Let me preface this morning’s study by acknowledging the reality the subjects Jesus addresses in Matthew 7 are so deeply rich we could spend weeks camping out on this spot in order to mine all the gold. That said, we aren’t going to do this. In actuality, it is my intention to cover the entire chapter over the course of the next 50 minutes or so.
To do this, my strategy will be to simply teach through the text so that you understand what Jesus is saying — believing that the Holy Spirit is more than able to apply all of these things to your life as only He can — trusting that the few brim I do pull out of the water this morning will entice you to cast your lure this week into deeper waters in search of catfish.
All the way back in Matthew 4:23, in a few verses summarizing a year-long season of ministry in the heavily populated region that surrounded the Sea of Galilee, we read how “Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people.”
While beginning with chapter 8 Matthew will begin providing example after example of what Jesus’ healing ministry looked like over the course of this year, he first provides his reader a taste of the kind of material a typical sermon from Jesus would have included.
Though true there is a broad train of thought woven throughout the Sermon on the Mount, it’s also evident, on occasion, Jesus will pivot hard from one subject to another. As we’re about to see, a great example of this is the abrupt transition He makes from a discussion about worry at the close of Matthew 6 to a new subject He now introduces in chapter 7.
Matthew 7:1-2, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”
If we’re being honest, without question, Matthew 7:1 is probably one of the most quoted verses in the Bible by pagans who love to use Jesus’ words to not only condemn Christians of being judgmental but to justify their own sinful behaviors. In fact, they’ll even argue that Jesus was advocating a universal acceptance of any type of lifestyle or belief system.
The problem with this approach is twofold… First, it discounts the entirety of what the Bible says about the topic. And secondly, it twists what Jesus was actually saying.
For example, in John 7:24, Jesus exhorts Christians “not to judge according to appearance, but to judge with righteous judgment.” In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul will write the following to the church in Corinth, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one.”
Understand, if Jesus was prohibiting His disciples from making judgments in the first verse, verse 2 would prove to be an immediate contradiction. In fact, the section regarding false teachers and how they can be identified in verses 15-20 also wouldn’t make any sense.
Instead of a sweeping prohibition against making any type of judgments, it seems Jesus is cautioning His disciples regarding the way in which we judge others. He says, “For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged” before adding, “with the measure you use (or literally the standard used to administer a judgment), it will be measured back to you.”
Christian, Jesus is saying that we as His disciples shouldn’t possess a judgmental attitude or a critical spirit towards others. Sure, there are times we must make judgments about what is true and false or things that are right or wrong. And yet, when these scenarios present themselves, we need to be cautious, judicious, and gracious in the way we do so.
This week BabylonBee.com posted a satirical article relevant to this topic titled, “Christian Passes Judgment on other Christians for being too Judgmental.” The article begins, “In an Instagram story posted earlier this week, local believer James Willerson ripped into his fellow Christians for being ‘way too judgmental,’ pronouncing a harsh judgment upon them for how often they judge other Christians. The man blasted other believers for blasting other believers, passing judgment on other Christians as he called them to just love each other and not pass judgment on people.” Friend, you can’t go wrong focusing on yourself!
It’s a fact in our culture we have falsely tethered loving a person with the blanketed acceptance of their identity and/or behaviors. And yet, the Bible is clear you can absolutely love a person while still taking umbrage with who they are and what they might be doing!
For an example of this in practice, look no further than what Romans 5:8 declares, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Friend, love wins when the people we disagree with can’t deny our love for them.
Jesus now illustrates His point in a comical way… Matthew 7:3-5, “And why do you look at (why are you constantly beholding) the speck (literally the wooden splinter) in your brother’s eye, but do not consider (or are not perceiving) the plank (wooden log) in your own eye? (Again, it’s the absurdity in what Jesus is describing that drives home His point.)
Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? (While the intention may be noble, from the perspective of the person with the speck in their eye such a proposal from a person with a giant plank sticking out of theirs would be completely ludicrous.) Hypocrite! (If you were really genuine about other people, you’d) First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
The truth is chronically judgmental and critical people tend to be far more focused on the sin of others than their own! To such a person, Jesus is saying, “You look stupid and your intentions are obvious! You love pointing out the shortcomings of others in order to distract from your own sin. Deal with yourself!” As Christians, there is nothing wrong with helping a brother remove a speck in their eye as long as our focus is first centered on our own life.
