Sermon Notes – 11 August 2019 – Matthew 7:13-27 – Building a Faith That Will Last

I preached this sermon at the West Congregation of The Austin Stone. You can find audio of the sermon here.

Intro:

Today, we close out Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. The most famous sermon ever preached. Took Jesus about 20 minutes to teach it. It has taken us 6 months to even begin to be able to unpack it. It is so counter-cultural and so strange to what we have classified and exemplified as the lived experience of Christianity, which ought to be a warning to us. You would think that a central point of teaching of a religious group would be very similar to the lives of its adherents. That is unfortunately not the case for us.

And this is Jesus’ point as He is closing the sermon out. He is calling people to application and not just understanding, to obedience and not just cognitive adherence. “What you gonna do about it?” … He is asking. This is the part that many of us avoid thinking about too deeply, but Jesus has offered the truth of a different life in the Kingdom of God, and as He closes He is calling people to a decision and a commitment.

R. Kent Hughes notes…

The Savior refuses to let his listeners bask in the grandeur of the sermon’s thought. He knows that admiration without action is deadly, that conviction without commitment will dull one’s spirituality.[1]

 I found this remarkable quote in the wonderful little book by Justin Whitmel Early, called, “The Common Rule.” He says this about American Christianity, but trust me it could be applied to a number of contexts. So, read this rather as a self-reflective critique of our Evangelical moment and a warning as we move on from our study of The Sermon on the Mount. He said …

“Talking about Jesus while ignoring the way of Jesus has created an American Christianity that is far more American than it is Christian. Paying all our attention to the message of Jesus while ignoring his practices has not only led people like me into devastating life crises, it has also created a country of Christians whose practical lives are divorced from their actual faith. How else do we explain a country of Christians who preach a radical gospel of Jesus while assimilating to the usual contours of American life?”

– Justin Whitmel Early

So, gulp, let’s look at it. There is a lot of text today, and Tyler David dealt with the first part of it in detail a few weeks ago – so I don’t want to re-cover all of that ground – but, I am persuaded that this is part of one concluding argument from Jesus, so I am going to go back to those verses and touch them again briefly as we read the thing as one unit. This follows immediately from Jesus’ summary statement of the Golden Rule. Let’s read it and then come back and break it up.

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. 14 How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it.

15 “Be on your guard against false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. 16 You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.20 So you’ll recognize them by their fruit.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name? ’ 23 Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers! ’

24 “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. It collapsed with a great crash.” – Matthew 7:13-27 (CSB)

 Alright, here are the three observations for today then…

  1. According to Jesus, there are only two ways to live
  2. Jesus warns us to watch out for false teachers
  3. Jesus warns us to ensure that we aren’t false believers

 

According to Jesus, there are only two ways to live

Look at 13-14 again…

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. 14 How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it.

 Jesus is exclusive and absolute in His description of our options, and He shows that He isn’t afraid of the scariest pejorative we can label someone with in our contemporary culture. He isn’t afraid to come across as narrow, and as Tyler reminded us a couple of weeks back, Jesus actually knows. He knows how the universe works, He knows what the meaning and purpose of life is because, well, He created it. Eg. Me and Sue with Easter Eggs. Our kids kept looking for more even when we said, Um, no guys there are two left. How do you know? Um, well, we know.

And so, while we, with our limited view, can be foolishly and unkindly narrow, and we should be careful of that, Jesus doesn’t suffer from our limitations and restrictions and is the only one who sees the paths and their destinations, and He says, there are two. One is wide, it is flat, it is easy, it is full of companions, and it isn’t at all restrictive, it doesn’t require submission to God and His ways, but it leads to destruction. The other is narrow, difficult to find, difficult to walk, it requires many restrictions to get onto it and to continue to move along on it, but it leads to life.

Two paths, two different outcomes. No other way.

Now to our modern sensibilities, this sounds offensive, in a couple of obvious ways

It is offensive in its exclusivity

There can’t be only two paths. Everyone is on a journey and it isn’t our job to narrow anyone’s journey or to presume on its destination. All journeys are equally valid. These are all things that we think and say.

There are a couple of problems with this thinking though:

  • It isn’t true and we know it isn’t true
    • Not every worldview is equally valid and we know that. We laugh at flat earthers. We rightly critique bigots and supremacists and fascists.
    • Not all roads lead to Rome, some lead to Lubbock and so should be avoided at all costs.
    • We all make that distinction between right path and wrong path. Jesus just makes the distinction in a different place to the rest of us.
  • It isn’t and cannot be equally applied because it is self-defeating
    • Every worldview is totally exclusive. In order for it to be right, the others have to be wrong. And so, to claim validity for a broad worldview that insists for example that all religious paths are good and have rightness in them is to instantly dismiss all of those religious paths as incorrect and invalid as they have claims of exclusivity within them.
    • Everyone is exclusive, but not everyone is brave enough or in fact humble enough to admit it.
  • It is offensive in its assertion of restriction leading to life
    • The image is pretty straight forward from Jesus who is going to continually call His followers to high levels of holiness, purity and self-denial. That is the path that leads to life.
    • This sounds ludicrous and borderline inhumane to our sensibilities where freedom of behavior and desire is seen as freedom. The wider your path, the more self-fulfillment and happiness. Jesus says, nope. Destruction.

But in this image, of a narrow gate, with a narrow path that follows it, Jesus is issuing us with an invitation. His exclusivity isn’t just a condemnation, it is in invitation. Look at what He says in John 10:9-10.

