Sermon on the Mount #3 – “Building on a Solid”
Reading: Matthew 7:1-14,24-29
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
In the last of our Sermon on the Mount Series, Jesus continues to build an ethical framework and encourages us to not only hear his words but to also put them into practice. Even though this teaching is 2000 years old, Matthew chapter 7 is relevant for us today with teaching on judging others, not being deceived by fake news and recognising the graciousness and faithfulness of God.
Handouts and Extra Material.
- Living the Word – Context and Connections
- Kids Stuff Activity Sheet
Bible Study Material
- Living the Word (Bible Study)
- Life Mosaic (Week 11)
Imagine that the United Nations called an extraordinary meeting of all countries and declared that the world is falling apart and something needs to happen. And so, all countries come together and amazingly come up with a solution … a declaration, list of instructions or an ethical framework that if all people followed would save the world from destruction; everyone would have access to the necessities of life; and we would all live together in peace. Every country sees the wisdom in this, they all agree that this will work and every leader signs up their country to be part of it.
If this really happened – do you think that the world would be transformed? No? Why not? Because it is not the words on paper that makes the difference, it is only when we put them into practice that things will change. (And beside, the UN basically did this with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948)
For the past three weeks we have been looking at this Ethical Framework that Jesus has given us in the sermon on the mount … and Jesus at the end of it basically makes the same point. These words are great, they are transformative, but the are nothing unless you put them into practice.
Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise person who built their house on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish person who built their house on sand.
We need to not only hear and understand the words of Jesus, we need to do them.
We spoke about this in week #1 of the series. We have to do more than understand what this ethical teaching says, we need to put them into practice. The fruit doesn’t come from getting the correct answer in a Bible Study, the fruit comes from people seeing it reflected in the way that we live. How do we make God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven? It is not through creating an ethical framework, it is through doing.
So let’s step through the last part of this SotM Ethical Framework and see what Jesus is saying in chapter 7 and as we do that ponder what it means to live it out.
One of the sermons that I was listening to this week suggested that as we move into Matthew 7, it is like Jesus switches into Twitter mode – that in the first 14 verses Jesus covers 8 different ideas … each in 140 characters more or less … covering judging, hypocrisy, discernment, asking, the graciousness of God, the golden rule and gates. There is so much packed in here for us to explore. Do you want me to go through them all or just to pick out a few?
Judgement & Hypocrisy (v1-5)
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
So, in general, would you say that people being judgemental is a problem in our society? In the church? In your life? How do we take Jesus at his word then when he says “Do not judge”.
Here is another quote I found this week. “Some Christians seem to feel they are on ‘permanent jury duty’ as they go thru life.” That somehow because we have been given an ethical framework to live by that gives us the right to judge everyone else. And if we are honest, sometimes we enjoy being critical of others, finding faults in others, it makes us feel good.
The western conservative church has a real problem with this verses because over the year, judging others has become a key part of who they are. And they tie themselves in knots trying to get around these verses – like one preacher who in his sermon I read explained that as long as we ask God for forgiveness first (take the plank out of our eye) then it is fine to judge others.
But Jesus says that we need to hear these words “do not judge or you too will be judged” and put them into practice. It is very challenging.
Discernment / Sacredness (v6)
“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
Or what about verse 6 – what does Jesus mean here? (And to be clear, the dogs reference is not a derogatory reference to gentiles but literally is referring to the animal).
One idea is that Jesus is talking about discernment. Dogs and pigs eat anything. They don’t discern between what is good or not, what is special or not … they just eat. So, maybe Jesus is encouraging us to be good stewards on our time and resources that is sacred.
It could be linked in with the ideas in verse 20 (which we didn’t read) about good and false prophets and that by their fruit you will recognize them. If we are going to invest into something or someone – should we discern where that investment might produce fruit … or that might be helpful or simply will make a difference.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
The next section is one of the most well-known verses from Matthew … that has a simple but profound message. Ask God and it will be given to you because God is good.
One commentator linked it with the story of Zelophehad’s Daughters from Numbers 27:1-11. We all know this story from the Old Testament, don’t we? No? Zelophehad had five daughters but under the laws of the day, when he died they were cut out of the inheritance. They went to Moses seeking justice and asked if this was fair and if anything could be done. Moses then prays to God who says in Numbers 27:5-6,
“What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and give their father’s inheritance to them.”
