“19 'Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
The Sermon on the Mount, by Jesus the Son of God.
Class Notes by F. M. Perry, First Delivered About 1973.
“1 When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him.
“19 'Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
In Daniel 2:44, Daniel, the prophet of God, told old King Nebuchadnazzer, “And in the days of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed , and that kingdom will not be left for another people, it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.”
As we read The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5, 6, and 7), we find that it was the time of “the days of those Kings” of which Daniel spoke. The God of heaven was making final preparations to set up His Own Kingdom. The Word who was in the beginning with God, the Word who was God, had become flesh and was dwelling among men. Men were beholding of His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14). John said of Him , “For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; peace and truth was realized through Jesus Christ. No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” (John 1:16-18).
In Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, the only Begotten of God, dwelling in the flesh, was speaking. The One who was to be King of the eternal kingdom was telling us about the Kingdom.
When the sermon was concluded (Matthew 7:28-29) we are told, “The result was that when Jesus had finished His words, the multitude were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching as one having authority, and not as their scribes.”
The only authority which the scribes could rightly claim was that which came through Moses. Jesus said in Matthew 23:2-3, “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses, therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.” Those teachers had no divine right to speak anything in the name of religion, except that which Moses authorized them to speak.
But Jesus Himself spoke to the multitudes in the Sermon on the Mount (and He speaks to us through that Biblical sermon today) as One who has the right to be heard; as One whose declaration of truth is enough. He does not have to quote from Moses as the scribes did. His authority is direct from God. Jesus is God's word personified. Jesus was “in the beginning” with God.
The people of the first century were amazed at what Jesus said and the way that He said it. And today, when the people of the world read this sermon, they are, almost without exception, amazed, also. However, the amazement of many, who do not understand the grace of God, is expressed in their belief that the ideals of the sermon are impossible of attainment among humans. But the amazement is even greater among those people who, although they have come to learn that they cannot attain these ideals through their own power, they have also come to learn that God grants the power, that God creates and leads the citizens of His Kingdom as Jesus said they should live.
Who is teaching us in this sermon? It is One of whom God said, “This is My beloved Son , with whom I am well pleased; hear Him!” (Matthew 17:5). The writer of the New Testament Book of Hebrews spoke of the Teacher when he said,”God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Jesus Himself spoke of His importance when He said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and in earth.” (Matthew 28:18). Paul spoke of our Teacher when he said, “And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:22-23). Jesus taught the multitude with authority in the Sermon on the Mount because God had given Him the authority.
So let's allow Him to teach us. Let's approach this study with an attitude of asking, seeking, and knocking and then stand amazed and see what blessings the Lord will heap upon us.
The first sixteen verses of the Sermon describes the citizens of Christ's kingdom. The “Kingdom of Heaven” He called it, inhabited by those who are called “sons of God.” The characteristics of the citizens of the Kingdom are described: they are poor in spirit; they mourn; they are gentle; they hunger and thirst for righteousness; they are merciful; they are pure in heart; they are peacemakers; they have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness; they are the salt of the earth; they are the light of the world; they let their light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.
Those whom God adds to the Kingdom of Heaven are used by God to perform functions during their lives on earth. The functions of the citizens of the kingdom are to glorify God in heaven through the “good works which God prepared beforehand” for them to do during their sojourn on earth. (Ephesians 2:10).
With the 17th verse of chapter 5 begins a section of the sermon which some have called “The righteousness of the Kingdom.” This section goes over to chapter 7, verse 12 and makes up, as far as quantity of words is concerned, the greater part of the sermon. The first few verses of this section (chapter 5, 17-19) give the relationship of this “kingdom of heaven” to the old scriptures, “the law and the prophets.”
The old scriptures were inspired of God, a part of God's Word, and as such will never pass away. Christ's coming, to prepare and usher in the eternal kingdom of heaven, was in no way to destroy God's scriptures (the law and the prophets), but to fulfill them. God's revelations through Moses and the prophets, and now through Jesus Christ, are all part of God's eternal plan. No one should get the idea that Jesus is bringing in, with the Sermon on the Mount, something absolutely new. No. They are things which have existed in the mind of God since the beginning of time. God's revelations through Moses and the prophets, up to the time of Christ, were but prelude and preparation for the establishment of the eternal kingdom.
