Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Seeking God’s Heart – The Art of Reconciliation

This new series is based upon 2 Samuel. The general message outlines were written by Pastor Andy as part of a project for LifeWay to coincide with the quarter’s Explore the Bible Sunday School material. Because LifeWay owns the copyright, for full disclosure, a link to the original sermon idea is provided here.
https://s3.amazonaws.com/lifewayblogs/wp-content/uploads/sites/83/2014/06/16122345/sermons_2018_sum_session02.pdf

–––
Relationships are one of the greatest gifts God has given mankind. Many relationships may be quite strong, but as good as any relationship might be, all relationships bring challenges. The challenge is because different people have different desires. When desires are in conflict, people are in conflict. And some conflict can create extreme tensions that can last for weeks, years, and even decades. However, a part of God’s gift of relationships is the gift of reconciliation. Some may consider reconciliation impossible in certain circumstances or with certain people. But God reconciled those who were least worthy (us) to the One who is most worthy (Himself). It took a mighty act to make such reconciliation possible, but if we can be reconciled to God, we can certainly be reconciled with one another.

Today’s story from 2 Samuel shows an attempt at reconciliation, not just of people, but of a divided nation. However, the story also reveals that some will resist any attempt to reconcile. What was true in the time of David remains true today as well.


Reconciliation Requires a First Step (2 Samuel 3.12-19)


Reconciliation is impossible until someone first realizes a need to reconcile and then acts on it. Many people may see a need, but refuse to act because of shame, fear, or any number of negative responses. The process may not always be smooth, and may require give and take, but a genuine and persistent effort can provide the necessary healing. The Bible passage for today shows Abner taking the first step.


Abner sent messengers to David. (v.12)

  1. He was the commander of Saul’s army who was strong among Saul’s house (v. 6).
  2. The king (Ish-bosheth) was afraid of the power Abner had.

Abner asked for a promise from David who agreed with a stipulation.

  1. The stipulation was meant to fulfill a promise Saul made David (v. 14).
  2. Saul’s son, the “opposing” king, actually fulfilled the request (v. 15).

So, Abner took the first step, and David gave a bit of a test to check the sincerity of Abner. David did not ask for what was not rightfully his; however, Abner had to be bold to make the request and rebuke the husband when he followed after them (v. 16).


Reconciliation Requires an Open Mind (2 Samuel 3.20-21)


Initial attempts to reconcile may meet resistance, but once the possibilities are understood, it is often like a dam breaking to let the water flow. Overcoming prejudices and hostility is not easy, but short-term sacrifices can often lead to long-term rewards.


Abner saw an opportunity, which in part was due to a weak king (Ish-bosheth).

  1. Abner knew Israel wanted David as king. (v17)
  2. Abner knew the story that David was to become king. (18)
  3. Abner rallied the support of the people for what he intended to do.

BUT – if David was not open to the idea, then it would have gone nowhere.


David was open to Abner’s request.

  1. A feast was arranged.
  2. Abner promised the allegiance of all of Israel.
  3. David sent Abner away in peace.

If someone approaches you in an attempt to reconcile, how do you respond? Oftentimes, we tend to be too skeptical. Certainly, Abner knew that by helping David, he would find a prominent place in the new kingdom, but that was secondary. Ultimately, David knew he was to be king, and Abner was the broker making it happen. Notice, we get no sense that David lacks trust in Abner. David doesn’t send him away and then gather his counsel together to question the motives of Abner. David sends Abner away in peace. And we find David’s trust apparent throughout the remainder of the chapter because while David trusts Abner, some of David’s leading men do not.


Reconciliation Requires a Firm Resolve (2 Samuel 3.22-30)


Not everyone will welcome the idea of reconciliation. Jealousy, bitterness, skepticism, hatred, etc. will cause some to challenge any attempt of reconciliation. For instance, while David appreciated the efforts of Abner, welcoming the opportunity to restore Israel to one nation, Joab remained hostile towards Abner for having killed his brother Asahel (2 Sam 2:18-23).


Joab heard about David and Abner and sent messengers for Abner to return.

Joab killed Abner as a measure of revenge. (2 Sam 2.18-28)
Abner may not have lived to see the kingdom re-united, but without his efforts, David’s reign could have been very different.

But a key aspect is what David did after Joab killed Abner. David demanded Joab and others to mourn the death of Abner. David once again fasted over someone who had died. But like Saul’s death, Abner’s death led to a reconciliation of Israel.


CONCLUSION:


Many people love the idea of peace. But to truly be at peace requires a measure of reconciliation. Whether peace is being sought between two or more people, families, communities, or even nations, finding common ground can be difficult, but satisfying all demands requires sacrifice.


In today’s message, it was noted that both risk (Abner) and openness (David) were required to heal a divided nation. Ultimately, the reconciliation happened but not before Abner was killed. Although his death was not intended nor expected, the risk Abner took did pave the way for Israel to be a united nation once more.


Jesus, on the other hand, knew His death was required to secure reconciliation for humanity with God. All of the demands of God were met by Jesus’ death and His resurrection reveals the nature of the abundant life for those who are reconciled to God. Certainly, many scoff at Jesus, are skeptical of His life and purpose, and ridicule those who follow Him, but their reactions do not negate the efforts or the effects of God’s offer for us to be reconciled to Him.


JOURNEY:


The JOURNEY letter for today is: U – UNITE.


Remember, this series is about seeking the heart of God. God seeks reconciliation with His premier part of creation – humanity. But He did so because of love. That is why we began this series last week looking at the idea of motivation – and the need for our motivation to be from love. When we love others, we will seek reconciliation with them. And when we love others, we will seek to seek them reconciled to God. If God is a God of love (1 John 4.16), and desires to be reconciled to us (2 Corinthians 5.18-21), then to have a heart which seeks God is to be one that loves others and seeks unity through reconciliation whenever it is needed. Yes, that unity may require taking a risk and having a firm resolve, but if we are open to being reconciled, God will make a way – just as He did for David.


NEXT STEP(S):


LOVE: Last week, our task was to do one thing purely from the perspective of love. The extra challenge was to make that one thing an act of love towards someone you might ordinarily choose not to love. This week, our application is to love someone who has offended you. Without expressing love towards others, reconciliation will not be possible. So, if you want to be a man or woman who is known for seeking God’s heart (as David was, Acts 13.22), then love someone this week as a first step towards seeking reconciliation.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Seeking God’s Heart – What Motivates You?

This new series is based upon 2 Samuel. The general message outlines were written by Pastor Andy as part of a project for LifeWay to coincide with the quarter’s Explore the Bible Sunday School material. Because LifeWay owns the copyright, for full disclosure, a link to the original sermon idea is provided here.
https://s3.amazonaws.com/lifewayblogs/wp-content/uploads/sites/83/2014/06/16122345/sermons_2018_sum_session01.pdf

---
Everyone is motivated by something. Perhaps the motivation is to improve a skill, to make more money, to take care of family or friends, to serve in any number of ways, etc. Motivation is a powerful tool and can be both positive and negative depending upon the situation. However, our motivations ultimately expose something far deeper – our character. We may be able to accomplish a great deal while hiding our true motivation. We may even be able to fool others around us for a while. However, our character will be revealed eventually.

