In Conclusion Back to all sermons
Date: December 13, 2013
Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen
Series: The Gospel of Matthew
Category: Gospel of Matthew
Scripture: Matthew 7:1–7:23
Synopsis: Every good sermon has a conclusion. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is no exception. In fact, all of Matthew 7 can be seen as a conclusion as Jesus applies what he has just said in chapters 5 and 6 to his audience, beginning with the exhortation that we should apply the truth to ourselves first. This and 5 other applications form the outline for this sermon entitled In Conclusion based on Matthew 7:1-23.
A good sermon generally has 3 parts. The first is an introduction, in which the speaker engages his listeners’ attention and gives them some idea of his topic and why it is important – why they need to listen. The second part is sometimes called the body of the sermon. It is usually the longest portion. In this section, the speaker expands on his subject, says what he has to say and explains and illustrates his topic. In the third and final section, the speaker takes what he has said and applies it to his audience, usually calling for some kind of action or response to the truths he has presented.
It is interesting to take this model and use it to analyze Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount as Matthew has recorded it for us. While Jesus’ sermon is not what I would consider a typical sermon, I believe we can discern the three broad sections, and doing so helps us understand how the different parts fit together.
First, I believe that Jesus’ introduction is found in Matthew 5:1-20. In this section, Jesus describes the character qualities of the members of the kingdom of heaven with the eight beatitudes and calls the members of his kingdom to a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees.
In the rest of chapter 5 and all of chapter 6, Jesus goes on to describe what this righteousness looks like and gives illustrations of this “greater righteousness” and what it looks like in everyday life.
In my early studies of the sermon, I would have identified Jesus’ conclusion to the sermon as being found in Matthew 7:24-27 and the contrast of the wise man and the foolish man. But as I have thought more carefully through the content of the sermon, I have concluded that in fact, Jesus’ conclusion to his sermon in fact takes up all of chapter 7.
Why does this matter? Chapter 7 has often been identified as a rather difficult text to interpret, especially in trying to discern the internal logic of the chapter, and how the different paragraphs relate to one another. In fact, it is so difficult that some interpreters have concluded that there is no internal logic and that this is simply a chapter of isolated teachings or thoughts, strung together in the teaching style that Jews referred to as “stringing pearls.” Other commentators reject this conclusion and do discern a governing theme through the chapter. The only problem is that they can’t seem to agree on what that common theme is: some see it as “judgment” while others see the unifying theme as being interpersonal relationships.
Here is what I see. I believe Jesus is concluding his sermon and in the chapter he is addressing the question: What shall we do with the truths we have heard in chapters 5 and 6? When we look at it this way, the internal consistency in the chapter comes, not from relating each part of chapter 7 to the other parts of chapter 7, but rather by relating the different parts of the chapter back to things Jesus said in chapters 5 and 6. Jesus is applying the truth and telling us what to do with what we have heard. This is the approach that I am going to take, and when we do so, I believe we can discern 6 broad principles of application for how to respond to Jesus’ teaching. I have worded each one in the form of a command.
1. Apply the truth to yourself first.
Let me ask you a question. As you listened to these sermons from Matthew 5 and 6 – did you ever find yourself thinking: “I hope my husband is listening to this!” Or, “I wish so and so was here. They really need to hear this message.”
It is so easy to do, isn’t it? We all have a tendency to be Pharisees and see the truth as applying to everyone else – while entirely missing its application in our own lives. One of the worst things we can do with Jesus’ teaching in these chapters is to take it and use it as a club to hit others over the head. This is what Jesus is warning us against.
Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
I believe this takes us back to the Beatitudes, does it not? When we apply the truth to ourselves first, we become aware of our spiritual bankruptcy and we mourn for our own sin. We hunger and thirst for true righteousness and desire to be pure in heart. And we become humble and merciful in our assessments of others and their failures because we are all too aware of our own. When we apply the truth to ourselves first, we are then qualified, not to judge, but to gently assist others in their struggle against sin.
2. Be discerning about where and with whom you share Jesus’ teaching.
6 “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.
Jesus is urging caution and discretion. To quote the writer of Ecclesiastes, there is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.
Who are the dogs and the pigs Jesus refers to? They are people without the capacity to appreciate what we are sharing with them. A dog has no concept of what is holy and what is not. A pig has no aesthetic sense with which to appreciate the beauty of a pearl. All they will do is trample it under foot. The same thing will happen when we take precious spiritual truth and attempt to share it with people who have no capacity to appreciate it.
This has obvious reference to how and when we share the truth of the Gospel with people. We must be sensitive and discerning and look for the teachable moment and the private opening – and understand when sharing spiritual truth will only lead to mockery and ridicule.