Why then did this sermon strike the world as something new? A hint to the answer to this question is given in Matthew 5:20. “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Most people, in the land we call Palestine, (the land of the Jews), in Jesus' day knew only the word of God as it was read to them by the scribes and Pharisees. The scribes and Pharisees didn't follow God's word in deeds of life. By their lives they had perverted the Jews' understanding of it. To many of the people who heard the reading of God's scriptures, the actions of the scribes and Pharisees spoke louder than their words. As a result there was but little real understanding of the righteousness of God although it was all there in His word. So Christ is not now in this sermon preaching something which is new, which was not originally in the old scriptures. It is something which should be recognized today as further unfolding of things God had already said. It only seemed new because it was so foreign to the perverted world of tradition that had been built up by the scribes and Pharisees.
The Contrast Between the Righteousness of the Kingdom and the Law of Moses as Taught by the Scribes and Pharisees. (Matthew 5:21-48).
Beginning with chapter 5 verse 21 and continuing through verse 48, Jesus contrasts the righteousness of the kingdom with the traditional Jewish interpretation of the Law. Again let me say, these are not contrasts to show changes in God's eternal plan. The righteousness of the kingdom described in this sermon is the righteousness of God, and it has always been the same. (Romans 1:17).
The contrasts which Jesus makes in this sermon are contrasts of God's righteousness with the so-called righteousness of the world of the Jews of that first century day. He does this by using five examples:
Example 1, The Law Against Murder (Matthew 5:21-26).
“22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.
“25 Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.
The first illustration used is the worldly traditional interpretation of the Law against murder. (Matthew 5:21-26). God's Law (one of the ten commandments) was “Thou shalt not kill.” A more contemporary translation of that Law is: “You shall not murder.” The scribes had read that Law to the people and the people had heard it. But the scribes had made an interpretation of it by adding something else. It was: “Whoever shall commit murder shall be liable to the court.” This interpretation destroyed the moral and spiritual character of that Law and converted it into a rigid and merely external legal enactment, forbidding the actual deed. The judgment or court the scribes referred to was not the final judgment at the end of time, but was the “municipal judgments” or courts set up in the cities of the Jews. God had instructed the Jews to set up judges, but He had not instructed them that the only judgment of and penalty for murder was in these courts.
Then Jesus said, “But I say to you.” Jesus has the authority to speak for God. Jesus is God in the flesh. What He tells the Jews is not something new but what God has wanted all the time when He said “You shall not murder.” This is a further revelation of the mind of God towards which a seeking attitude on the part of God's people (even in the time of Moses) would have led them. “Seek and you shall find” (Matthew 7:7) was not new principle only for the “last days.” It was God's principle for His people in the days of Abraham, in the days of David, and apparently all down through time.
Actually, it was God who said, “You shall not murder.” And the breaking of God's Law was spiritual death with the punishment being the wrath of God. The traditional but erroneous understanding of the Jews was that the suspected murderer would simply be tried by a human court.
We can see what an amazing thing it must have seemed to the multitude on the mount to see and hear a human being say, 'Your interpretation of God's Law is wrong. I tell you that God meant something else and something more. And moreover, I personally reiterate to you now the mind of God.!' No mere man could truthfully speak that way. Only God could say, “But I say to you!”
So Jesus, the Son of God, could not only state the Law itself, as could a scribe, but He could state the principle on which the Law was founded. The Law, as interpreted by the scribes and Pharisees, did not forbid hatred, which is the root of murder. Men, as they viewed the matter, could cherish hatred and contempt for another without being disobedient to the Pharisee's Law.
Jesus however taught that all feelings of anger and hatred are within themselves sinful, whether or not they bring about acts of violence. Jesus said they fall under the judgment and condemnation of God.
Jesus gives a threefold characterization to hatred. 1 - He says, if you are angry with your brother you are guilty before the court. 2 - If you call your brother empty-headed (Raca), you are guilty before the supreme court (or Sanhedrin). 3 - If you say to your brother, you fool, you will go into the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:22). These are all examples of hatred and just show that hate for one's fellowman is wrong under any court or judge. But especially it is wrong before God.
We must remember that Jesus is contrasting the inward and spiritual righteousness which He requires , with the mere outward and formal righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. And the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees is entirely unacceptable to Jesus according to Matthew 5:20.
Chapter 5, verses 25 and 26 seem to be given for the purpose of impressing on the worshiper of God the urgency of the situation when he finds himself in a position that his brother has something against him. The implication is that the worshiper has done something against his brother as that outlined in verse 22. He has been angry with his brother, he has said “raca” to him, or he has called him “a fool.” It is an urgent situation because after the sentence has been passed, there may be no opportunity for reconciliation.
Why is it urgent? Because the danger is grave. Jesus said that the offender is in danger of the hell of fire. This is the gehenna of fire, prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 5:41), the result of the wrath of God.