Today, we begin a series on 2 Samuel. This sermon series coincides with the Sunday School lessons although we will be behind for the first couple of weeks. This week’s message will look at the motivations of a few different participants in the story that begins this second book of Samuel. What we find is very different motivations revealing very different people because of the very different character within each person or group involved.

Our story begins with the news of Saul’s death. The news is brought by a foreigner and is received by David who mourns, as do the other men who were with him. After David laments, he is crowned as king of Judah and immediately honors the men responsible for finding and burying Saul.

Some People Are Motivated By Reward (2 Sam. 1:1-10)

Receiving a paycheck or even a “Thank you” can be a powerful motivator for some. But do we labor honestly or do we cut corners? Or worse, do we manipulate the situation to appear in our favor? In the end, someone will know and we will be exposed.
  • Compare the true account in 1 Sam. 31:1-6.
  • The messenger stole the king’s crown and armlet, then lies in hopes of a reward
  • Result: The man was killed for displaying a faulty character

Some People Are Motivated By Respect

Certain positions and titles deserve a certain measure of respect. A person who truly respects others will be respectful of those above them (even if we rightfully should have the position (e.g. David), will lead others to be respectful, and will honor those who may have a lesser status, but respect those whom we respect as well.

A. David (2 Sam. 1.11-16)
  • David consistently honored the king (cf. 1 Sam 24, 1 Sam 26)
  • Some of the men with David (vv. 11-12) may not have respected Saul, but they mourned with David because they respected their leader
  • Result: David was honored by God for his moral character
B. Men of Jabesh-gilead (1 Sam. 31:11-13)
  • Risked their lives to care for the dead the bodies of Saul and his sons
  • Fasted in humility because of the loss of their king
  • Result: Men were blessed by David because of their loyalty to Saul

All People Are to be Motivated By Love (Mark 12:30-31)

In the mid-1980s, Tina Turner sang a song entitled, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” The song was about the physical aspect of a relationship overriding the need for love which is referred to as “a second-hand emotion.” Many people may feel that way about love, but God doesn’t. Love is not an emotion, it is an action. And God commanded us to love.

Whatever our reasons for living, ultimately, we are to be loving. Whether, or not, we receive some type of reward for our labors, or whether we are able to respect others, the greatest of all commands is to love God which requires us to also love others.
  • Our love for, and service to, God will bring Him glory. (Matt. 5:16)
  • Our love for, and service to, others provides a tangible expression of God’s mercy. (Luke 6:35-36)
  • Result: Loving in obedience to Christ shows we are truly followers of Christ. (John 13:34-35; 14:15)

CONCLUSION

Do your actions reveal your true motivations?

Our motivation reveals our character. It has often been said that we should guard our reputation, but reputation is what others think of us, whereas our character is who we really are. Consider that Jesus did not have the best of reputations (He associated with the tax collectors and sinners), but His character was impeccable.

Those who follow Christ must make sure our character and motivation are in sync. When this happens we live and serve through love which honors God and brings Him the glory. Ultimately, when we seek to honor God, we will eventually be honored ourselves – just as David was. On the other hand, when our motivation is selfish, we may hide the truth for a while, but eventually we will be exposed, just as the man was who brought King Saul’s possessions to David.

JOURNEY

The JOURNEY letter for this week is: O – OBSERVE.

That observance starts with obeying the command to love one another, to love others, and ultimately to love God. Everything we do should be motivated by love. Sometimes we can find love motivating us to care for a loved one or because of the bonds of friendship, but if we are honest, being motivated by love is not easy most of the time. Why? Because it is tiring and some people are tiresome. But God could feel the same way about us, and He chose to love us instead.

NEXT STEP(S):

LOVE: So, this week, do at least one thing purely from the perspective of love. Maybe you will do more than one thing, but if you start with one, you should find it easier to repeat the process. If you want a bigger challenge, make that one act of love towards someone that you might ordinarily choose not to love. In doing so, you will truly fulfill the Great Commandment.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

As It Is In Heaven – Conclusion

Every now and then, I think or say something that I take the time to write in a file. It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, I want to make sure I remember it. I remember one such time was while teaching in Kenya earlier this year. In the midst of teaching a group of pastors about the book of Mark, I made the following statement: “If we are not doing the things God wants us to do, then we do not have the faith God wants us to have.” It is worthy of remembering, and so I wrote it down. Likewise, many times while I am writing a sermon, I have some thought that goes through my mind that I tweet with the hashtag – sermonprep.

History is filled with great lines in the midst of various speeches or messages. Last century, we saw several which were great for a variety of reasons. Consider lines which were meant to inspire (JFK’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”) Some lines are great because they serve as a reminder of extreme adversity (Roosevelt’s “Yesterday, December 7, 1941, a date which will live in infamy.”) or provide extreme hope (King’s “I have a dream.”). And some stand out because of the character of the person and a reflection beyond what might be otherwise considered (Gehrig’s “Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”)

As these examples, and many others, show, we often remember a line or two, but we tend to forget most of the speech which means we often lose the message as well. But that is not true of the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon by Jesus some 2000 years ago is quoted over and over every day of the week by people who have chosen to follow Jesus and people who are against Him.

I have no real evidence for the claim I am about to make, but I believe it could very well be true. Apart from one stretch of 21 verses, another stretch of 16 verses, and two other stretches of 12, I think most regular church attenders would recognize any part of this sermon within four to five verses (the sermon is 107 verses long). And many non-Christians know parts of the sermon as well. Let me give you a few examples.

Starting in Matthew 5.3, the first verse of the sermon, we have the Beatitudes. Most Christians would recognize at least one Beatitude such as verse 8, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Then five verses later, we have “you are the salt of the earth” and the next verse, you are the light of the world. Now in verse 17, we may find some holes in what many people might know until verse 38 which talks about “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” and then “turn the other cheek,” and “go the extra mile,” and finally in verse 44, “love your enemies.”

Again, we might have a jump of 16 verses here, but then we have the prayer called the Lord’s Prayer. And a few verses later, we hear Jesus talking about laying up “treasures in heaven.” After another jump, we have Jesus command to “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” followed two verses later with “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Five more verses pass until we read, “ask...seek...knock” and then another four verses until we find the Golden Rule. Finally, we have another gap of as many as 12 verses before we hear Jesus talking about the wise and foolish builders.

All of those memorable ideas in one speech, which, in part, makes this message so memorable, and even admired. But as R. T. France states succinctly, “The teaching of the Sermon on the Mount is not meant to be admired but to be obeyed.” Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount was not to give us some memorable ideas that sound good, but to challenge and inspire us to live well as citizens of His Kingdom.

As we conclude this sermon series this week, hopefully, we can all agree that this sermon we have reviewed is the greatest sermon ever preached. The audience of Jesus’ day certainly knew something was different about the message they heard. But the question for us is ultimately the same question they faced on that day – how to respond? Did they act upon the message or did their astonishment soon pass because of the cares of the world? What will we do? Either way, Jesus spoke with authority because He had authority. And His authority will be our focus today.

Read Matthew 7.28-29.

