As I mentioned last month, when we don’t pray, we are effectively saying that while we may say we believe God is all-powerful, we don’t live in such a way that proves it. For if we truly believed God’s power could make necessary changes, we would pray for Him to do so far more intently than we do. Now, that doesn’t mean He will do everything we ask in the manner we desire; however, to not pray, or to stop praying about something, is to effectively say we don’t think He cares enough or is capable of doing what we are asking (unless He tells us to stop, see 2 Cor 12.8-9).
But Jesus taught His disciples to pray. In the passage we will review today, He teaches them to be bold in their prayers. And the disciples were bold, learning to pray so boldly that their prayers once caused the house to shake around them (Acts 4.31)! But in Matthew 7, Jesus simply gives His listeners three thoughts on talking to God and then shows that God’s goodness will grant those requests in His time and in His way.
To properly understand this passage, we must not isolate it from the text; rather, we must consider what Jesus has asked of those listening (and now reading) to this point. Living the life Jesus has set before all who heard His sermon then, and have read it since, is impossible for anyone not completely, and I mean completely, focused on God. Only someone like Jesus who said, “I only do what I see my Father in heaven doing” (John 5.19) is capable of living the life Jesus requires in the words we have as The Sermon on the Mount. The impossibility of living that way is precisely why Jesus had to die, and why in the verses immediately preceding these says that we should be particularly careful in our judging of others (first removing the plank from our eye before helping another). But this impossibility is also why we must get help from God. Last week we talked about the aspect of judging others; this week, I will focus on our need to turn to God for our help.
Asking Reveals We Are Open to Receive (Matt. 7.7-8)
I had never really thought about this fact until I began really studying this text this week. I think if you were to survey people why they ask for something, their response would be because they want it. In fact, think about how often that is how we form the question to someone: “What do you want?” But the question is: Are we ready to receive what we think (or say) we want?
Many people may think they want something, but would not know what to do if they got it. For instance, do you remember when Wheel of Fortune was about selecting items instead of receiving cash? This was an ok concept, until the person realized they had to get the item(s) home, pay taxes on their winnings (remember, they didn’t get cash), and then find a place to store it. Or what about The Price is Right. Someone might win the Showcase valued at $20,000. Everyone is excited until the tax bill of about $7,500 comes due on the items. I hope they won the $10,000 when spinning the wheel, but of course that would be another $3,750 in taxes, so they would still be about $1,300 in the hole.
Of course, Jesus isn’t referring to financial winnings here. But the principle of being ready to receive something must be considered when we begin to ask. Because according to Jesus, God desires to grant us our request when they are the right requests. James, in his letter, adds that we do not have our desires met because we do not ask (James 4.2). So, what are the right requests? Well, it stands to reason that the requests would be in line with God’s will based upon Jesus’ words in John 14.13-14. And I think what we find in Matthew 7 applies generally to many matters of prayer, let me first cover the other two verbs before I share what Jesus’ ultimate message is in this verse.
Seeking Reveals Our Desire to Find (vv. 7-8)
Did you ever play Hide-and-Seek with someone who like to hide, but wasn’t really interested in the seeking part of the game? When they were found and/or tagged, they would count and let others hide, but didn’t really venture out from the base figuring others would eventually get tired of hiding and come to them. The truth is that this strategy indicates a person who wants the rewards of seeking without doing any actual work.
On the other hand, you likely know people who just like to explore for the sake of exploring. You might ask them, “What are you looking for?” Their response, “Oh nothing in particular.” But if they find something of interest, they will claim it. This could be true of someone walking through nature, going to an auction or garage sale or even browsing through antiques. The goal of someone described here might simply be to enjoy the process of seeking, but ultimately a hope exists that something of interest, or even of value, might be found.
Of course, the Bible talks about seeking and finding. Jesus said He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19.10), and Luke 15 contains three different parables about something that has been lost (a sheep, a coin, and a son). But Matthew 7 is a command for us to seek. What might we seek that needs to be found? Are we to seek after others who might be lost, just as Jesus did? Are we to seek an answer to those puzzling questions from the Bible? The answers to both of those, and other questions we might consider, is likely “Yes”, but I believe the answer is clearer than that. In fact, it is right before our eyes (pun intended), but first let me speak about knock.
Knocking Reveals Our Readiness to Enter (vv. 7-8)
Seeking and knocking can go hand in hand. One pastor spoke of the connection between these three ideas this way. If a child needs something and is with his mother, he will ask her. If the mother is not there, he will seek her. If she is behind a closed door, he will knock. So, all three of these are connected, but seeking and knocking (“Anyone in there?”) are particularly so.
In the example I just used, knocking might simply be an extension of seeking, but more likely some desire to enter exists. For instance, after church each week, someone has to make sure the lights to the restrooms are off. Before I open the women’s restroom, I knock. Before Susan opens the men’s, she knocks. It is not that either of us intend to go far into the room, but a need to enter enough to turn off the lights is important.
So, knocking suggests we desire to enter. But again, the question is to what are we entering? Well, once again, I am going to ask you to wait. Although we have now covered the three verbs in verse 7, and the promises of verse 8, let us first review verses 9-11 before I provide what I believe is the clear answer to our questions.
