Congratulations! If you are reading this you have completed one week in the book of Matthew! I’m really excited as we read today about judging, asking, seeking, knocking, the narrow and wide gates, a tree and its fruit and the wise and foolish builders. I’m lifting you in prayer.
JESUS TEACHES ABOUT CRITICIZING OTHERS / 7:1-6
7:1-2 “Judge not, that you be not judged.”NKJV The word “judge” (Greek, krino) can mean evaluate or analyze. It also refers to private, judgmental attitudes that tear down others in order to build up oneself. The command “judge not” does not refer to judging in a court of law, nor is it a blanket statement against critical thinking. Believers should be discerning and make certain judgments. For example, Jesus said to expose false teachers (7:15-23) and to admonish others in order to help them (18:15). Paul taught that we should exercise church discipline (1 Corinthians 5:1-5).
|But followers of Christ should not be critical or condemning in their attitudes toward others. A judgmental, critical spirit differs radically from love.||They have a right to censure that have a heart to help.
Believers’ special position with Christ does not give them license to take God’s place as judge. Those who judge in that manner will find themselves judged likewise by God. As God will have mercy on the merciful (5:7) and forgive those who forgive (6:14-15), he will condemn those who condemn: “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”NIV The way Jesus’ followers treat others is the way God will treat them. The religious leaders taught that God judged the world by two “measures”—mercy and justice. Each person receives what he or she measures out, either with mercy or with severity.
“Judge not, that you be not judged” may be the most-often-misquoted text from the Bible. People frequently apply it as if it were a flat command against all moral judgment. In fact, people use it to judge what they consider a judgmental attitude on the part of another. Jesus, however, gave these words as one negative application of the Golden Rule. That is, we should not treat others as we do not want to be treated. We should seek to measure ourselves and others by the same standards.
Jesus declared as unacceptable excusing personal sin while holding others accountable for similar behavior. When you perceive a fault in others, your first impulse may be to confront or reject that person. But ask yourself first if your awareness of the failure mirrors your own life. Your effort to help will be in vain if the person can point out the same fault in you. Practice your own remedy before you ask others to do it.
|LIFE APPLICATION – CRITIC’S CORNER|
|Jesus tells us to examine our motives and conduct instead of judging others. The traits that bother us in others are often the habits we dislike in ourselves. Our untamed bad habits and behaviors are the very ones that we most want to change in others. Do you find it easy to magnify others’ faults while excusing your own? If you are ready to criticize someone, check to see if you deserve the same criticism. Judge yourself first, and then lovingly forgive and help your neighbor.|
7:3-5 “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?”NRSV The word “speck” is also translated “splinter”; “log” is also translated “plank” or “beam.” Many have taken this metaphor to mean that Christians should never correct anyone—one’s personal sins before God are too great to even consider dealing with others’ sins. However, Jesus’ point was that while we all have sin in our lives (some as small as a speck; some as large as a log), we are responsible to both deal with our own sin and then help others. “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”NRSV Jesus revealed incredible understanding of human nature. How easy it is for us to overlook our own sins yet easily spot sin in others. How true that the sin we most clearly see in others is also present in us. Believers should first deal with their own sins, but they also must correct and guide erring brothers and sisters. James wrote, “My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20 nrsv).
It would be ludicrous and hypocritical, however, for a believer to attempt to help a brother or sister with a “speck” while carrying around a “log.” That believer would be guilty of criticizing another without personally applying the same critical standards. While the person with the “speck” may certainly need help, that help must come from one who can see clearly to take out that speck. Paul wrote to the Galatians, “My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted” (Galatians 6:1 nrsv). Only those who are spiritually mature can discern when and how to confront sin in others.