Jesus Taught with Authority

The words of Jesus were unlike anything His generation had heard. The comparison in verse 29 is between the authority of the words of Jesus versus that of the scribes. Now, that statement can bring to mind many thoughts about the scribes, but let me bring two of them to light.

First, the scribes did not have the authority Jesus did. Occasionally a scribe, or more likely a rabbi, would reveal a new understanding or teaching, but largely the scribes were to teach what God had already said. That is, they were to take the Old Testament, and using Scripture plus oral and written tradition, they were to teach what God wanted His people to know. In reality, the scribes were much like myself. I have no authority to create new Scripture, only to interpret what God has given in the past. And my mind is not perfect, so I review trusted commentaries to help me gain clarity, and sometimes to help me understand at all. Then, I teach what I believe God has given me to teach to you (or others) based upon my understanding. That is largely the same thing the scribes did.

However, the second idea is that the scribes did not always teach accurately. Consider the last one-half of Matthew 5 where Jesus repeatedly says, “You have heard it said...but I say.” The people had heard what the scribes (and Pharisees) taught, but they were not always right on every issue. Unfortunately, neither am I. I strive to be accurate in examining the text, in interpreting the text, in processing the text, in teaching the text, and in applying the text, but I am imperfect too. But, if Jesus were to stand here and talk to you, I am sure He would say about some things I have taught, “You have heard Andy say, but I say...” Certainly, some teachers do a better job of teaching biblical principles correctly, and I pray that I am one of those teachers. But anyone who thinks they are beyond such correction is wrong – except Jesus. And the people with Him that day recognized the difference. Jesus taught with authority.

Consider the word authority for a moment. The root of the word is author, and Hebrews 12.2 teaches us that Jesus is the “Author and Perfecter of our faith.” Jesus has the authority because He is the author. What He says matters, nothing else. And when the people heard Jesus’ speaking that day, they knew something was different. Jesus spoke with authority, not just as someone who read, tried to understand, and then taught others (again like me). He taught with understanding because He was the original author of the material being taught.

Jesus could say, “but I say to you” because He not only had the authority to say it, but is the authority who judges what is said. Jesus is the living Word of God and the Bible is the written Word of God. Thus, Jesus’ life is a perfect picture of what God has written or what He didn’t have to write because people could see Jesus. In other words, Jesus had the authority to teach it because He lived it.

Jesus Lived with Authority

In a previous sermon series (Follow Me...In the Footsteps of Jesus) based upon the Gospel According to Mark from April 2016 to April 2017, we saw this truth continually. Jesus showed His authority in many ways and areas. For instance, He displayed His authority:
  • over illnesses (see Mark 1.34; 5.34; 10.52, etc.).
  • over demons (see Mark 1.25-26; 3.11-12; 9.25-26, etc.).
  • over Satan (Mark 3.27).
  • over the dead (Mark 5.41-42; see also the story of Lazarus in John 11).
  • over nature (Mark 6.48-50).

Certainly, we could review the other gospels and find more instances, but regardless of where we look, we will see that He had complete authority while He lived, even up to, and including the moment He died (see Matthew 26.53; John 18.36 and 19.11; Luke 23.46).

Jesus Lives with Authority

The last point was not to distract you from the full truth; rather, it was meant as a progression of the truth. Jesus did live with authority, but remember the claim of the angels on Resurrection Morning, “He is not here, he is risen” (Matthew 28.6; also Mark 16.6; Luke 24.6). Jesus did live with authority, but He also lives with authority.

One of the most ironic ideas in the Bible is found in what Peter taught in Acts 3. Verse 15 says that the people “killed the Author of life.” Again, the idea of being an author gives a full measure of authority, but the people tried to usurp that authority from Jesus by killing Him. Yet, the verse continues with the great truth “whom God raised from the dead.” You may try to cast God aside, but He is in control. You may ignore God as you live your life, but He is in control. And as Peter reminds us here, you may even think you have permanently removed God, but He will not lose His authority.

Paul writes about the hope of the Christian because death has been swallowed up in victory and has lost its sting (1 Corinthians 15.54-55). Why? Because Jesus overcame death. Yes, Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter (Mark 5) and Lazarus (John 11) from the dead, but those moments were just a prelude of what was to come.

We must remember that Satan offered Jesus authority if Jesus would bow down and worship him. But Jesus would not because the power Satan offered would not have left Jesus with full authority – He had bowed to another. However, when Jesus completed His mission, the Father gave full authority to Jesus. In Matthew 28.18, Jesus says, “All authority has been given to me.” God, the Father, granted Jesus authority during His life to do what God wanted/needed done. But now, all authority has been given to Jesus and one day He will return in authority to fully claim what is rightfully His (Matt 26.64; Revelation 19.11-16).

So, yes, we can read the words of Jesus’ great sermon and realize what the people thought on that day some 2000 years ago. These words, and this teaching, are special, because they are truly the Word of God. But what we know, and they didn’t, is that Jesus would go on to prove the authority He really had, and that He still has. However, the question remains for us, as it did for them, will we choose to follow the authority of Jesus or do we just find His teaching interesting?

How would having a knowledge of the glory of the Lord affect this teaching?

This question has been asked each week I have preached during this series. And the answer has been contextualized to each message, but the overall principle for correctly answering the question is this: Do you really mean what you pray when you say the words “on earth as it is in heaven.” That phrase within the model prayer is the basis for the title of this sermon series. And it is the title of this concluding message within the series because the glory of God and authority of Jesus is fully recognized in heaven. So when we pray, “as it is in heaven,” we are clearly implying we want God’s glory and Jesus’ authority to be fully realized here as well. But for that to happen, each of us must make it true for ourselves. Each individual must take ownership of that statement and allow Jesus to have full authority over your life. You might think that someone else needs to do more, but when we are seeking first God’s Kingdom and righteousness, we have less time to be concerned about the faults of others – at least, until the log is out of our own eye.

So, do you want God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven? Then what do you need to do to further submit to Jesus’ authority and accomplish your part of doing His will?

CONCLUSION

Jesus taught with authority and the people were amazed. But just because they were amazed does not mean they followed. Today, Jesus still has all authority, but the question is how we respond to that authority? Will we be wise and do what He says, or be a fool hearing Him, but not responding with action. Again, those were the last words of Jesus in His great sermon as we saw last week. He can say them because of the authority He has. But Jesus does not demand our allegiance. He desires our allegiance, but He allows us to make the choice of which master we will follow (Matthew 6.24).

That choice, however, is not like our vote for a president. Someone may vote for a person to be president and if that person doesn’t win, and is disliked, a slogan such as “not my president” begins. But a king is different. And our King is supremely different. Jesus is not a president, or even a king, who is elected by popular vote, or is even concerned with current polling numbers. Jesus is the King because He is also God. Someone may disagree or may even revolt, but Jesus is still King. One day even those who might want to say “not my king” will bow and proclaim Jesus to be the rightful Lord (see Philippians 2.11-12).

But for those who call Him Lord now, we must not let the term be merely a word we use. Rather, by calling Him Lord, we are announcing His authority over our lives. But the question we must consider daily is do we truly embrace His Lord-ship over our lives? That is, do we accept His authority as we live our day to day lives?

