If you think it’s cold outside, you should read the book I recently finished: Endurance, the incredible tale of Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic catastrophe. If you don’t know the story, in August of 1914, Shackleton’s ship Endurance set off from Britain with hearty souls planning to traverse the great southern continent of Antarctica, a feat never before accomplished. On board were Shackleton and 27 other carefully selected men. But in January of 1915, only a day’s journey from the debarkation point, ice floes captured the ship fast and she remained trapped until October of that year, at which time the Endurance was crushed by the ice.
All 28 men escaped and had just their tents, lifeboats, gear and food from ship supplies to survive on ice floes for months. To say they ate a lot of seals and penguins is an understatement. I’ll spare you all the details, but the 28 eventually made it to the uninhabited and very inhospitable Elephant Island after not touching land for 497 days. Shackleton then led a crew of 6 men on a lifeboat through the stormy southern ocean on a 720 nautical mile journey to the South Georgia whaling station. Finding help, they returned to rescue their 22 friends on Elephant Island in August of 1916.
Shackleton’s journey provides a fitting illustration of Jesus’ warning in Matthew chapter 7. You see, the vast majority of people in our culture believe that the way to heaven is a leisurely walk around the block on a pleasant summer’s day, but this is a deep delusion. In reality, the way to heaven is more like Shackleton’s journey from the ice floes of Antarctica to safety 1,000 miles away. So Jesus said…
Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Matthew 7:13-14 (ESV)
The way is hard, yet most people in our culture believe that the gate to eternal life swings wide, that the path to heaven is broad and easy. The conclusion they reach is that just about everyone and his brother is going to heaven. But Jesus makes clear that eternity is attained only by walking through a narrow gate, and only the way that leads to destruction…is easy.
Those who find eternal life are few. Few.
The whole chapter is full of warnings moving us to plan for eternity. Jesus begins with instructions about judgment, and ends with warnings to build our life on His Word lest we not survive the storm to come. Along the way, He warns about false prophets and the need to bear good fruit, and even gives a haunting picture of how He will reject people on Judgment Day who were under the distinct impression they were “good Christians.”
“I never knew you.”
And in the midst of this powerful chapter filled with thoughts about preparing for eternity is a bit of out-of-place instruction on…prayer. How strange.
Or not…in fact, maybe Jesus has more than only “Daily Bread” prayer in mind here. That too, of course, but maybe He’s also thinking about recognizing our need for help on the impossible journey to heaven and asking, seeking and knocking on His door TODAY for eternal life.
A cross reference may help to tie it all together…
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Luke 11:13 (ESV)
For unparalleled success in leading his entire crew home safely, Shackleton is hailed as a great leader of men. Similarly, only The Great Leader can take us through the narrow gate. So…ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.
Everyone who asks…receives.