The narrowness of Jesus

The confining limits Jesus imposed upon Himself and His work gave Him power, just as a river gains force through a narrow chasm.

Charles L. Brooks is an associate director of the Sabbath School Department of the Gen eral Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

The word narrow is used frequently in an uncomplimentary way to damage a person's reputation. Someone says, "Oh, yes, he is narrow," meaning that one side of his nature has been blighted, that he is stunted by defective education or squeezed out of shape by a restrictive environment. Yet what word could better describe one of the conspicuous traits of Jesus than the word narrowness?

The Saviour once said, "Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it" (Matt. 7:13, 14). It is clear that Jesus set definite boundaries for Himself and shut Himself up within certain limits. In this sense He was narrow.

There is a great principle here—a principle that lies at the basis of all the fine arts. Because of the narrowness of the limitations that they impose, the fine arts subject an individual to a discipline that is severe, and insist upon a bondage that cannot be broken. In music, there is no leeway left to the singer. He cannot sing a little sharp or a little flat and still produce music. Everything must be precise, exact, severe; the tones must take accurately the precise points assigned them by the composer, or else the music does not have in it that indescribable power that lifts and entrances the individual.

The artist cannot dip his brush as he pleases into this color or that, careless as to how much of one or how little of the other he spreads on his canvas. He is held in the grip of laws that he cannot violate, even a little, without marring the picture. It is the narrow way on which artists must forever walk.

Why is it so much more difficult to write poetry than prose? It is because poetry subjects the soul to bondage more severe. The poet must submit to a discipline of which the prose writer knows nothing. The rules of accent, rhythm, and melody are specific, and only genius has strength enough to obey them all. Poets must walk the narrow way. But the most precise of all the fine arts is the art of living as God would have us to live.

Think about the narrowness of Jesus. How narrow the circle was within which He did His work! He lived His life in tiny Palestine, a small, insignificant province of mighty Rome. The lords and ladies of the world's capital knew little of it and cared even less. Yet Jesus, the Prince of glory, confined Himself to this narrow corner of the earth. He might have traveled across the world as many of the illustrious teachers of His day had done, but He chose to stay at home and give His time to the cities of Galilee—to pour out His strength on the villages of Judea.

If His field was limited, so also was the character of His work, for He was determined to do one thing—the work that He came to earth to accomplish. There were a thousand worthwhile things that a good man in Palestine might have done, but He confined Himself to the one thing that His heavenly Father had given Him to do. Men could not understand such narrowness. They attempted to divert Him into other activities, but He was determined that He would do the work of Him that sent Him—the work of His Father.

Through His life Jesus asserted that no man can do everything. No one man should attempt to do everything. There are thousands of things that need to be done, and yet no man, however industrious he might be, can perform them all. Jesus set limits to His activities, and beyond those limits no man ever persuaded Him to go.

Jesus always spoke like a man whose feet were on a narrow path. "I must work the works of him that sent me" (John 9:4). People all around Him had the enjoyment of large liberty and freedom. They wandered hither and thither, going wherever they wished, but it was not so with Jesus. He could not dissipate His energy. He would not waste a single hour. It was always, "I must, I must, I must." There were broad roads on His right and left, and along those roads thousands of His countrymen were traveling, but He could not go with them. So when He talks about the two ways, one of them narrow and the other one broad, He is speaking out of His own experience. And when He urges us to choose the narrow one in preference to the one that is broad, He is saying, "Follow Me."

In the realm of the intellect, Jesus chose the way that was narrow. There is a feeling prevalent today that it is unwise for a man to confine himself to any one religion or any one particular statement of belief. Some say, "Do not pin your faith to any single idea, but hold yourself in readiness to accept every idea that may come your way. If not, you will narrow yourself and ultimately degenerate into an intellectual bigot."

Jesus had no sympathy with this sort of philosophy. To Him, certain conceptions of God were true and others were false; certain estimates of man were correct and others were in error; certain standards of duty were uplifting and others were degrading. And with all His mind and soul and strength He clung to the true and warred against the false. He never shrank from holding definite opinions or from expressing them vigorously.

The words of Jesus, unimpeded by verbal embroidery or apologetic tone, penetrated like bullets into the minds and hearts of men. His was not the wily art of speaking out of both sides of the mouth at the same time. In fact, the words of Jesus are among the most dogmatic of all religious writ, giving no quarter to alternatives, leaving no doubt that "He that is not with me is against me" (Matt. 12:30).

