A short commentary: The Sermon on the Mount (pt 3: Matthew chapter 7)

The following is part three of three on Matthew chapters five through seven. It is a short commentary and still a bit of a work in progress. All three parts will be posted over the next few weeks. (All Scripture NIV)

Chapter 7
1“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

The heart is the issue when judging others. Jesus states firmly, “Do not judge.” This is hard to follow in our fallen human nature. It is easy to judge others, to put yourself above and look down upon. When you judge, you play God. It is God’s job to be judge. When you do judge, you yourself will be judged. How you judge, it will come back the same way to you. Sowing judgment will reap judgment. The better path is mercy. Be merciful, you will reap mercy. In judging others we are left blind to our own issues, to the planks in our own eyes. It is easy to judge others who have a different kind of speck in their eye as opposed the kind of plank in your own eye. Can you be perfect in your judgment as God is (47)? Can you judge without your own conscience getting in the way (49)? Jesus uses the strong word ‘hypocrite’ to describe those who judge others while leaving their own issues unattended. We must first deal with the planks in our eyes, then we may see clearly to help another. The issue here is, at what point do we know that the plank is really removed from our eye to see clearly enough to help another? This is why we must err on the side of mercy, if we err on any side. To help one another is scriptural. Paul writes that we are not the judge of those outside the church but raises the question of judging those inside (48). He also writes that we should stop passing judgment on our brothers and sisters (50). What to make of this? The difference is how we admonish those in the church. It is the issue of the motivation of the heart. Does our judgment stem from any sort of pride? Is it rooted in what one thinks versus what is scripturally clear? Are we puffing ourself up, putting ourself over another in some sort of ‘spiritual pride’? Are we helping another in a way that uplifts them? Speaking truth in love, and helping, is not the same as sitting in judgment over. Paul writes, as recorded in Romans 14, that we must make every effort to do what leads to mutual edification (51). In this way we will admonish properly. Jesus goes from here to sacred and pearls, dogs and pigs. The sacred and the pearls can be seen as truth and wisdom. Even in the midst of our own messiness, we can discern truth and wisdom and live by it. For the dogs and pigs, those who do not follow Jesus and are opposed to his way, trying to give truth and wisdom to them may result in their mocking what you give and yourself also. Does that mean we should not let our light shine to the lost with our words? No. It means that we are not to try to force or reason someone into what must come by faith and revelation.

47. Romans 2:1-4
48. Romans 14 
49. 1 Corinthians 5:12
50. Romans 14:10,13
51. Romans 14:19

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Asking and seeking and knocking. These are all faith actions. The righteous live by faith (52). It is a faith that accesses the grace that brings our salvation and justification, it is then a way of life. These actions of faith are persistent and sincere. They are part of the work of bringing the kingdom and the will of God on earth as it is in heaven. The purpose of the asking and seeking and knocking must be formed by what has been earlier taught in the sermon. It is not for self gain and bigger barns full of stuff. It is for the kingdom life within you and around you. This is to be in the blessings of God, to be within and a part of what God is doing. It is to live vibrantly and abundantly in the kingdom life. When you live in the faith of asking and seeking and knocking, you will receive and you will find and the door will be opened. God responds to our faith when our motivations are right. He is a good God. You will not ask for bread or a fish and get something opposite. As much as we, in our imperfections, give good things to our own children, and always long to do more, how much more will our gift-giving Father in heaven, much more perfect than we are, give good gifts to the ones who ask. Then, as Jesus always does, he turns something that is a benefit to us outward to others. This checks the motives of our hearts. If you desire that God responds to your asking and seeking and knocking, if you desire that when you ask for bread, you receive bread and not a stone, then be that same way to others. However you want to be treated, treat others that way. Whatever you want others to do for you, do those things for others. Life is not others centering around you, but you centering around others then seeing that kind of reaping in your own life. As Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, to be like him in our regard to others, is the sum of the Law and the Prophets. As God is the good God, and Jesus is the Good Shepherd, we are to be good to others in the same way. As Jesus responds as to what the greatest commandment is, to love God and, the one like it, to love neighbors, what the Law and the Prophets hang on(53). The whole Sermon takes us towards those commands.  