Asking, Seeking, and Knocking Reveal a Trust In Our Father’s Goodness (vv. 9-11)
Ultimately, our praying will reveal to us and to others that God is good. Jesus says as much using a traditional Hebrew style of argument known as “lesser to greater” as we have seen before. In verse 9, Jesus wants His audience to know that humans know how to properly care for their children. If this is true, then how much more must God know how to care for His children?
One of the key distinctions in these verses is the “evil” of mankind and the goodness of God. The idea presented here is captured well elsewhere such as Romans 3.23 where Paul shared that “all have sinned” (i.e. are evil) “and fall short of the glory of God” (i.e. the One who is good). Jesus use of the word “you” is particularly interesting in verse 11. In using “you” Jesus is separating Himself from humanity’s evil nature. Jesus certainly identified with humanity often calling Himself “Son of Man.” But in Matthew 7.11, a clear distinction is drawn.
The metaphors Jesus uses in Matthew are more appropriate than they might appear at first glance (pun intended). For instance, many of the stones in the Judea desert have a similar appearance to a small loaf of bread. Many believe (myself included) that this similarity is why Satan tempted Jesus to turn the stones which looked like bread into actual bread during Jesus’s time of testing (as recorded in Matthew 4). But the other comparison is equally strong. Within the Sea of Galilee a certain type of catfish resembles an eel. Someone seeing this creature could easily mistake the fish for a snake. Jesus uses these two ideas to show that a human parent knows the difference and would not trick their their child by exchanging their request for something else, and God would not either.
So, having covered the basics of this text, I still need to answer the fundamental question I hope you are asking: To what is Jesus referring when He says we should ask, seek, and knock? Does He mean our basic needs like food, shelter, and clothing? Well, He has just mentioned that we need not worry about such things. Does Jesus mean we should ask for a new car, a new house, or a new job? Well, people do this, but I do not think that is what Jesus had, or has, in mind.
I believe one word in verse eight provides the answer to the question of what Jesus has in mind. The word of focus is everyone. Jesus does not say that only those who are saved will receive if they ask. He does not say that only those who faithfully serve God will find what they seek. And He does not say that only those who go to church will find that door opened to them. Jesus says that everyone who asks receives. And the one (or implied everyone) who seeks finds. And the one (again, implied anyone) who knocks will find the door opened. So do this mean that God is a genie and anyone and everyone can ask whatever they want and get it? Remember, Jesus has used the word “will” in response to each portion so He is promising that God will respond favorably in each situation. That puts God in an awkward position if Jesus is making promises that God will not fulfill. So, how could Jesus make this promise without lying or compromising God in any way?
Well, before I answer that question, let me remind us of our central question for this series.
How would having a knowledge of the glory of the Lord affect this teaching?
Jesus certainly had a knowledge of the glory of the Lord when He taught these principles. Everything Jesus has mentioned in His sermon is beyond our reach by ourselves. Therefore, we must consider what Jesus was trying to reveal to us about that glory with the challenge in His teaching and the promise He has now made. And in our consideration, I believe it all comes back to the central theme of His sermon – the righteousness of God.
Therefore, let me paraphrase Matthew 7.7 for us with the thought of asking, seeking, and knocking related to the righteousness of God. But, let me remind you that Jesus has promised that everyone who asks, seeks, and knocks receives. As Paul wrote, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10.13).
- Ask for the righteousness of God and it will be given to you – every one of you – having been made available by the blood of Jesus.
- Seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and you will find it and be satisfied for all eternity – every one of you.
- Knock at the door to God’s Kingdom and He will open it to you and you will never need to leave – every one of you.
The glory of God is within reach of those who earnestly ask, seek, and knock.
The glory of God will not be withheld from those who earnestly ask, seek, and knock.
The glory of God will be eternally shared with those who earnestly ask, seek, and knock.
And to continue to be impacted by, and be a conduit of, the glory of God, we must keep asking, seeking, and knocking.
Jesus declared the Kingdom of God was at hand just before He began His sermon (Matthew 4.17). He then mentioned God’s righteousness for the first time in Matthew 5.6 as one of the blessings (Beatitudes). The promise there was for those who seek this righteousness, they will be satisfied.
In Matthew 5.20, God’s righteousness was compared to that of the religious leaders, whose efforts were found wanting in God’s eyes. We are then told in Matthew 6.33 to seek first God’s Kingdom and His righteousness and the many things in life over which we worry will fade into the background.
But it all begins with us realizing we need God to accomplish what He is asking us to do. We cannot live the kind of life that Jesus is challenging us to live in this sermon unless we have God guiding and directing us, which means we must submit to His Lordship. Having a knowledge of the glory of the Lord is nearly certain by this point in Jesus’ sermon. The expectation Jesus has given those listening (or now reading) are impossible to follow – the reason He called His listeners evil (v. 11). So, if we have a basic knowledge of what God desires for (and from) us, we should A.S.K. Him for help in living according to the standards set forth in Jesus’ sermon.
So, with that said, our JOURNEY letter for today is: R – REVERE.
The letter for the last few weeks has been R, and it is again today because we must recognize Jesus as Lord if any of this teaching is to make sense, and more importantly if we are going to try to live by it. He has offered the teaching, and now He has made it possible to live it, if we simply will Ask...Seek...and Knock until we first receive the gift of salvation, and then learn to live our lives according to the riches of His mercy.
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 need to live our lives in constant prayer – seeking to better know what Jesus has planned for us (by asking), how He wants to live (by seeking), and where He wants us to go (by knocking).