Transformed in My Choices

| Matthew 7:13-27

The Point:  Choose to follow Jesus.

Only One Way to Eternal Life:  Matthew 7:13-27.

[13]  "Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. [14]  For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. [15]  "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. [16]  You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? [17]  So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. [18]  A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. [19]  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. [20]  Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. [21]  "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. [22]  On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ [23]  And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ [24]  "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. [25]  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. [26]  And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. [27]  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it."

Two Ways of Life [13-20].  Jesus regularly offers choices to His hearers. He delights in presenting antithetical choices between one path and another. He asks: Will you follow the letter of the law or its spirit? Will you practice righteousness to be seen by men or to be seen by God? Will you serve God or money? In Matthew 7, Jesus uses four images to describe these choices. There are two roads [13-14], a wide road that is easy now, but leads to destruction, and a narrow road that is hard now, but leads to life. Many take the easy road, perhaps largely by accident. But a few find the hard road, which implies that they are looking. Which road will you take? There are two trees [15-20]. Good trees bear good fruit, and bad trees bear bad fruit. What fruit do you bear? What do your words and deeds reveal about your nature? There are two ways to call upon Jesus [21-23]. Some call upon His name and even prophesy and perform wonders in that name. but they do not know Him and are not saved. Others call upon Him as their true Lord and are saved. On the last day, when all stand before Jesus, the Judge, there will be one question. Do you know Jesus as Savior or not? Two builders construct houses on two foundations [24-27]. In dry weather, both look sound. But when the rain comes, the rivers rise, and the wind blows, all is revealed. A house built on sand will collapse, but a house built on rock will stand. Upon what foundation do you build? Jesus says there are two gates (one narrow and one broad), two kinds of prophet (true and false), and two foundations (rock and sand). With this language, He enters a deep stream of biblical thought. Early in the history of Israel, the Lord began to tell His people that there were two ways of life. One could live in covenant with Him and be blessed, or one could follow the world and be cursed.

The Narrow Gate, the Hard Road [13-14].  Jesus was speaking to a large crowd when He said, Enter by the narrow gate [13]. Most of the people in the crowd were disciples, but only in a loose sense. Most of them were not dedicated disciples. Jesus wanted to win them, but not by deception, so He told them the plain truth. Jesus says His road leads to life, but before it ends, it is narrow and hard. To this day, many who are lightly committed to Christ need to hear the same word. On the broad, easy road, people do as they please. The way of Christian discipleship is hard. The gate is also narrow, restricting us in certain ways. First, the gate is narrow because Jesus’ commands are restrictive. When the law forbids certain actions, it narrows our options. But the law is not the restricting principle. The character of God is the pattern for our character, and that restricts us too. Second, the gate is narrow because the Bible teaches truths – doctrines – that we must believe. The Bible says that God created the world out of nothing, that Jesus is truly God and truly man, that this age will end when Jesus returns and calls mankind before Him for judgment. The Bible directs us to think in these ways, not in others, and that restricts us. We cannot plausibly claim to be Christians and reject the cardinal truths of the faith. Third, the gate is narrow because we can miss it. We miss it if we do not believe in Christ. We miss it if we deny that we are sinners, in need of a Savior. Jesus’ way is hard. The word translated hard comes from a family of words that refers to suffering and persecution. This reminds us that Jesus’ way is also narrow in the sense that it can lead to opposition. We enter the kingdom after passing through many hardships [Acts 14:22]. Why should we struggle for the hard truths of Christianity? Because, finally, the hard road leads to life. Both the easy road and the hard road lead somewhere. One day life ends. The hard road restricts, then it opens – to eternal life. The easy road leads to destruction. The easy road makes no demands, but it offers no rewards. The hard road makes great demands, but offers great rewards.

