It was a nice day for a drive. The sun was shining high in the sky, a cool breeze wafting from the west. But the perfect driving conditions couldn’t make the roads of south-central South Dakota any more familiar to me. I had never been there before. Searching the roads and the route signs was no comfort either, for I was not sure which one led to Cherry Creek, my destination. I pulled off the side of the road near an intersection of two major routes and came to a stop. Reaching over to the seat beside me, I picked up the only tool that could help me at this time — my map of South Dakota. Without a road map, finding my way in South Dakota would be hopeless. But with a good map, I could carefully follow its directions to arrive at my goal, Cherry Creek.
What would you say about a person who sought earnestly to find the Kingdom of God, but refused to follow the directions of the way mapped out to it? Most likely you would say he wasn’t serious about getting there, or that he was deceived to think he would succeed with such an approach. Unfortunately, many people find themselves in this very place. They have an expectation of attaining the Kingdom apart from following the directions clearly stated about the way.
Two thousand years ago the Son, sent from the Father, came to this earth proclaiming that the Kingdom of God was at hand. The message He proclaimed and the one proclaimed by those who followed in His way is the road map to the Kingdom.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica that their imitation of the churches in Judea was proof that they had received the message he brought to them for what it really was, the word of God:
And for this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God’s message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe. For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea, for you also endured the same sufferings at the hands of your own countrymen, even as they did from the Jews. (1 Thessalonians 2:13-14)
They had received Paul’s message as one which had authority to direct them to the Kingdom, even to alter their lifestyle, if that was what it took to follow the Messenger. The message was respected enough in the hearts of the hearers for them to obey it.
The churches in Judea are clearly described in Acts 2:44-47 and 4:32-35:
And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need, and day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart ... And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them ... There was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales, and lay them at the apostles’ feet; and they would be distributed to each as any had need.
The communal lifestyle of the Jerusalem church was clearly a direct result of their receiving the gospel preached by the Apostles — the gospel that the Apostles had received from their Master. If we look carefully at the message of the Master, we can see that one would naturally follow this pattern, that is, if one received His message as the word of God rather than the words (opinions) of men. Only a message which is received as the words of God would have the authority to compel one who believes it to surrender his life so completely as those who heard and believed the words in Jerusalem.
And such a life of obedience would be clearly accompanied by the persecutions that the Thessalonians were receiving:
Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions, and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)
This makes it clear that if one obeys the message, receiving it as the word of God, he will be persecuted.
But many receive the message of the Master and His apostles not as the words of God but rather as the words (opinions) of men, removing its authority. They then judge that such a demanding lifestyle is optional, or perhaps advantageous for certain ends, but certainly not necessary for salvation. Ask them what the “strait gate” means and they will go through much mental gymnastics, but no real commitment will come from it. Every time they read about the narrow way, they presume they have already entered it and go on their merry way (the broad way) to destruction. They can’t hear!
As we read Acts 2 and 4, it is clear that receiving the gospel involves nothing less than receiving a new way of life. Unfortunately, there are many today who want nothing more from the gospel than an explanation of life — a religious appendage to their own life. Such a shallow attachment to the gospel can produce, at best, a mere moral reformation. But we don’t need our lives to be improved by Bible study, Sunday services, and choir practice. We need our lives to be remade. And that is what the gospel is all about.
Our Master Yahshua regarded remaining at His Father’s side not as something to be clung to, but He emptied Himself, taking on the body of a man in order to communicate the way of escape to all mankind. His total motive in doing this was to make known the way of salvation. As He walked the earth, His steps did not deviate from this solemn purpose. He did not waste His time and energy with useless activities. Every action He took and every word He spoke was governed by His determination to expose how man must be saved.
When our Master was asked if there were only a few who were being saved (i.e., only those who were with Him), He replied by telling them to strive to enter the narrow gate, for many will seek to enter but will not be able.1 He commanded those who would enter the Kingdom to make every effort to do so, to strain with every fiber to press in. To enter the Kingdom we must follow Him for He is the King of the Kingdom. But not everyone is worthy of Him.
No one is worthy of Yahshua as King who does not obey what He says. Only one who sees His worth first will obey Him and show himself to be worthy of Him. If anyone cannot see the value and worth of the Son of God, he cannot be saved, for he will not obey His message on how to be saved or how to have eternal life.2 Our worth can only come from knowing Christ as worthy enough for us to obey Him, having no other loves before Him.3 He then becomes our King and we can follow Him into the Kingdom.
You can’t follow Him into the Kingdom except by totally surrendering yourself and all you possess. If we have put on Christ and put off the old man we will become poor for the sake of others and so love one another as He has loved us — emptying ourselves for others the way He emptied Himself for us. This is the narrow gate and few find it. Anyone who forsakes the apostolic foundation of the community also departs from the footsteps of the Master. The Jerusalem foundation and the foundation of the Master and the apostles and prophets is really one and the same.
All who have received the message of salvation as the authoritative word of God will produce fruit that is clearly evident to others. They will love the way the Master loved.4 They will suffer with the poorest of their brothers and sisters. They will not exalt themselves above others. In fact, they will be the servants of all.
Together, those who live in this spirit will show that salvation has the power to remove the barriers that cause so much hatred in the world today. Then the world will know beyond the shadow of a doubt that salvation is real, for they will see people living the way the Master lived.
Who today lives that way? Who today is known for such an uncompromising stand with the authority of the message of salvation? Who is it today who has allowed the authority of this message to penetrate through their own comfortable lives in order to become the demonstration of His power to save? Where can we find the fruit of lives submitted to the authority of the message of salvation? Is anyone following the road map to the Kingdom?