“I am the gate. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. A thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.”

 Alexander Maclaren extended the metaphor beautifully when viewed in the context of the Sermon on the Mount. He said that Jesus is the gate. It is only through Him that we get access, and the first two beatitudes are the gate posts.

You have to be poor in spirit. You have to mourn your own sin.

There is that path, the path depending on Jesus for justification and salvation, and then there are all the others which amount to the same principle of self-justification and ultimately lead to destruction.

 Okay…

According to Jesus, there are only two ways to live

Therefore…

Jesus warns us to watch out for false teachers

Look again quickly at what He says…

15 “Be on your guard against false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. 16 You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.20 So you’ll recognize them by their fruit.

 I know this starts to sound a bit freaky-deaky and conspiracy theorist-esque, but Jesus is clearly warning that because there are only two paths, be very careful of those who are trying to lure you to another, broader, easier path of self-justification. Jesus warns that this is a certainty that our posture therefore needs to be of people who are alert to it, and awake. Awake to prophets, any who claim to speak for God and make statements as if they have authority to say what God means and add meaning to what God says. There will be those who look like sheep. They’ll seem nice, they’ll seem like they have your best intentions at heart, but if the fruit of it is that it pulls you off the narrow path or away from the narrow gate, even for a second, then guard against them with all you have.

Look at how Paul warned Timothy of the same thing in 1 Tim 4.

For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear. They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths. 

2 Timothy 4:3-4 (CSB)

I can clearly remember when I was in my early 20’s. If I am honest, I was struggling in my faith. My Christian life, and my conservative church community felt like a burden. I was struggling. And then I found a young and up and coming Christian communicator and he spoke my language and I was hooked. He had a unique teaching approach and he seemed to broaden the scope of the Scriptures in a remarkable way. I was hooked. I remember being away at a students retreat one weekend and I was reading one of his then best-selling books and he was asking some good questions about what our faith rests on, and he asked the question, “What do we lose if we lose the virgin birth?” “Or any of the other miracles in the Scripture for that matter?” “What do we lose if we lose those?” I remember even my young brain going…Um…We lose a lot. Like…a lot.

It wasn’t long till he was denying fundamental tenants of orthodox belief, and wait for it, widening the road of both entrance and journey. “There are lots of gates, and many of paths. They all get there.”

If we follow Jesus, He calls us to be careful of false teachers. What are you listening to? Who is shaping your view? Are they pulling you off the path? Have they persuaded you of another gate? Beware.

Lastly…

Jesus warns us to ensure that we aren’t false believers

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, and do many miracles in your name? ’ 23 Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you lawbreakers! ’

The last thing I want to do today is to erode any of your confidence or certainty if you are a Christian. That text I quoted from John 10 earlier about Jesus being the gate goes on to say that Jesus doesn’t lose any of his sheep. But, Jesus warns us here clearly that there are some who will look like they are on the road to life and they are actually on the road to destruction, and we would do well to humble ourselves and lay ourselves bare before God, and make sure that we aren’t one of these false believers.

John Newton expressed this humble certainty…

If I ever reach Heaven I expect to find three wonders there: first, to meet some I had not thought to see there; second, to miss some I had thought to meet there; and third, the greatest wonder of all, to find myself there.[2]

 In this text, Jesus gives us some sobriety in our measurement.

  • He says that orthodoxy isn’t enough.
    • They call Jesus Lord. This is the Septuagint’s word for God. They rightly refer to Jesus as God. That is orthodox, which is good. But it isn’t enough.
  • He says that fervency isn’t enough.
    • They say “Lord, Lord” which is an indication of emotional expression. They seem into it. Hands may raise, amens may abound. It’s not enough.
  • He says that activity in ministry isn’t enough.
    • Speaking for God, encountering evil, expanding the kingdom. Great. But may still be done by someone who is not a citizen of the Kingdom.
    • I have learned that activity for God can serve as a great ruse that distracts from a lack of submission to God. No one will call you on it if you seem to be working hard at church things. Your heart can be cold, but as long as you keep busy it’s all good. Except it is not.

I say this through pain friends. I know I have preached to hundreds of people who believed they were in the Kingdom but weren’t. I have seen many brothers and sisters in Christ who looked like believers and then the narrowness of the journey exposed them as not. What is the difference? Well, not to oversimplify, but Jesus says that those who will be received on the last day are those who do the will of the Father in heaven. He says in John 6:40…

“For this is the will of my Father: that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him will have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

John 6:40 (CSB)

You have to look to the Son. You have to believe in His salvation. You have to enter by the narrow gate!

As we close, let’s look at Jesus’ final image.

24 “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. It collapsed with a great crash.”

Success in the Kingdom of God is about obedience. Hearing the words of Jesus and acting on them! It is not just about responding to Jesus once and then going on to live a life that looks no different from anyone else. It is about basing your life on the solidity of His claims. Building on the rock of the certainty of Jesus Christ. Every time you obey Him, you are building on rock, that means that when storms come, you may take a battering, but your foundations won’t shift. You won’t be drawn in by false teachers. You won’t live a life of a false believer.

You can today anchor yourself on the certainty of Jesus Christ. He is the rock. And on this rock He has built His church, and the gates of hell will not prevail. Friends. Don’t anchor in anything else.

[1]R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 241.

[2]R. Kent Hughes, The Sermon on the Mount: The Message of the Kingdom, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 254.

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