“How Few There Are” ( Matthew 7:13-14 KNOX ) by Carley Evans


Straight And Narrow Road
(Photo credit: Bradley.Johnson.)

Jesus warns “few there are that find it.” The ‘it’ He mentions is “life.” Apparently, according to Jesus, the many find death easily; without trying. Why is that? Perhaps because death is our natural state; we are, indeed, in a state of perpetual dying. Jesus says,

Make your way in by the narrow gate. It is a broad gate and a wide road that leads on to perdition, and those who go in that way are many indeed; but how small is the gate, how narrow the road that leads on to life, and how few there are that find it!

Jesus says the way “that leads on to life” is difficult to find. The gate is small; the road is narrow. He implies this way is hidden. What makes the way to life so hard to locate? What makes the gate small? Why is the road narrow?

Perdition – hell, the underworld, death, punishment – is a broad and straight path. “And those who go in that way are many indeed,” says Jesus. The way to hell is an easy road to find because we start out on it, right from birth. We walk along with others, vaguely or painfully aware of its ultimate destination – our deaths. Some of us know that death is eternal; others do not. The gate to the other path is not obvious, according to Jesus. Rather, that path is small, narrow, hidden.

Who opens the eyes?

I think Paul tells us quite clearly that God the Holy Spirit enables the few to find the way to life. Why those few? An impossible question with an improbable answer – God selects. He is under no obligation to show mercy, but He does.

Such a hard Word. Paul responds with:

14 What does this mean? That God acts unjustly? That is not to be thought of.15 I will shew pity, he tells Moses, on those whom I pity; I will shew mercy where I am merciful;16 the effect comes, then, from God’s mercy, not from man’s will, or man’s alacrity. 17 Pharao, too, is told in scripture, This is the very reason why I have made thee what thou art, so as to give proof, in thee, of my power, and to let my name be known all over the earth.18 Thus he shews mercy where it is his will, and where it is his will he hardens men’s hearts.19 Hereupon thou wilt ask, If that is so, how can he find fault with us, since there is no resisting his will? 20 Nay, but who art thou, friend, to bandy words with God? Is the pot to ask the potter, Why hast thou fashioned me thus? 21 Is not the potter free to do what he will with the clay, using the same lump to make two objects, one for noble and one for ignoble use? 22 It may be that God has borne, long and patiently, with those who are the objects of his vengeance, fit only for destruction, meaning to give proof of that vengeance, and display his power at last;23 meaning also to display, in those who are the objects of his mercy, how rich is the glory he bestows, that glory for which he has destined them.

24 We are the objects of his mercy; we, whom he has called, Jews and Gentiles alike. [Romans 9: 14-24, KNOX]

“These Words” ( Deuteronomy 6: 6-7, WYC ) by Carley Evans


And these words which I command to thee today, shall be in thine heart; and thou shalt tell those to thy sons, and thou shalt think upon them, sitting in thine house, and going in the way (and going on the way), lying down, and rising (up). 

What are ‘these words’? Moses orates:

Thou shalt love thy Lord God of all thine heart, and of all thy soul, and of all thy strength. (Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength.)

Hard to imagine that meditating on these words can make any difference in your life? Think again.

For the word of God is quick, and speedy in working, and more able to pierce than any twain-edged sword [two-edged sword], and stretcheth forth [till] to the parting of the soul and of the spirit, and of the jointures and marrows, and deemer of thoughts, and of intents of hearts. (Hebrews 4:12)

So Moses tells us to speak of loving God, to imagine loving God, to meditate on loving God, to teach loving God to our children and to our neighbors and even to those who we perceive as enemies.

As we think on ‘these words’, these words change us.

“Safe From Sins” ( Matthew 1: 20-21, WYC) by Carley Evans


The Madonna in Sorrow
The Madonna in Sorrow (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Joseph naturally dreads his marriage to the young maiden, Mary since she is pregnant; and that, out of wedlock. Joseph ought to report Mary, have her stoned to death per the Law of Moses. Yet, he listens to the angel of the Lord who comes to him in his sleep.

The angel of the Lord says something truly extraordinary, that Jesus “shall make His people safe from their sins.” The angel doesn’t say, “Jesus shall make His people free from sin.” Rather, the angel verifies that Jesus is to make His own people “safe from their sins.”

“But while he thinks these things, lo! the angel of the Lord appears to him in sleep, and says, Joseph, the son of David, do not thou dread to take Mary, thy wife; for that thing that is born in her is of the Holy Ghost.  And she shall bear a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus; for he shall make his people safe from their sins.”

That we sin is a fundamental truth in the Christian life. That Jesus died for our sins is also a fundamental truth of the Christian life. Jesus nails the Law to the tree, and washes away the wage of death with His blood.

