The Midway

(What follows is a fable based partly on the words of Jesus in Matthew 7:13-14. “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Ponder that last phrase-"Only a few find it.” Does that mean that only a few people will be saved? How do we square that with John’s vision in Revelation 7:9 of a vast throng standing before the Throne of God. John calls it “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.”

If only a few people will be saved, how can there be a vast multitude in heaven? And why do so many people miss the narrow gate while many others find it? This fable of mine is an attempt to answer those questions.)

Let’s imagine that you are walking down the midway at the world’s largest county fair. It’s about 9 PM and the place is crowded with people. You are surrounded, almost overwhelmed, by the bright flashing lights, the carnival music blaring from every direction, the booths with hawkers enticing you to spend your money and win a prize. You have your children in tow, more or less, but it’s hard because they love the midway. It’s the most exciting place they’ve ever seen.

Music!
Lights!
Food!
Games!
Crowds!
Noise!
Excitement!

Who doesn’t love the biggest county fair in the world? As you walk along, a man in a striped shirt calls out, “Win your sweetheart a teddy bear.” All you have to do is toss the ring over a milk bottle. It looks so simple. You put down a dollar, take three rings, and start tossing. Each one comes close, but for some reason you can’t quite get the ring to fall down in the right place. One of your tosses ends up halfway down the neck of the milk bottle, the other half resting on the top. “That was close,” the man says. “Try it again. You’ve got good aim.” So you take out another dollar and take three more rings. You aim carefully, each time coming close to success. Your children look on with amazed wonder, cheering you on, “Come on, Daddy. We want a teddy bear.” Not wanting to disappoint them, you try again and again, but each time you can’t quite get the ring to fall in the right place. As you start to walk way, the carny says, “Better luck next time, pal.”

Even though you spent a lot of money, it was worth it just for the fun. So it goes all night long. At one game all you have to do is take a metal holder and push an empty Coke bottle lying on its side so it is standing upright. Strange game, that one. It seems simple but each time you get the bottle in an upright position, it falls over. Something doesn’t seem right, but it takes you a few dollars to decide this game isn’t for you either. 

Something doesn’t seem right, but it takes you a few dollars to decide this game isn’t for you either. 

Then you spot a game that seems easy. All you have to do is throw darts at balloons. You can try for the big balloons and get a small prize or a small balloon and get a big prize. This time you plunk down $5 and keep trying until you win one of the small prizes. Although tempted to try your luck at the smaller balloons, you decide to take your prize and walk away. As you do, the woman operating the game says, “I’ll give you a free throw at the small balloons.” Oddly enough, you actually hit the balloon but it doesn’t break. Inspired by your good shot, you end up spending another $5 before giving up altogether. As you leave, you hear the woman welcoming the next carnival-goer to try his luck.

The Bearded Lady

Soon you pass a tent that promises amazing sights. A “gorilla man” captured in “darkest Africa."  A man with three heads. Something called “alligator boy.” The world’s tallest woman. A boy with two bodies and one head. The bearded lady. Outside the tent a barker encourages people to come in and see the “greatest wonders on earth.” Only here. Right now. You can see things here you’ll never see anywhere else. Amazing sights. Things science can’t explain. Come one, come all, come right now. Even though you know it’s a hoax somehow or other, you can’t resist. So there goes another $15.

Oddly enough, you actually hit the balloon but it doesn’t break.

Then there are the rides. Amazing things.

Thunderball
The Anti-Gravity Machine
The Bullet
The Double Ferris Wheel
Spinning Teacups
Tilt-a-Whirl
The Death Drop

There’s even an updated version of the Merry-Go-Round. It’s like being a kid all over again, only this time your kids are with you. So the whole family waits in line to buy a ticket to ride “The Bullet,” an amazing contraption, a capsule that rotates high above the fairgrounds, holds in place for a moment, and then suddenly spins around, all the way upside down, and goes  up and down, gaining speed, until you find yourself almost floating against your harness. The kids love the ride. And you do too, but not as much as they do.

Deep-Fried Everything

After the ride is over, you look around and it seems like the whole town has come to the county fair. Everyone is there. The midway is teeming with people. Every ride has a long line. People walk past you eating foot long corn dogs and wiping the mustard off their faces.

What a place!
What a night!