And, thus, our JOURNEY letter for today is: J – JESUS

Jesus is the beginning and the end of the journey. We begin our walk towards Him when we respond to His command “Follow Me.” And we finally arrive with Him when our journey in this life is finished. After all, Jesus is the Way, so following Him only makes sense if we want to live our lives faithfully before the Lord – who is the One with he authority.

Based upon today’s message, how can we raise the bar and live on earth as it is in heaven?

NEXT LEVEL STEP(S): LIVE

We live our lives by submitting to Him. We have referred to this as Next-Level Living throughout this series. Next-level living includes raising our bar in:
  • Discipleship – observing all that He commanded so as to be considered wise.
  • Fellowship – uniting as brothers and sisters in Christ so as to prove our love for Him.
  • Worship – revering God in all of His glory and submitting to the authority of His will.
  • Service – nurturing one another to do unto others what should be done.
  • Sharing – engaging others with the message of the Gospel so they can have a great journey as well.

I started this series with a quote from Abraham Lincoln and I will end this message with the same quote. The idea is to make your life count.
“It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” – Abraham Lincoln

We can make our life count by submitting to Jesus, our true authority, who reminds us to begin with “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.”

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Being Wise or Foolish – More Than a Children’s Song

What is knowledge? Essentially, knowledge is what we know or can know. It is based upon facts or experiences which come from a variety of sources and settings. Several students will graduate this month which is indicative that they have acquired sufficient knowledge to meet the standards set by the school board and administered by the school.

What is wisdom? I have always defined wisdom as applied knowledge. Wisdom does not automatically come with age, but many who are older have learned from the “School of Hard Knocks” which does, indeed, imply wisdom. But we all know of someone, or perhaps many, who have never learned. Thus, they do not become wise, they merely repeat the past, and often draw pity from others.

So, knowledge and wisdom are indeed different. I will share what keeps knowledge from becoming wisdom at the conclusion of this message, but for now what we need to know is that Jesus uses the word foolish to refer to those who only have knowledge of what He says, while those who apply what they have learned from Him are considered wise.

Some first learned the principle of this lesson when you were in the preschool department of Sunday School. It is possible that some learned the song of the wise and foolish builder before learning the ABC’s. But the principle of this final part of Jesus’ sermon is not meant for children, it is meant for adults like you and me. And Jesus makes His point clear – some who hear will choose wisely and others will respond as fools.

This distinction between the wise and foolish person fits well with how Jesus has concluded His overall sermon. I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that Jesus concludes this sermon by contrasting two types of people – those who follow Him and those that do not. The types are described by:
  • the gate they enter. (Matthew 7.13-14).
  • the fruit they bear, by whose will is done (vv. 15-23).
  • the foundation they use. (vv. 24-27).

Today, we are going to touch on this last one, but per the words of Jesus, we have to consider a third group of people as well.

Before we look at the three types of people, we need to consider two general aspects of this text to help us better understand Jesus’ words. First, we generally understand the idea of building on a rock or sand. But let me provide some clarity based upon the Palestinian landscape. Israel is very hilly and rocky which allows for a good foundation. When we were there a couple of years ago, it is evident that most every home or building was built into or on a hill. The primary exceptions were greenhouses and tents of the Bedouins which are nomadic by nature and therefore do not need a permanent foundation. Thus, Jesus audience knew well which terrain was suitable for building and which should be avoided.

Second, we must understand that the storm Jesus describes is identical for each situation. The words He uses are identical – “rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew” in both situations. While the storms in our personal lives may be different, Jesus has painted a consistent picture in each situation to show the storm is not what is important – because it is inevitable – it is the foundation on which we rest that truly matters.

The Wise Hear and Follow Jesus (Matthew 7.24-25)

Jesus uses the word “does.” That is, many have heard, but only the wise “do” what Jesus has commanded. Again, doing what Jesus says does not mean life is easy. The same storms affect those who follow Jesus and those who choose their own path. But only those who follow – or are doers – can be considered wise.

You may recall the story at the end of Mark 3 when Jesus was teaching a group of people and His biological family came wanting to see Him. Jesus responded that “whoever does the will of God” is truly His brother, sister, and mother. That is, those who know AND do God’s will are truly apart of the family of God. They are the true believers.

Frankly, we don’t like to hear this because it means that many people whom we admire, respect, and love may not truly be followers of Jesus. They may know more about Jesus than we do, but Jesus says if they are not acting on that knowledge then they are not wise. Last week Sam preached about the fruit of those who believe versus those who do not believe. The good fruit comes not just from knowing, but from doing. It is through our doing that we prove we have wisdom.

One more note before we leave this first point. We must remember that Jesus’ sermon is ultimately about righteousness. So, it is not just doing, but it is doing because we are righteous. This is a critical point otherwise people could claim that our doing is about earning something like salvation. But that is not what Jesus is saying at all. Jesus has laid out the need for righteous living throughout His sermon and in these last three weeks we see how those who are actively seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness truly live. Three particular verses in the Proverbs give credence to this as well. (See Proverbs 10.25; 12.7; and 14.11.) Thus, this theme of righteous living is evident throughout the Bible, but Jesus spells out specific aspects of it as He preached on the mountain that day.

The Foolish Hear and Ignore Jesus (Matthew 7.26-27)

Contrasted against those who hear and do is those who have heard, but “does not do them” referring to the commands of Jesus. These people believe they are wise and may look like it from afar. They may have the same skills to build their house, use the same building materials, and in every other way mimic a true follower of Jesus, but their choice of a foundation will eventually bring about their ruin. Effectively, they may have deceived others and maybe they have even deceived themselves, but in the end, Jesus is not fooled.

In fact, Jesus brother James later wrote of this very notion. In James 1.22, he wrote that we are to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only” otherwise we deceive ourselves. He then equates the idea of someone looking into a mirror and immediately forgetting what s/he looks like when away from the mirror. But, James continues, the person who acts on what He hears will be blessed by God (which harkens back to the Beatitudes Jesus taught as He began this sermon we have been reviewing!).

As Sam preached last week, many false teachers exist who teach one thing and do another. In essence, a gap exists between what they say and what they do. Now, Jesus is attacking another false type of faith – those who hear and yet do not do. To Jesus, both situations reveal a false faith.

The Rest Need to Hear About Jesus

The third group in Jesus’ concluding thoughts are not mentioned here directly. They are not included among those who are wise, nor are they included with the foolish. This group is ignorant – not in a foolish kind of way, but in the sense that they do not know. Why do I say this? Notice Jesus words in verses 24 and 26. Both sentences begin with the idea of “everyone who hears these words of mine” which implies that some have not heard Jesus’ words. To everyone who has heard, the message is clear – some are wise and others are fools. But what about those who have not heard?

They need to hear about Jesus, about His teachings, and be taught to follow. Remember, Jesus’ final words in Matthew are not just to make disciples who know commands, but to make disciples who observe them. Jesus instructed us to teach others to observe all that He commanded. That is, we are not to instruct others to merely hear and be measured as a fool. We are to help them “do” in order that they will be considered wise. And, for us, if we have heard that we are to make disciples and do not do so, then we are being fools. Some may take exception with my words here, but realize these are not my words, these are from the very lips of Jesus!