|LIFE APPLICATION – IN-SPECK-TION|
|As Jesus described the person with a log in his eye trying to assist someone dislodge a painful speck, did his audience notice the twinkle in Jesus’ eyes? The humor gets inside our defenses before we realize Jesus has given us a valuable insight. As we visualize the ridiculous caricature of someone with a log lodged in his eye, we may overlook the identity of those with the problem—us.|
|Jesus, however, didn’t point out our sinfulness so we would simply let each other off more easily. He made it clear that a problem noticed usually requires more than one person’s response. Both speck and log must be removed. The person with the speck-sized problem may actually be in a better position to help remove the log than the other way around. This means that when you notice a problem in someone else’s life, you may have to ask that person to help you with the same problem in your own. A problem in common can be an excellent starting point for accountability.|
7:6 “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 then turn and tear you to pieces.”NIV While believers were not to judge others (7:1-5), Jesus warned against a complete lack of discernment about people’s attitudes toward the gospel. The dogs to which he was referring were not household pets, but wild, scavenger dogs. According to Old Testament law (Leviticus 11:7; Deuteronomy 14:8), pigs were “unclean” animals, meaning that Jews were not to eat or even touch them. Anyone who touched an unclean animal would become “ceremonially unclean” and could not go to the temple to worship until he or she had the uncleanness removed.
Because the Jews sometimes used the word “dogs” to refer to Gentiles, some have taken this to be a directive against evangelizing Gentiles. But that theory does not stand up against the rest of Matthew’s teaching and, indeed, against the later actions of the apostles. So who are these “dogs” and “pigs”? They are unholy or “unclean” people who, when presented with the gospel, treat it with scorn and contempt. “What is sacred” refers to the special, consecrated food that only the priests and their families ate (Exodus 29:33-34; Leviticus 22:10-16; Numbers 18:8-19). It would be unthinkable to give this sacred food to scavenger dogs. In the same way, it would also be futile to give pearls to pigs. “What is sacred” and “pearls” picture the teaching of the gospel of the kingdom (see 13:45-46 where the kingdom of heaven is compared to a pearl of great value). Jesus explained the futility of teaching the gospel to people who do not want to listen; such people will only tear apart what we say. Pigs do not realize the value of pearls; all they know is that they cannot eat them, so they spit them out and then trample them into the mud. Contemptuous, evil people cannot grasp the value of the gospel, so they scornfully cast it away. We should not stop giving God’s Word to unbelievers, but we should be wise and discerning so as not to bring scorn to God’s message.
|LIFE APPLICATION- WHEN IS EVANGELISM WRONG?|
|Is evangelism ever inappropriate? Sometimes our witnessing requires discretion. There are times and places when witnessing can be rude and offensive. As a result, the gospel will be ridiculed.|
|When you witness, there will always be resistance to the message. Don’t be put off. Resistance is normal. But when your witness provokes anger, slander, or ridicule, consider another time and place. All people need to hear the gospel, but effective witnessing occurs in appropriate settings.|
JESUS TEACHES ABOUT ASKING, SEEKING, KNOCKING / 7:7-12
7:7-8 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”NKJV Beginning in chapter 5, the Sermon on the Mount has thus far explained to Jesus’ followers the lifestyle and life attitudes that he expected from them. Some may have heard and thought the demands to be impossible. Here Jesus gave the answer to those thoughts and questions—ask, seek, knock. The ability to live for God is only a prayer away. The verbs are in the present tense, indicating continuous activity. Jesus’ followers can keep on asking, keep on seeking, and keep on knocking, indicating the importance of persistent, consistent prayer in their lives. Only through prayer can believers stay in contact with God, know what he wants them to do, and then have the strength to do God’s will in all areas of life. God will answer believers who persistently ask, seek, and knock. Jesus promised, “For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”NRSV God had told the prophet Jeremiah, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13 niv). The three words (ask, seek, knock) combine to emphasize the truth that those who bring their needs to God can trust that they will be satisfied. All three are metaphors for praying. Sometimes God does not answer our prayers immediately; sometimes we must keep on knocking, awaiting God’s answer. However, if we continue to trust God through prayer, Jesus promised that we will receive, find, and have an open door.