While in this antidote Jesus focuses on the relationship between “brothers,” He pivots in the next section to our interactions with unbelievers… Matthew 7:6, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs (in that culture dogs were undomesticated, wild scavengers); nor cast your pearls (your wisdom) before swine (because pigs ate everything they were considered to be unclean), lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.”
Simply put, Jesus encourages His disciples to use discernment with regards to those we “give what is holy” or to whom we “cast our pearls.” Tragically, there are people in this world who do not want anything to do with Jesus or the people who follow Him. They’re not only resistant to Christ, but they’re also hostile. I have found when I know someone isn’t going to listen to what I have to say it’s better to be silent and hold my council for those who want it.
In line with what Jesus is saying, in Proverbs 9:7-8, we find a true saying, “He who corrects a scoffer gets shame for himself, and he who rebukes a wicked man only harms himself. Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; rebuke a wise man, and he will love you.”
Matthew 7:7-8, “Ask (the verb tense continues to ask), and it will be given to you; seek (continues to seek), and you will find; knock (continues to knock), and it will be opened to you. For everyone (of His disciples) who asks receives (will continue to receive), and he who seeks finds (will continue to find), and to him who knocks it will be opened.”
While there is an application within these verses to the wisdom needed to navigate human relationships, this seems to be another thematic pivot by Jesus back to the topic of prayer.
Obviously, this exhortation to keep asking, seeking, and knocking implies persistence. The activity describes the attitude of the petitioner. That said, it’s important to note Jesus never specifies what it is we’re to be asking, seeking, or knocking for. Though you could argue He’s already addressed this with the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus leaves this open-ended.
Also, notice the promise inherent in the approach… Jesus says if we’re continually asking, we’ll be continually receiving. If we’re continually seeking, we will be continually discovering. And if we’re continually knocking, doors of revelation will be constantly opening. It’s interesting, again Jesus doesn’t specify what it is we will receive, discover, or have opened.
Continuing, Jesus places this approach to prayer into the context of our relationship with our heavenly Father… Matthew 7:9-11, “Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? (His point is no human father would ever treat a son or daughter in such a way.)
If you then (so this is His conclusion), being evil (you’re of a bad nature, sinful, or broken), know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more (so multiply that accordingly) will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”
What is clear about this section of the Sermon on the Mount is that Jesus’ focus is the attitude behind our approach to prayer and not necessarily the substance of our prayers. In response to continually asking, seeking, and knocking, Jesus guarantees this attitude will manifest in His disciples receiving, discovering, and having doors opened. It may not be the things you want, but Jesus says it will be the “good things” you need.
If the dynamic by which you ask, seek, and knock results in God giving, revealing, and opening independent of whatever your specific petitions may have been gives you cause for concern, Jesus’ challenge, “Can’t you trust that your Father in heaven has it covered?”
Matthew 7:12, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (this summarizes the purpose in the Law and Prophets).”
Across religious persuasions dating back to the beginning of time and with regard to cultural norms across the globe, there has existed a universal ethic known as The Golden Rule which encourages people not to treat others in ways you would not like to be treated.
What makes Jesus’ statement in this verse so radical is that He turns what had been a negative admonition into a positive. Instead of our actions towards others being guarded by a negative reciprocation, Jesus encourages us to be proactive. “Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them.” He’s saying treat people the way you want to be treated!
In my preparations for this morning’s message, Pastor David Guzik applied this concept to church life in a way I found to be so appropriate. It’s a shame, but so often families will end up leaving the church claiming they were having a hard time making friends. Ironically, when challenged you’ll almost always discover they weren’t doing anything to be friendly.
“Pastor Zach, we come to church and few people talk to us?” Ok, well who did you talk to? “We’ve never been invited to go to lunch after the service!” Well, did you ever invite anyone to go to lunch with you? “None of the ladies ever invited me to meet up for a playdate with the kids?” Well, did you ever invite anyone to meet up with you? The Golden Rule rings true… Treat people at church the way you want to be treated at church!
Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter by the narrow gate (this would have been what was known as a wicket gate which was a little door within a larger door); for wide is the gate and broad (or spacious) is the way that leads to destruction (utter ruin), and there are many who go in by it. (Why is this?) Because narrow is the gate (tight) and difficult is the way (pressed hard upon or contracted) which leads to life (the life), and there are few who find it.”
In another abrupt change of topics, Jesus addresses matters of eternal life and death by establishing a contrast between two gates, two crowds, two ways, and two destinies.
On one side of the equation, Jesus describes a “wide gate” that provides “many” entry to a “broad way” that “leads to destruction.” On the other side, Jesus describes a “narrow gate” that provides “few” entry to a “difficult way” that “leads to life.” Let’s unwrap this idea…
First and foremost, Jesus is telling us there are only two destinies for mankind, only two final destinations: “destruction” (Hell) or “life” (Heaven). Secondly, Jesus affirms that because “the way” to eternal “life” is much more “difficult” than “the broad way” to “destruction,” in the end, one path is trafficked by “many” while the other is taken by just a “few.”
Lastly, with all of this in mind, Jesus stresses the importance of choosing the right “gate” to enter through because it’ll set that person on a path that’ll end at a certain destiny. Friend, where you ultimately end up will be determined by the gate you enter and the path you take! If there be any question regarding the identity of the “narrow gate,” Jesus said in John 10:9, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved…”
Friend, Jesus promised three things about the decision to follow Him, three things that will happen when you decide to embark on a journey through the narrow gate. (1) The destination will be everlasting life in heaven for all of eternity. (2) The way will be difficult. (3) Your path will set you against the popular current of a culture heading towards ruin.
Before we move on, there are some who take offense to Jesus’ claim of exclusivity — that there is only one way to eternal life. In fact, these folks will argue Jesus may indeed be a way, but it’s truly silly to believe He’s the only way. Honestly, I’m not offended God would provide only one way. What amazes me is that God would provide any way!
Because our destiny is a matter of life and death, Jesus cautions His disciples… Matthew 7:15-16, “Beware of (or constantly be on the lookout for) false (counterfeit) prophets (there are men who claim to speak for God when they do not), who come to you in sheep’s clothing (they seem innocent), but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?”
It’s interesting the analogy Jesus uses of “ravenous wolves” coming “in sheep’s clothing.” In that day, a shepherd’s outer cloak was typically made of sheep’s skin and wool. In all likelihood, Jesus is saying these “false prophets” who claim to be speaking for God and looking out for the flock were not true shepherds at all! In actuality, they were wolves.
In Greek, the word “ravenous” is used on four other occasions in the New Testament, and in every other instance the word is translated as “extortioners.” Yes, these men were “false prophets,” but in a practical sense as “wolves” they were fleecing the people of their money.
Friend, any preacher who is trying to extort you out of your money through faulty theology, guilt, or as a way to better your position with God should be identified as a wolf who does not speak for God and avoided! Today, you can picture such a shepherd sporting a Jheri curl, a Southern drawl, with thousands of dollars hidden behind bathroom walls.
Matthew 7:17-20, “Even so (building on this idea), every good tree bears (is constantly bearing or habitually bringing forth) good fruit, but a bad tree (one that’s corrupted) bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit (a rule of the natural world now carried into the spiritual). Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”
In the particular context of these false prophets, Jesus is not only telling His disciples how to identify these evil men (“by their fruits you will know them”), but He’s making it clear, when it’s all said and done, these men will be judged (“cut down and thrown into the fire”).
In its broader application, never forget “fruit” is something that manifests or is yielded from a tree through natural processes. All the way back in the Creation account of Genesis 1, God established a universal principle that all of the natural world (from plants and animals to fish and birds) could only yield “each according to its kind.” Humans could only birth more humans, elephants more elephants, azaleas additional azaleas, etc.
I know it’s a simple concept but a tree is known to be healthy by the fact it bears fruit and it can be identified by the fruit it produces. Again, a tree cannot manufacture the fruit of its choosing. A tree cannot choose to be what it isn’t. A tree's nature is not fluid! You see a tree is bound by natural principles long-established by the Creator.