If we consider this command to make disciples in the context of the Golden Rule, then if we would want others to teach us about Jesus, we should be teaching others as well. And remember the two principle truths about the Golden Rule I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. First, as we see in today’s passage, it is meant for everyone who hears Jesus words. That is, if we desire to follow Jesus, the Golden Rule applies to us. Second, the Golden Rule requires we do something. The wording Jesus used forces us into action which fits perfectly with today’s message. Everyone who hears Jesus’ words and does them is wise – and that includes “doing” the Golden Rule.

So, the question is, will you hear and be wise by doing or be a fool by going on your way? The question may sound harsh, but let’s put that question in the context of our over-arching question for this series.

How would having a knowledge of the glory of the Lord affect this teaching?

If we know that God is indeed glorious, then it should impact how we live. Of course, it should impact how we hear and respond, which is the key according to this entire sermon Jesus has preached. We can hear Jesus’ words, reflect on Jesus’ words, memorize Jesus’ words, appreciate Jesus’ words, etc. But if we do not do them, we are fools. Jesus is communicating throughout this message, and throughout His ministry, that knowledge is not all that is required, it is about doing. And the difference between knowing and doing is what makes one wise. The difference between knowing and doing is what makes one a follower of Christ. The difference between knowing and doing is the difference between being a member of a church and being a part of the Body of Christ.

Which do you want to be – a fool who simply hears or one who is wise because of what you do?

CONCLUSION
When major storms approach we consider the importance of foundations. We are told to retreat to our basements during a tornado because the foundation is more likely to protect us. But some do not have basements (e.g. those in mobile homes) and thus, without a strong foundation, are in more peril. The same is true for people who face storms physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc. People often fall apart because they have no support system – and that support system must begin with a foundation of faith in Jesus. That foundation is not simply a knowledge of Jesus, but a trust in Him. It is not only knowing who He is, but believing and doing what He says. Again, it is a difference between knowledge and wisdom.

Thinking back to the beginning of this post, if you have read this post you have some knowledge of the Bible. Even if you had never heard anything about the Bible before, you now have some knowledge on the concluding words of Jesus’ sermon with some related verses also included.

But to become wise, we must all now begin to put into practice what we have heard (or read) – not just from this post, but all of Jesus’ words. Doing requires us to make sure all of His preceding words (teaching) are done (all of Matthew 5-7 in perfect context). So, to gain wisdom we must, for instance, give, pray, and fast with the right attitude. We must seek treasures in heaven not on earth. We must seek first God’s Kingdom and righteousness by asking, seeking, and knocking. Etc. In actuality, to be wise, per Jesus, we must begin to do these things.

But many will choose not to do them. Why? Fear. As Gary Haugen shared in a conference I attended last year, “Fear is the difference between what you learn and what you actually do.” We all know far more than we actually do. That is obviously true. But why? Because we fear losing our time, or losing our friends, or making our family mad, or not having enough money, or.... Yes, any of those ideas may be true. However, it seems as if Jesus has addressed these concerns throughout His sermon. And overcoming each of these fears begins with what we seek first... “BUT seek first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6.33).

How do you overcome fear? By seeking God. That’s it. And once you do that you will be on the way to doing what He wants you to do which, according to Jesus, makes you wise.

And, thus, our JOURNEY letter for today is: OOBSERVE.

We cannot be wise without obedience. We cannot be obedient without knowing. So, we must know in order to do, but our knowing is more about our becoming more like Him. We do not do out of obligation or a desire to avoid some sort of penalty. We do for Jesus because of love and in response to what He has done for us. Doing is important, but Jesus wants us first to be – that is why we seek first God’s Kingdom and righteousness. As we become more righteous – that is, more like Jesus, then doing becomes more natural. Yes, we must observe...we must do. Per Jesus that is the sign of wisdom, but the first thing to do is to seek God and become righteous.

Based upon today’s message, how can we raise the bar and live on earth as it is in heaven?

NEXT LEVEL STEP(S): LIVE.
Take time to focus on becoming (more) righteous this week. It is the first item of business per Jesus and is done by asking for God to grant it, seeking to find it, and knocking at the narrow gate to enter. Beginning by seeking first His Kingdom and righteousness will put you one step closer to being wise in Jesus’ eyes.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

“Building on a Firm Foundation”, A Closer Look by Reggie Koop

Key Scripture: Matthew 7:24-29

There are many famous structures around the world:
1. Statue of Liberty, New York
2. Eiffel Tower, Paris
3. Great Wall of China
4. Taj Mahal, India
5. Burj al Arab Hotel, Dubai
6. Neushawanstein, Bavaria
7. Jin Mao & SWFC, Shanghai
8. Burj Khalifa, Dubai


Burj Khalifa is the tallest building in the world. Standing at an incredible 828 metres tall, (2717 feet) it towers above Dubai, UAE. It has 160 floors and was officially opened in 2010.

Structures like Burj Khalifa depend on their foundations. The purpose of a foundation is to spread the weight of the structure over a wide area.

There are a few kinds of foundations:

Shallow foundations – at least 3 feet below the surface of the ground; for small, light buildings such as residential homes
Deep foundations – 60 to 200 feet below the top of the ground; usually use piles (long cylinders of strong material like concrete pushed deep into the ground); used where there are layers of weak soil at the surface; for large, heavy buildings such as high-rise structures

Every building structure needs to built on a firm foundation.

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is famous for its unique structure. Construction began in 1173 and by the time the workers had finished the second floor it was already leaning. This is because it was built 0.2 degrees north of vertical. After completing the seventh floor it was leaning 1 degree to the south. Today is it leaning 4 degrees from vertical which is about 13 feet. At one time it was leaning 5.5 degrees after restoration attempts. The tower was built on soft group composed mostly of clay, fine sand, and shells. The foundation was only 3 meters deep for a 14,500 ton tower. Contrast this to the Burj Khalifa with a foundation that uses piles and goes 50 meters deep (164 feet).

Again, it is very, very crucial to build on a solid foundation. 

What can happen if something is not built on a firm foundation?
1. Cracks in the foundation walls
2. Walls fall apart
3. Structure settles
4. Structure tips over
5. Structure sinks (sink hole)
6. Structure is blown away by a storm, tornado, or hurricane
7. Structure is swept away by a flood
8. Structure crumbles by an earthquake

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

The Christian and the False Prophet by Samuel Hood

There are many tests we can use to determine the freshness of produce: the smell test, the squeeze test, the color test, the surface test, the weight test, and the sound test. We examine produce because we want it to taste good and we do not want to get sick. In the same way, Christians are called to examine the fruit of teachers. Jesus addresses this in this week’s Sermon on the Mount passage – Matthew 7:15-23.

I have derived three points from my study of this text. First, we will see that Christians are on guard against false teachers. Second, we will see that Christians possess the fruit of the Spirit. And third, we will see that Christians are not condemned. 