Believers, however, must not take Jesus’ words as a blank check; prayer is not a magical way to obtain whatever we want. Jesus had already explained some conditions on this promise: His followers were to show mercy and forgiveness to others (5:7; 6:12), avoid praying in order to get attention (6:5-6), and be willing to persevere in prayer. Our requests must be in harmony with God’s will (“your will be done,” 6:10), accepting his will above our desires.
|LIFE APPLICATION – KEEP KNOCKING|
|Jesus tells us to persist in pursuing God. People often give up after a few halfhearted efforts and conclude that they cannot find God. Knowing God takes faith, focus, and follow-through, and Jesus assures us that we will be rewarded. Don’t give up in your efforts to seek God, even when the doors seem closed. Continue to ask him for more knowledge, patience, wisdom, love, and understanding. He will give them to you.|
7:9-11 “Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”NRSV Jesus explained that his followers can depend on God to answer their prayers (7:7-8) by arguing “from the lesser to the greater.” In other words, if human beings who are evil would not think of giving a child a stone that looked like a piece of bread or a dangerous snake instead of a fish, then how much more will a holy God acknowledge and answer our requests? The phrase “you then, who are evil” refers to our human condition in comparison to a holy God. In these words, Jesus revealed the heart of God the Father. God is not selfish, begrudging, or stingy; his followers don’t have to beg or grovel when they come with their requests. He is a loving Father who understands, cares, comforts, and willingly gives good things to those who ask him. “Good things” could refer to the Holy Spirit but does not exclude material provision. If humans can be kind, imagine how kind God can be. He created kindness!
|LIFE APPLICATION- SOMETHING BETTER|
|How often do people use their God-given sense of justice to question God’s fairness without seeing the contradiction? Those who demand that God be accountable for his actions are, in the words of the first verse in this chapter, measuring with a standard they really would not want used on themselves. Don’t you expect a loving parent to act lovingly? In spite of notorious failures, don’t you still count on parents to behave decently? Why, when it comes to the heavenly Father, are you so ready to question his concern?|
|Jesus gave a delightful dignity to good parents in his description. He didn’t portray them as giving their children whatever they asked. Good parents give good gifts, but they are not hostages to their children’s wishes. Neither is God. We can ask God for anything. We ought to remember, however, that our heavenly Father may well have something even better in mind. How much trust do you demonstrate by the way you pray?|
7:12 “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”NIV This is commonly known as the Golden Rule. Many religions teach a negative version of this statement. Confucius said, “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.” The well-known Rabbi Hillel, when challenged to teach the entire Law while standing on one foot, said, “Whatever angers you when you suffer it at the hands of others, do not do it to others, this is the whole law.” By stating this positively, Jesus made the statement even more significant. It may be easy to refrain from harming others, but it is much more difficult to take the initiative in doing something good for them. A person may be able to keep the negative form of the law by avoiding sin, but to keep the positive form requires action. This is the key to the radical discipleship that Jesus wants. The Golden Rule is the foundation of active goodness and mercy—the kind of love God shows to us every day. The word “so” links Jesus’ words “do to others what you would have them do to you” with the teachings presented thus far in the Sermon on the Mount (beginning at 5:1). Not only does this rule describe briefly the behavior expected of Jesus’ followers, it also sums up the Law and the Prophets, as Rabbi Hillel said. When we follow the Golden Rule, we keep the rest of God’s commands.
JESUS TEACHES ABOUT THE WAY TO HEAVEN / 7:13-14
In the closing verses of the Sermon on the Mount, four different contrasts represent four warnings that focus on future final judgment. There are two ways (7:13-14), two types of trees (7:15-20), two kinds of followers (7:21-23), and two ways to build (7:24-27). Jesus was still speaking about the kingdom of heaven, describing clearly that some will enter it and some will not. The basis for a person’s final destination begins with that person’s decisions about Jesus himself.
7:13-14 “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.”NRSV People are presented with two ways, represented by two gates—one gate is narrow, the other is wide. This was a Jewish teaching (see, for example, Deuteronomy 30:19; Psalm 1:1-2; Jeremiah 21:8). Jesus commanded his followers to enter through the narrow gate. This “narrow gate” refers to a confined space with little room. One needs careful directions to find the “one way” to get through the gate. The hard road refers to the road of discipleship often filled with persecution and opposition. However, this hard road alone leads to life—eternal life. (See also Luke 13:24.)