3. Ask for God’s help to live by his standards – and trust his gifts.
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
This is a very precious prayer promise and I believe it deserves the widest application – but I particularly want to focus on it in this context of applying the truths of chapters 5 and 6 of Matthew. One of the very real dangers of reading or listening to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount is the temptation to come away feeling overwhelmed by a sense of defeat and discouragement. His standards are so high and so demanding. How can we possibly obey them? The fact is, we can’t, at least in our own strength. But we don’t have to do it in our own strength. I believe one of the most important outcomes of studying Jesus’ sermon is that it should drive us to our knees with a sense of utter helplessness and dependence. And there, as we realize our lack of righteousness and we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we are urged to ask and keep on asking, to seek and keep on seeking, to knock and keep on knocking.
When we do, we find that God answers. He gives us what we need. He fills us with his righteousness and gives us strength in the battle against our sin. And we should not be afraid to ask – because we have the confidence that he will always give us good gifts.
4. Live by the Golden Rule.
Jesus has laid out some powerful truths in the first parts of his sermon; truth about the dangers of anger, lust and retaliation. He has showed us what meekness and mercy and purity of heart require. Sometimes it is hard to retain it all – especially in the heat of the moment. And even if we could retain all that Jesus said, there will be situations that occur in our lives that are not covered exactly by the examples he has given.
So, as a good teacher, Jesus summarizes and condenses his teaching and the teachings of Scripture into one powerful summary that we call the Golden Rule.
So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
This is a great summary of all that Jesus has been teaching. Not only that, but Jesus says that it is an accurate summary of all the moral law and teachings to be found in the Old Testament, in the Law and the Prophets. It goes beyond the letter of the law to the spirit of the law. It is simple to remember – but not always so simple to obey. Simply treat others the way you would like to be treated. It is really the law of love. We love ourselves. We like to be treated well. Treat others the same way. Love your neighbor as yourself.
The fifth application to the sermon that Jesus makes is the most challenging and the most sobering one.
5. Enter the kingdom of heaven while you can.
This is Jesus, the Evangelist, giving his invitation. Listen to Jesus’ words in verses 13-14: 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.
There is a very attractive and popular belief and teaching abroad in the world today. You can even find it in many churches. It is the belief that all people, no matter what they believe, say or do, will eventually be saved. It is a belief that claims to be based on the doctrine of the love of God. After all, the reasoning goes, if God is loving, how could he permanently reject anyone and banish them to Hell. Therefore, it must be his plan to bring everyone, eventually, to salvation. This doctrine is called universalism.
There is another common variation to this theme. It does not say that every person will be saved, but it is the belief that the sincere followers of all religions will be saved. After all, we are told, there is truth in every religion. There are many roads to God. Therefore it is not so important what road we follow, but only that we follow our path diligently and sincerely. If we do, we will all arrive ultimately at the same destination. This reasoning goes on to imply that if only all the various religions could get together and dialogue and understand one another, we would realize that they are all really the same; just different roads to a common destination.
Such beliefs are very attractive. They seem to propose the solution to narrow sectarianism and religious violence. They seem to model the necessary tolerance for life in a pluralistic world. Church, temple, mosque or synagogue, it makes no difference as long as we are sincere. I wish I could stand before you this morning and proclaim these beliefs to be true. But there is one serious problem. These beliefs flatly contradict the clear words of Jesus. And truth is based, not what we want to be true, but on what God declares to be true. Jesus is God in the flesh, speaking plainly and clearly in human language. And this is what he says:
There are two gates. One is wide and the other is narrow. There are two roads. One is wide and one is narrow. And there are two very different destinations. One is destruction. The other is life. Now for the very sobering part. It is the math of the kingdom. It is the contrast between the many and the few. Many have chosen the wide gate and the broad road and they are on their way to destruction. Only a few have chosen the narrow gate and the narrow road that leads to life.
Now, these are relative terms. The Book of Revelation speaks of a great multitude from every tongue and tribe and nation who will rise up to praise the Savior. And taken across the centuries of history, there will be a great multitude. But still, relative to those who choose the road to destruction, they are few. The majority of the human race have chosen and continue to choose the wide gate and the broad road. I wish I could declare it otherwise, but truth is not what I want truth to be. Truth is what God declares it to be. And these are the words of the Son of God himself. If Jesus spoke the truth that day on the mountainside, then surely the most important question each of us needs to answer is simple; have I entered by the narrow gate? Am I on the narrow road? Am I on the road that leads to life? Jesus wanted everyone who heard his words that day to wrestle with that question, and he urges us today as he did the people of his day: Enter the kingdom of heaven while you can.
To lend a sense of urgency to the question, I want to turn to a parallel passage in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 13:22-24: He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.
We must read this passage very carefully, paying close attention to the tenses of the verbs. Time is very important to what Jesus is saying. Let me first stress what it does not say. It does NOT say, “Many people are trying to enter the kingdom and they are not able to.”
The Greek language is very precise in its use of tenses, and the future tense is used here. Many WILL seek to enter and WILL not be able to. When will that happen?