1. Christians are on guard against false teachers (v. 15-16).

Christ’s warning against false teachers is not a new warning to those who follow God. Rather, Christ is reminding Israel of their past and the covenant they have with God. Deuteronomy 13 and 18 are two places where God spoke his commandments for Israel concerning false prophets. Deuteronomy 13 presents the idea that if someone has a prophetic dream or proclamation that does not come to pass, the false prophet should be killed. Deuteronomy 18 promises that the Lord will raise up a prophet who will speak for him. With this, anyone who decides to speak on God’s behalf without his command to do so must die. These passages are frightening due to the authority that is associated with proclaiming a message from God. And yet, throughout the course of Israel’s history, false prophets still existed.

Around the time of Jeremiah false prophets were virtually everywhere. These false prophets declared that peace would come to reign in the land, yet no peace would actually come for them. See this passage from Jeremiah 23:21-22, 25-26, 32: “I did not send out these prophets, yet they ran. I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. If they had really stood in my council, they would have enabled my people to hear my words and would have turned them from their evil ways and their evil deeds. “I have heard what the prophets who prophesy a lie in my name have said: ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’ How long will this continue in the minds of the prophets prophesying lies, prophets of the deceit of their own minds? I am against those who prophesy false dreams”—the Lord’s declaration—“telling them and leading my people astray with their reckless lies. It was not I who sent or commanded them, and they are of no benefit at all to these people”—this is the Lord’s declaration.”

These prophets had a message that was contrary to God’s message. They were not sent by the Lord. Contrast this with Jeremiah. He was called from birth to be a prophet, as testified to in Jeremiah 1. The Lord told him to declare the coming destruction of Judah if they did not repent. Sadly, Judah did not repent and destruction came upon them. Jeremiah’s word from the Lord came true. Jeremiah contrasts with the false prophets from the verses above: he was called by the Lord to proclaim his message and they were not, declaring falsehood and distorting God’s message.

False prophets still existed in Jesus’ time. They declared that the people needed to clean up their act and follow the Law outwardly. Jesus had to correct the work of false teachers in previous parts of the Sermon on the Mount. He often said, “You have heard it said...but I say to you...” This language signals that the people had heard false teaching.

False teachers are subtle and dangerous. That is why Jesus said they look like sheep; they are hard to recognize. It is easy to read, “You shall not murder,” and believe that you are fine if you do not murder. Yet Jesus reminds the listener that anger cast on a brother or sister deserves a judgment equal to murder. God has always been about the heart, never about outward appearances. False teachers fail to teach us what God has actually revealed. Wolves can proclaim, “God has commanded us to abstain from murdering,” but a sheep will proclaim that murder begins with the heart. They look like God’s sheep outwardly, but inwardly there is a wolf seeking the destruction of souls.

Jesus used this wolf imagery, rotten fruit, and thorns and thistles to depict false teachers. If you have not seen a thorn bush or a thistle, Google them now. A thorn bush is self-descriptive – a bush with tightly-grouped thorns on its branches. A thistle has a pretty, purple flower with a stem that is prickly. Jesus illustrated that good fruit does not come from places that harm you. Listening to a false teacher can be described as this: pursuing an attractive teaching while having your soul cut to pieces. It is dangerous and will leave you broken in the end.

Our current culture is a breeding ground for false teachers. Our culture encourages private faith, rather than public faith. People believe what they want and do not want others influencing their beliefs. This goes against the Christian perspective. Christians come together in community to build one another up in the faith. We have a standard outside of ourselves, the Word of God. The Word of God instructs us how to live according to godliness. We come alongside each other to speak the gospel into the lives of our fellow sisters and brothers. It looks like rebuking sin, fixing our gaze on Jesus, and living on mission. Yes, faith has private matters, but it is to be displayed in public. False teachers destroy this view of Christian community but, believers, I encourage you to be in pursuit of one another constantly proclaiming the gospel to one another.

Christian, although false teachers abound, there is good news. By the aid of the Spirit we will be on guard against false teachers. The Spirit will aid us by giving us discernment. We will be able to see the truth within the teachings we encounter. We have the Word of God, the fount of truth. We must know this Word, for without it we do not have a standard of truth to guard. The Spirit graciously gives us understanding of the Word of God and allows us to not be deceived by false teachers. You know a false teacher by their fruit and by their teachings. Often their teachings sound good, satisfying that which the flesh wants to hear. But the Spirit aides us in killing the flesh. We are dead to sin and our fleshly desires are subsided by the power of the Spirit working within us. This leads us to our second point.

2. Christians possess the fruit of the Spirit (v. 17-20).

The fundamental truth of this passage is that the fruit of our lives reveals our identity. The Christian’s fruit changes upon salvation. We begin to detest the things of the flesh. We are aware of our sin. We find joy in Christ. Inwardly, the Spirit takes residence and brings to life what once was dead. We are grafted in to the family of God.

Jesus is clearly warning against false teachers in the analogy about bad trees. He equated them to thorn bushes and thistles. False prophets produce bad fruit. There is no alternative. Jesus even says that good fruit cannot come from a bad tree. How often do you eat bad fruit? Hopefully never. In the same way, Jesus does not want us to partake in fruit that is bad. He wants us to enjoy good fruit. So why do we not exercise discernment in what we use to feed our soul? We often proclaim that the Word of God is our daily bread but how many of us are ruining our spirits by eating the rotten fruit of false teachers?

Galatians 5:19-26 is our friend in this regard. Jesus said we shall know false teachers by their fruit and Paul gives us a list of good fruit and bad fruit. He lists the bad fruit in 5:19-21: “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I am warning you about these things—as I warned you before—that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

This is an all-inclusive list of private and public sins. Some sins in this list are corporate while others are individual. This is how we know false teachers. These are the works of the flesh and ravenous wolves practice these things. Jesus warned that every tree that does not produce good fruit would be cut down and thrown into the fire. Paul mentioned that those who practice the works of the flesh will not inherit the kingdom of God. It is obvious then that false teachers are condemnable. Not only is their teaching condemnable, but they are condemned.

Jesus contrasts bad fruit and good fruit. Paul lists these in Galatians 5:22-26: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”

It is important to notice that the fruit of the Spirit is a description of character and not of acts. That is because the Spirit changes us, making us into a new creation. These characteristics of believers direct our lives and our actions should be based on them. The good tree is Christ. When we are in Christ we produce good fruit and we look Christ-like. False teachers do not have these characteristic changes. Rather, they practice the works of the flesh because they are not truly believers. They are in step with the flesh, the bad tree that produces rotten fruit.

As Christians, we need to focus on practicing the good fruit. I want to mention here that this is not a “do better, try harder” message. I am not saying that if you just try more or try harder that you can produce good works. This is actually a common, yet subtle false teaching found in church culture today: work for your salvation. Many minds may go to Catholicism but this teaching even creeps into Baptist, Presbyterian, and Methodist churches. We are told that we must make an effort in our salvation by doing that which Christ has done. We must do good things for others, for the community, and for the world and then we will be saved. Many have tried this but still end up in Hell because those who work for their salvation will perish.

