“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
The Basics of the Day
We started the day by taking a morning hike up Mt. Arbel. It doesn’t carry a great amount of biblical significance, but it is mentioned in Josephus Flavius’ Jewish Wars. What the mountain did offer were some great views of the Sea of Galilee and the surrounding town, valleys, and rifts. We traveled north along the “Way of the Sea” and eventually came to the Dan Nature Preserve. This preserve is near the foot of Mt. Hermon (Psalm 133). It has in it the Dan River, which eventually feeds into the Jordan River. At the Dan Nature Preserve we ancient city of Dan, which included a Canaanite “high place” with an altar for worship.
We left there and traveled back southward toward Caesarea Philippi. This is one possible location for the confession made by Peter that Jesus was the Christ. We then went to the Mt. of the Beatitudes (more on that next). We then spent some time in Capernaum, Jesus’ base of operations. It should be noted that during Jesus’ ministry he cursed the town of Capernaum for its unbelief, and it is only a tourist town now; no one actually lives there anymore.
The Mount of Beatitudes
While establishing any historical site with 100% accuracy is quite difficult, the site of the Sermon on the Mount is fairly accurate. The site itself is well-maintained, with beautiful gardens and landscaping. There is also a chapel and a religious house. The chapel was marked out by artwork depicting the Sermon on the Mount, along with calligraphy Bible and music sheets of the Beatitudes in Latin.
During our time on that quiet mountain, one of our guides read from the Sermon on the Mount. We were to spend time reflecting on the words of Jesus. It was an overwhelming experience personally to think that the most revolutionary sermon ever preached was delivered at (or near) this spot.
Everyone claims to love the Sermon on the Mount, until they actually read it! Consider the structure and general content of the Sermon. The Beatitudes (or the Introduction) calls for poverty of spirit (humility), a mourning (likely over sin and the state of the world), a life and attitude of gentleness, a hungering and thirsting for what is righteous, mercy, purity, peacemaking, and a willingness to endure persecution. For all of this, there is the promise of the Kingdom. What an introduction to a sermon! Then, as you move into the sermon proper, there is a call to be salt and light – a call to allow our light to shine before others and bring glory to God. Jesus adds a bit of sting here, calling for a righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees (in other words, a righteousness that is not merely external). He then expands the weight of the law, emphasizing the need for internal transformation and not mere external appearances. He calls hatred in the heart murder, lust in the heart adultery. He then calls for an all out warfare against the power of the sinful heart, using the hyperbole of plucking out your eye or cutting off your hand – because it is better to go through life wounded and incomplete than to have a body that appears whole cast into hell. He strikes to the selfishness of the crowd by declaring divorce a really bad thing, declaring oaths a bad thing, and calling for a life of self-denial and sacrificial suffering.
It is at this pivotal point in the sermon that Jesus turns everything on its head – he tells us what God demands of us. “…you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48). But how can that be? How can this be done? How can any person touched by the stain of sin and self-righteousness be perfect?
Jesus then speaks of not living righteousness out in front of others to be seen by them. Our giving, praying, and fasting should all be done with God in mind, not the acclaim of others. It is here that Jesus teaches us how to pray. The “Lord’s Prayer,” as it has been designated, starts and ends with the will and glory of God. It is an acknowledgment of our need, not necessarily our wants. There is a call for us to make certain our hearts our set heavenward, not on perishable earthly things. We are called not to worry about stuff. Jesus then calls men to be concerned with the well being of their brothers, but not in hypocrisy. There is a call to trust God, because is good and loves His children.
Then, Jesus speaks about how all of these can come to be. How can we be these kinds of people? How can we be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect? We enter through the narrow gate. We hear his words and we act in wisdom – we build our lives on the foundation of Jesus as truth, as Savior, as Lord. This is how we become “perfect.” We build our lives on his perfection.
Needless to say, there was a great deal of reflection that day about my own life. Am I wise or foolish man? How and where am I building my life? Is it on the rock of Jesus or the sand of self-righteousness? Am I one deceived? Thank God for grace!