52. Romans 1:17
53. Matthew 22:34-40

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Jesus finishes the Sermon with four warnings. The first warning is this: There are two gates in which people can go through. Two choices. One is narrow and small, one is wide. The narrow gate is Jesus himself (54). For he is the way, the truth, and the life and no one can be reconciled back to the Father except by him (55). The wide gate seems to open to the way of a good life, a life that pleases a person. The good it seems to offer is a masquerade. It is really a life that is lost and leads to destruction. It is a life without God and without living on his way. Many, too many, enter through that gate and walk on that road. But if we enter through Jesus, salvation and subsequent citizenship in the kingdom, we are opened to the narrow road. This narrow road is the best way even when the wide road may seem more appealing. This narrow road may at times be hard, but the way of true life. To be in God’s blessing does not always mean it is easy. Living on the narrow road is to live according to the teaching of Jesus, the teaching of the Sermon, to live as His disciple. The gate, salvation, puts you there. But you must now walk the road. The invitation of the narrow gate and the narrow road is open to all. Only a few find it. Most will enter the wide gate and walk the broad road. Do you believe the narrow gate and the narrow road is the best way? The difference will be life and destruction.    

54. John 10:7-10
55. John 14:6

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

The second warning is to be alert to false prophets. Wherever there is truth, there will be a falseness that masquerades as right-ness. Prophets proclaim the message of the kingdom, exposing the heart of God with revelation. Their message and words awaken hope and draw back to God and to Scripture, to the way of the kingdom. The words of the prophet will ultimately point to Jesus, His way and His teaching, as He is their fulfillment. Anything other than this is not of God and is false. The false prophet may be in sheep’s clothing, hiding their true nature. That nature is of the ferocious wolf, who left amid the sheep will bring destruction. That destruction starts with being led astray. To stay on the narrow road needs the discernment to not be led astray by false voices. How can we know? By the fruit of their lives. Are their words in keeping with Scripture? Do they point back to Jesus and His way? Is their lifestyle of what is worthy of the calling of a prophet? A good tree produces good fruit. A bad tree produces bad fruit. A tree cannot hide the kind of fruit it produces. A tree is always ultimately exposed by the fruit it produces. One who does not bear good fruit will be judged, cut down and thrown into the fire. 

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ 

The third warning is to those who claim to do things in the name of the Lord, even if those things are signs and wonders, but are truly not known by Him. Signs and wonders are signposts of the kingdom, pointing towards Jesus and what is to come. But even the things that are assumed to be of the kingdom can seemingly be wrought by those who are not of the kingdom. This is closely tied to the previous warnings of the false prophet. A prophet who seems to be of God, those who do things supposedly in the name of the Lord: Do not just follow anyone. What is their fruit? Are they doing the will of the Father? All things hang on, are summed up in, loving God and loving neighbor. All things of the kingdom flow from this. This is the will of God. Is this the evidence of their life? On the day of reconciling, many will stand before God and tell of what they have done. But is what they have done in the will of God? Does it come from Him? Even at the end of the Sermon, Jesus is still after the heart. In the same way prideful giving to the poor and prayer and fasting have no reward with God, outward signs can be void of Him also. Outward signs are no good if the heart is not center in His will. If it is not, He will not know you and you will be put away as an evil doer.   

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

The fourth warning is of the wise and the foolish builders. Everyone builds a house. A house of life, how one lives the life that he has. The wise man builds his house on the words of Jesus. The  Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding (56). Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, has given wisdom. The wise man hears it and puts into practice in how he build his life. The words of Jesus, directly in context here, are the words recorded in Matthew chapters five through seven. If life becomes like a storm, flooding, winds that beat a house, the ones who build their house on these words will have house that stands. It stands in a way that may not be seen by those who do not have eyes to see. It stands with its foundation on the rock, Jesus himself (57). Great is the reward who house is built upon that rock. But the foolish hear these words and think there is a better way. The reject the narrow gate and the narrow road and enter the wide gate and walk on the wide road. They build the house of their life on the sand. Ever shifting, soft, unstable. When the storms of life come, flooding and blowing wind, their house falls and great is the destruction of that crash. The fool says in their heart there is no God (58). Foolish hearts know God but do not glorify him (59). Wisdom is proved right by her deeds (60). 

56. Proverbs 2:6
57. 1 Peter 2:4-8
58. Psalm 14:1
59. Romans 1:21
60. Matthew 11:19

28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

The one who had authority has set the foundation for life in the kingdom. The life in the kingdom is countercultural to the ways of a fallen world. They are not conventional. The call to come out and be separate (61) is often accomplished by living by way of walking the narrow road. As the Law and the Prophets were to mark out a people of and for God, Jesus, as the fulfillment, marks out a people of and for God. He is the gate. His teaching set Jesus apart from the religious leaders of the day, whitewashed on the outside but full of bones on the inside, those who did acts that were seemingly righteous but had no reward in God (62). For those who continued to follow Jesus after the Sermon, the words that He said, the parables that He told, the miracles that He did, His death on the cross, were all rooted on some way to this Sermon. May we all heed these words and build our house on the rock. 

61. 2 Corinthians 6:17
62. Matthew 23:27-28 

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