Day 44: “Wise and Foolish Builders” October 11, 2018
Matthew 7:24-29 (NIV) “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. 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. 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. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”
A few years ago, one of our sons and his wife lived in an attractive house in the Phoenix area. Unknown to them, there was a water leak underneath the building. As in most cases in that state, the structure was built upon a slab and not a full foundation. Not long after they moved out, a great crack appeared requiring expensive repairs before anyone could live in it. It didn’t experience quite the crash of which Jesus spoke in his word picture. But the point is the same. The residents did not realize that the structure was compromised.
In speaking of a crashing house, Jesus was really pointing towards a deeper question. Namely, “Have you checked on your spiritual foundation? Are you building on a safe and sturdy platform? Will it stand up well and safely if some terrible storms descend upon it? In speaking this way, Jesus was echoing the words of Psalm 127:
Psalm 127:1 (NIV) “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.”
Why would Jesus paint this word picture as he closed his Sermon on the Mount? Allow me to suggest that this was a perfectly sensible summary statement that followed all that he had been teaching them in Matthew Chapters Five, Six and Seven. We have spent forty-four days looking closely at the entire text. Just to review how Jesus portrays someone who wants to build their life on a genuine spiritual foundation … that person:
Desires a spiritual way of living that seeks to know God
Mourns the broken world but is waiting for God to ultimately renew it
Is merciful towards other people
Understands that following Christ will bring persecution
Understands that sin is a heart issue and not just a matter of behavior
Is willing even eager to love his/her enemies
Understands that relationship with God is first a secret matter and not for show
Is eager to store up treasures in heaven with less focus on here and now
Is prepared to be judged with the same standards that he/she judges others
Realizes what Jesus means when he speaks of the narrow gate or path
Jesus describes as “wise” the person who lives their life according to his teaching. Salvation is by faith and not by our good works … so no one should think “Well, if I act this way I can know God and have eternal life.” Not so! We must come to Christ by faith and receive him as Savior and then the ways described will characterize our lives. I want to live that way because I know God thru Jesus Christ … not to get to know God but because I know Him! The life that Jesus describes in Matthew Five, Six and Seven is a life showing the fruit of the God-centered life.
Our Lord then goes on to offer an ominous thought to those who live without regard to God and with no care for what He requires:
“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. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”
In forty years of ministry, I have heard every reason imaginable for turning away from Jesus. Things like God allows evil and if he was any kind of a loving God, He would not. Forgetting that God took on flesh and allowed the ultimate unjust evil to come down upon Himself in the person of Jesus on the Cross. Things like anger at God for allowing pain and heartache into one’s life. In the end, it is as C.S. Lewis said, “We want to put God in the dock!” We want to cross-examine Him and insist that he explain Himself for allowing evil and not doing things as we think He should do them.
I understand. I’ve seen enough heartbreak and have often thought “Why Lord? Why?” But because I cannot understand God does not mean I cannot love Him as I should. In the end, it’s always the same decision: “Will I love God unconditionally or only if He explains Himself and starts doing things as I think He should do them?” Actually, in the end, a God who could be fully understood by us could not be God.
We started out picturing ourselves as sitting on the mountainside listening to Jesus. Now he has finished, and we turn to each other in a mild state of shock. All the other teachers we have heard in first century Jerusalem have quoted the great writers and Rabbis. Not Jesus. He has spoken very differently. And so, we read:
“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.”
Of course, if Jesus was who he said he was, he would speak as the one who had the authority. Having left unbelief many years ago, I believe he was that one, and that he had the authority. In closing, consider:
Mark 8:27-29 (NIV) “Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, ‘Who do people say I am?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.’ ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ.’”
Thus….Jesus has only one question for all of us: “Who do you say that I am?”
Blessings! Pastor Alberta
Day 43: “I Never Knew You!” October 10, 2018
Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV) “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. 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?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”
I have known a dozen people over the years who expressed worry, even fear … that on Judgment Day, they might hear Jesus say, “I never knew you!” They had ruminated too long on this passage forgetting that if Jesus never knew them … then they never knew Jesus and they would not be concerned about what he might say to them. We know if we know the Lord! Such people who never knew him have thought their good works would save them. But they did not know him, no matter what they did. They never sought the Lord. They sought only “achievements” in his name. They are not expecting to be rejected. They will be surprised. In other words, we who know Jesus do not need to fear that he will reject us. Fear of that rejection is a sign that we DO know him, and he knows us. This is subtle.
