Welcome to Day 2112 of Wisdom-Trek, and thank you for joining me.
This is Guthrie Chamberlain, Your Guide to Wisdom
Sermon on the Mount 10 – A Christian Commitment: The Radical Choices – Daily Wisdom
Putnam Church Message – 07/18/2021
Sermon on the Mount – A Christian’s Commitment: The Radical Choices
Matthew 7:13-27 Today’s Scripture is found on page 1506 of the pew Bible.
- The Narrow and Wide Gates
“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.
- True and False Prophets
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit, you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit, you will recognize them.
- True and False Disciples
“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. 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?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
- The Wise and Foolish Builders
“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 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. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
As mentioned last week, Matthew 7 consists of several self-contained paragraphs. However loosely, the connecting thread which runs through chapter 7 is that of relationships. It would seem quite logical that having described a Christian’s character, influence, righteousness, holiness, and ambition, Jesus should concentrate finally on our relationships. Today we will explore how those relationships are tied to our commitments as Christ-followers. As citizens of God’s kingdom, will we support that kingdom and build it up, or will we destroy it from within by making wrong choices? All choices have consequences, and our choices can be seen in the analogy of those citizens of our great country who take advantage of the benefits of a free society but then destroy the very foundation on which these benefits are built. Ponder this analogy today as we explore the truths discovered in the last half of Matthew chapter 7.
Christ emphasizes here even more strongly than before the necessity of choice. We have learned about the two kinds of ‘right living,’ the two treasures, the two masters, and the two ambitions. Now the time for radical decision-making has come. This is where the rubber meets the road. The choice is to be a citizen of Satan’s domain or a citizens of God’s kingdom. The choice to adopt the prevailing culture or the Christian counter-culture. Jesus continues with his presentation of the alternative as he describes our choices. The two ways (broad and narrow), the two teachers (false and true), the two pleas (words and deeds), and finally, the two foundations (sand and rock).
- The inescapable choice (13-14) (Slide #1)
What is immediately striking about these verses is the absolute nature of choice. Of course, we would all prefer to be given many more options. Yet, Jesus insists that there is only one choice because there are only two possibilities to choose from. There are four aspects of these two choices.
First, there are two ways. One way is easy and wide. Although this was written over 2000 years ago, the catchphrases are as applicable today. There is plenty of room on this highway for diverse opinions and laxity of morals. It is the road of tolerance and permissiveness. It has no curbs, guardrails, or boundaries of either thought or conduct. Travelers on this road follow their own inclinations: the desires of the human heart in its fallenness. No effort is required to practice them. Whatever is right in your own eyes is why the broad road is easy. You go along, to get along. That is unless you are living according to God’s precepts. Then you are censored, or our modern term for it is canceled.
The other way is narrow and difficult. Its boundaries are marked. Its narrowness is due to ‘divine revelation,’ which restricts pilgrims to the confines of what God has revealed in Scripture to be true and good. Thus, we have Christ as our trail guide on the difficult path to help carry our backpacks. Matthew 11:30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”
Secondly, there are two gates. The gate leading to the easy way is wide, for it is simple to get onto the easy road. There is no limit to the baggage we can take with us. We leave nothing behind, not our sins, self-righteousness, and pride. On the other hand, the gate leading to the hard way is narrow. One has to desire it and look to find it. To enter the gateway to life, we must leave everything behind—sin, selfish ambition, covetousness, and even if necessary, family and friends. No one can follow Christ, who has not first denied himself. The entry is also a turnstile gate: it has to be entered one by one. How can we find this gate? It is Jesus Christ himself. John 14:6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.
Thirdly, there are two destinations. The NLT describes the wide path: “The highway to hell is broad.” It leads to eternal death. By contrast, the narrow gate leads to eternal life by becoming citizens of God’s Kingdom.
Fourthly, there are two crowds. Entering by the wide gate, many choose that way. The broad and easy road is a busy thoroughfare, thronged by people of every kind striving to set up their kingdoms. However, the narrow and hard way that leads to life seems comparatively deserted, and only a few ever find it.