In Matthew 5:8 Jesus says in the beatitude that the “pure in heart” shall “see God.” the clear implication is that those who are not pure in heart shall not see God. Now, later in the sermon, Jesus emphasizes that only those hearts free from anger and malice can approach the altar of worship with the approval of God. Jesus did not want there to be any separation among citizens of the kingdom caused by anger and malice among brethren.
In John 17:20-21 Jesus prayed to the Father, “I do not ask in behalf of these (the twelve) alone, but for those who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in Me and I in Thee, that they may also be in Us; that the world may believe that Thou didst send Me.”
So if anyone is angry with his brother, there is an urgent obligation on the part of each, the offender and the offended, to be reconciled to each other. The duty of the offender is plainly set forth in verses 23 and 24. He must seek immediate reconciliation. To be reconciled means to renew fellowship with one another. And that, in turn, implies a correction of the wrongs done to the best of the offender's ability.
There is a duty for the offended one to perform also. It is plainly set forth by Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17, “And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer.”
Notice that the purpose of all this is to win back the one who has sinned. And more than that, “ to keep (within the church) the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2). And finally, to be ever enabling the kingdom to be ever confessing before the world that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Only in the last resort, when all loving efforts have failed, the offender must be brought to know that he has caused himself to be alienated from the fellowship of the kingdom. At this point a most urgent thing is that the erring brother must become aware that he has sinned and be brought to repentance. He cannot again be united with Jesus in the kingdom until he comes to a knowledge of his sin and repents. So even the step of “withdrawing fellowship” is a necessary one performed for the benefit of the individual as well as the kingdom. From then on his salvation should be prayed for and sought diligently as one who has become spiritually as a “Gentile and a tax-gatherer.”
2 – Contrast Between the Righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees and the Righteousness of the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 5:27-32).
“27 You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY';
The second of the five illustrations continues as Matthews contrasts between righteousness as understood by the scribes and the Pharisees and the true righteousness of those in the kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 5:27-32). This contrast is based on a common sin of humanity, the sin of adultery. This sin not only vitally affects the sinner himself, but tends to undermine the whole framework of human society. Jesus teaching, as usual, goes to the very heart of the trouble.
God' Law said, “You shall not commit adultery.” (Exodus 20:14). But the scribes and Pharisees interpreted the Law as only the actual commission of the act of adultery. Jesus actually said, “everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.” It was the Lord's method of instruction to reduce the overt commission of a sin to the element out of which it originates. Jesus said in Luke 6:43, “For there is no good tree which produces bad fruit; nor, on the other hand, a bad tree which produces good fruit.” When you see bad fruit, look to the tree. See what is causing the fruit to be bad. Jesus makes it clear that the transgression occurs even before the overt act. In this case, the one who looks on a woman to lust for her is an adulterer in God's sight.
In Matthew 5, verses 29 and 30 Jesus uses some strong illustrations. He uses the body as an illustration and says it would be better to dismember the body, to tear out the eye, or cut off the hand, than to let these parts cause the whole body to perish. Why did Jesus put this illustration here? He was evidently seeking to bring home to the hearts of His hearers a sense of the awfulness of sin. He suggests that it is necessary sometimes to make definite, distinct, sometimes even sudden and sharp sacrifices in order to combat sin and remain loyal to Jesus.
The first condition of discipleship is self-denial, said Jesus in Matthew 16:24. “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Now in chapter 5: 29-30 we see an illustration of the power of self-denial. Let us notice three things about self-denial:
1. Let us notice that the self-denial of the kind suggested here is not on and in itself. Both verses 29 and 30 begin with the word “if.” “If your right eye makes you stumble.” “If your right hand makes you stumble.” The casting away of a part of the body is to be practiced only if and when there is a need for it.
2. Jesus is speaking about spiritual things. Sin causes spiritual death. If surgery is required it is spiritual surgery, the amputation of whatever is necessary to save your life. Jesus indicates that the necessary action must sometimes be drastic and speedy.
3. Even though there is a great pain involved in this spiritual surgery, it is nothing compared with the pain that will result if the whole body is thrown into hell. And more than that, in addition to the escape from hell, there is the compensation (beyond measurable value) of being able to enter into life eternal. This is the way Jesus puts it in Matthew 18:9, “If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you . It is better for you to enter life with one eye than, having two eyes, to be cast into the hell of fire.”
Now in Matthew 5, verses 31 and 32, under the subject of the sin of adultery, Jesus makes another contrast of the righteousness of the kingdom with the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees.