True and False Prophets [15-20].  Jesus says that there are two ways, one easy, one hard; two gates, one wide, one narrow; taken by two crowds, one large, one small; ending in two destinations, death and life. He also says there are two prophets, the false and the true. Jesus mentions false prophets here because it is a hallmark of false prophets to deny that the way is hard. False prophets say, “All is well,” when disaster looms. False prophets let people sleep when they should arise and face dangers. A false prophet does not simply make a mistake in his teaching; everyone makes mistakes. False prophets make mistakes in the fundamentals. They misrepresent God Himself. They misrepresent the gospel. They deny that we are saved by grace, through faith in Christ alone. They oppose God’s message and His messengers, and they resist correction. False prophets are wolves in sheep clothing [15]. That is, they claim to be sheep, part of the flock of God. In their disguises, they troubled Israel long ago [Jer. 6; 8; Ezek. 13]. They troubled the apostles [2 Cor. 11; 2 Peter 2; 1 John 4], and they have troubled the church down through the centuries. To complete their disguise, they use biblical language even while they distort its meaning. They recite creeds, but reinterpret their meaning. They also have credentials – graduate degrees and ordination certificates. But their disguises fail if sound leaders watch both the teaching and the life of the false teachers. Jesus compares false teachers to thornbushes [16]. Thornbushes bear small, dark berries that resemble grapes at a distance. But if you examine them closely, you see what the berries are. So too with false prophets. We distinguish true from false by examining the fruit of their ministry and the patterns of their life. As Jesus says, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit [17]. A tree is known by its fruit. Many can deceive for a time, but words and deeds eventually reveal where the heart lies. Jesus says, A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit [18]. A prophet’s fruit includes both words and deeds. True prophets teach sound doctrine and lead a holy life. False prophets may dazzle with oratorical skill and social grace, but their doctrine and their ethics are gravely flawed. Everyone is known by his fruit. Jesus assesses false prophets in 7:15-16. In verses 17-19, He begins to speak about every tree. In this way, Jesus takes the principle for false prophets and applies it to all people who falsely claim to belong to the Lord: Thus you will recognize them by their fruits [20]. It takes time to grow fruit, and it takes time to examine fruit. We must not be hasty; we should let the pattern of a life reveal everything in due time. It cannot be otherwise. People can pretend only for so long. No one evades God’s justice forever. Bad trees, trees that bear no fruit, are cut down and thrown into the fire [19]. But it is not enough to examine others. We must watch ourselves as well.

A False Profession of Faith and False Wonders [21-23].  Jesus’ warning about false claims of discipleship in this passage is connected to His warning about false prophets in the previous passage. There are links between the two sections. In 7:15, Jesus warns Beware of false prophets. In 7:22, people say, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? In 7:18-19, Jesus compares false prophets to trees that bear bad fruit and says such trees are thrown into the fire. In 7:23, Jesus also judges those who falsely profess Christ: depart from me, you workers of lawlessness. These warnings apply to us in two ways. First, Jesus describes false prophets so that we can be watchful. Second, He warns disciples neither to succumb to their influence nor to follow in their footsteps. False prophets appear to be church leaders. They prophesy. If they prophesy in Jesus’ name [22], they claim to teach God’s word. Jesus says they also perform miracles and cast out demons, all in Jesus’ name. That is, they claim to perform signs in Jesus’ power. We may think that Jesus is talking about situations that cannot occur. How many people prophesy and perform miracles in Jesus’ name and still do not know Him personally? Perhaps Jesus is setting up a hypothetical case: even if some should prophesy and perform miracles in His name, and yet did not know Him personally, He would say, depart from me [23]. Their works would not deliver them. But perhaps the discussion is not so hypothetical after all. Judas preached, performed miracles, cast out demons, and walked with Jesus for three years, but he did not know Jesus in a personal, saving way. Sadly, many people attend church, pray, and serve the church, but do not know Jesus personally. The confession Lord, Lord meets all the external criteria for a good confession. Yet in this case it fails to meet the most important criterion – genuineness. There are two signs of genuineness: doing the will of the Father and knowing Jesus. A false profession of faith can come only from someone who calls himself a disciple. In Jesus’ day, they called Him Lord. Today, people still call themselves Christian without grasping what that means. It is a perennial temptation to call Jesus “great” without trusting in Him. In Jesus’ day, they called Him a prophet or even a great prophet [Luke 7:16]. Today they call Him a great man, a supreme moral teacher, but deny that He is more than that. Many call Jesus Lord without living as if they mean it. Many profess faith with their lips and even produce some good deeds, but do not follow the whole counsel of Christ. In Luke 6:46, Jesus says, Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Selective obedience – obedience to the commands we happen to like – is not genuine obedience at all; it is mere agreement. If we truly confess that Jesus is Lord, we must also be willing to bend our will to His, even if His directives seem unpleasant or foolish to us. The test of our submission to the Lord comes when His will crosses ours. We truly obey (submit) to God whenever we obey a command that requires painful or strange actions. Disciples strive to heed every command from Jesus, the easy and the hard alike. So then, we can call Jesus Lord and not know Him as Lord of our life. Just as important, it is possible to obey Jesus on many points and not know Him personally. It is also possible to perform singular service in His name and not know Him. Jesus says to such people, And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’ [23]. Jesus does not mean to frighten believers, but to awaken those who profess faith without having faith. He stirs up all who know about Jesus without knowing Jesus. Jesus aims the warning at false prophets and their followers, not at disciples. I never knew you. We have said that the false prophets do not know Jesus. More to the point, Jesus does not know them. This must not be taken too literally. In His deity, He knows all things. He is the judge of all the earth; He knows our every thought and deed [Matt. 25:31-46; Luke 5:22]. So then, I never knew you means “I never knew you as my child, as a member of my covenant family.” Depart from me is what Jesus, as judge, will say on the last day when He sends evildoers away from His presence. These evildoers or workers of lawlessness are those who have no interest in repentance. Humble repentance and faith in Jesus open the door to eternal life. First, we admit our need of salvation. Second, we confess that we trust Him as Savior. Third, we own Him as Lord.

