“‘Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.’” [St. Luke 13:24]
In the Old Testament, we are presented with a history of Israel which is not flattering. We see its formation, its machinations, and its destruction. We see Israel following after false prophets instead of God’s prophets, and we ask why. After all, with hindsight it seems clear that the false prophets were false. And we tend to be very hard on the Israelites for their failures.
But we must remember that those false prophets presented attractive alternatives. First, many of them were cynical about their faith. They subscribed to the belief that “the ends justify the means.” They had an agenda, and it was not beneath them to claim that God was guiding them even when they knew He was not. Therefore, we are warned in the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah:
“Is not my word like as a fire,” saith the Lord, “and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces? Therefore behold, I am against the prophets,” saith the Lord, “that use their tongues, and say, ‘He saith.’ Behold, I am against them that prophesy false dreams,” saith the Lord, “and do tell them, and cause my people to err by their lies, and by their lightness; yet I sent them not, nor commanded them: therefore they shall not profit this people at all,” saith the Lord.
In our Old Testament lesson for today, Isaiah also warns about these false prophets. He tells us that they think they are so clever, but their cleverness will result in the destruction of Israel:
Because ye have said, “We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves.”
Isaiah tells us that, in fact, they will be destroyed by these lies. And, in fact, they were. The Assyrians totally obliterated the northern Kingdom of Israel.
Second, I am convinced that many of the false prophets believed in what they said. They thought they were right! Sure, there are some people in the world who purposely mislead, but there are other people who convince themselves that they believe correctly. Remember that the path to hell is paved with good intentions. And it is this sincerity which makes what they say so attractive.
But, whether the false prophet knows he is misleading or not, what they all have in common is that they tell us what we want to hear. They give us the easy answer or the easy way out. They tell us that the entry into heaven is wide and easy, and that we need not change. But this is false.
Now, we all can think of false prophets in this day and age of ours. But let us not for a minute believe that our times are unique. There have been false prophets throughout every age and every generation.
But it seems as if there are hoards of false prophets today. There are those from outside the faith, and there are those from within. There are Bishops, Priests and Deacons that will tell us the wrong thing. There are those who preach that God is hate and vengeance, and there are those who preach God is permissive love, without judgment or condition.
In the end, all of these false prophets of today do the same thing – they take one portion out of the Bible, out of context, and make it the ONLY belief, or the ALL-CONSUMING belief.
And the only way to combat all the different types of false prophets is the same. We must KNOW what God has told us. We must study the ENTIRE Bible and realize it is an integrated whole, without error and without contradiction. If we perceive an error, if we perceive a contradiction, this means there is something we do not understand, and we need to understand it. If we do this, we will not be confused by false doctrine, nor will we be tempted away with the promise of an easy solution or an easy path.
The problem is that many of us are ignorant of what the Bible really contains and what it means. The ignorance in our country has been well documented. A college professor by the name of Jaime O’Neill did a test several decades back. He decided to give his students a basic facts test, without trick or without misleading. What he found out from his college students was the following: “Ralph Nader is a baseball player. Charles Darwin invented gravity. Christ was born in the 16th century. J. Edgar Hoover was a 19th century president…The Great Gatsby was a magician in the 1930s. Franz Joseph Haydn was a songwriter who lived during the same decade. Sid Caesar was an early Roman emperor. Mark Twain invented the cotton gin…Jefferson Davis played guitar for the Jefferson Airplane. Benito Mussolini was a Russian leader of the 18th century. Dwight D. Eisenhower came earlier, serving as a president during the 17th Century…[and] Socrates [was an] American Indian Chieftan.”
The professor went on, “My students were equally creative in their understanding of geography. They knew, for instance, that Managua is the capital of Vietnam, that Cape Town is in the United States, that Beirut is in Germany… Camp David is in Israel, and that Stratford-on-Avon is in Grenada. Leningrad was transported to Jamaica, and Montreal to Spain.”
Ignorance is prevalent, but it is no excuse. We must not just read, we must study the Bible so that we too can be protected from the attraction of the false prophet. This may not be easy, but it is essential.
Jesus, in our Gospel lesson for today makes it clear that the path to heaven is not an easy one. No such promise is being made:
Then said one unto him, “Lord, are there few that be saved?” And he said unto them, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”
But what does Christ mean by this statement? In the lesson for Trinity XI, which we did not read because of the Feast of the Dormition of Mary, Christ says,
“Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: for from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three.”
Obviously, Christ is telling us, not what we want to hear, but rather what we NEED to hear. Jesus, as God incarnate, is revealing something that we, as humans, must know if we wish to be saved. What we need to know is that entrance into heaven is not easy.
Reading this passage, it would be easy to conclude that Christ was talking about good works. However, it is much deeper than this. It has to do primarily with faith; and it also involves amendment of life to conform to that faith. This is revealed by those who are the unfortunate majority locked outside of Heaven:
“Then shall ye begin to say, ‘We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets.’ But he shall say, ‘I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.’”
As an attorney, what strikes me in this passage is not what the people said, but rather what they DIDN’T say. They have eaten with Christ, and they heard Him preach, but no where do they say that they believed. No where do they say that they have accepted Him as the Christ, the Messiah. Rather, all they are able to say is that they met Jesus. This is clearly not enough. They MUST believe. And if they truly believe, that means they MUST change. They must become Christians. They must claim Christ as their saviour, and they must go out and preach the same to all nations.
Well, it is easy to say that the Israelites failed to heed God’s prophets. And it is easy for us to say that those listening to Christ failed to understand. But are we any better? Do we sit in the pews listening to the word of God with cynicism? Do we partake in Holy Communion without believing? If we do, then we too will be saying that we heard Christ in the streets and ate and drank with Him. And will we also still expect to be let into Heaven?
It is time for us to face the hard fact: if we do not believe, we will not be saved. This IS the narrow door. This IS the hard lesson. This IS what is required to enter Paradise and to have eternal life.
And if we truly believe, doesn’t this require us to change? Don’t we have to give up that which was the Old Man and adopt the New Man? The answer is yes. If we say we believe and yet do not change, then we are fooling ourselves. If we truly believe, we have no choice BUT to change! How can we remain the same? Now that we see what we missed before, now that we hear what we could not before, how can we continue as we were?
With a true faith in our hearts, we will be on fire with our faith. Like the Phoenix, our old selves will be consumed away and a new self, a Christian self, will be born from these ashes. For our God is a loving God, but our God is also a consuming fire that leaves us reborn and changed forever.
Let us be cautious of the false prophet so that they do not lead us away from God, but let us also be cautious about ourselves. Let us, once and for all, say to Christ, “Yes, I believe in you,” and believe it ourselves. And then, let us let God’s consuming fire rid us of the old and create in us the new so that we may truly be His servant.