Through the wide gate, however, the road is easy. This gate is easy to find; the path is easy to follow. There is plenty of room for many people to wander in and continue in whatever direction they wish. This road leads to destruction—to hell itself.
We don’t know whether the “gate” is at the beginning of the way, opening onto a road that leads to a certain destination, or whether people follow certain roads that ultimately lead to one of two gates. Passing through that final gate, people then receive life or destruction. The Sermon on the Mount’s stress on the kingdom makes the latter (the gate at the end of the road) more natural. The “gate” refers to the final judgment.
This gate leading to life is narrow not because it is difficult to become a Christian but because there is only one way and only a few decide to walk that road. Believing in Jesus is the only way to eternal life because he alone died for our sins and made us right before God. The road is hard because true discipleship calls for sacrifice and servanthood. Following the crowd along life’s easy path results in destruction. Choosing the narrow way of difficulty and sacrifice ultimately leads to eternal life.
Sometimes Christians receive harsh treatment from people who don’t understand or are plainly hostile. Sometimes Christians give up a lot in order to follow Christ. Sometimes Christians are called to endure terrible pain, even death. But through it all we have God’s promise: Jesus is with us, hour by hour, hand in hand. That is the secret of a Christian’s strength.
|LIFE APPLICATION – TWO GATES|
|One of Jesus’ self-descriptions was of a gate: “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved” (John 10:9 niv). In Jesus’ invitation to enter the narrow gate, he described two lives. Each life has a “gate” consistent with its “way.” People take the wide gateway, but they find the narrow gateway. The wide gateway that leads to destruction defines the normal human experience, except for the few who find and enter the narrow gateway. Jesus’ invitation to enter confronts the disciples with the gate itself. They have found the gate; he is standing before them. They can enter by trusting him completely.|
|The invitation still stands. Those who recognize that they have entered the wide gateway that leads to destruction may still enter the way to life through Jesus Christ. Which gateway represents your life right now?|
JESUS TEACHES ABOUT FRUIT IN PEOPLE’S LIVES / 7:15-20
Jesus warned against false teachers. Many powerful speakers claim to have important ideas for Christians to hear. These speakers range from political reactionaries to extreme environmentalists. There are literally hundreds of cults vying to recruit new members. Add to the list those who present special angles on church doctrine coming from big and small denominations—there’s a dazzling array of choices. How do we separate the good (teaching that leads to Christ), the bad (off-center but benign ideas tacked on to the gospel), and the ugly (false teaching)?
It’s a complicated problem, but the following safeguards will help along the way:
Use condemnation sparingly. An off-center idea may be way out but is not necessarily heresy. A sincere but misguided teacher may not be a “false” teacher. None of us understands God perfectly, so we must be generous and helpful long before we condemn and cast out.
Pay attention to the teacher’s ethical and moral behavior. The Bible stresses that false teachers will have immorality in their lives. Watch how they treat people and money. Do their lives contain or condone immoral practices? Is money the teacher’s or group’s prime motivation? Is the leader offended when you ask for the scriptural backing behind his or her statements? Don’t excuse or cover up bad behavior.
Choose your church carefully. Is the living Christ at the center of your church’s ministry? Do leaders pray? Is the Bible honored and taught? Is God at work there? “False” churches may be very busy, but their teaching reveals the void when Christ and the Bible are pushed to the side. If that is the case, go somewhere else.