In applying this concept to the spirit of man, Jesus is saying the things that naturally manifest from our lives (“fruit”) inevitably reveal who we are. If the fruit is bad (bad things are being yielded in our lives), it’s a sign the tree is corrupt. If the fruit is good (there are good things manifesting from our lives), it’s evidence the tree is good and healthy.
Christian, what you do does not determine who you are. Instead, what you do reveals who you are just like the fruit of a tree! You see identity determines behaviors. Actions always manifest from the heart. Before Christ, you sinned because you were a sinner. And yet, today righteousness is yielded how? Jesus has made you righteous! As such, you don’t have to work hard to be righteous. Instead, a righteous life naturally works its way out!
In what was likely a more expansive sermon on this particular topic, in John 15:4-5, Jesus said, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”
Jesus continues by developing this notion of judgment… Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you (better translated as “I never ever knew you”); depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”
You cannot overstate the gravity of what Jesus was saying to these men and women gathered on this hillside. In regards to “that day” which was a reference to the final day of judgment following our death and resurrection, Jesus is saying all of humanity will end up standing before Him! “Many will say to Me… Then I will declare to them!” Amazingly, Jesus is telling His audience their eternal destiny will one day be determined by Him!
Within these verses, Jesus makes a few fascinating connections. He says of the person who will enter the kingdom that “he does the will of My Father in heaven.” Then, as an example of those who say “Lord, Lord” but are refused entry, Jesus lists out a myriad of works they’ll point to doing in His name… “We prophesied, cast out demons, and done many wonders.” Lastly, Jesus explains how none of these things mattered because they didn’t know Him.
Think about it… If salvation demands doing “the will of His Father,” but these works “in His name” do not count, you have to ask… What is the will of God we must do if we’re to enter heaven? The answer… You must have a personal relationship with Jesus!
Friend, don’t be mistaken… Your access to heaven is not something you can earn by doing good works or living in a pious way. Furthermore, your salvation is not based on a verbal confession or a magic bean prayer — “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord.’”
Instead, your access to heaven will boil down to one very simple criteria — who you know! You see, in the end, a relationship with Jesus is the only thing that really matters. It’s the only requirement for entry. In fact, the worst sound any human being will ever hear are those words coming from the lips of Jesus, “Depart, for I never ever knew you!”
Building on the importance of this relationship in the context of salvation and judgment, Jesus concludes His Sermon on the Mount… Matthew 7:24-27, “Therefore (because the stakes are so high) whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them (this is the person who hears His Word and lives their life accordingly), I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock): and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.
But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them (this is the person who hears His Word and does not live accordingly), will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”
In this parable, Jesus presents two homes (basically two lives) that end up experiencing the identical storm. On the surface, there was nothing different about either house. They both looked the same. And yet, when “the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on each house” the storm revealed one significant difference.
The structure or life that was ruined by the storm had been constructed by a “foolish man on the sand” or more accurately translated from the Greek “sandy ground.” Understand, it’s not that this man was foolish because he built his house on a beach. He was foolish in that his life had no foundation at all! He’d built his house on top of the ground.
In contrast, Jesus says the other structure or life endured the storm because it had been constructed by a “wise man on the rock.” Unlike the fool, this man wisely took the necessary time to dig down below the sandy ground, below the surface in order to establish footers on bedrock upon which he then constructed his home.
If you study Proverbs, you will discover an underlying theme being a comparison between the wise and foolish man. Understand, it’s not that the fool isn’t privy to the same amount of information or knowledge as the wise man, he’s foolish in that he consistently fails to act according to what he knows. In contrast, wisdom is not the accumulation of knowledge but the appropriate application. A wise man acts on what he knows to be true.
It’s not an accident Jesus closes the Sermon on the Mount with this particular story. After telling these folks about the kingdom of God and profiling the character of its citizens, Jesus leaves His audience with an obvious challenge… Whether or not you’re a wise man or a known fool will be determined by what you do next! You see the only life that endures the storm is the one wisely built upon the rock, a life founded upon the truth of God’s Word.
Matthew closes the chapter by giving us the reaction of all those who heard this sermon… Matthew 7:28-29, “And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching (they were shocked, their breath was expelled by a blow), for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.”
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