Matthew 7:13-29


Last week we looked at the calling of Matthew by Jesus ( 9:9--17 ). This week we look at Jesus' teaching on the way that he wants the disciples whom he has called to follow. Today's reading is the last part of the Sermon on the Mount, concluding Jesus' radical teaching to his disciples.

The artist Paul Gustave Dore' lost his passport while travelling in Europe. When he came to a border crossing, he explained his predicament to one of the guards. Giving his name to the official, Dore' hoped he would be recognized and allowed to pass. The guard, however, said that many people attempted to cross the border by claiming to be persons they were not.

Dore' insisted that he was the man he claimed to be. "All right," said the official, "we'll give you a test, and if you pass it we'll allow you to go through." Handing him a pencil and a sheet of paper, he told the artist to sketch several peasants standing nearby. Dore' did it so quickly and skillfully that the guard was convinced that he was indeed who he claimed to be. His work confirmed his word!

We claim to be Christians. Do our works prove it? Do our lives bear the proof that we are His? This is what today's reading is about.

Jesus mentions four contrasts : Two ways; Two fruit; Two claims; and Two builders.

Two ways; verses 13f.

We recently visited Rhyll. One of the decisions I had to make was whether to take the A-road to Chester, or take a longer route using the M6 and M56 before joining the A55 dual carriageway. We took the A-roads and got stuck behind tractors, caravans, and lorries. Once we got onto the A55 dual carriageway we were able to travel a lot faster and did the last part of the journey very quickly.

Its probably fair to say that most people prefer to travel on a wide, fast road, than endure the frustration of crawling along behind a tractor.

Jesus said that there is only one way to life, that is to say being with God in heaven. The other route ends up in destruction, separation from God, which is hell. In the gospels Jesus talks about hell twice as much as he talks about heaven.

There is a contrast between these two ways. One is roomy, inviting, popular, quick and easy. It accommodates more people and their baggage.

The other route is restricted, unattractive, unpopular, and difficult. people have to rid themselves of baggage to follow it.

Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told his disciples that they must be humble, pure, merciful, peacemakers, follow the ways of righteousness and love their enemies. Their conduct should be even better than the Pharisees, who were considered very righteous at the time. They would also be persecuted, something that, Jesus said, should lead to them rejoicing ( 5:11f. )

Disciples of Jesus are called to say 'no' to themselves and put God and others first. However, there will be joys of forgiveness, answered prayer, the fellowship and love of God and other believers, and the certain hope of heaven.

The world will follow its own way, pursuing pleasure, prestige, popularity, possessions. Driven by feelings rather than the will of God.

As Jesus disciples today we should realise that following him will be costly and unpopular. True Christianity will always be a minority religion. Therefore, we will find ourselves in a minority, or even alone among unbelievers in schools, workplaces, homes, families, and neighbourhood. Our faith will bring us into conflict with the world which will be threatened and hit out against Christians. We need to be wholeheartedly committed to Jesus to travel his way.

( Two ways; ) Two fruit; verses 15-20.

In Israel the buckthorn plant produced little, black berries that could, initially be mistaken for grapes. There was also a thistle that produced a flower similar to the fig. So the idea of carefully examining the fruit of a plant was a familiar one to Jesus' listeners.

A prophet is a spokesperson for someone else, usually God. The Bible tells us to test prophecy to see if it is really from God. One way is to measure it against what we know of God's ways from the Bible. Here, Jesus tells his disciples to test prophets by seeing if their conduct goes along with their words.

As we have just seen from the two ways of living, a prophet or preacher who offers an easy way of salvation with no challenge and no cost is, obviously, false. Perhaps we could illustrate this with some of the American 'televangelists' who promise health, wealth and prosperity if you follow a certain way, or if you contribute to their funds.

In this country we have Bishop David Holloway appearing on television suggesting that the ten commandments were rules devised by men who made up their own god. He has also written a book which goes against the Biblical teaching on sexuality and homosexuality.

As well as the content of a leader's teaching, his or her life must also be consistent with the Christian faith. Producing the fruit of the Spirit. Living life God's way.

This does not mean that we should expect perfection from church leaders. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. But there should be some evidence of the fruit of the spirit, and the fruit of obedience to God's will growing in the life of those who minister in God's name.

( Two ways; Two fruit; ) Two claims; verse 21-23.

A man had a vision where God transported him into heaven and he was able to witness how wonderful it was. So momentous was this event that he wrote it down in a paper which he entitled, 'My Experience'.