7:15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.”NIV The Old Testament frequently mentions false prophets (see 2 Kings 3:13; Isaiah 44:25; Jeremiah 23:16; Ezekiel 13:2-3; Micah 3:5; Zechariah 13:2). False prophets claimed to receive messages from God, but they prophesied only what the king and the people wanted to hear. False teachers are just as common today.
|Jesus says to watch out for those whose words sound religious but who are motivated by money, fame, or power. These false prophets will come in among the believers like wolves covered in sheep pelts, pretending to be sheep, hoping to go unnoticed as they do their damage. But Jesus described these people as ferocious wolves. Just as the false prophets arose from God’s people, Israel, so false prophets and false teachers would later come out from among the believers and from the church. Jesus warned his followers that false prophets would come (see also 24:11; Mark 13:22-23). Very shortly, these words began to||We must not be dazzled by a person’s outward clothing—his charm, learning, doctorates and ecclesiastical honours. We must not be so naive as to suppose that because he is a Ph.D. or a D.D. or a professor or a bishop he must be a true and orthodox ambassador of Christ. We must look beneath the appearance to the reality. What lives under the fleece: a sheep or a wolf?
John R. W. Stott
come true. False teachers infiltrated the early churches just as the gospel message was spreading (see Acts 20:29; 2 Corinthians 11:11-15; 2 Timothy 2:14-19; 2 Peter 2:1-3, 17-22; 1 John 2:18, 22; 4:1-6). While Jesus did not elaborate on the form of their false teaching, it follows from the context that they would teach a way of salvation that did not include a narrow gate and a hard road (7:13-14). Indeed, many of the false teachers about whom Peter, John, and Paul later warned were teaching such a message.
Jesus’ followers would need the ability to discern true sheep from wolves in sheep’s clothing. How could they do this? Jesus explained how in the following verses.
|LIFE APPLICATION – WOLVES|
|By comparing false teachers to wolves, Jesus exposed a type of deadly spiritual predator. These “teachers” practice hit-and-run tactics among Christians. They appear to be spiritual, but their motive turns out to be greed. They often leave the scene of their attack before the damage becomes apparent. How can we guard against “wolves in sheep’s clothing”? We can use the images that Jesus employed on this occasion to establish one important guideline: Newcomers shouldn’t be teachers. Christians don’t need to be suspicious; just wisely cautious. When we insist that a new teacher first demonstrate integrity and maturity, we create an atmosphere resistant to attacks. A newcomer isn’t proven. Time will allow other believers to examine the quality of this person’s life. What guidelines are in place in your church to encourage good teaching but guard against “wolves”?|
7:16-18 “You will know them by their fruits.”NRSV “Fruit” is a Jewish metaphor for both character and conduct. Jesus’ followers would be able to discern false prophets by looking at their lives and conduct. In the Old Testament there were tests for a true prophet. The law found in Deuteronomy 13:1-5 required a prophet to be put to death if he promoted rebellion against God. Deuteronomy 18:14-22 taught the Jews to reject a prophet who contradicted previous revelations from God or whose message failed to come true. Jesus may have included the Pharisees among the false teachers because they trusted God’s truth to satisfy their own interests. But his warning was against false prophets of any kind.
When the apostles later wrote letters warning about false teachers, they often pointed out their evil actions. Peter would later write, “There will be false teachers among you. . . . Many will follow their shameful ways. . . . Bold and arrogant, these men are not afraid to slander celestial beings. . . . These men blaspheme. . . . Their idea of pleasure is to carouse in broad daylight. . . . With eyes full of adultery, they never stop sinning” (2 Peter 2:1, 2, 10, 12, 13, 14 niv). The evil character and conduct of these false teachers would reveal that they were no more than wolves in sheep’s clothing. No matter what a person claims to be, his or her true character will eventually reveal itself.
“Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?”NRSV Jesus’ question begins with the Greek word meti, which expects a negative answer: “People don’t gather grapes from thorns or figs from thistles, do they?” Grapes and figs were two of the main agricultural products of Israel; no one would misunderstand Jesus’ meaning. A person knows a tree by its fruit: “In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.”NRSV Fruit is good or bad depending on the health of the tree. Healthy trees bear good fruit, and unhealthy trees bear bad fruit. It cannot be any other way. (The positive and negative repetition of this teaching in these verses was a common Jewish teaching method.) Jesus’ followers would be able to discern false teachers because in their teaching they minimize Christ and glorify themselves. Their fruit would be bad, revealing a bad character. False prophets would not speak the truth; God’s true prophets would not speak falsely.