Like the person who worries that they might have blasphemed the Holy Spirit most likely never has … or they would not be worried about it. So, what to do with this puzzling passage? Let’s remember that it was preceded by these words from Jesus about works and “fruit” …
Matthew 7:18-20 (NIV) “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.”
At first, this seems to confuse things even further. After all, the people that Jesus rejects in our text were claiming to have done all kinds of “good” things. They prophesied, and they drove out demons and they did miracles. Those were not only “good” but great things, right? So, how come Jesus is rejecting these people? Because he never knew them! That is, they may have done things in his name and God may have allowed those things to actually “work” but we forget: false prophets are active and the evil one plays games with spirits. Charlatans have performed miracles! Just ask Moses about his experience with the magicians who served Pharaoh. So, whatever ‘fruit” they bore, it was not of the Lord. Let’s go back to the key here …
“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.”
We can glean several interesting points from this text. Everyone will say “Lord, Lord.” Everyone! This is asserted in Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Speaking of Jesus, he writes:
Philippians 2:8-11 (NIV) “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
This is why it is unnecessary to become frustrated with friends and family who reject the Gospel. I’ve said to many people who insist they will never receive Christ and that he is only a myth … “Well, you will know otherwise eventually. Perhaps you will remember this conversation. Every knee will bow!”
The Lord Jesus Christ almost gives us a word picture of people lining up for entrance. He will be at the gate and will know his own and welcome them into the capital of the Kingdom of God in the presence of the Father. Jesus will know who has done the Father’s will. But … if the “good works” are not his will, what then does Jesus mean?
God’s will can be discerned. It is different for every believer. It might be preaching the Gospel and being known for great pulpit power. Or preaching the Gospel as a missionary or a teacher or one who tends to the poor. But it might also be the man who quietly paints the hallway and tends to the parking lot. The person who drives the van down to the city to bring food to the needy. And it is interesting that as we are called, we must do what He has given US to do. In other words, the greatest preacher should not be driving the van because God has given that job to another person. We must seek His will at all times as to how we serve him. The people in the parable did some good things but they were not the will of God. Thus, we saw our Lord teach us earlier:
Matthew 6:9-10 (NIV) “This, then, is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
This should not be mistaken for salvation by works. Rather, we who have been born of the Holy Spirit will demonstrate that re-birth by doing His will. And he will make that will clear to us. How? Consider Paul once again:
Romans 12:2 (NIV) “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
And who are those who no longer conform to the patterns of this world? Simple. They are described in Matthew 5 thru 7! Jesus might say “This is what they look like. And this is how they live, according to the Father’s will.”
Next: “Wise and Foolish Builders”
Blessings! Pastor Alberta
Day 42: “Wide and Narrow Gates” 10.09.2018
Matthew 7:13-14 (NIV) “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
Hardly a day goes by without seeing an ad for the treatment of spinal stenosis. One would think that affliction was a national epidemic. Perhaps it is. Stenosis can also develop in the wrist and other places in the body and often accompanies old age. Why mention this as we consider today’s topic? Because the word “stenosis” is also found in our text and with very good reason. The word describing the narrow gate is “stenos” meaning narrow. Stenosis of the spine is understood as a narrowing of the spaces around the spinal cord rendering movement somewhat inhibited. So, in speaking of the narrow gate or the “straight gate” the Lord Jesus Christ is giving us a word picture of a narrow path that is only found by a few. It is not obvious and easy to find. Navigating it will require some searching and deliberate care and caution getting all the way through.
In contrast, Jesus said “Wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.” Here we have the Greek word “platos” from which we get the English “plateau.” In other words, the road to destruction is like a great open plateau spreading out with dramatic flatness and easy to cross. Like walking from one side of a huge desert to the other side with no barriers. Many people go that way. Now, Jesus is moving towards closure of the Sermon on the Mount. Why might he have given this rather unhappy warning to us as we sit on the mountainside? Let’s consider …
First, we need to relate this passage to John Chapter Fourteen. We read:
John 14:6 (NIV) “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”
This was and is a very exclusive statement. It is not “inclusive” and since the idea of “inclusion” is particularly prominent today, we should not be surprised when it is offensive to the “many.” There was an attitude in the first century that, in a sense, is very like the one we experience in our time. It was perfectly acceptable then to say, “I believe in Jesus.” What was not acceptable was this statement: “I believe in only Jesus.” We hear the same thing. In modern society saying “only Jesus” is where the offense begins and ends. Why? Because the implication is so dreadfully serious.