Two Builders and Two Foundations [24-27].  Jesus begins the concluding paragraph of the Sermon on the Mount by saying, Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock [24]. Jesus’ words perfectly express His character, His mind, His will. He never deceives, never changes His mind, never misspeaks. Jesus does what He says. He is what He says. There is never a conflict between what Jesus says and what He does. Every word perfectly reflects His mind, His character, and His actions. Therefore, if we would be wise and godlike, we should listen attentively and do whatever Jesus says. His words will be a rock, a sure foundation for life. In this passage Jesus says that two builders construct two houses on two foundations [24-27]. In dry weather, every building plan and every house look sound. But when the rain comes, the rivers rise, and the winds blow, they reveal the quality of the work [25]. If the catastrophes of life fall upon the solid house, it will not fall. But when troubles befall the house that rests on a flawed foundation, it will collapse. Everyone must ask, “What is the rock on which I build? Is my foundation sure?” The Bible says God is a rock, a refuge for His covenant people. Jesus later says that He is the rock. He also says that the wise man hears these words of mine and does them [24], whereas the foolish man hears them and does not put them into practice. His house collapses with a crash [26-27]. Why does Jesus end the Sermon on the Mount with the words great was the fall of it? This is hardly the upbeat way in which preachers typically end their sermons. But Jesus is making a point. It is not enough to study or applaud the words of Jesus. We must do what He says. Otherwise, we are in danger of hypocrisy, in danger of facing a great crash.”  [Doriani, pp. 291-310]. 

Questions for Discussion:

1.         In 7:13-27 Jesus teaches that there are only two gates, two trees, two destinations and two foundations which speaks directly to the current pluralistic worldview of our society. Discuss how Jesus’ teaching conflicts with what is taught in our classrooms, what we see on television, read in the newspaper and hear from our co-workers.

2.         False prophets perform their dangerous deception within the church. The implication of 7:15-20 is that a good understanding of God’s truth is the best way to discern who are false teachers. Jesus mentions twice [16,20] that we are to recognize these false prophets by their fruits. What does Jesus mean here by fruits? In order to obey Jesus’ command to Beware we must be on our guard, pray for discernment, use our critical faculties and never relax our vigilance against false prophets in our day.

3.         7:21-23 are some of the most frightening verses in the Bible. Here are people who call Jesus Lord, Lord and who do mighty works in His name, yet Jesus will declare to them: I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness [23]. Why does Jesus reject this group of people? What can we do to ensure that Jesus does not say this to us?

4.         What point is Jesus making in the parable of the two builders? What is the relationship between “hearing” and “doing” that is the focus of Jesus’ teaching in these verses?

References:

Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, D. A. Carson, Global Christian Publishers.

Matthew, vol. 1, Daniel Doriani, REC, P&R Publishing.

Christian Counter-Culture, John Stott, Inter Varsity.