“His Own Choice” ( Romans 9: 8 – 23, Knox Bible ) by Carley Evans


Isaac Blessing Jacob, painting by Govert Flinc...
Isaac Blessing Jacob, painting by Govert Flinck (Rijksmuseum Amsterdam).

Does Paul mean to say that God chooses whom He blesses? Paul may as well say, “Of course I do!” Paul pulls out some ammunition from the old covenant scriptures. He mentions the clear division between Pharoa and Moses – one an object of God’s wrath, the other an object of His mercy. Paul briefly tells of Abraham’s two sons; he says, “You know them; you know how that all came down.” Then he fleshes out the story of Rebecca’s two sons: Jacob and Esau. He writes:

“God’s sonship is not for all those who are Abraham’s children by natural descent; it is only the children given to him as the result of God’s promise that are to be counted as his posterity. It was a promise God made, when he said, When this season comes round again, I will visit thee, and Sara shall have a son. 10 And not only she, but Rebecca too received a promise, when she bore two sons to the same husband, our father Isaac. 11 They had not yet been born; they had done nothing, good or evil; and already, so that God’s purpose might stand out clearly as his own choice, 12 with no action of theirs to account for it, nothing but his will, from whom the call came, she was told, The elder is to be the servant of the younger13 So it is that we read, I have been a friend to Jacob, and an enemy to Esau.”

Paul hears the protests. He realizes how this sounds to the human ear. God is unfair. How dare He pick and choose us like that. How dare He send some of us to eternal hell while rescuing only a few of us! Paul counters:

14 What does this mean? That God acts unjustly? That is not to be thought of. 15 I will shew pity, he tells Moses, on those whom I pity; I will shew mercy where I am merciful;16 the effect comes, then, from God’s mercy, not from man’s will, or man’s alacrity. 17 Pharao, too, is told in scripture, This is the very reason why I have made thee what thou art, so as to give proof, in thee, of my power, and to let my name be known all over the earth.18 Thus he shews mercy where it is his will, and where it is his will he hardens men’s hearts.19 Hereupon thou wilt ask, If that is so, how can he find fault with us, since there is no resisting his will? 20 Nay, but who art thou, friend, to bandy words with God? Is the pot to ask the potter, Why hast thou fashioned me thus?21 Is not the potter free to do what he will with the clay, using the same lump to make two objects, one for noble and one for ignoble use? 22 It may be that God has borne, long and patiently, with those who are the objects of his vengeance, fit only for destruction, meaning to give proof of that vengeance, and display his power at last;23 meaning also to display, in those who are the objects of his mercy, how rich is the glory he bestows, that glory for which he has destined them.

Do you believe in destiny? Do you know God’s sovereign power? Do you protest against His own choices? When you recognize and accept God’s mercy in the light of Romans 9 and John 1 and Ephesians 1, to name a few, then you may find yourself melting away, or as Job puts it so well, “repenting in dust and ashes.”

“Chosen Into Heritage” ( Psalm 33: 12, WYC ) by Carley Evans


What is the problem with acknowledging that God chooses – that God has the final say, so to speak? Why does this truth bring us up short, if it does? We know from scripture that God chooses Abram from whom He creates an entire people – people He identifies as His own and who are identified by Paul as the original olive tree while the remainder of God’s people are grafted into this original vine.  We know God chooses Moses over Pharaoh, Joseph over his brothers, Jacob over Esau. He chooses Mary over all other women to be the mother of His Son, Jesus. We acknowledge these choices of people, and do not balk.

“Blessed is the folk, whose Lord is his God; the people which he chose into heritage to himself.”

We recognize that ultimately God’s blessing is what sets these people and us apart from others. To think it is anything else – especially to think it is anything we do or say that is somehow better than what others say and do – is an erroneous belief. God chooses us “into heritage to Himself.”

And all the people say, “Amen.”

 

“Of The Spirit, Reap Everlasting Life” ( Galatians 6: 8, Wycliffe ) by Carley Evans


7 Do not ye err, God is not scorned; for those things that a man soweth, those things he shall reap [for why what things a man soweth, also these things he shall reap].

8 For he that soweth in his flesh, of the flesh he shall reap corruption; but he that soweth in the Spirit, of the Spirit he shall reap everlasting life.

9 And doing good fail we not [Forsooth we doing good, fail not]; for in his time we shall reap, not failing.”

Here Paul strongly reminds his readers in Galatia that circumcision of the flesh is not the proper means to everlasting life. They are sowing “in the flesh” rather than “in the Spirit.” They are seeking to obey the Law of Moses primarily to avoid the cross of Christ, i.e. crucifixion. They have forgotten they can not scorn God; they can not make their own way to heaven. They must take up Christ’s way and so “reap everlasting life” as they “soweth in the Spirit.”