Apparently the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees was something like this: If any any man wishes to divorce his wife for any cause, he may do so provided he gives her a writing of divorcement. The writing of divorcement apparently was thought to be based on Deuteronomy 24:1 which does speak of a man giving his wife a bill of divorcement if he does send her away. But there is nothing in the old Deuteronomy scripture to justify divorce for any cause in the eyes of God. Jesus Himself explains it in Matthew 19 beginning at verse 3, “Some Pharisees came to Him, testing Him, and saying, 'Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?' And He answered and said, 'Have you not read, that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, for this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife and the two shall become one flesh? Consequently they are no more two, but one flesh . What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.' They said to Him, 'why then did Moses command to give her a certificate and divorce her.?' He said to them, 'Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another commits adultery.'”
Back in chapter 5, the sermon on the mount, verse 32, the teaching of Jesus for the kingdom of heaven, as contrasted to the erroneous teaching of the Pharisees, was, “but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
A question arises here of how the wife, who has done nothing wrong but is put away by her husband, is made to commit adultery. She is a free moral agent and she does not have to go out and commit adultery. Perhaps the point is this: the husband who puts her away places her in a position where she may be tempted to commit adultery. And in the world of scribes and Pharisees, she has been taught wrong. After she has been put away with a writing of divorcement, she is actually being encouraged to be married again and she is being falsely taught that it is all right for her to marry. But when she marries again, she actually commits adultery in the sight of God. She has been caught up and deceived by the big lie of the scribes and Pharisees. And not only that, the man who marries her is also caused to commit adultery. “Unless your righteousness surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees,” says, Jesus, “you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” That is why this is important.
I am sorry to say that it seems to me that many of my brethren in Christ, when discussing this verse, are more interested in justifying divorce than they are in preserving marriages. Almost every time these verses are discussed, most of the discussion revolves around a search for for a scriptural cause for divorce and a scriptural way for one to be remarried if he is divorced. A lot of times we are dangerously close to what the scribes and Pharisees have done. They took a passage from the old scriptures, out of context, and said that Moses condoned divorce because he commanded that a writing of divorcement be given. Old devil inspired humanity, which Moses had to deal with, inspired them to search for a way to get divorced because that is what their humanity wanted. Their eyes became blinded to the truth that God created couples male and female and told them to leave their fathers and mothers and cleave to one another. As God joined them together, no man was to separate. In Matthew 5:32 and in Matthew 19:9, was Jesus contradicting this principle and giving a cause for man and wife to divorce?
Jesus makes a reference to God's eternal principle (except for the cause of unchastity) and we, like the scribes and Pharisees, are ready to desert the clear and safe principle of God and hang our righteousness, blessedness, happiness, and salvation on the exception.
Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” inferring that those who follow God's Law, “You shall not commit adultery” but remain pure in heart. Jesus infers here in Matthew 5: 31 and 32 that blessed is the man who does not divorce his wife.
Does Jesus ever call for divorce? No! Just the opposite. In the kingdom, Jesus calls on us to stay married and let that marriage illustrate to the world the relationship of Jesus Christ and His Body the church. (Ephesians 5:25, Colossians 3:19).
3 – Contrasts Regarding the Law Against Making False Vows. (Matthew 5:33-37).
“33 Again, you have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT MAKE FALSE VOWS, BUT SHALL FULFILL YOUR VOWS TO THE LORD.'
The third of the five illustrations is based on the the common Jewish practice regarding the Law against making false vows. (Matthew 5:33 -37)
Apparently the scribes and Pharisees knew this law and interpreted it literally. They would not swear falsely by the name of God. But if they wanted to make a false oath they would simply swear by something else. They felt that God's law did not condemn them in making a false oath if they did not associate it with the name of God. In other words they might make statements, agreements, promises, or affirmations in common conversations and bind them with oaths, sworn by some part of creation or institution such as heaven, earth, or the temple, rather than the Creator Himself. If they did not use the name of the Creator in their oath, they thought it alright to renege on their statement or promise. (It was like making a promise with your fingers crossed. You don't really mean it.) Thus, their interpretation of God's law allowed them to lie.
But Jesus said to the Jews (the scribes and Pharisees) that they had it all wrong. God created all things and to swear by a created thing was to swear by God Himself. To swear by a created thing was just as binding in God's sight as to swear by God's name itself. All created things belong to God, even you Jews yourselves. Actually, you have no right to pledge or swear by something that does not belong to you. You, yourselves belong to the Israel of God. You should be living lives that demonstrate that fact. Therefore, in your ordinary conversations and day to day living you have no need to swear by anything. As a child of God your simple yes or simple no is just as binding as to swear by the name of God. And you are wrong to make any kind of false oath at any time.