It’s the perfect way to spend a few hours and a few dollars. Meanwhile the sight of foot-long corn dog reminds you how hungry you are. And the food is incredible. They have everything here-everything! Hamburgers, Philly cheese steaks, hot dogs, roasted ears of corn, hot pretzels, nachos, snow cones, candied apples, peanuts, chocolate-covered bananas, and the ever-popular (and extremely messy) funnel cake. You round a bend on the midway (different pathways seem to go off in all directions) to see the food stands offering their exotic wares. They seem to deep fry everything. You see people lined up for “deep fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches” and even “deep fried Pepsi,” which seems impossible but somehow they do it.

You’ve got to have cotton candy even though it made you sick the last time you tried it.

And of course they have cotton candy. You’ve got to have that, even though it made you sick the last time you tried it. It’s really just spun sugar-how do you spin sugar anyway?-it doesn’t matter, that’s a question for another day. So you and the kids splurge on cotton candy-great big mounds of billowing pink strands that dissolve in your mouth. It always looks like more than it really is.

The evening passes quickly. By 11 PM it’s time to go home. You’re tired, your head hurts, you didn’t win any big prizes, you spent all your money, and you even went back to the ATM machine twice. Your children are cranky and ready for bed.

Come to think of it, you don’t see as many smiles at the end of the end of the evening as you saw at the beginning.

That’s life on the midway.

The Tent You Didn’t See

As you get ready to leave, you pass by one booth you didn’t notice earlier. It’s not a game or a ride or a place to buy food. It’s a religious tent of some kind. Over the entrance the sign reads “Ye Must Be Born Again.” Standing near the entrance a rotund middle-aged man calls you to come in. “Don’t leave without visiting the gospel tent.” It’s not very flashy. There are no lights, no games, nothing to attract you. The man himself isn’t wearing a carny uniform. He’s dressed in a white shirt, skinny black tie, and in his right hand he holds a big black King James Bible. “Mister, do you know for certain that you’re going to heaven?” he asks as you pass by. Pausing for only a second, you notice that no one seems to be entering the tent. As you walk on past, you hear him calling out to the passers-by, “Repent and believe in Jesus.” When you are a safe distance away, you turn back to watch the man. Hundreds of people walk right by. Now and then someone stops for a moment. There! Someone just went into the tent. Two guys in their twenties shout something at the man and then walk away laughing. After watching for a while, you conclude that very few people pay him any attention.

“Mister, do you know for certain that you’re going to heaven?”

Whatever he’s offering inside the tent can’t compete with the excitement of the midway. And even when someone seems interested, his friends pull him away. “Forget that guy. He’s just some religious nut.”

So you leave the county fair with its enormous midway that goes on forever. You wonder briefly about the man in the white shirt, skinny black tie and the big King James Bible he holds in his hand. Then you think about how much fun the kids had (and how much it cost you), and you move on.

That, too, is life on the midway.

Storm of the Century

Our little fable is almost at an end. There is really only one more part of the story. That night a massive storm hits the area, catching everyone by surprise. Somehow the weather forecasters missed it entirely. What they called a “slight chance of rain” turned into the storm of the century. Somewhere high up in the atmosphere mighty wind currents came together to produce a storm of apocalyptic proportions. It destroyed everything in its path.

Houses gone.
Buildings destroyed.
Cars upended.
Bridges collapsed.
Power lines snapped.
Roads washed out.

The next morning all the familiar signs of civilization seem to be gone. The world you knew, the world that once was is no more.

Gone.
Destroyed.
Wiped out.

The world you knew, the world that once was is no more. 

And what is left of the midway that afforded such pleasure to so many people? All the lights are broken, the rides demolished, the games upended, the food stalls blown to bits. Nothing has been left standing. What had been a place of light and sound and action is now a wasteland.

A million dollars couldn’t buy a single strand of cotton candy.

What happened?
How could this be?
Who did this?
And why?

As your eyes strain to take it all in, you hear a strange sound in the distance.

Singing.
Someone is singing.

A million dollars couldn’t buy a single strand of cotton candy.

The Tent Still Stands

Making your way through the wreckage, stepping carefully to avoid the broken milk bottles and the soiled remnants of a teddy bear, you make your way toward the singing. As you get closer, you realize it sounds like religious music.

“Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing flood?
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?”

Then comes the greatest shock.

Wonder of wonders, in the midst of the desolation, the gospel tent still stands. Alone among all everything on the midway, the gospel tent still stands. It’s as if the storm never touched it at all.