- Beware of false teachers (15–20) (Slide #2)
In telling people to beware of false prophets or teachers, Jesus assumed that there were such. Unfortunately, I fear there are still many in today’s church. In telling us to beware of false prophets, Jesus made another assumption: there is such a thing as an objective standard of truth from which falsehood is to be distinguished. Thus, Jesus held that truth and falsehood excluded one another, and that those who propagate lies in God’s name are false prophets or teachers, of whom his followers must beware.
Verse 15 – “Beware of false prophets who come disguised as harmless sheep but are really vicious wolves.” We learn from this metaphor that false prophets are both dangerous and deceptive. Their danger is that, in reality, they are wolves. In first-century Palestine, the wolf was the natural enemy of sheep, which were entirely defenseless against it. As Jesus was to teach later, a good shepherd was always looking for wolves to protect his sheep. In contrast, the hired laborer (who, not the sheep owner, did not care about them) would abandon them at the sight of a wolf and run away, leaving it to attack and scatter the flock.
In other words, a false teacher does not announce and advertise himself as a purveyor of lies; on the contrary, he claims to be a teacher of the truth. So, ‘Beware!’ Jesus warns. We must be on our guard, pray for discernment, use our critical faculties and never relax our vigilance. We must not be dazzled by a person’s outward clothing—his charm, learning, doctorates, and ecclesiastical honors. We must not be so naive as to suppose that they must be true just because they have some certificate of higher learning. Instead, we must look beneath the appearance to reality. What lives under the fleece: a sheep or a wolf?
Having noted the assumptions Jesus made and the warnings he gave, we are now ready to look at the tests he told us to apply. First, Jesus changed his metaphor from sheep and wolves to trees and their fruit, from the sheep’s clothing that a wolf may wear to the fruit that a tree must bear. In so doing, he moved from the risk of non-recognition to the means of recognition. Although you may sometimes mistake a wolf for a sheep, he seems to say you cannot make the same mistake with a tree. No tree can hide its identity for long. Sooner or later, it betrays itself—by its fruit. A wolf may disguise itself; a tree cannot. Noxious weeds like thorns and thistles cannot produce edible fruit like apples, grapes, and figs. The tree’s condition determines the fruit’s character and if there is any evidence of fruit. Thus, in verse 17, A good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. Indeed, in verse 18, A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. The day of judgment will finalize the difference in verse 19, So every tree that does not produce good fruit is chopped down and thrown into the fire. Therefore, the conclusion that Jesus emphasizes twice in verses 16 and 20, Yes, just as you can identify a tree by its fruit, so you can identify people by their actions.
What are these fruits? Character and conduct are the first kinds of ‘fruit’ by which false prophets reveal their true identity. In Jesus’ allegory of the vine, fruitfulness means Christlikeness. The best listing of what we should look for in a true prophet and teacher is in Galatians 5:22-23, But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
If a prophet, preacher, or teacher does not display these qualities but the opposite, we are justified in suspecting that they are an impostor, regardless of the pretentious claims of sincere teaching. A prophet’s ‘fruits’ are their character and manner of life, both in the church and, more importantly, outside the church. In a parallel passage, we read in Luke 6:45 A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.
Sound teaching, by contrast, produces faith, love, and godliness. Therefore, to determine a good prophet or teacher from a false one, there should be an analysis of what they teach. It should also include a close and critical scrutiny of their character, conduct, message, motives, and influence in all areas of life.
At the end of verse 20, Jesus concludes his delineation of a Christian’s relationships. We see how rich and varied they are as we look back and bring them together.
A Christian’s commitment: Radical Choices to become True Disciples (Slide #3)
So Jesus confronts us with himself, sets the radical choice between obedience and disobedience, and calls us to an unconditional commitment of mind, will, and life to his teaching. Throughout this series, we have referred to Christians as citizens of God’s kingdom. In these verses, let’s use the analogy that a group of people are from China or Russia, and they have legally applied to be citizens of the United States. They all have studied hard and have passed all their test. At the final moment, it was discovered that part of the group were secret agents for their original country. This scenario is the setting for verses 21-23.
