A Christians' Commitment
Matthew 7v21-29 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,' will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn't we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?' Then I will tell them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.' Everyone therefore who hears these words of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house on a rock. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it didn't fall, for it was founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of mine, and doesn't do them will be like a foolish man, who built his house on the sand. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it fell-and great was its fall."
It happened, when Jesus had finished saying these things, that the multitudes were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them with authority, and not like the scribes.
A Radical Choice
Up until now, Jesus has been issuing instructions. It is here, therefore, that He issues the 2 choices we face when having heard His words~ He concludes his sermon with a heart-wrenching application. Last week we heard about false prophets, and this week false professors, from unsound teachers to unsound hearers. Jesus confronts us with himself, sets before us the choice between obeying his words and disobeying them. He then proceeds to call us to firm commitment of mind, will & life to himself and his teaching. In v21-23, he warns us of mere spoken profession, and in vs. 24-27 of a mere intellectual knowledge without any practical knowledge. Each one of these, is a substitute for the obedience that Jesus asks for.
These final two passages, are very similar. Both contrast the right & wrong responses to Jesus & his teaching. Both show a definite decision must be made; and that nothing replaces an active, practical obedience. The only difference between the passages, is that the first is to people who only say they are Christians and the second is to people who only have an intellectual acceptance of Jesus and his teachings.
1. The danger of a merely spoken profession (v21-23)
The people that Jesus refers to here, are those that say they belong to Him, but in practice do nothing to change their lives in accordance to his teachings. V21 States that not all who say to me "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom of heaven. Our final destiny will be settled, Jesus says, neither by what we say to him either today nor on the last day, but whether we practice what he teaches and obey him. It is true, however, that we are to speak about Jesus and his teachings. In Romans 10,9-10, Paul wrote that we have to confess with our lips and believe in our hearts. A true profession of Jesus is impossible without the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). Is there anything wrong with calling Jesus Lord? In itself, no. However, if there is no moral & practical application, then it is merely lip service and is worth nothing. To that group of people, who do not talk with truth, and profess Jesus without reality, will not be saved. People who only live a verbal confession of Christ can be full of courtesy, enthusiasm, and orthodoxy in private worship and public ministry and yet live without any of the moral teaching of Christ. Look at the list given prophecy, casting out demons and doing mighty works in His name. Yet, if they do not do the will of the Father, and obey & do the teachings of Jesus, then they too will be told to depart from Jesus. These 3 areas of ministry, prophecy, exorcism and miracles are the most extreme examples of verbal professions, and yet if these people do not obey Jesus then they will cast from the presence of Jesus. Jesus is not just for their lips, but for their lives as well. Jesus is not just for us to say we follow Him, and not do as He asks, i.e. pay lip service. It is for us to say we follow Jesus and to do as he has commanded us to do. The difference is between saying we do it and actually doing it. People who pay lip service to God, may claim to do mighty works in ministry, but in everyday behaviour the works done are not good, but evil. We who claim to be the followers of Jesus, have made professions of Christ in our private conversations and publicly in our baptism. We appear to honour Jesus by referring to him as "the Lord", or "our Lord". We say the Lord's prayer in church, and sing songs expressing our love to Jesus. We may even teach in the name of Jesus, of mention & use his name in other areas of ministry in the church. Jesus, however is not impressed by our words, but wants us to do as He has commanded us to do. To be committed to Jesus, is to do the will of the Father. He asks for evidence of our sincerity in good works of obedience.
2. The danger of a merely intellectual knowledge (v 24-27)
Where the contrast in the last passage was between "saying" and "doing", the contrast is now between "hearing" and "doing". On one hand Jesus says that there is this person who hears these words of mine and does them (V24) , and on the other the person who hears these words of mine and does not do them (V26). To give us a clearer idea, of what the contrasts are he tells a parable (well known to us) about two builders. The man, who built & constructed his house on deeply dug rock is, according to Jesus, wise. Yet, the man who built his house on sand without laying a solid foundation is, according to Jesus, foolish. As both were building, anyone passing by probably would not have noticed any difference between them, because the difference was their foundations, and foundations cannot be seen. Only after a storm, floods and high winds, was 1he basic and fatal difference able to be seen. For the house that was built on rock, remained standing, whereas the house built upon sand was destroyed forever.
In the same way, people who say they are Christians often look the same, whether they are genuine or fake.
It is hard to tell. Both appear to be building solid Christian lives. For Jesus is not comparing professing Christians with non-Christians. What is common to both spiritual house-builders is that they hear these words of mine. So both are members of the Christian church. Both read the bible, go to church, listen to sermons and read Christian books. The reason why we cannot tell the difference between them, is that the foundations are buried deep and are invisible to us. Too question is not whether they hear the word of Jesus, but whether they do the word of Jesus. Only a storm can show the truth. A storm of crisis or trouble shows what kind of person we really are. How do we face up to the everyday trials of life? Do we hold up to the values expressed in the Sermon on the Mount, or do we just act like we used to do before we became Christians.
3. What is our response?
The truth that Jesus would have us learn from these two passages, is that a mere intellectual knowledge or verbal acknowledgement can substitute for obedience to his word. The question is not whether we say nice, polite, enthusiastic things to or about Jesus; nor whether we hear his words, listening, studying, pondering and memorising until our minds are stuffed full of his teaching; but whether we do what we say and do what we know to be truth. In other words, is the lordship of Jesus a reality in our life.