I once had a Jewish friend who did not believe in his Messiah Jesus. He said to me: “If what you are saying is true, that would imply that my father and all of those I love who have already passed … are eternally lost! No … I just cannot accept this statement that it is “only Jesus” who can bring us to God.” I understood. Actually, he was quite correct. The best thing to do at that moment was to encourage him to think of his own salvation since he cannot do anything about the eternal state of anyone else. But it is so much easier for the lost to take the broad path. The other gate and the other path, to salvation, is a narrow one that requires perseverance. It means that the disciples as described in all our previous studies will find themselves walking carefully and DIFFERENTLY than those who do not care about the Kingdom.
It is interesting to look at the treatment of this teaching as found in the Gospel of Luke. In it, we notice some additional aspects that are very dramatic. We read:
Luke 13:22-25 (NIV) “Then Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, ‘Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?’ He said to them, ‘Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’”
Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, the spiritual capital of the world. The center on Earth of the Kingdom of God. Thus, it was no accident that this exchange came up. Someone asked if only a few people will be saved. We also ask that question when we see how much more “attractive” worldliness is to the lost. It leaves us wondering if most people will not find their way into the Kingdom of God . Most people, we sense, will not inherit eternal life. We do not rejoice over this but we simply have to acknowledge it. So, someone asked Jesus about it.
Notice our Lord’s reply. He reminds them that THEY must be careful to pursue the narrow path. Once called to the journey, we must stay focused and deliberate. Then our Lord gives this very ominous warning to all who may be listening:
“I tell you, many will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’”
There will be no second chances as some theologians suggest. Simply stated, this is it! Here and now, every person must make a decision about the Lord Jesus Christ and his claims.
NEXT: “I Never Knew You!”
Peace. Pastor Alberta
Day 41: “Ask, Seek … Knock” 10.05.2018
Matthew 7:7-12 (NIV) “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; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 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! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
The movie “A Few Good Men” is the story of two Marines tried for murder. It is a vulgar and emotionally brutal film clearly not for the faint of spirit. I cannot recommend it to my sensitive friends but there are few good lessons in it. Beyond that, there is one scene that stood out to me. Navy lawyers visit the commandant of the Marine base at Guantanamo seeking certain documents pertaining to the case. The colonel in charge simply stares at them and says (my paraphrase) “Sure. I’m willing to give you the documents in question. But you have to ask me nicely and with respect.” The two lawyers are somewhat taken aback but they make their request politely and respectfully. The colonel gives them what they want. Now, it’s not easy to apply this word picture to our wholly Holy God but we can do so to this extent: He wants to be asked politely and with respect!
As our Lord’s teaching on the mountainside is almost complete, it seems appropriate for him to instruct us in the matter of prayer. To remind us that we are children in the presence of God our Father and we should understand that He loves us and wants to give us good things. Yet, this teaching is more about understanding God and His Grace more than about “how to get what we want in prayer from God.” Let’s look closely …
“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; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.”
God wants to be asked. God wants us to seek Him. God wants to hear a knock on His door. Then He promises to respond to those who ask and seek and knock. What does this mean? That we can ask God for whatever we want? That God would make us billionaires? That God would cause our political opponents to fail in their candidacy? That God would free us of all stress? Would our list of requests ever end if God was required to grant us everything we ask of Him? Thus, there must be boundaries to all of this.
When considering how God responds to our prayers, we must remember how WE respond to requests brought by our children. If a ten-year-old petitions and seeks and knocks and asks with great sincerity to use the family car to take his friends for a ride, we will not even consider the request. It might be sincere and even tearfully presented but it would still be unthinkable. HERE IS THE KEY: As parents, we want our children to mature to the point where they are asking for those things that we want them to ask for and have! Thus, we quickly realize that these words from our Lord are not guarantees that He loves us so much that we will always “get” whatever we desire from Him.
How shall we respond to this principle? By searching further in the Word of God. Here we find:
1 John 5:13-15 (NIV) “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us–whatever we ask–we know that we have what we asked of him.”