Matthew 5 Sermon on the Mount part 6    Back to Bible Studies

Our passage for this week was Matthew 7: 13 - 29

There is a beautiful logical flow through this section from beginning to end which is not clearly visible at first, but as we move through it step by step, the connections emerge.

It starts with Jesus speaking about the wide and the narrow gates, with a description of both, and also, very importantly, where the roads lead to, starting at those gates. Much has been written about the nature and characteristics of the two gates - the wideness and narrowness (the Greek word denotes restriction); the many people entering through the one, and the few entering through the other; the ease of finding the one and the difficulty of finding the other one. All of that is of course correct and helpful.

But this week we will look more closely at the statement that Jesus makes regarding where the two roads end up. Think about this for a moment: Facing the two gates/entrances, is the decision to enter through a certain gate/entrance based on 1. how that entrance looks, or on 2. where the road of each one leads? Of course, the important question is to ask where each one leads...This question has to be asked at the START. Once we have boarded a bus bound for Dunedin, but really wanted to go to Auckland, it is very difficult to tell that to the bus driver. He will simply say that if you wanted to go to Auckland, you should have boarded the bus bound for Auckland...The most important question in everything regarding our service in Gods Kingdom, is the question: "Where will this take me?" Ultimately, it is with God Himself that we want to end up, so He has to be the goal from the start.

As an example, we looked at how globally, the church is embracing programs which are "goal-orientated" or "purpose-driven". The problem is that many of these programs has the stated goal of making the church more relevant in society and serving the community. What we need to do is carefully apply the rule that we have seen above, to each situation. Say, for example a program or programs are put in place by the church with the express purpose of "serving the community". It is only logical that the people in that community, upon being asked what the purpose of the church is, will answer " serve the community, of course...". This paves the way to the next very logical step, which is an idea in people's minds that God exists for them. This, as we have seen before, is the basis of all pagan religion...

Something can look very good at the start, and have seemingly good and noble aims, but if we do not expressly aim for God Himself, in all things, we will end up somewhere else. "There is a road that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death" Proverbs 14:12. What an apt scripture!  Some in the group testified that they have also seen activities/outreaches which were stated to have God as a "secondary" goal at the start, but when it came to the actual doing of it, sharing Christ, it never materialised and got lost in the woodwork.

We had a good discussion as regards how one determines which gate is the right one. Apart from the "Goal/End" principle above, we looked at the following references:

Isaiah 30: 20 - 23   Jeremiah 6: 16    John 10: 1 - 10    John 14: 6

Next, in verse 15, Jesus warns about false prophets (wolves in sheep's clothing) and how to recognise them - by their fruit. We all immediately think about good deeds when we hear 'fruit', and correctly so, because we think of the "Fruits of the Spirit" mentioned in Galatians 5: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness etc. However, we must also make room for a different meaning in the current context. Rebecca shared a very interesting insight into human behaviour and how she was struck by how much "good' people can do, who do not know God or have anything to do with the church. Personally, I testified about how I find New Zealanders very friendly, helpful and kind. So, if good deeds can be done by anyone, even atheists, are they such a good guide for us, when determining whether someone is in fact a false prophet? (Bear in mind that Jesus is here speaking expressly about false prophets). Jenny shared that seeing their private, secret fruits is a good indicator - and of course she is right. However, that is often limited to someone very close to that person, such as a husband or wife.

In verse 15, Jesus is actually continuing the theme of the two distinctly different roads, and how the false prophets lead people down a specific road, because he first warns about the false prophets and then continues immediately in verses 21 - 23 explaining the issue of people who think that they are Christians, think that they belong to God, but they don't. The question is, how did they end up there? Well, perhaps this "result" of people thinking that they are Christians but are not, is the "fruit" or result of the false prophets and their ministry.

In order to understand this a bit better we looked at how Paul defends his apostleship:
2 Corinthians 3: 1 - 6  "Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you? You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men; being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts."

Paul is in effect saying that the Corinthians clearly know and show forth Christ, and that this is proof that he is not a false apostle, as some in the Corinthian church were making him out to be. It is proof that he did in fact minister Christ to them and guided them to Christ, as a real apostle should do. Personally, I must testify that I have been in a church where there were a lot of activities, lots of outreaches, worship was lively, people were friendly...but...when it came to some very basic questions about their faith, their relationship with God, about their lives being surrendered to Christ, the answers were very, very poor indeed and it was clear to me that they did not truly know Him...Taken in light of the words of the Apostle Paul above, that would be a sign that the shepherd in that church was leading people down the wrong road. A road which did not clearly have Christ as the goal, but all sorts of activities and programs FOR God, as the goal. The result is that they ended up being very busy for God, but without that intimate relationship and knowledge of Christ...Later on, we also find that a distinctive mark in the Corinthian church, was that the people were repentant (2 Corinthians 7: 8 - 10)  This also reminded us of what John the Baptist says to the teachers of the Law in Matthew 3: 7 - 10 "But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham." These teachers of the law thought they were right with God, but they were not showing forth that blessed fruit of repentance, which is the response to conviction, which God's Word, which is sharper than a two-edged sword, brings.
We subsequently looked at what it means to truly "feed" people and what the real food is with which a true servant of God should feed those in his care, the true bread form heaven which is Christ himself. (Matthew 4: 4) and Jeremiah 23: 28 -29 and elsewhere.
Read also 2 Timothy 4; 1 - 5

Please understand, we are not saying that outreaches and activities to get people involved is a bad thing. However, sharing Christ and bringing them to Him and sharing God's Word, has to be the goal of that outreach or activity. They should be a means of Christian ministry, but so often I have seen them become ends in themselves and sharing Christ and God's Word either goes out the window or is watered down beyond recognition. Young Josh remarked that he thinks young people would be better served by telling them straight up front what the purpose of an outreach is to which they are invited, instead of hiding that fact. At least that would be more honest, and you will know that the ones who do come, are searching for God. Often, sharing Christ is a very, very secondary goal. So secondary in fact that it gets lost in the woodwork...   

In verse 24, Jesus once again continues the same theme, when he illustrates the result of going down the wrong road, and how it will be revealed in the end. (The "fruit" or "result" of taking the wrong way).  From the outside, we can say that the two houses in verse 24 - 26 probably look identical. However, only one has actually been built of the foundation of Christ. The other has been built on good deeds, activity for God, service to the community, even prophesying in God's name, driving out demons, performing miracles... In the end, the storm that comes, reveals that the house without Christ is flimsy, and it is swept away, no matter how good it looked...We read several beautiful references regarding Christ as the Rock and the Foundation:

Isaiah 28: 16   Matthew 16: 13 - 18    1 Corinthians 3: 7 - 15    1 Corinthians 10:4    Psalm 127
and an interesting scripture in Ezekiel concerning the crashing down of a whitewashed wall: Ezekiel 13: 10 - 16.

We also looked at the Greek text behind the words in verse 24 "...everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice..." The Greek word translated  'hear' is: "to understand, to perceive the meaning of what is said" and the Greek word translated 'puts into practice' is: "to produce, to bear, to shoot forth"

Dear friends, the above certainly offers a different perspective on the passage, and there are many other lessons in it, but I believe that God would have us consider these lessons this week.

© 2011 Werner Schreiber

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