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).
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.
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.
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.
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: O – OBSERVE.
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.