Look at verse 25: When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’
What Jesus is warning us about and what lends urgency to his command to enter the kingdom of heaven is simple. The door is open now. Make every effort to enter now. Because there is coming a time when the owner of the house will rise and shut the door. And then it will be too late. You will stand outside knocking and pleading, but will be too late. And the tragic thing that Jesus tells us is that there will be many on that day who will be on the outside, trying to get in. Don’t be among them. Enter the kingdom of heaven while you can.
How can we enter? Let’s think back to the context of the Gospel of Matthew and the message of John the Baptist and the message of Jesus as he began his preaching ministry around Galilee. Do you remember it? Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. You have to get down to get in. And the opening words of the Sermon on the Mount: Blessed are the poor in spirit (those who recognize their spiritual bankruptcy), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. You have to get down to get in. The narrow gate is the gate of repentance, or renouncing our own righteousness and our own self-sufficiency, and casting ourselves on the mercy of God. The narrow gate and the narrow road is also the road of faith in Jesus as the Messiah and the Son of God. Jesus said it plainly in John 14:6: I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. Repentance and faith. Enter the kingdom of heaven while you can.
There is one more application of the sermon which I want to cover briefly.
6. Be on guard against false teachers.
It is interesting to scan the pages of the New Testament. In its pages, we are clearly warned that as Christians, we can expect open opposition and even persecution from the unbelieving world. But the New Testament actually spends a considerable larger section of text warning us against a more insidious and subtle danger; the danger from within, the danger posed by false teachers and false prophets. False teachers and false doctrine are a serious danger to the kingdom of heaven and we must be constantly on guard against them.
All too often there is a well-meaning, naïve gullibility in churches and among Christians. It is the assumption that anyone who calls himself a Christian or a preacher or an evangelist, and who uses Christian language and symbols and appears to be a nice person is therefore to be trusted, believed and followed. But Jesus warns us: Beware of false prophets!
In the interest of time, I am going to move quickly and paint with broad strokes. Jesus describes them as “wolves in sheep’s clothing.” When he calls them wolves, he is warning us that they are dangerous. When he says they are in “sheep’s clothing”, he tell us that they come in disguise. They don’t come wearing a label that says “false teacher” or “heretic”. They come claiming to be Christians and prophets and preachers and evangelists.
So how can we recognize them? Jesus tells us that we can recognize them by their fruit. Good trees bear good fruit. Bad trees bear bad fruit. If we combine other passages of Scripture, we find that the bad fruit can take two forms. The bad fruit can be a sinful life style. If a teacher’s behavior and life are inconsistent with Jesus’ life and Jesus’ teaching, then beware! He is a false teacher and a false prophet.
The bad fruit can also be false doctrine. If a preacher’s doctrine departs from the plain declarations and teaching of Scripture, then he is a false prophet. Get away from him. “Oh,” people say, “But he does so much good. And he makes me feel good. And he does miracles. He casts out demons. In fact I even heard that he can raise the dead.”
Did you see what Jesus tells his followers here? I believe in verses 21- 23, Jesus is still talking primarily about the false prophets: 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?’ 23And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.
Look for the fruit, Jesus says. Fruit in the form of a consistent life and orthodox, Christ and cross-centered doctrine and teaching. When these are missing, our warning signals should start to go off - and we need to switch off the TV, disconnect from that website, or find another church.
Well, we have one more paragraph. We might call it the conclusion to the conclusion. But we will save that for another message. For now, we have enough to think about. Six commands; applications growing out of Jesus’ sermon.
- Apply the truth to yourself first.
- Be discerning about where and with whom you share Jesus’ teaching.
- Ask for God’s help to live by his standards.
- Live by the Golden Rule
- Enter the kingdom of heaven while you can.
- Beware of false teachers.
I am not sure which of these you needed to hear today, but I suspect that you know – and I trust you will go away, not only to think about it, but to obey.
- Read Matthew 7:1-23 together.
- How does reading this passage as a conclusion to the first part of Jesus’ sermon help us understand it and how it does (or does not) fit together?
- Does Jesus’ command in Matthew 7:1 require us to suspend all faculties of discernment or critical judgment? Why or why not? How do we find the balance?
- Why does Jesus assume that the “judge” has a plank in his eye?
- Give an example of “casting pearls before swine”. What clues should we look for that it is NOT a good time to share Biblical truth?
- Matthew 7:12 has been referred to as the Golden Rule. Give personal examples of ways God has used this in your life? Does it answer all our questions and moral dilemmas? Discuss.
- What is your response to verses 13-14? Discuss the phrase “the gate is narrow and the way is hard”? How do we reconcile this with Jesus’s statement that his “yoke is easy and his burden is light”?
- Why does Jesus (and the rest of the NT) spend so much time warning us about false teachers? Give examples of “bad fruit” in terms of doctrine and deeds.