As months went by he became indifferent to spiritual things, but would still bring out this paper to show visitors. As months became years he abandoned all forms of godliness and his paper became forgotten in a dusty drawer.

Many years later the Vicar called. The man, wanting to impress him asked his wife to bring down, 'My Experience'. She rummaged around, found the tattered document and called down, 'I'm sorry dear, but your experience is rather moth-eaten'.

Jesus refers to people who make claims about their relationship with him. The test is not one of using the right words. Some will call him 'Lord' but be rejected when Jesus judges the living and the dead. The test is not one of ministering in Jesus' name, for Jesus says that some who have prophesied, exorcised demons and performed miracles will be excluded from God's kingdom.

It is not obedience that puts us right with God. Only Jesus death for us on the cross can do this. Obedience to God's way is the true sign of a relationship with Jesus and receiving what he did for us on the cross. That is why Jesus will say to some people 'I never knew you'.

Knowing Him is not about loud professions of faith, using the right methods of prayer, ministering in spectacular ways, going to church, or upholding sound doctrine but obedience.

This also shows that believing something sincerely is not enough. Some will sincerely claim that they have been followers of Jesus on judgement day, but he will say, 'I never knew you.'

( Two ways; Two fruit; Two claims; and ) Two builders, verses 24-27.

Let me introduce you to 'Mr Short Cut'. He's been to college and heard how you should build things properly. But he can't be bothered. He'd rather get the job over as soon as possible and move on to the next job to earn some more money, or have more free time. But after a short while he is called back to fix some of his work, and he soon finds that people won't ask him to do any more work for them.

'Mr Long Term' went to college with 'Mr Short Cut'. He not only heard how to build things properly he acts on what he has heard. He is well known for the high quality of his workmanship and, although he will never be rich, he has to have a waiting list. The things that he builds last for years.

Jesus is saying that his disciples not only have to hear his words, but obey them. Our lives should be built on the foundation of Jesus' teaching. Some people may build on their feelings, their circumstances, the opinions of others, their possessions, or whatever. But these things will fade into eternity, whereas Jesus words will endure forever.

The idea of someone building a house without foundations may seem so ridiculous it is almost laughable. This highlights the folly of building our lives on anything other than the words of Jesus.

In the Bible a storm is often used as a symbol of God's judgement. This passage has the judgement of Jesus running all of the way through it. Like a piece of rock from a seaside resort. No-one will be able to escape Jesus' judgement when he returns. The only ones who will escape eternal separation from God are those who are united with Jesus as evidenced by their conduct.

So we have four contrasts: Two ways; Two fruit; Two claims; and Two builders. Each one carries the same message. Obeying the teaching of Jesus is the only way to heaven. This will be difficult and unpopular but will bring eternal blessings.

Some of the things we have looked at today are illustrated in this story...

A man was sleeping at night in his cabin when suddenly he heard a voice that trembled like the thunder.

It was God's voice and he told the man he had work for him to do, and showed him a large rock in front of his cabin. God explained that the man was to push against the rock with all his might. This the man did, day after day.

For many years he toiled from dawn to sundown, his shoulders set squarely against the cold, massive surface of the unmoving rock, pushing with all his might. Each night the man returned to his cabin sore, and worn out, feeling that his whole day had been spent in vain.

Seeing that the man was showing signs of discouragement, Satan decided to enter the picture by placing thoughts into the man's weary mind: "You have been pushing against that rock for a long time, and it hasn't budged. Why kill yourself over this? You are never going to move it."

Thus giving the man the impression that the task was impossible and that he was a failure, these thoughts discouraged and disheartened the man.

"Why kill myself over this?" he thought. "I'll just put in my time, giving just the minimum effort and that will be good enough."

And that he planned to do until, one day, he decided to make it a matter of prayer and take his troubled thoughts to God.

"God," he said, "I have laboured long and hard in your service, putting all my strength to do that which you have asked. Yet, after all this time, I have not even budged that rock by half a millimetre. What is wrong? Why am I failing?"

God responded compassionately, "My friend, when I asked you to serve me and you accepted, I told you that your task was to push against the rock with all your strength, which you have done. Never once did I mention to you that I expected you to move it. Your task was to push.

And now you come to me, with your strength spent, thinking that you have failed. But, is that really so?" "Look at yourself. Your arms are strong and muscled, your back sinewed and brown, your hands are calloused from constant pressure, and your legs have become massive and hard. Through opposition you have grown much and your abilities now surpass that which you used to have. Yet you haven't moved the rock. But your calling was to be obedient and to push and to exercise your faith and trust in My wisdom. This you have done."

"I, my friend, will now move the rock."