Jesus spoke to Jews who were in God's earthly kingdom. It had its immediate application in that earthly kingdom. Those who interspersed their daily speech with idle oaths were wrong in so doing. Those who calculatingly made false oaths of any kind were wrong in so doing. Jesus wanted to convince them that this was wrong and get them to repent. Why? For two reasons, 1 – This was God's will originally for Israel; and 2 – The kingdom of heaven is at hand. The kingdom of heaven for which God created the nation of Israel was soon to come. Jesus was telling the Jews that they were created to enter that spiritual kingdom of heaven. But they could not enter that kingdom unless their righteousness surpassed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. And here was an example of what Jesus meant. Stop making idle meaningless oaths and stop swearing falsely.
The principles are directly applicable to us because we live in the time of the kingdom of heaven. It has already been established and we today enter it only clothed in the righteousness which Jesus described in the Sermon on the Mount. So this sermon is for us too. “Let your statement be, yes, yes or no, no, no; and anything beyond these is of evil.”
Some people today interpret Jesus' statement, “Make no oath at all,” to mean that they cannot subscribe to the “swearing-in” oath used in the court room – the oath that says, “I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” Some people think that Jesus doesn't want them to make that statement under court room circumstances. And I am pleased to report that most courts will not insist on a person violating his conscience and will simply let him say, “I solemnly affirm that I will tell the truth.”
But I doubt that it was this kind of oath of which the Lord spoke when He said, “Make no oath at all.” The Jews were actually instructed to swear by the name of God on certain solemn occasions. These oaths, of course, were to be honest oaths coming from a pure heart, in which it was not wrong for them to mention the name of their Creator.
In the Christian era, among citizens of the kingdom of heaven, we find the Apostle Paul making affirmations and calling on God as witness to his truthfulness. Gal. 1;20 says, “Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.” And in 2 Cor. 1:23, “But I call God as witness to my soul, that to spare you I came no more to Corinth.”
As citizens of the kingdom of heaven living on the earth, we usually have no need to swear by the Creator or by anything of His creation. Jesus says that our “yes” should honestly and plainly mean “yes,” our “no” should honestly and plainly mean “no.” Among brethren in the church, we all live our lives in Christ before God. As Christians our simple “yes” or “no” is just as strong as an oath. As some Christians say, “Our word is our bond.” This is one way we serve as “salt of the earth” and “light of the world.”
4 – Contrasts Based on the Law Regarding Retaliation. (Matthew 5:38-42).
“38 You have heard that it was said, 'AN EYE FOR AN EYE, AND A TOOTH FOR A TOOTH.'
The fourth of the five illustrations is based on the common Jewish practice of the Law regarding retaliation. (Matthew 5: 38-42).
The actual Law of Moses stated: (Exodus 21:22-25), “And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman's husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judge decides. But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”
Leviticus 24:19-20 stated, “If a man injures his neighbor, just as he has done, so it shall be to him: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, just as he has injured a man, so it shall be inflicted on him.”
The purpose of this law was to protect the rights of persons by a proper judicial punishment by the civil authorities. The law was never intended to encourage or permit personal revenge. The injured party was not required to prosecute, but could, if he saw fit, to show mercy by declining to insist on the penalty of the law.
Leviticus 19:17-18 says, “You shall not hate your fellow countryman in your heart; you may merely reprove your neighbor, but shall not incur sin because of him. You shall not take revenge, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.”
Thus, we can see that the real object of the law was not to sacrifice the life of the offender, or to sacrifice a member of his body, but to save both the offender and the offended by causing the would-be assailant to realize that every injury he might inflict upon another, he would inflict upon himself in the end.
But the scribes and Pharisees used this law to justify personal and private retaliation, thus defeating the very purpose for which it was given. The law clearly forbade personal revenge. Proverbs 20:22 says, “Do not say,'I will repay evil. Wait for the Lord, and He will save you.”
Thus, the scribes and Pharisees had perverted God's teachings.
Then Jesus said, “But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil, but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Here is an illustration of physical violence. A slap in the face has been regarded in all ages as a gross insult. But it is not an insult that imperils life. God's law forbade revenge. Thus, Jesus, of course, forbids revenge. In addition, God's law says you shall love your neighbor as yourself. Thus, we can see that to turn the other cheek clearly demonstrates that we do not have a spirit of malice, but a spirit of love.
Romans 12:19-21 says, “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God. .... Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Then Jesus used another illustration – verse 40, “If anyone wants to sue you, and take your shirt, let him have your coat also.” Here is an example of someone who wants to do some other kind of injustice – judicial injustice.
