a false perception of a secure relationship with God. Here again we learn of a door that is both exclusive and limiting. Here again is the damning indictment twice stated: 'I don't know you or where you come from.' Here, particularly, there are Jews - they recognize the patriarchs - fully expecting to enter the kingdom of heaven, on the basis of their perceptions of what the criteria for entrance are, yet they are excluded, and people from the four corners of the universe - Gentiles who had no knowledge of the law and all its requirements - gain entrance.
Task #3: Guide the discussion of the similarities between this passage and the two previous as listed in the Student Guide. Help the group to work out the implications of these passages for their lives. Here is an opportunity for any who are false believers - including nominal Christians and those relating to God on the basis of their own credentials - to realize it and to come to a genuine relationship with Jesus Christ.
D. THE DOOR/GATE IN JOHN 10:1-11
In this passage Jesus comes straight out and identifies himself as the door/gate. He is both the entry point, and the deciding factor, in regards to entrance into the kingdom of heaven. Through a variety of images all relating to sheep, shepherds and sheepfolds, Jesus here teaches us:
D.1 The man who does not enter ... by the gate ... is a thief and a robber.
[This statement continues on from Chapter 9 (as indicated by the reference in verse 21 to the healing of the blind man). There we read of the vehement opposition of the Pharisees to Jesus and to any one who acknowledged him as the Christ; we read also of Jesus' back-handed identification of those Pharisees as 'blind' even though they thought that they could see.]
Jesus' statements flowing on here are directed towards the Pharisees as the 'thieves and robbers'. He says of them:
- they try to enter the kingdom of heaven by some way other than the door
- the 'sheep' who belong to the true shepherd will never follow them, in fact they will run away from them.
These teachers and practisers of error are contrasted with the 'shepherd of the sheep' who
- enters through the gate,
- is heard, recognized, listened to and followed by the sheep,
- knows and calls his sheep by name,
- calls, leads, brings out and goes ahead of his sheep.
D.2 Jesus is the gate/door for the sheep
Here the image changes. Jesus, whom we know is the shepherd of whom he has just been speaking, suddenly says 'I am the gate for the sheep.' In the previous verses the image was of a sheepfold that has an actual door, which is open and shut by the watchman or doorkeeper, letting the real shepherd in and out. Now Jesus moves to a sheepfold which has only a doorway - a space in its wall in which the shepherd himself lay, becoming himself the door, keeping the sheep in and keeping out the wolves, lions, thieves and robbers. The 'door' is the shepherd: the shepherd is the 'door'.
With this image Jesus teaches:
- he is the one and only real door/gate [sheep folds had only one door],
- all other supposed 'doors' are 'thieves and robbers' - whose purpose is to steal, kill and destroy [Note: this is Christ's indictment against all the religions and ideas of men],
- whoever enters through him will be saved - clearly teaching that apart from entering through him we are not saved,
- those who enter through him are both free and satisfied.
D.3 Jesus the good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep
In 10:11-18 and 10:25-30 Jesus expands on the image of himself as the Good Shepherd. Two points in these passages are relevant to our study on Jesus as the Door. Both of these relate to the fact that we have already noted that the Shepherd is the Door: that the shepherd himself lays down in the doorway and he himself is the sheep's security and protection. Consider:
- five times in 10:11-18 Jesus says that he, the good Shepherd, the one who owns the sheep, lays down his life for his sheep. As the door, that is exactly what the shepherd did: although, unlike Jesus he did not deliberately choose death, he did lay down in the doorway, putting his life on the line for the well-being of the flock. Jesus Christ is the Shepherd/Door. He deliberately gave his life for his sheep. We must keep this aspect in our minds when we consider Jesus as the Door.
- The sheep belonging to this Good Shepherd are totally secure [10:18, 27-30] because of the authority [10:18], power [10:28,29] and identity [10:29-30] of the Shepherd who is also the Door.
All of this is set in contrast to those with false perceptions/teaching, who in this chapter are variously identified as thieves, robbers, hired hands, and 'not my sheep'.
Task #4: Lead the group through the discussion of the contrast that Jesus Christ tells us about in this passage: the contrast between himself and all false perceptions and religions. Note particularly that his intention is fullness of life for his sheep; their intention is death and destruction.
E. WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS OF JESUS THE DOOR/GATE?
- The exclusion of all other supposed points of entry.
- The urgent necessity of making sure we have entered through this door.
- The urgent necessity of recognizing the difference between the narrow gate and the wide one.
- The absolute and permanent security and confidence of all who have really entered through this door.
- The recognition that our mindset will demonstrate whether or not we have entered through the one and only door.
- The acknowledgement that our lifestyle will validate or invalidate our claim to have enter through the one and only door.