Claims are easier to make or fake than results. Even Jesus’ claims would have been ludicrous or insane if he hadn’t backed them up with results. He understood the relationship between claim and proof. And he pointed out that the principle applies universally: You can tell a lot about a tree from its fruit! Jesus warned that prophets and teachers are like trees: Examine them and their “fruit” closely. Bad characters frequently attempt to pass as believers. But no matter how well a false prophet might cover his tracks for a while, eventually his “fruit” would make him known.
7:19 “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”NKJV This picture of the final judgment of false prophets repeats a similar statement made by John the Baptist: “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire” (3:10 nrsv). A person’s mere profession of faith will be meaningless at the final judgment. Any who claim his name but do not bear good fruit will be like worthless trees, cut down and thrown into the fire. In fact, some will have professed faith, only to face judgment in the end (as explained in the following verses, 7:21-23).
7:20 “Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”NIV Repeating from 7:16 the method of discerning false prophets, Jesus explained that his followers should evaluate teachers’ words by examining their lives. Just as trees are consistent in the kind of fruit they produce, good teachers consistently exhibit good behavior and high moral character as they attempt to live out the truths of Scripture. This does not mean we should throw out church school teachers, pastors, and others who are less than perfect. Every one of us is subject to sin, and we must show the same mercy to others that we need for ourselves. When Jesus spoke about bad trees, he meant teachers who deliberately teach false doctrine. We must examine the teachers’ motives, the direction they are taking, and the results they are seeking. Those who should not be teaching will be recognizable by their fruit.
Jesus never avoided the subject of judgment. He even based his earlier teaching against judgmentalism (7:1-2) on the inevitable final judgment. Jesus drove his teaching home with the warning that a failure to apply his words would expose his hearers to judgment (7:24-27). The standards of the kingdom overwhelm us! Having heard, we can no longer use ignorance as an excuse.
Obedience begins when we acknowledge Jesus as Lord. We don’t earn his acceptance by our success in obeying him, but we grow in our obedience as we recognize his gracious, saving love toward us. In this sense, the Sermon of the Mount functions as the law did in the Old Testament—it leads us to Christ. We haven’t heard the teaching of Jesus if we simply admire him or even give some effort to obeying his commands. Half measures pave the way to judgment. His teaching drives us to submit to him even as we seek to obey. Have you met the Guide, Shepherd, and Lord through his Sermon on the Mount?
|LIFE APPLICATION – DISCERNMENT|
|Discerning truth from error, wisdom from falsehood, and right from wrong takes lots of time and maturity, yet we are called to make such judgments daily. Here’s a plan:|
|l Avoid firm opinions made alone. It is better to run your ideas through a group of intelligent, trustworthy Christian friends and mentors. Friends keep us from crackpot ideas and guide our maturing mind and heart.|
|l Never form a life commitment without reference to the Bible, God’s Word. The Bible is silent on lots of subjects (calculus, computer programming, brain surgery, etc.), but it speaks clearly on God’s purpose for your life. Consult it daily.|
|l Be generous in your judgments, but don’t compromise with evil. Some fussy Christians today still think beards are a sign of degradation. Many other dos and don’ts trivialize spiritual development. Give your brother and sister in Christ a break. But don’t give evil a wedge in your heart.|
JESUS TEACHES ABOUT THOSE WHO BUILD HOUSES ON ROCK AND SAND / 7:21-29
7:21 “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 in heaven.”NRSV The two phrases (that Jesus called himself Lord and referred to God as my Father in heaven) thinly veiled his claim to be the Messiah. While the word “Lord” could also be translated “rabbi” or “teacher,” Jesus knew who he was and revealed his part in the coming final judgment in these words. Because people’s “fruit” reveal who they really are (7:20), then it follows that simply calling Jesus “Lord” is not enough. It is not wrong to call Jesus “Lord”—Jesus was distinguishing between lip service and real discipleship. It is much easier to profess Christianity than to possess it.