To preach and teach the gospel of the three angels' messages as though it is just another message of the Christian faith, not a distinctive message, is to impute to it an insipid broadness that it does not claim for itself. If the message of the Seventh-day Adventist Church does not stand forth clearly in its uniqueness, it fails to be truth.

Yet there are those who insist that the preaching of Christ in His undiluted form is too strong. Have we really looked at the sin of catering? Catering is the activity by which crowds are served a diet bereft of spiritual nourishment. It is a type of subservience to popular standards and prejudices. It may not wink at entrenched evil, but turning the head the other way is more confirming than if both eyes were winked. We must check compromise and catering within the church wherever we find it. Spiritual things are still spiritually discerned. As leaders we must be God's men. The ex plosive nature of genuine faith must never be broadened into dull neutrality.

Jesus is our Example in this. He struck down error fearlessly. He swept other leaders and teachers out of the way with gorgeous strokes of authority. "Other men," He said, "have taught you this and that. But I say unto you ..." What a challenge this is to the leaders of the cause of God! He said He came to bear witness of the truth, and this He did forthrightly in the spirit of love.

The narrowness of Jesus comes out again in the limited range of His approbation. There were some things that Jesus would praise and there were other things that He was obliged to condemn. Some men He would eulogize and others were fit only for burning condemnation. He did not wear a universal smile. He did not group men together as though all were alike. He made distinctions and He taught other men to make them too.

Jesus did not minimize the heinousness of sin. It made a difference to Him whether men were honest or not. It made a difference to Him whether lives were filthy or not. No mean and contemptible individual ever felt in Jesus' presence that what he was doing was right. He refused to let bad men feel that they were good. This is the position that we must take as children of God and as leaders in His kingdom.

We must not fail to declare the fundamental mandates of God's Word out of deference to expediency. Where Herod still insists on living with his brother's wife; where Judas still holds membership within the inner circle; where Sadducees still deny the resurrection; where commandments are still bro ken, our sermons on peace of mind must be interrupted by a "Thus saith the Lord" in judgment. What a challenge!

In love we must speak forth the righteousness of Jesus. We must not com promise, for the minister is both prophet and priest. It was said of one who preached rather well but lived rather ill that it was a shame that he ever went out of the pulpit, and when he was out of it, it was a shame he ever went in. The minister of God neither caters nor com promises. The leader must decide whether he will conform or transform, whether to shape the world or to be shaped by it.

It is the narrow path that leads to joyful life. Jesus' work was definite. At 12 He knew the business to which He must give Himself. There was never a day in which He would allow Himself to be inveigled into doing something else. Right here is where some of us are prone to blunder. And it is at this point that we should look for the root cause for some of the disquiet in our souls. We start out to do a certain work and then people begin to say, "Why don't you do this? Come and do this." And before we are aware of our folly, we have dissipated our energy in trying to do things that God never intended us to attempt.

Jesus made an impression because He stayed in one place and hit the same nail on the head until it was driven completely in. If He had wandered over the earth speaking His parables, they would have fallen on more ears, but would have molded fewer hearts. Jesus stayed in Palestine. Keeping His heart close to a few chosen hearts, He became increasingly influential until the authorities were frightened, fearing that He might over turn the nation. Men became so passionately in love with Him that they were ready to die for Him.

By limiting Himself, our Saviour came off more than conqueror. He succeeded! And what is it to succeed? It is to do the thing for which we are created. Jesus attempted to do one thing, and that was to perform the work that His Father had given Him to do. At the end of His life He could look into the face of His Father and say, "I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do" (John 17:4). It is not the quantity but the quality of the life that counts.

Jesus walked the narrow way, and He calls men everywhere to become His followers. Jesus is inexorable in His commands; He is despotic in the limitations He imposes. He says, "Come unto Me." We ask, "Cannot we go to others?" And He says, "There are no others. Come unto Me." When He says, "Follow Me," we hesitate and ask, "Is this really necessary? Can we not choose an easier way?" His reply is, "Follow Me. No one comes to the Father except through Me." We demur and wonder whether it is necessary to shut ourselves up in what seems to be so narrow and limited a sphere. But He says to us with that strangely compelling accent that stirred the hearts of the people long ago in Galilee, "Verily I say unto you, unless you abide in Me you have no life at all in you."

This, then, is the narrowness of Jesus. He is narrow for a purpose. He limited Himself—emptied Himself of His divine glory. He was found in the fashion of a man. He walked in the narrow path that led from the carpenter's shop to Golgotha because of His great love for us and in order that each of us might have life and have it more abundantly.

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Charles L. Brooks is an associate director of the Sabbath School Department of the Gen eral Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

February 1979

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