Jesus would have made a lousy politician – he was blunt, bold and demanding. He hadn’t learned the art of compromise. He said what he meant, and he didn’t worry about whose feathers he ruffled. On those occasions when his audience was ready to make him king, he walked away and avoided the limelight. On more than one occasion he turned to his followers and told them if they weren’t willing to die for what they believed in that they should go home. It’s kind of surprising that anybody was willing to follow him – but they did.
And perhaps it’s because he did draw that line in the sand, because he did make demands of those who wanted to follow. People have always wanted to be a part of something bigger than themselves and give everything they’ve got to make a difference.
We see that kind of uncompromising demand here in these final verses of the Sermon on the Mount. This is the invitation to the Sermon. It was not a time for gathering coats and Bibles and getting ready to leave, but a time for making a decision about following Jesus.
Jesus confronts his listeners with the inevitability of choice. You cannot put it off or avoid it – not to choose is to choose – the correct choice is never accidental.
When we take tests, we like the multiple choice kind, or even better, all of the above. When we have to choose, we want a smorgasbord of options – a little of this, a little of that. But Jesus offers only an either/or option. To choose one is to forsake the other. To choose the wrong is to bear the consequences of it.
Jesus paints for us four scenarios –real life choices we face:
· Wide or narrow gates
· True or false prophets
· The one who says or the one who does
· The foolish or the wise builder
The wide and the narrow gate (vss. 13-14)
“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.”
As distasteful as this might be to the modern mindset, Jesus speaks in the language of absolutes – there is still right and wrong, good and bad, saved and lost.
The kingdom of heaven is exclusive – there is only one way to heaven – not many roads leading to the same destination. While the path to heaven is open to all, the fact is that the vast majority will choose the path of ease and conformity, rather than the more difficult and narrow. Their assumption will be that because the wide path is crowded and many have chosen it that it must be the correct one – there is safety in numbers. After all, this many people can’t all be wrong.
The wide gate and the broad path are characteristic of the choice of following the world. Everything is fine – there is no talk of sin, certainly no thought of judgment. It is inviting – and let’s not kid ourselves, sin is fun. But just because the majority says it is okay doesn’t make it the right path. In fact, the end of that path and the entrance through the wide gate is destruction.
Along with our distaste for absolutes, we don’t like talking about eternity, especially if hell is mentioned. It makes us uncomfortable, because it sounds so judgmental and narrow minded. But Jesus spoke about hell. It wasn’t his desire for anyone – in fact, John’s gospel will tell us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:16-17) But in spite of God’s desire for everyone to be saved, there will be those who reject him, and so John continues: “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:18) It is not a verdict that God imposes, but a choice that people make. It is to choose the wide gate and the broad path.
The small gate and the narrow road are just the opposite. Their appearance seems difficult and uninviting at first – and we do people a disservice when we present following Jesus as carefree and undemanding – Jesus never did.
This path is ethically rigorous. It involves our conduct, the way we live. It requires a choice between purity and immorality, between honesty and falsehood, between integrity and hypocrisy. But it is more than just “being a good person.”
This path is Christ-centered – the narrow way is through him – only through him. Jesus didn’t come just to teach us how to live a better life, but to give us the only life worth living. That’s the difference between the Christian and the good, moral person. No matter how “good” you are, if you are not in Christ, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Remarkably and tragically, only a few choose this path to life.
The true and false prophets (vss. 15-20)
“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.”
Matthew 7:15 begins with the same warning as in 6:1 – “Watch out – be careful” – we are never so vulnerable as when we are unaware of the potential dangers. If we assume that everything we read, everything we hear is right; if we have no ability to discern then we are in tremendous danger. Paul commended the Berean church for their caution and personal involvement in searching for the truth. Don’t take anything for granted, be a student of God’s word yourself. The best antidote against false teaching is to know the truth.
Who were these false teachers whom Jesus was warning against? Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, there is a contrast between the conduct demanded by Jesus of his followers and that of the “scribes and Pharisees and teachers of the Law.”
· He says they look just like everyone else on the outside, but they are ferocious wolves dressed like sheep. Their appearance is disarming, but their intentions are disastrous. Preying on the sheep, their insidious desire stems from personal greed and self-promotion.