Those who will enter the kingdom of heaven are only those who do the will of my Father in heaven. To do God’s will implies a relationship with God—the ability to communicate with him, know his will, and then be able to perform it. Such “fruit” reveals one who will enter the kingdom of heaven.
|LIFE APPLICATION- LIP SERVICE|
|Jesus is not impressed by thoughtless and heartless piety. Superficial religion might satisfy the casual observer, but Jesus demands obedience from the inside out. Saying “Lord, Lord” without really obeying Christ simply breaks the third commandment: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:7 niv).|
|Many are tempted toward pretense and dishonesty. A shell of spirituality may preserve our reputation with others, but it undermines real growth. We are deluded if we think that God might be fooled by fake holiness. God desires “truth in the inner parts” (Psalm 51:6 niv). What does God find under the surface of your life? Do your actions live up to your words?|
7:22-23 “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 perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'”NIV Jesus exposed those people who sounded religious and did religious deeds but had no personal relationship with him. Not sincere followers who had come to him for salvation, they were masquerading as disciples. These people knew in their hearts that they were false. False prophets will even be able to prophesy (referring not just to telling the future, but to teaching), drive out demons, and perform many miracles. Jesus warned that “false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect—if that were possible” (Mark 13:22 niv). Paul warned against counterfeit miracles, signs, and wonders in 2 Thessalonians 2:9. Claims to great power, invoking the name of Christ (in your name, see Mark 9:38; Acts 19:13-20), and powerful deeds will be no guarantee for heaven. Jesus will send away those who do not know him personally. They may have done impressive deeds, but they are evildoers. Jesus will say, I never knew you. Away from me (see Psalm 6:8). In other words, “I never had a personal relationship with you, and I never went with you to do these deeds you claim. You can have no part in my kingdom.”
On that day (the day of judgment), only a person’s relationship with Christ—acceptance of him as Savior and obedience to him—will matter. “That day” is the final day of reckoning when God will settle all accounts, judging sin and rewarding faith. Notice that Jesus placed himself as judge—many will say to me. Here is another claim to messiahship. Many people think that if they are good people and say religious things, God will have to reward them with eternal life. In reality, faith in Christ is what will count at the judgment.
7:24-25 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”NRSV Jesus’ true followers not only hear his words, but they act on his words, allowing his message to make a difference in their lives. The key to this parable (as with all parables) is the central message, not the peripheral details. In this teaching, Jesus explained that his true followers, by acting on his words, are like a wise man who built his house on rock. The one who builds “on rock” is a hearing, responding disciple, not a phony, superficial one. The apostle James would later write, “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing” (James 1:22-25 nrsv).
|LIFE APPLICATION – WALKIE-TALKIE|
|Some athletes can “talk” a great game, but that tells you nothing about their athletic skills. And not everyone who talks about heaven belongs to God’s kingdom. Jesus is more concerned about our “walk” than our “talk.” He wants us to do right, not just say the right words. Your house (which represents your life, 7:24) will withstand the storms of life only if you do what is right instead of just talking about it. Some people wonder if they are really Christians. If that’s you—start acting like one. Some people jabber about their intense faith. If that’s you—just show your faith in faithful living.|
Practicing obedience builds on the solid foundation of Jesus’ words to weather the storms of life: “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”NIV Jesus pictured Palestine’s climate in these words. While there were few rainfalls all year, during the rainy season, heavy rains with excessive flooding could wash away poorly grounded homes. But those houses with their foundations on solid rock would be unaffected by the rising waters and beating winds. When the “storms of life” come (we cannot press the details of the rain, streams, and winds), only the one who builds his or her life on the foundation of Jesus Christ will not fall.
|LIFE APPLICATION – A LITTLE NUDGE|
|Like a house of cards, the fool’s life crumbles. Most people do not deliberately seek to build on a false or inferior foundation; instead, they just don’t think about their life’s purpose. Many people are headed for destruction, not out of stubbornness but out of thoughtlessness. Part of our responsibility as believers is to help others stop and think about where their lives are headed and to point out the consequences of ignoring Christ’s message. Some people just need a little prodding to come over to Jesus’ side. They have heard the gospel, but they’re not sure or not convinced or not ready. Often they just haven’t met anyone for whom that decision has made a difference.|
When you meet someone close to a decision to follow Jesus, give a word of encouragement. Offer to help, to pray, to be there with your friend. Everyone feels a certain spiritual inertia, and your simple word may help overcome it.