Soon you spot the man in the white shirt with the skinny black tie and the big King James Bible. He’s where he was the night before, standing out front, still inviting people to come in. Out of curiosity you stick your head inside the tent and see his family, at least you think it’s his family, his wife and maybe four or five kids plus a few others. Someone smiles and offers you a hymnbook. You look at it and realize that you don’t recognize any of the songs.

The gospel tent still stands.

“Are your garments spotless, are they white as snow,
Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?”

Nothing seems to make sense. What happened to the midway? What sort of storm destroys everything but the gospel tent? Whose idea was this?

Before you can ask any questions, the man points to a door at the rear of the tiny gospel tent. Above it you read these words, “I am the door; if anyone enters by Me, he will be saved” (John 10:9). At first you do nothing because the whole scene is overwhelming.

Last night so much merriment.
Today so much destruction.

Only the gospel tent still stands.
And that strange song.

Who Are These People?

After a few seconds you decide you have to see for yourself. Going to the back to the tent, you carefully turn the handle, not knowing what to expect.

Nothing has prepared you for the sight.
Nothing you’ve seen or heard-ever-has prepared you for this moment.

It is as if you are looking at another world. As far as the eye can see, there are vast multitudes of people dressed in white robes, holding palm branches in their hands. They gather round a distant throne, and in one mighty chorus they sing, and the sound rolls over you and seems to envelop you and carry you along with it:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
 to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
 and honor and glory and praise!" 

They are singing and laughing and cheering and weeping and rejoicing. Who are these people? Where did they come from?

As far as the eye can see, there are vast multitudes of people dressed in white robes, holding palm branches in their hands.

You didn’t see any of them on the midway last night.

Hope You Enjoyed That Cotton Candy

Slowly the truth dawns on you. They all entered through the gospel tent. Maybe they came before you got there. Maybe you weren’t paying attention. Maybe it happened while you were trying to toss the rings over the milk bottles. Maybe they entered while you were riding “The Bullet.” Maybe they came in while you and the kids ate the cotton candy.

But somehow you missed it. They came in and entered through the door that led to paradise.
And the midway you loved so much, it’s gone forever. Totally destroyed. 

Hope you enjoyed that cotton candy.
‘Cause you missed paradise for it.

My little fable has come to an end. I think I should explain it (though the meaning is clear).

Hope you enjoyed that cotton candy. ‘Cause you missed paradise for it. 

The midway is the world that beckons us with bright lights, vast crowds, loud music, nonstop action, and a thousand ways to spend your money. You can spend it all on cotton candy that looks hefty but really is light as a feather and can never satisfy your hunger.

The midway is the broad avenue that leads to destruction. But it sure is fun while it lasts.

And the gospel tent? That’s the narrow way. Maybe you don’t like the image of the rotund man with the white shirt, skinny tie and big King James Bible. And that “Ye Must Be Born Again” sign is way too confrontational. Maybe you prefer a hipper approach. But it’s not about getting style points from the world. No matter how you dress or what music you use, the man in a white shirt and skinny tie with a King James Bible in his hand, he’s all the world can see. Anyone who preaches in front of the gospel tent will forever be out of style. He’d better have courage and faith and an indomitable spirit because behind him is the door that leads to eternal life.

Anyone who preaches in front of the gospel tent will forever be out of style. 

If you’d like to enter through that door, you can. It’s not that hard to do. The door can be hard to find sometimes, but once you find it, you enter it by putting your trust in Jesus Christ. He is the door! Let me give you a simple prayer to pray. Remember that prayer alone won’t get you through the door. Christ is the door and he is the only way to eternal life. But prayer can lead you through that door if the prayer is prayed with true faith.  You could pray like this:

Dear Lord Jesus, for too long I’ve kept you out of my life.  For too long I’ve tried to go my own way. I confess that I am a sinner. I know that you are the door that leads to heaven. I believe that you are the Son of God from heaven. I believe your words are true. I believe you died on the cross for me and rose from the dead on the third day. By faith I gratefully receive your gift of salvation. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, and be my Savior. Amen.

I hope you’ll say that prayer out loud and make it your own personal commitment.

My little fable, imperfect as it is, helps explain why there can be a broad way that leads to destruction and a narrow gate that few find, and at the same time there can be multitudes in heaven.

The midway is all around us. We live in it every day.

Hardly anyone notices that guy with the white shirt and the skinny black tie and the big King James Bible. The lights and sounds and the music of the midway almost drown him out.

But those who enter the gospel tent one by one by one, they are the ones who end up singing and laughing forever.

2009-05-28-The-Midway

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Ray Pritchard

RAY PRITCHARD

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