Without question, some of Jesus’ sayings are alarming. I was particularly intimidated as a young Christian by the wide gate and broad road leading to destruction.

Jesus said, 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.

At the time, the church I attended leant towards legalism and understood many of these sayings through that lens. After all, small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. With the emphasis on only a few find it. Catch that? Just a few. Not many. You may be left out. At least, they were the words that echoed in my young Christian mind.

So, is Jesus trying to scare the hell out of us? Let’s find out.

Hit the Nail on the Head

The Sermon on the Mount serves as context (Matthew 5-7). Jesus explains in chapter seven the critical nature of hearing and acting on his message. Thus, we see numerous examples throughout this chapter that serve as a contrast between two groups:

  1. Two types of gates ~ wide and small
  2. Two kinds of roads ~ broad & narrow
  3. Two sorts of trees ~ Good and bad (fruit)
  4. Two classes of disciples ~ true and false
  5. Two kinds of builders ~ wise and foolish

Jesus is expressing the same thing in each of these analogies and uses various images to emphasise his point, similar to repeatedly striking a nail with a hammer until it is deeply embedded in the wood. That is to say:

Entering through the wide gate is the same as

Travelling on the broad road, which is the same as

Bearing bad fruit, which is the same as

Being a false disciple, which is the same as

Being a foolish builder.

The opposite is also true:

Entering through the small gate is the same as

Travelling on the narrow road, which is the same as

Bearing good fruit, which is the same as

Being a true disciple, which is the same as

Being a wise builder.

Two Kinds of People

Jesus ends his sermon with The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Builders, a reference to these two kinds of people who all hear Jesus’ words and teachings:

Group one “hears these words of mine and puts them into practice,” while group two “hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice.”

Group one is “like a wise man who built his house on the rock,” while group two “is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.”

Both groups (houses) experience the same trials and storms in life, “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house.”

Group one’s house “did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” So is everyone who hears Jesus’ teachings and puts them into practice.

Group two’s house “fell with a great crash.” So is everyone who hears Jesus’ teachings but does not act on them.

The Gospels preserve Jesus’ teachings, while the other New Testament writers expound them further to demonstrate how his teachings apply in daily life. Among the points made by these authors is the following:

You don’t enter the kingdom of heaven by doing good works; you enter the kingdom of heaven by doing God’s will.

That is where the “Many” Jesus refers to have made a grievous error. Their justification for being admitted to the Kingdom of Heaven is based on the excellent actions they have performed. They have prophesied, cast out devils, and performed miracles, but these are manifestations of God’s power at work through a person, not proof of genuine trust in Christ.

Kingdom access is, according to Jesus, for the person “who does the will of My Father in heaven.” What is God’s will? Jesus taught,my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” We enter God’s Kingdom through trust in Jesus! Only through faith in Jesus can we hear and apply his teachings. While good deeds spring from genuine faith, they do not guarantee admission to the kingdom.

Two Stories

As the late Billy Graham put it: “There were a few times when I thought I was dying, and I saw my whole life come before me. I didn’t say to the Lord, ‘I’m a preacher, and I’ve preached to many people.’ I said, ‘Oh Lord, I’m a sinner, and I still need Your forgiveness. I still need the cross.’ And I asked the Lord to give me peace in my heart, and He did – a wonderful peace that hasn’t left me.”

I’ll finish this with a story about a man who died and went to heaven. Of course, St. Peter met him at the pearly gates and explained, “Here’s how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. Let me know all the good things you’ve done, and I’ll give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you’ll get in.”

“Okay,” said the man, “I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated even in my heart.” “That’s wonderful,” said St. Peter, “that’s worth three points!”

“Three points?” he says. “Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithe and service.” “Terrific!” said St. Peter, “that’s certainly worth a point.”

“One point? Gosh. How about this: “I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans.” “Fantastic, that’s good for two more points.” “TWO POINTS!!” the man cried, “At this rate, the only way I get into heaven is by the grace of God!”

“Come on in,” said Peter.

I’ve almost died five times!

The first time, I was six years old and fascinated by music, record players, and speakers. I guess my radio career was already developing! One day, I decided to “make” a speaker to play music. I’m not sure what was going on in my little brain, but I figured that if I pierced a tin box with a nail and then shoved the whole thing into a power point, it could possibly work. What it did do was throw me across the room (this was before safety switches). I thought my mum had come in and whacked me across the top of my head. I turned around, and no one was there. I then realised what had happened. I was frightened out of my tiny mind!

The second near-death experience was as a 19-year-old hitchhiker in northern NSW. The truck I had hitched a ride in collided head-on with another truck. Two guys died, but I wasn’t one of them. It was that experience that led to my Christian conversion.

A year or so later, as a lapsed Christian who was getting into drugs and various New Age philosophies, I was battling depression (although I didn’t know it at the time). I was at a very low point, and one night after the pub was shut, I tried to overdose to end the pain. I am glad I failed. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

Things Can Only Get Better?

Shortly afterwards, I returned to my faith in Jesus. I eventually went to Bible college and became a pastor. A few years later, I met Christie, got engaged, married, and enjoyed a two-week honeymoon. In the last few days of our honeymoon, I began feeling unwell. When we got home to Melbourne, I felt like I was getting the flu. A few days later, I couldn’t get out of bed without passing out. Christie called an ambulance, and I was rushed off to Monash emergency, where I became unconscious. More on that experience in a moment. I was diagnosed with meningitis with a viral complication.

And then, a few years ago, I suffered mid-level burns from a ruptured hot water bottle ~ along with residual electricity from the electric blanket. In agony, I was booted out of bed onto the floor and spent the next eight days in the Alfred Hospital burns unit.

I really hope that’s the last near-death experience I have for many decades until it’s REALLY time to go. I have the feeling that God has me on earth for a purpose, but I’m done with almost dying!

Near-death Experiences

Did I see my life flash before my eyes? Well, no, not really. The truck accident brought me to Jesus, so that was pretty spectacular. And when I passed out with meningitis, I remember being unconscious. I was consciously unconscious, felt incredibly peaceful, and not sick. Christie told me later that I turned grey. She thought I’d died. The next thing I remember was the ED nurse yelling right in my face. I was furious because I was awake and again in a world of pain.

But some people have reported their life flashing before their eyes during a near-death experience. And now neuroscientists have accidentally stumbled upon some possible proof for this. Their research is reported in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

Accidental Research

“When an 87-year-old patient developed epilepsy, Dr Raul Vicente of the University of Tartu, Estonia and colleagues used continuous electroencephalography (EEG) to detect the seizures and treat the patient. During these recordings, the patient had a heart attack and passed away. This unexpected event allowed the scientists to record the activity of a dying human brain for the first time ever.

“They discovered rhythmic brain wave patterns around the time of death that are similar to those occurring during dreaming, memory recall, and meditation. [Their research] brings new insight into a possible organisational role of the brain during death and suggests an explanation for vivid life recall in near-death experiences.

“Imagine reliving your entire life in the space of seconds. Like a flash of lightning, you are outside of your body, watching memorable moments you lived through. The study suggests that your brain may remain active and coordinated during and even after the transition to death and be programmed to orchestrate the whole ordeal.”

Dr Ajmal Zemmar said, “As a neurosurgeon, I deal with loss at times. It is indescribably difficult to deliver the news of death to distraught family members. Something we may learn from this research is: although our loved ones have their eyes closed and are ready to leave us to rest, their brains may be replaying some of the nicest moments they experienced in their lives.”

I hope you find those words as comforting as I do.