And the law was actually changed from that day so that daughters would be included (if there is no son). It only changed because Zelophehad’s daughters asked. It wouldn’t have changed if they didn’t ask.
Another interesting insight is that in the Jewish tradition “Ask,” “seek,” and “knock” are all three expressions for prayer, not different actions. These verses encourage us to see that God is ready and willing to engage relationally in prayer with us. Ask and you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened. If we engage in prayer – it is an absolute certainty that God as a loving and expecting parent will as well.
The Golden Rule (v12)
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets
Remember how if the first week I was showing how Jesus was making links with the current teaching of the time – “you have heard it say this … but now I say”? Well when it comes to the Golden Rule, Jesus is once again referring to current teaching, but just leaves it as it is. The Golden Rule was already around for centuries before Jesus – both in Judaism and in other religions and cultures as well … and here Jesus affirms that this current teaching fits into his ethical framework as well.
Just on the side, did you know that you can find this golden rule in the sacred texts of the main world religions – Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Islam and even with secular ethical frameworks. There is a lot of things which people disagree on but it seems that when it comes to treating other people, the one thing we have in common is this idea that we need to do to others and we would want them to do to us.
The challenge is, once again, how do we put that into practice!
Narrow and Wide Gates (v13-14)
“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.
I get how Jesus is highlighting that following him is a choice … we are not forced to be part of God’s Kingdom, we get to decide whether we walk through the gate or not BUT here is an interesting question … why is the correct gate narrow and the incorrect gate wide? You would think that God being the gracious, loving God who desires all people to come home, you would think that the gate would be as wide as possible?
Were these gates designed and “built” this way for a purpose – that God (on some level) designed it difficult to be a disciple, that the plan was that only a few “find life”?
Or is Jesus being more descriptive of the way things are? That God’s will is for all people to be part of the king but the reality is that following Jesus is just difficult. And that the gates reflect the percentages of people who are able to “put these things into practice”
Phew. I told you there was a lot in these verses, and I have run out of time to talk about good and false prophets and good and false disciples. But I will just pick up on one verse from that section. Matthew 7:21-23… Jesus said…
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
Jesus is talking about people who will be part of the kingdom of heaven and we have just been saying that a follower of Jesus is one who puts this ethical framework into practices … who does what Jesus is saying.
But in these verses we have someone who has been doing things, prophesying, driving out demons, preforming miracles … but Jesus says that they are not part of the kingdom.
This verse used to scare me when I was younger (partly because I had this fear that depending on my actions I could slip out of the kingdom of God, then get hit by a bus and end up in hell). I used to hold onto verses such as 1 Corinthians 12:3 that says that no-one can saying “Jesus is Lord” except by the Holy Spirit and since I could say that Jesus is my Lord, I was ok. But here Jesus is saying that not everyone who calls him Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom!
What is going on here!!! How can I ever have any assurance that I am part of God’s kingdom???
I remember talking to this kindly older Christian lady at … I think it was a dinner at Synod … and expressed my confusion on this and my fear that I could never know if Jesus was ok with me or not and she said, “read out the last sentence for me again”. Away from me, you evildoers!
“No the bit before that”.
Then Jesus will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.”
“Do you know Jesus”, she asked me. “Yes”
“Does Jesus know you” “I hope so”
“But you have a relationship with Jesus. You talk in prayer. You serve side by side doing God’s work.” Yes.
Would Jesus ever say to you that he doesn’t know you. No.
Even when you muck things up and not live up to the high standards that God set, would Jesus say that he doesn’t know you. No.
“Then” she said, “you are not the people that Jesus is talking about” (and she added that it is not that easy to slip out of the kingdom of God).
I can’t remember her name but I really did find what she said helpful. That being part of the kingdom is about knowing Jesus and being known by Jesus.
Yes, Jesus with his sermon on the Mount gives his followers an ethical framework to follow … but being part of the kingdom is primarily about relationship. About building our lives on the solid foundation of a relationship with Jesus.
So how is your foundation going?
How are you in your relationship with Jesus?
Let us continue to commit to building our lives on that foundation of our relationship with Jesus as we daily take up the challenge to live out these transformation words of the Sermon on the Mount. Then people of the kingdom, Let’s not only hear these words but put them into practice.