“12For whoever will please in the flesh, these constrain you to be circumcised, only that they suffer not the persecution of Christ’s cross.

13 For neither they that be circumcised keep the law; but they will that ye be circumcised, that they have glory in your flesh [but they will you to be circumcised, that they glory in your flesh].

14 But far be it from me to have glory [Forsooth be it far to me to glory], but in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.

15 For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision is any thing worth, nor prepuce, but a new creature.”

Paul says, glory not in your flesh; glory only “in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Remember, what matters — what has worth — is being made “a new creature.” All the rest is corruption.

“Denying Him” ( Titus 1: 16, KJV ) by Carley Evans


Paul warns Titus about “many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers” who “teach things which they ought not.” (Titus 1:10, 11) These persons teach for the sake of money; Titus is to “rebuke them sharply.” (Titus 1:13) Paul is concerned that these ‘teachers’ are leading people backwards into “Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth.” (Titus 1:14) These ‘teachers’ are calling for Christians to be circumcised and to obey the law of Moses.

Paul writes, “They profess that they know God, but in works they deny Him.” (Titus 1:16)

What is the good work of God?

“Put them in mind to be subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates, to be ready to every good work, to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, showing all meekness unto all men.” (Titus 3:1-2)

“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men.” (Titus 2:11)

“No Matter How Dire” ( Deuteronomy 6: 4-6, HCSB ) by Carley Evans


Listen, Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is One. Love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. (Deuteronomy 6: 4-6, HCSB)

Notice initially God is the Lord of a people, then He is the Lord of an individual. As individuals, we are part of the body of Christ and as such fit into a larger group of people, known collectively as ‘the people of God’ or as ‘the children of God.’ As individuals, each of us is a child of God. Paul calls us ‘sons’ and if sons, then heirs together with Christ. We are to keep in our hearts the key concepts expressed by Moses: God is One; and we are to love Him with all of our being and with all of our strength.

Moses calls for Israel to write these concepts on their door frames so each day the Word is visible to the eye and to the mind. He commands Israel to speak these truths with their children as they rise and as they go in and out.

At all times, the Word of God is to be within sight. As the Word is within our reach, we are prepared for any of the wiles of our adversary. Though he prowls about like a devouring lion, our armor — if intact — is able to withstand his assault. Keep the Word in your hearts, and so be ready for any situation no matter how dire. Love the Lord with all you are; and God is near.

“Never Enough” ( Deuteronomy 13: 4, ESV ) by Carley Evans


“You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him.” (Deuteronomy 13:4 ESV)

Hold fast to God.

Obey His voice.

Walk after Him.

Fear Him.

Keep His commandments.

Serve Him.

I notice there are no negatives in Moses’ exhortation. Each suggestion is a positive statement of action. My favorite is “hold fast to Him.”

God is the anchor in my life. He keeps me in place, so to speak. If I drift in one direction — one which does not please Him, He pulls me back to center. I rely on Him. I trust Him.

I am in awe — in holy fear — of Him, of course. He is all-powerful, all-knowing. Yet my fear is tempered by my knowledge that He is all-loving as well. His justice is true. His wrath is satisfied. I need not fear to the point of dread of Him. For, He is my anchor in all things.

His voice is in His Word. I keep His Word in my mind at all times. I refresh my soul, spirit, heart in His Word every day, several times a day. I walk after Him which implies He is in front of me, leading the way. If I go the wrong direction, again He is my anchor and I hold fast to Him. I trust He pulls me back to center.

Keeping His commandments — what are His commandments? To love Him above all else and to love Him completely, with my entire being. And, to love others as I love myself. Only through Him am I able to obey.

Serving Him — Never enough.

“Remove the Unbearable Yoke” (Acts 15: 9, NIV) by Carley Evans


“[God] purifies their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Acts 15:9-11, NIV)

So says Peter to “the believers who belong to the party of the Pharisees” who are calling for the Gentiles to “be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses.” (Acts 15:5)

Peter argues God shows His acceptance of these Gentile believers by giving them the Holy Spirit just as He gives Him to Jewish believers. After all, says Peter, God “knows the heart.” (Acts 15:8) James agrees with Peter, speaking before “the whole assembly” (Acts 15:12) that they “should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” (Acts 15:19) A letter is sent to “the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia” telling them that “it seems good to the Holy Spirit not to burden you with anything beyond” a few things they would “do well to avoid.” (Acts 15:28, 29)

We are able, if willing, to learn a lot from Peter and James. Often we burden babes in Christ and even mature believers with impossible rules, requirements, regulations — you’ve got to do this and not do that or God will not be pleased. We forget God knows the hearts of His people; He knows long before we do who hears and believes the good news. So, let’s not “test God.” (Acts 15:10) Let’s refrain from burdening ourselves and one another with a yoke God has removed.