So, what does salvation look like? It looks like placing faith in the one that has died the death you could not, atoning for sin. We rest in the salvation he has provided for us. Rest, you may ask? Yes, rest. You might be thinking, but what about focusing and practicing the good fruit? Our faith is a rest in the finished work of Christ; we no longer work for our salvation for it is secure in Christ. Rather, we practice the good fruit because we possess the Spirit. When the Spirit of God lives within us we possess supernatural power. This supernatural power overrides the fleshly tendencies to do evil and malice. We do good works because we have faith in Jesus Christ. We do not have a performance-based faith, but a grace-based faith. This leads us to our third point.

3. Christians are not condemned (v. 21-23).

People are often terrified when they read these verses. Who wouldn’t be when they hear, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” But this is not the thrust of the text. Keep in mind we are still talking about false teachers. This becomes evident as we continue to read: “Did we not prophesy, drive out demons, and perform miracles in your name?” Clearly this is language associated with the false prophets. They thought they were doing great things for God and extending his name throughout the earth. But they were not, for God said, “Depart from me, I never knew you.”

Jesus showed another implied contrast here. The false prophet burns in the fire, but the Christian does not. Jesus said that those who do the will of his Father shall inherit the kingdom of God. I just unpacked what it means to do good works and produce good fruit as Christians. This is living in the will of the Father. There is no reason for those who are in Christ Jesus to fear death, to fear as if they might go to Hell. Scripture is full of promises that believers will be brought to the kingdom.

Make no mistake that anyone who places their faith in anyone or anything other than Christ is condemned. It was Christ that paved the way to salvation. It is Christ who is our joy in the midst of our suffering in this life. Anyone who says that this is your best life now is mistaken. The Christian’s best life is yet to come. An eternity of being with Christ is still to come for those who have placed their faith in him. A believer still has hope and joy even if they were to lose everything in this life. Our gaze should not be fixed on the things of earth or self, but rather on Jesus Christ. Ray Ortlund, a Nashville pastor, has a great quote, “Stare at the glory of God until you see it.”

With our eyes transfixed on Jesus we shall not waver when false teachers throw their deception at us. When we have seen the glory of God we are focused on accomplishing God’s will in our life. Christ holds on to us with a steadfast love. We will not perish. We shall live. With a gaze fixed on Christ we will not be looking for fire insurance, that is an escape from hell. We will desire to know and be known by Christ. For those in Christ, Romans 8:1 says, “There is no condemnation.” What a great Savior that he would rescue us from condemnation. 

Four Ways to Keep Our Gaze Fixed on Christ

  1. Read the Word of God for without it you have no way of guarding against false teachers. God gave us his Word so we would know him. It is the way he has revealed himself, therefore, it makes no sense to never pick it up. If we never study the Bible we will not know the difference between false teachers and true teachers.
  2. Live in step with the Spirit. The Spirit is the one who conforms us to the image of Christ. With the Spirit we will produce good fruit and possess discernment. Study Galatians 5 further to learn how to live in step with the Spirit.
  3. Be part of a gospel-centered community with members from your church. Seek to live out your church covenant with one another and hold each other accountable. If one strays from biblical teaching, help them gain a biblical understanding again and do this with patience and kindness. It is the community of believers that will keep us from straying into false teaching. Walk alongside your fellow church members, encouraging them with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  4. Read good books. Books help us see Christianity from a different perspective, not a wrong perspective. Reading books can help us understand God and his Word better. There are bad authors out there so talk to your pastor for recommendations.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

A Summary Statement of the Way

Sermon preparation can be done many different ways. I have a couple of ways I have used over the years, but primarily I write a paper. My paper has an Introduction, a Body, and a Conclusion. For me this approach works because to earn a doctorate in my field required writing a lot of papers. It also works because I post the sermons to the this blog each week. While some approaches are better than others (and my approach is not the best), it works well for me to keep the flow of my thoughts together.

While letting a reader know the end is near can be helpful, one danger for any pastor or teacher is to use the word “conclusion” when speaking. To do so puts the congregation/audience into a state of “The speaker is almost done so let’s pack up so we are ready to leave.” Now, I often say something like, “As we prepare to conclude” because within my conclusion is our JOURNEY letter and our NEXT STEP(S). Additionally, once I step down off the platform, everything is unscripted – as is some of what I say while on the platform. So, just because we are reaching the conclusion does not mean that we are nearly done nor that what remains is unimportant. But what is true for me is exponentially true of the sermon we have been studying.

This week, we begin what I deem to begin the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. After having covered so many different topics, Jesus begins to conclude His message. First, He gives a summary statement which we call the Golden Rule. After the Golden Rule, what Jesus says is not new information; rather, He provides a series of examples of the two types of people in the world today. The wise will pay attention and build their lives on a solid foundation. The foolish will disregard what Jesus says and eventually everything they care about will fall flat.

Today, we will review the principles of the Golden Rule (Part 1) and then look at the first of Jesus examples related to the wide and narrow way (Part 2).

PART 1
The Golden Rule...

The Golden Rule could be the summary statement for Jesus’ sermon. The sermon Jesus preached to this point covered a lot of ground. He began by speaking of the blessings of God toward those who follow Him. He then challenged the idea of self-righteousness as a standard of measurement and expanded on the idea by speaking to the true nature of several commandments such as murder, coveting, and lying. Then He spoke about the necessary attitude one should have when giving, praying, and fasting which led to His points on how much we trust God for our basic provisions. As He continued His theme of righteousness, He then spoke about a proper measurement of judgment before circling back to prayer which we discussed last week. And then Jesus said the following, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7.12).

Whatever you want others to do to you, do to them. As I mentioned last week related to a parent providing bread and fish, Jesus is not considering those who think in a maniacal sense. Some people may get their pleasure from having others hurt them. This is sadistic and not at all what Jesus is talking about here. In fact, let us keep in mind that Jesus is talking to people who are following Him or are considering doing so. Therefore, although the Golden Rule may be practical for anyone, it is necessary for those that claim to follow Jesus. Jesus thoughts here are as pure as His words. We all want to be treated well and thus we should treat others well.

Before I continue, let me share that Jesus did not originate this rule. The basic premise of this thought dates back centuries before Jesus (perhaps as early as 700-800 BC). The first instance of it being called The Golden Rule may have been in a sermon by John Wesley in about 1750. Others say the title stemmed from a gold carving in a wall ordered by a Roman emperor many centuries before.  Whatever the case, the rule is universally known and is included in many religions although it is often found in the negative – that is, do not do to others what you don’t want them to do to you. But Jesus turned the negative into a positive. Let me explain why.

...requires action.
Frankly, the negative statement makes it easier for us to succeed. If I don’t want someone to steal from me, then I won’t steal from them. So, I can do nothing, expect nothing, and fulfill the negative aspect of this thought. But remember, Jesus sermon is about righteous living and He demands more from His followers so He gives the command in the positive. Do to others as you would have them do. We are to be active in doing good to others. The implication is that we are to do something for others, and what it is that we do, should be what we would want others to do to us.

For instance, recall that just a few verses prior to this, Jesus has talked about judging others. Do we want others to judge us? Well, maybe not. But if we are in the wrong, don’t we want others helping us to correct our situation? Certainly. Then the way we want others to approach us when we are in the wrong should dictate our approach when we need to confront others.