The idea here seems to be, that in order to show the Spirit of God in you, be ready to give up not only that which the law might unjustly demand, but even that which the law cannot demand. If a follower of Jesus is robbed of his earthly possessions, even if through a process of earthly law, it is better to be defrauded than to risk doing something wrong.
1 Corinthians 6:7 says, “It is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?”
The Holy Spirit commands Christians to be like those described in Hebrews 10:32-34: “But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly, by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners, and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one.”
We must not put too much trust in our shirts and our coats, our worldly possessions. Our trust must be in actions that show the Spirit of Christ leading us.
Then Jesus used another illustration – verse 41, “And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two.”
The practice alluded to here was that of the Roman soldiers who pressed into service the civilians with whom they came in contact. Under certain conditions, the Roman soldiers could impress into service whatever civilians were available to carry their back packs for one mile. It was also probably for the purpose of carrying the government mail or provisions from one place to another. A similar practice has been used in North America when British troops impressed the people of the Colonies to use their horses and wagons to deliver provisions to the army.
It was some thing like this that the Roman soldiers had set up in the areas where the Jews lived. To the Jews, the Romans were hated conquerors. Yet the Jews were forced to assist under the laws which the Romans imposed. The law apparently required them to carry burdens for one mile. Then the burdens were transferred to other Jewish citizens. Evidently the Jews manifested a spirit of rebellion at being forced into this kind of service and some even thought of revenge.
But this mile that they were to go was but an expression of the law at that time. Jesus said that not only should they go one mile as the law required , but should show the spirit of love by going a second mile. The scribes and Pharisees had a spirit of rebellion and revenge. Jesus makes it clear that one of God's children should exhibit a spirit of good will and generosity. Jesus calls us to willing service beyond the call of obligating duty.
In verse 42 Jesus turns from negative examples to a positive one, “Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.”
People who have only a cursory knowledge of the Old and New Testaments sometimes shudder and are horrified when they learn that God's Old Testament law for Israel was actually “an eye for an eye” and “a tooth for a tooth,” and even “a life for a life.” That is capital punishment! But remember this was a legal system for an earthly nation God had formed. It had its duly appointed courts and judges and these were maximum penalties. The aggrieved party (the plaintiff), in many cases did not have to insist on the matter going into the court. He was admonished to love the defendant as he loved himself.
There are many systems of law and justice in the world today which are very similar to the Mosaic Law. There have been and there are today many Gentile people and nations “who do not have the Law” but who “do instinctively the things of the Law.” (Romans 2:14). The systems of justice in Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, I understand, use a very similar system of “an eye for an eye” and “a tooth for a tooth.” And even in the “western” countries (the U. S. included) the system of justice is a modified form of Mosaic Law ordained by God for the nation of Israel. Where our law calls for capital punishment and certain other forms of punishment, it is based on (or has grown out of) the Mosaic Law. Actually, the Mosaic Law was the most advanced and best system of justice in the world at that time – actually based on love of countrymen and for one another but with maximum judicial sentences and punishments.
I have thought, that if the Jews had been able to follow the Mosaic Law, they would have been ready to enter the Kingdom of Heaven when the Law first came. Jesus did not come to earth representing a new God with new and changed principles. Jesus was a part of the Godhead who created the earth, all mankind, and the Israelite nation. Now Jesus, in His life on earth and in His Sermon on the Mount, was preparing to complete and close out God's earthly kingdoms and inaugurate God's spiritual kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven, all planned from the beginning.
But many of the Jews, alive when Christ was in the flesh on earth, had perverted God's Law. The main problem was that they had left “love” out of it. And the scribes and Pharisees were their leaders. They were not yet ready to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. The reason that Jesus' teachings were so surprising to them (as to ourselves today) was that they had become so blind, because they had been so long separated from God.
If we today are horrified at the realization that God actually prescribed maximum penalties on earth - “a life for a life” - death by stoning - “a hand for a hand,” - the cutting off of a hand – things that affect only the fleshly body, how must we feel about the spiritual judicial punishment God has prescribed for those who remain in sin on the spiritual day of judgment?
The Sermon on the Mount teaches that a Christian should not be selfish and revengeful, but generous and liberal. The Law of Moses provided that the Jews should make interest free loans to their needy brothers and, every seven years, the debts were to be canceled. The purpose of their giving and the interest free loans was to help the needy. (Leviticus 25:35-38; Deuteronomy 5:1-11; 23:19-20). In this context, we understand Jesus to be telling the citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven (the church on earth) to give to the needy brethren and to lend to those who desire a loan to cover their need. Jesus is not talking of giving or lending for commercial profit purposes or to cover some other kind of activity.