7:26-27 “And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand.”NRSV In contrast to the wise man (7:24), the foolish man is the person who hears these words of mine and does not act on them. While both the wise man and the foolish man built houses, and while those houses may have even looked identical, only one house would stand the test. Only the man who hears and does God’s word will receive God’s reward. The house built on sand will collapse. “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”NIV This time when the storms came, the person turned away, life crumbled, and the end was a great crash—final judgment, destruction (7:13-14), separation from God (7:22-23). As character is revealed by fruit (7:20), so faith is revealed by storms. The wise person, seeking to act upon God’s Word, builds to withstand anything. It will be the foundation, not the house, that will determine what happens on the Day of Judgment.
What action did Jesus expect as a result of his words? What “building” did he expect to happen? Radical discipleship—people whose lives revealed the characteristics that he had been describing in this sermon (beginning at 5:1).
|LIFE APPLICATION – AUTHORITY|
|People today accept the concept of individual autonomy. Truth has been relegated to “whatever is true for you is true.” Because the possibility of absolute truth has been widely rejected, people now depend on “personal truth.” But we can’t make up for the loss of absolute truth by creating our own truth. We are simply wrong too often.|
|Jesus concluded his sermon with a challenge about foundations. Those who heard him were impressed by his authority. But amazement doesn’t equal acceptance or submission. People who agree in theory that a house should be built on a solid foundation may still go out and construct their lives on a swamp. Part of sharing the gospel with someone involves helping them really look at the foundation of their lives. We must also be able to demonstrate our own foundation. People need to hear and see that we have made Jesus’ teaching the basis of our lives.|
7:28-29 Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.NRSV The words “now when Jesus had finished saying these things” signal the end of Jesus’ teaching on discipleship and a return to the narrative in Matthew. Words like these come at the end of each of the major discourses (see 11:1; 13:53; 19:1; 26:1).
The Greek word translated “astounded” is a strong word; it could also be translated “astonished” or “amazed.” Jesus completely amazed the crowds by his teaching. The Jewish teachers (the scribes) often quoted from well-known rabbis in order to give their words more authority. But Jesus didn’t have that need. Because Jesus was the Son of God, he knew exactly what the Scriptures said and meant. He was the ultimate authority. He didn’t need to quote anyone because he was the original Word (John 1:1). The people had never heard such teaching. Jesus created the urgency and alarm that a real prophet would cause, not the discussion and arguments of scribal tradition. He confronted the people with the claims of God on their lives.
The scribes (called “teachers of the law” or “lawyers” in some Bible versions) were the legal specialists in Jesus’ day. They interpreted the law but were especially concerned about the halakah or rules for life that came to be as binding as God’s written law in the Torah. The scribes were the forerunners of the office of rabbi. Their self-assured authority, in fact, became a stumbling block for them, for they denied Jesus’ authority to reinterpret the law, and they rejected Jesus as the Messiah because he did not agree with or obey all of their traditions.
|LIFE APPLICATION – IN CONCLUSION|
|We must read the Sermon on the Mount with its final application in mind. These words of Jesus set before us two choices described in Matthew 7:24-27. The “wise and foolish builders” share two traits in common: Each were builders and each had “heard” Jesus’ instructions. What matters, Jesus declared, is not familiarity with his teaching but putting it into practice. Which is your greater reason for studying what Jesus taught: to increase your knowledge or to improve your obedience?|
Source: Life Application Bible Commentary – Matthew.