· They are like whitewashed tombs with death inside.
· How can you recognize them? Look at the fruit of their lives. They may talk a good game, but they don’t live it. If the fruit is rotten, the tree is decaying.
Are there false teachers today? Yes.
· Those who teach a righteousness that comes through our works, legalistically depending on our own ability to keep the rules, thus earning our salvation, rather than through the grace of God in Jesus Christ.
· Even worse are those who teach the right things, but don’t live them. They excuse their own sinfulness by appealing to the grace of God – like those Romans who said “let’s sin more so that grace can abound even more.”
· It’s a dangerous and disastrous path to take.
The one who says and the one who does (vss. 21-23)
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he 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 perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
There is a fundamental difference between the doers and the talkers. The talkers always sound like they have the answers. They do the right religious things. In Jesus’ day, they prophesied, they drove out demons, they performed miracles, “Lord, Lord” was always on their lips.
They were religious people, but Jesus didn’t come to make people religious, he came to give them life. And if all you have gotten out of the deal is religion, but not life, then you haven’t met Jesus.
You mean there is more? The most miserable people are religious people, who come to church and go through the motions, just often enough to feel comfortable, but not enough to find what their soul is really looking for. They come, to sit, to listen, to leave – they’ve done their time. They might hear a sermon once a week, but life is found in the heart and soul of the body of Christ, the church – and their lives are too involved elsewhere to ever realize what they are missing. And so they say, “I tried religion. I didn’t get much out of it.” But they have never tried life. And tragically, Jesus will tell them in the judgment, “I never knew you.”
Jesus said, “It is not the one who calls me Lord, but the one who lives like I am their Lord – the one who does the things I do, who cares for people the way I care for people, the one whose life is wrapped up in my life that is pleasing to God.”
The final scenario is our favorite VBS song – “The wise man built his house upon a rock….” We’ve turned it into a cute little children’s story, but it’s not a children’s story. It is a challenge to every one of us to look carefully at what gives stability and foundation to our lives:
The wise and the foolish builder (vss. 24-27)
“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.”
Finally, Jesus turns to the two builders – and he lets us know right up front that he is really talking about those who hear his words and those who do his words.
He begins with the man who chooses the solid foundation – on the rock. And he builds a house that will withstand the forces of nature that beat against it –not because of his building skill, but because of the foundation that he has chosen.
The second man foolishly chooses to build down by the shore – on the shifting sand he builds his house. We can assume that he wasn’t any less skillful in his building, but when the rains come and the floods rise and the winds blow, it falls with a tremendous crash – because he chose the wrong foundation.
The lesson? What foundation are you building your life upon? You say, “Jesus Christ!” But Jesus says there is more to it than that. There is the fundamental difference between hearing and doing. If you are always listening – but then living how you want, following the lead of the world, then regardless of where you spend Sunday mornings, your foundation really isn’t Jesus Christ. The true test of the disciple is whether, having heard the words, he puts them into practice in his own life.
Our response to the invitation (vss. 28-29)
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
While this is a remarkable commentary on the authority and power of Jesus’ words, I’m not sure that was the response he was looking for: amazement. We tend to be amazed a something, but it is a momentary feeling of awe and wonder. It wows us for a moment and then we’re off in search of the next wow. Jesus didn’t intend to amaze the crowd, but to change their lives. His purpose wasn’t to send them off thinking how amazing he was, but for them to go away and treat people differently, to see their relationship with God in a different way.
Will our response be one of amazement? “Wow! Isn’t Jesus the most wonderful teacher you’ve ever heard?” And then we comfortably get back to real life.
This sermon and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount are finished but they are not done. They are not done until you do them. Will you live them out in your daily life, or having heard them, will you choose to live how you want?
Jesus calls us to choose the right path/gate, the right teachers, the right action, the right foundation – and to realize that when we choose the wide and easy, the eloquent and deceptive, to talk but not do, the unstable foundation of this world – the consequences are disastrous and eternal.
The choice really is yours. Will you choose to follow Jesus?