The lesson to be learned is that retaliation has no place in the kingdom of Christ. Instead Christians must exhibit the the spirit of love, generosity, and liberality - exhibiting before the world that they are grateful to God for His perfect love and boundless generosity. John 13: 35 says, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
The lesson of “the second mile” has seized the minds of many in the world. It is exhibited in many adaptations, applications, and slogans. For instance, many in business realize that it's good for profits to come to be known as the company which gives more to the customer than the bare necessity, the company that puts a little extra into the product. The slogan, “You can put your confidence in Westinghouse,” and the slogan, “Progress is our most important product” (for GE) says something to the customer.
The employee who puts in a little extra time and tries a little harder is the one who gets the raise. The principles of rising above the constraints put upon him, to use his constraints as advantages rather than disadvantages, the world has come to recognize as usable true principles.
Can you think of applications of this principle that are important to the Christian life today? The compulsion of time (I don't have time); The compulsion of work (I have to work); the compulsion of limited circumstances or opportunity (I have to live under these boundaries). Someone has said, “ Don't sit and brood in bitterness. Make of your 'cruel limitations' a 'beautiful hedge.' Whatever God gives is a sufficient field to exercise the principle of 'the second mile' - It's based on love.”
5 – Contrasts Based on the Law Regarding Love. (Matthew 5:43-48).
“43 You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.'
And the last of the five illustrations Jesus used in the Sermon on the Mount is based on the common Jewish interpretation of the Law of Love. (Matthew 5:43-48). The scribes and the Pharisees claimed to obey God's Law. But they had perverted the Law and their obedience to this perverted Law was leading them further and further away from God, not towards God.
First of all let's note that the Law of God (we refer to it as the “Old Law,” or “the Law of Moses”) did not teach what the scribes and Pharisees said it did, nor did it teach what they practiced.
Jesus said that the Pharisees interpretation of the Law was “You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.” The last part of that interpretation, “You shall hate your enemy,” is not found in God's Law. Just what part of the Law did the Pharisees go to in order to justify hating their enemy? Probably it was passages like the following:
Deuteronomy 7:1-5: “When the Lord your God shall bring you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and shall clear away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgachites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Sabusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you; and when the Lord your God shall deliver them before you, and you shall defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them. Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and He will quickly destroy you. But this you shall do to them: You shall tear down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire.”
Here God told the children of Israel that they were to treat seven different nations (or tribes of people) as enemies and they were to defeat them and utterly destroy them. Then there were a lot of bloody battles fought and it was quite human and natural for the Israelites to allow themselves to hate their enemies. It was easy for the Israelites to start interjecting their human pride into the situation. It was easy for them to start thinking of the conquest of the Promised Land as their own conquest and their victories as the result of their own human strivings and their own excellence. Then these enemies came in the way of their own ardent desires to take the land selfishly for themselves. And when people start thinking selfishly, they start hating. Under the conditions in which the Israelites found themselves, they had but to yield to Satan's influence to start mistaking their own selfish desires as being God's desires. Satan made it easy for them to misunderstand the words of the Psalmist (Psalm 139:21-22): “Do I not hate those who hate Thee, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against Thee? I hate them with the utmost hatred; they have become my enemies.” It was easy for the Israelites to stop reading there and ignore the next two verses, Psalm 39: 23-24: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.”
Instead of living in the spirit of these last two verses and yielding themselves as vessels to work for God, they just read as far as it coincided with their human desires and told themselves, “”See, the Lord says hate your enemies.” They decided that they had personal enemies whom they must judge themselves, that they must take their own revenge.
But what about all those battles and victories won over the Hittites and the Gigashites and the Amorites and the rest of those seven nations? The Lord had warned the Israelites that these nations were greater and stronger than them in human terms. The Lord warned that they couldn't take the land if they tried to do it by themselves, in the strength of their own might. The Lord had told the Israelites that “I shall deliver them before you.” the Lord had said that He was going to use the Israelites as a vessel of His wrath to destroy these nations. Why? Romans 1:18-20 tells us, “for the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” What truth had these seven nations suppressed? The book of Romans reads on, “Because that which is known about God is evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”
Romans is a book from the New Testament. But the above passage is one that reveals the Old Testament. God is the judge. The seven nations whose land was being given to the Israelites were being “judged by God,” not by the Israelites. God was carrying out His own judgment on a wicked people who had rejected Him after many years of opportunity. God was simply using Israel to carry out His judgment wrath. God won the victories. God did it all. The Israelites were just used as a vessel for God's righteous judgment.