...is our response to God.
Ultimately, we must treat others like God has treated us. And God has done what He has done for us because He loves us. To do for others something positive requires an element of love and we love because God first loved us (1 John 4.19). And we are to love others as we love ourselves which is linked with our loving God (1 John 4.20; Matthew 22.37-40).

One final thought before we shift gears. The Golden Rule is not meant to be manipulative. In fact, it cannot be manipulative if love is involved. Some people seek to misuse Jesus idea with the idea of “because I have done something for you, you now must do something for me.” That is not what Jesus said. In fact, truly loving others involves loving those who are our enemies (Matt 5.44). Loving our enemies does not mean they will love us in return, and serving others does not mean they will serve us. But Jesus command for us to do for others is not contingent on what we might receive from them; rather, our doing for others is ultimately about our responding to what God has done for us.

PART 2

As I mentioned above, Jesus now concludes His sermon by splitting humanity into two groups. To do so, He uses three distinct illustrations, two of which are well-known with the last of them having been turned into a song about the wise and foolish builders.

You and I tend to classify people in a lot of ways. We might classify people by their nationality, their gender, their skin color, their job/career, their political leanings, or any number of things – both good and bad. But Jesus breaks it down to two types of people – those who follow Him and those that do not. For the rest of this month, we will conclude this series by looking at these four different descriptions of the two types. The types are described by:
  • the gate they enter. (Matthew 7.13-14)
  • the fruit they bear – by whose will is done (vv. 15-23)
  • the foundation they use. (vv. 24-27)

Before we break down verses 13 and 14, take a moment to read them. Jesus teaches us that two gates exist. One is easy to find and is wide enough for many to enter. The other is only found by the few and requires discipline. The first gate leads to destruction and the second to life. To borrow from Jesus teaching in John 10.10, the first gate is, therefore, tended by Satan who seeks to steal, kill, and destroy (i.e. destruction) and the second is the way to Jesus (who gives life abundantly).

The audience listening to Jesus that day would have had a fairly strong assurance of their salvation whether they should have or not. After all, they were Jews who were descendants of Abraham and thus were God’s chosen people. This mindset is similar to what many Americans believed over the past several decades. Many had considered America to be a Christian nation, and thus as an American, they were Christian, and their eternal destiny with God was secure. Fortunately, most people do not think that way any longer. Most people no longer consider America a Christian nation, let alone a nation of Christians. Unfortunately, many people who used to consider themselves marginal Christians do not care any longer and thus are still on the wide and easy path, but do not see the danger that awaits.

So, Jesus clearly states that the easy way that leads to the wide gate is not the gate His followers should seek. Rather, those who desire to be with Jesus should seek the gate that is hard to find – that is, it is seemingly hidden (notice Jesus says that few find it). And thus, thinking back to last week, we must ask, seek, and knock. But the words Jesus uses about this narrow gate and hard way make understanding the sequence difficult to interpret. Is the way to the gate hard, but once through it becomes easy? Or is the way to the narrow gate easier until you find it and then many challenges await. Let us quickly examine both options.

Life Is More Difficult Before We Enter the Gate

One of the worst selling points of Christianity is that “life will be easy once you are a Christian.” The idea is that with God on your side, everything is rosy. Of course, that’s what Jesus life was like, right? People mocked Him and tried to kill Him – eventually succeeding. But, in a way life is more difficult before we receive the gifts of God’s grace.

Before that point, we are going through life alone. For those that are religious, the goal of a positive destiny beyond this life (of any belief system besides authentic Christianity) is based upon what we do to appease the god(s) of that belief system. While many belief systems make it possible to progress to a higher state (like reincarnation in Hinduism), Christianity is different. Christianity is all or nothing and the Bible says that none of us can make it on our own (e.g. Romans 3.10, 23). However, Jesus promises that instead of trying to attain righteousness ourselves, we can attain that righteousness through Him. As He says in Matthew 11, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Finally, we must realize that verse 14 says that few find the proper gate. Thus, it is not easy to find. This idea fits well with what I just said regarding seeking salvation on one’s own. Human pride prevents most people from giving themselves over to another person. That statement is especially true when it comes to an “unseen” Person that supposedly is everywhere and is all-powerful. Our minds cannot comprehend such ideas so most reject the notion of the God of the Bible. And, thus, the gate is hard to find. In essence, to find the narrow gate, we must leave the crowd, forget about our self, and seek God – simultaneously. Either of the first two can be easy at times. Some don’t like crowds so they can avoid that process in general. Some prefer crowd and lose themselves in the crowd. But to do both and ALSO to seek God is what is required to find the narrow gate. (It is important to note the continuing theme of “seeking” from Matthew 6.33, 7.7, and finding in 7.14).

So, in this sense, life is more difficult before entering the gate – at least for those who are trying to attain a salvation that is otherwise unattainable.

Life Is More Difficult After We Enter the Gate

On the other hand, living the life Jesus calls us to live is hard. GK Chesterton famously said, Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried. Consider this current sermon series. Jesus is preaching a sermon that sets impossible standards. Life on the wide road is easy and that is why people choose it. As I mentioned earlier, the Golden Rule is a good rule and it would be great if everyone were to follow it. But in a sense, it is not meant for everyone; it is meant for those who follow Jesus. As is not judging without cause. As is not being anxious. As is not storing up treasures. As is not fasting, praying, or giving with false attitudes. Etc. Etc. Etc. The demands are impossible from an earthly perspective and thus finding the narrow gate is the easy part. The demands to live like Jesus are difficult and thus most do not begin the process or they quit after they have begun. The truth is almost everyone “becomes a Christian” before knowing what it means to truly follow Jesus. Thus, life was easier before stepping through the gate, because living according to Jesus words is next to impossible.

How would having a knowledge of the glory of the Lord affect this teaching?

The sermon Jesus preached should make us feel inadequate. It is not meant to condemn us per se, but it should help us realize that we cannot live up to the standards to which He has presented – at least, not under our own power. But that is why He came. His purpose for coming was not to teach us that we have no hope in living as He desires for us to live, but that by His death, we do have hope that we can become who He wants us to be. How? By seeking first God’s Kingdom and righteousness.

CONCLUSION
Again, Jesus is now in the final remarks of His great sermon. He has summarized His teaching with a call to live by the Golden Rule – which reflects the Great Commandment – love God and love others. Those who live by this rule, even though we may not be perfect at it, have chosen the narrow gate. Those who choose their own rules take the easy way, and as we will see in the coming weeks are not able to bear lasting fruit and are considered foolish for the foundation on which they build.

As followers of Jesus, we may choose the right way, but we will still stumble. And that is why He came to die. But through His death, we can find hope to live by the very commands we often find so difficult to obey.

And, thus, our JOURNEY letter for today is: OOBSERVE.

We can observe the Golden Rule by following last week’s commands to ask, seek, and knock. And we can observe those commands by following the central command of Jesus’ sermon – seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. It is only through the righteousness of God that we can live by God’s standards. And it is only by the righteousness that comes from the blood of Jesus that we can be forgiven.

Based upon today’s message, how can we raise the bar and live on earth as it is in heaven?

NEXT LEVEL STEP(S): LIVE.
This week, try to live by the Golden Rule with this thought: do to/for others what Jesus would do to/for you.