However, this is not teaching that salvation comes through good works or good deeds. No. No. Nor is it the way to enter the kingdom of heaven, by good works of obedience, because the whole New Testament offers salvation through the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ and Him alone. Here Jesus stresses that those who truly hear the gospel and profess faith in him will obey him, and therefore expressing their faith by their works. It is in applying this teaching to our lives, that we can consider the reading of the Bible and belonging to the world-wide church. For if we do both of these things, then we have a serious responsibility to ensure that what we know, and what we say is translated into what we do, and how we live.
Jesus places before us radical and life changing choices,. He commands us to be real followers of Himself, joining a new culture; the Christian culture; and abandoning the old culture of the world. He repeatedly called his followers to be different from the world. We are to be salt & light, in a bland and dark world. The world is like food that is rotting, full of bacteria causing it to decay rapidly. As the followers of Jesus, we are to be salt, stopping its decay. The world lives in darkness, a gloomy, dank & shadowy place. Christians are called to be light, throwing out the darkness & gloom.
Then Jesus moves on to more specific areas. Our righteousness is to be so deep that it reaches our hearts, and our love is to be so wide as to cover everyone including our enemies. Our giving, prayers and fasting are not to be as the Pharisees were in boasting, but rather to be real, and in secret to as not to compromise our Christian integrity. For our treasure we are to choose what lasts through all eternity, not that which rots away here on earth. We are to have as our master, God, and not money or possessions. Our ambitions should not be our own material security, but the spread of God's rule & righteousness in the world.
It is clear throughout the Sermon on the Mount that we are called to imitate our heavenly Father. He is a peacemaker, and loves even the ungrateful and selfish. We are commanded to do the same, copying him and not the men of the world. Then we show to the world, and to God, that we are truly his sons & daughters (Matthew 5:9,44-48). We are offered the choice, either to follow the crowd in the world or to follow our Father in heaven. We are given the choice of being ruled by the opinions of the world or being mastered by God's word. Jesus draws out for us, only two ways: we are either for him or against him. There is no standing with a foot in either side. We have two ways to go, a narrow or broad gate, and two foundations we can build, either on rock or on sand. The narrow gate built on rock, is the path to life, while the broad gate built on sand leads to death, decay and destruction. The answer to these choices is important and certainly much more important than our careers or marriage partner. Which road shall we travel on, and which foundation shall we build our house on? Those who decide for Jesus, choose the narrow gate, and a firm foundation in Jesus. Which ones will we choose?
4. Jesus the Great Teacher
Many people from all different religions are quite ready to accept the Sermon on the Mount as containing wonderful truths. They know that it contains phrases such as 'Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy,' 'Love your enemies,' 'Judge not, so that you may not be judged' and 'Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them'. These sayings, they say, show Jesus as a great moral teacher. However, they are not prepared to acknowledge that He is God and has authority. Yet, what hit the first hearers of this sermon was Jesus' authority (v29), and it drove them to be astonished by him and his teaching. If we read it, we too should be astonished by the teaching. Just like in first century Israel, the Sermon on the Mount goes against everything we are taught through our family, schools & culture. If Jesus therefore has the authority, we should not only listen & read it, but also do it. Jesus laid down the law of God. He expects people to build the house of their lives on his words, and adds that only those who do so are wise and will be safe. He says that he has come to fulfil the law and the prophets. He is both the Lord to be obeyed, and the Saviour to give blessing and salvation. He places himself in the judgement seat. He speaks of God as his Father in a unique sense, and implies that what he does, God does and that what people do to him they are also doing to God.
Go and be different from those around you
The claims of Jesus were spoken so naturally, modestly and indirectly that many people never even notice them. But they are there, and we cannot ignore them. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, we have seen the Jesus is teacher, the Christ, the Lord, the Saviour, the Judge, the Son of God and also God.. Either all these things are true, or he was a power seeking maniac suffering with insanity. But the Sermon on the Mount could never be the product of someone who was either insane or a seeker of power, because it would go against what was taught in the Sermon on the Mount. Our only alternative then, is to take Jesus at his word, and his claims for all that they are worth. The Sermon on the Mount contains the picture for God's alternative society, with the standards, values and priorities of the kingdom of God, not the kingdom of man. Too often throughout history, the church has conformed to the pattern set by the world, and ignored the pattern required by God and by Jesus. Sometimes, there is no difference, with the Church having lost its saltiness, and its light put out.
It is only as we the church, live the truths in the Sermon of the Mount that a true Christian community will be attractive to those outside in the world, and let God be glorified. Jesus therefore, when he calls us, calls us to be the unique Christian culture in a world full of lost culture.
So here is a challenge for you. Are you, as a Christian heeding Jesus' words and being obedient to them and therefore living a life worthy of being called Christian? Are you being salt and light amidst those who are in darkness and in a lost culture?
Finally, if you would not call yourself a Christian today, and this Jesus appeals to you, this Jesus who speaks with authority, and you want to become a Christian there are three simple steps to follow. Firstly, admit that you have done wrong against God and His ways. Secondly, believe and trust in Jesus. Call on Him, receive, trust, obey and worship Him, recognizing Him for who He is and what He has done. Lastly, confess Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. Once sin has been confessed, and Jesus is believed in and trusted as Saviour, then you are a Christian. Now you are ready as Peter writes in the Bible, "to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18). Welcome to the family of God. God has chosen you; Jesus has paid for you and has put His mark within you through His Spirit (Ephesians 1:1-13).
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