- The danger of a mere verbal profession (21–23)
The people Jesus describes here rely for salvation or citizenship on a credal affirmation, on what they ‘say’ to or about Christ. “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.
As in our analogy, everyone aced their citizenship exam and recited the constitution and all laws by heart. The litmus test is that only those who pledge their allegiance to the US and then do what they promised will become citizens and be allowed to enter.
The reason for their rejection by Jesus is that their profession was verbal, not internal. It concerned their lips only and not their life. They called Jesus ‘Lord, Lord’ but never submitted to his lordship, or obeyed the will of his heavenly Father. Jesus expands on this section of being a true citizen of His Kingdom in verses 22-23. On judgment day, many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’
Christ the Judge will banish them from his kingdom because they are evildoers. They may claim to do mighty works in their ministry, but in their everyday behavior, the works they do are not good, but evil. It would be the same as those who desired to be citizens, but were found out to be spies.
- The danger of mere intellectual knowledge (24–27) (Slide #4)
This following parable from Jesus is familiar, and we know the children’s song about building on rock and sand. Jesus illustrates the contrast between his obedient and disobedient hearers in his well-known parable of the two builders. The wise builder who ‘dug deep’ and constructed his house on the rock. The foolish builder could not be bothered with foundations and was content to build on sand.
As both got on with their building, a casual observer may not have noticed any difference between them. The difference was in the foundations, and foundations are not seen. Only when a storm hit, and battered both houses with great fierceness was the fundamental and fatal difference revealed. The house on the rock withstood the storm, while the house on the sand collapsed in irreparable ruin.
In the same way, professing Christians (both the genuine and the imitation) often look alike. You cannot easily tell which is which. Both appear to be building Christian lives. Jesus is not contrasting professing Christians with non-Christians who make no profession. On the contrary, what is familiar to both spiritual housebuilders is that they hear these words of Jesus. So both are members of the visible Christian community. Both read the Bible, attend church, listen to sermons, and buy Christian literature. You often cannot tell the difference between them because the deep foundations of their lives are hidden from view. The real question is not whether they hear Christ’s teaching (nor even whether they respect or believe it), but whether they do what they hear. Only a storm will reveal the truth. Sometimes a storm of crisis or calamity betrays what manner of person we are, for ‘true devotion is not fully distinguished from its counterfeit till it comes to the trial.’ The storm of the day of judgment will undoubtedly do so.
Therefore the Sermon ends on the same note of radical choice of which we have been aware. Jesus does not set before his followers a string of easy ethical rules, so much as a set of values and ideals that is entirely distinctive from the way of the world. Jesus calls us to renounce the prevailing secular culture in favor of the Christian counter-culture. Repeatedly during our study, we have heard his call to his citizens to be different from everybody else. In Jesus’s manifesto, he commissioned us to be both ‘the salt of the earth’ and ‘the light of the world.’ These metaphors set the Christian and non-Christian communities against each other as recognizable and fundamentally distinct. The world is like rotting food, full of the bacteria which cause its disintegration; Jesus’ followers are to be its salt, arresting its decay. The world can be dark and dismal, lacking sunshine and living in shadow; Jesus’ followers are to be its light, dispelling its darkness and gloom.
The overriding purpose of the Sermon on the Mount is to present us with the indispensable necessity of choice.
Next week we will review and conclude the Sermon on the Mount. Today’s content is appropriate, as Jesus sketches the two ways (narrow and broad) and the two buildings (on rock and sand). It would be impossible to exaggerate the importance of choice between paths since one way leads to life while the other ends in destruction. Or the two buildings, one building is secure while the other is overwhelmed with disaster. However, the choice about life itself is far more consequential than the choice of occupation or life partner. Which road are we going to travel? On which foundation are we going to build?