Two Destinies (Mat. 7:13-29)

Publié le 13 février 2021 dans Traductions

Sermon by Pastor Samuel Niblack

We are continuing our study of the teaching of Jesus called the Sermon on the Mount. It is one of the best known passages in the Bible. So many phrases of this message have entered the common language: ‘to each day its own worries’, ‘turn the other cheek’, ‘take the beam out of your own eye’, ‘no one can serve two masters’, ‘let your yes be yes’. Everyone can appreciate them as nuggets of wisdom, good advice for life. But as we will see this morning, the Sermon on the Mount is much more than that. The stakes are much more serious. Let’s listen to the conclusion of the message now: Matthew 7:13-29:

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. »

28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. <end of Mat. 7:13-29>

I always have trouble with conclusions, but you see here that Jesus does them very well. He ends this Sermon on the Mount with several illustrations that are striking images: 2 doors/2 paths, 2 trees, 2 affirmations « Lord, Lord », 2 houses. Each image reminds us of the possibility of and the danger of hell (perdition v13, thrown into the fire, v19, far away for eternity, v23, and ruined, destroyed by judgment, v27). All this increases the stakes, raises the bar: the Sermon on the Mount, this manifesto of the king, is not just financial advice or relational advice. The reality of hell is also very present in this sermon. This makes it very important: Am I part of the kingdom of God? Am I on my way to the kingdom of God? Each image will help us to examine ourselves, not to go down the wrong path.

To know if we are on the road to the kingdom of God, let’s have a look at three things we cannot rely on, and one thing that we can rely on.

  1. Crowding is not a good guide
    v13-14 says « Enter through the narrow door. For wide is the gate, spacious is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter by it. But narrow is the gate, narrow is the way that leads to life, and there are few who find it. »

Two gates: wide and narrow, two paths, wide and narrow. Jesus emphasizes the difference between the many and the few.

Jesus had just reminded us (v7) that his kingdom is open, free to all. Knock, and it will be opened to you! God’s welcome and hospitality are admirable and his desire to bless is inexhaustible. But it’s just that you have to knock at the right door. Not all roads lead to God. Not all moralities and ideas are the same.

When you get into a plane, it is a narrow door; at takeoff and landing, the plane must follow an exact, narrow path, one plane at a time on the runway, not because the pilot is intolerant, or wants to frighten the passengers. It is because the laws of aerodynamics and gravity are not governed by our feelings, our desires, or the fashion of the day.

The normal Christian life, with its humility, its renunciation, its thirst for holiness, is not necessarily going to attract crowds.

In France, one should not be someone who stupidly follows the crowd, without a critical spirit. In this, Jesus agrees. Being an atheist, because everyone around me is an atheist is not a reason in itself. Adopting the same mentality as all media and social networks simply because their voice dominates is not proof of truth. Big crowds are not a sign of truth.

  1. Appearance is not the best guide, v15-20
    Matthew 7:15 Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inside they are ravening wolves.

Here’s an added challenge: not only is there a narrow door that is hard to find, but there are people who will try to make you miss the door. They are disguised in sheep’s clothing. That is, it looks Christian. The message has some truth to it. But they are false prophets, they announce false solutions, false salvations.

Hence, we must not stop at appearances. We must look at the fruit. « You will recognize them by their fruit » is repeated twice, v16, v20. A fruit sometimes takes time to discern. If such teaching produces a lack of holiness, lack of love, lack of peace, if it produces anxiety, manipulation, sexual perversions, it is not the kingdom of God.

  1. Religious activities, even extraordinary ones, are not always a guide, v21-22.

Not only is there a narrow door and narrow path, not only are there those who will try to lead us astray, there is the real possibility of making a mistake.

These people are surprised. « Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name? » The false prophets know that they are in disguise, that they are ravening wolves. These people here thought they were on the road to the kingdom. They thought they were doing the right thing. Even they can point out many activities done in the name of God, in the name of Christ, prophesying, casting out demons, other miracles…

Extraordinary achievements or miraculous events are not a proof in itself. If the most miraculous, the most impressive activities are not a guide in themselves, let alone ordinary activities: Didn’t we attend EBTM? Have we not done humanitarian work? Have we not listened to Christian songs on youtube? Have I not been baptized as a child? As an adult? These are not proofs in themselves of being in his kingdom.

Neither attendance, appearance, nor activity tells us that we are on the right path to the kingdom. Jesus ends with a final illustration that will really help us sort through these things. In v24-27, Jesus gives us a reliable guide, a reliable yardstick:

  1. What makes all the difference is the foundation.

This illustration evokes the same idea as the others: the ruined house, the road that leads to perdition, the tree that is cut down and thrown into the fire, the people to whom Jesus says, withdraw from me: all this evokes the idea of missing out on eternity, of not entering the kingdom of God.

What is the big difference between the houses? Same house plan, same nails, same type of wood, these two houses could have been next to each other, since the same storm hits them both. The difference is the foundation, the rock, or the sand.

Look carefully, Jesus specifies what it means to be founded on the rock: v24 and v26: to put his words into practice is to build on the foundation.

« These words that I say », so he is referring to the Sermon on the Mount (of course, this is extended to all his words, but it is not yet entirely written)

To put into practice, to act accordingly to the words of the Sermon on the Mount, what is it? We hear this practical word, and sometimes we think: I must do more for God, practice my religion more. But beware, that is not the great call of the Sermon on the Mount.

Think back to the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus, in his conclusion, talks about the two ways, two trees, two houses, etc., and then he says, « I have to do more for God, I have to practice my religion more. A conclusion is a summary of the content. If we retrace the Sermon on the Mount, do we find two ways, two ways of approaching God? Yes, but what is amazing to this crowd is not the Jewish way and the Gentile way. The atheist way and the religious way. Jesus sorted it out differently.

We have seen these two ways in the way of conceiving prayer. In the broad path that leads to perdition, you can find both the Pharisees who pray most eloquently and the thug who never prays. We have seen his two ways in the way he approaches money. In the broad path, you will find the rich and the poor choosing Mammon as their teacher, as their idol.

There are two paths before us: one path where I seek to be my own Savior and the other path where I make Him my Savior, the foundation of my justice. To put into practice the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount is to have Him as your foundation, as your support.

The other images also confirm this: « Enter through the narrow gate. » Elsewhere he will say, « I am the door. » « I am the way. » Or when he says to his very religious people, « I never knew you. » the problem is that there was not an intimate knowledge, a love for Jesus that was the basis of their activity.

In this, the Sermon on the Mount already points to Jesus Christ and His work as the foundation, the solid rock, of our faith. And this faith is active, practical. When we understand that he is a king who saves us, who protects us, we want to follow him. We want to follow his path, a path of sacrifice, a path of obedience, but it is the path where Jesus is. We are going to bear fruit, it is the proof that he lives in us.

In the Lord of the Rings, « The Return of the King », the King must pass through a narrow gate, a perilous path, the Path of the Dead, which few will be able to follow. But his men do. Eowyn said to him, « These others who are with you… They go only because they would not want to be separated from you — because they love you. »
« So Aragorn set his mind to it, and the strength of his will was such in that hour that all these men and their horses followed him. And, indeed, the love that the horses had for their riders was so great that they were ready to face even the terror of the Gate if their master’s heart was firm as he walked beside them. »

When you see that Jesus had the courage, the love and the will to taste death, to go to hell in your place, you will be ready to follow him, listen to his word, walk in his ways out of love for him.