Hebrews 9:27 says, “And inasmuch
as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment,
...” This small portion of scripture reveals that for all
practical purposes God's judgment of a person comes at the time of
the person's fleshly death. In the context of the Old Testament
accounts of the Israelites being given the job of “destroying”
the seven Canaanite nations, we can see that the wars thus spawned
were not due to the warlike nature of Israel (as some people today
would have us believe) but God truly used Israel as a vessel to bring
about the judgment of the people of seven wicked nations who had
previously been given ample time to repent. (Does not the judgment of
God proceed today with the death of those who die in an unrepentant
God's Law didn't teach the Israelites to hate their enemies any more than it taught them to hate their neighbors and their brethren. Leviticus 19:18 says, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.”
Personally they were to love their neighbor and to continue loving him even as they carried out, when necessary, God's judicial sentence to take an eye from him, to cut off his hand, or even to stone him to death. They were forbidden to take personal vengeance. At the same time they were were subject to God's use as vessels to exercise the vengeance of God against their own brethren or against the heathen nations around them. It was a very difficult thing to do when Satan was walking around in the world urging them to partake of the forbidden fruit of human pride and self will. Thus it was relatively easy for the Pharisees to hate those who stood in their personal way and to justify, in their human pride, to say that God teaches them to hate their enemies.
Do we ever congratulate ourselves that we are not like these scribes and Pharisees? We must be careful, my Christian friends, that we do not make the same mistake as they. Jesus said our righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven. So let us not make the same mistake as the Pharisees by thinking that this righteousness comes through human striving. It no more comes to us through our own personal efforts than did the Land of Canaan fall to the Israelites through their own human military excellence and strategy. God gave them the land.
The righteousness of which Jesus speaks comes only to us because God will give it to us. What are we to do? Are we called upon to do anything? Yes. We are called upon to do the same thing in principle that the Jews and Pharisees were called on to do, that is, follow the Lord and let Him lead. The Lord tells us what to do, and we do it. And that's why the Lord delivered to us this Sermon on the Mount. The Son of God took on the fleshly body of a man and stood before us and said, “My Kingdom is at hand.” But, “Beware the leaven of the Pharisees” (Mark 8:15), “Beware the scribes” (Mark 12:25). Instead, I stand before you and I, the Son of God, say, with my own authority, that this is what you are to do. “Love your enemies and pray for them who persecute you; in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”
But someone says, it is easy to say “follow the Lord.” But when the Lord says, “Love your enemies,” that is not easy to do!! I try and I try and I fail and I fail. In fact, I've given up! But let's not forget the lessons of old that the scribes and Pharisees had forgotten. Let's not try to do this on our own. If we do we'll probably end up searching for a scripture that we can use to justify our hate. The forces making us hate and preventing us from loving are “greater and stronger” than we are. But “the Lord, our God, will deliver these forces before us and make it possible for us to love.
The Greek word God used for “love,” when He said, “Love your enemies.” (Matthew 5:44) is the word AGAPAO. This word always designates the love that is characteristic of God. It is not a word designating mere human preference. A different word is used for natural human love. So when Jesus tells us to love our enemies, He is not saying its a natural thing you should do out of your own human efforts. In fact, the word Agape indicates to us that we can't express this kind of love at all until God makes it possible for us to do so; until we learn how to do it from God.
So that's why our life in the Kingdom consists of a birth, a new man, and growth. The old man is hopeless. He must die. The new man must be born and he must grow (Romans 6:3-13). “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death? .... as Christ was raised from the dead .... so we might walk in newness of life .... our old self was crucified with Him, that our old body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin .... so reckon yourselves to be dead to sin, but live to God in Christ Jesus.” Then you should “present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.”
God used His Israelite nation as an instrument of righteous wrath to carry out His judgment on seven wicked nations. He also used the Israelites as instruments of righteous mercy to bring Jesus Christ into the world. Now He wants to use us, citizens of His kingdom, as instruments to illustrate His love to His and our enemies. “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” You won't do it out of your own strength. The Lord will do it through you after you have been born in to the kingdom of heaven and after your new man has been presented to him and He has taught you how to be a good instrument in the service of Jesus.
There are many in this world today who admire the Sermon on the Mount. Some have decided to use it for their creed, rejecting the rest of the Bible. They are making the same mistake as the scribes and Pharisees. Their righteousness will never surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees because they are doing what they want to do, not what Jesus wants them to do. They will never learn the true meaning of “love your enemies” until they bring themselves into subjection to God's eternal plan as expressed in the Bible. The Sermon on the Mount does not stand alone. It can only be understood in relation to God's eternal plan. There are truths expressed in this sermon which man can use for his own selfish desires. But the true meaning of the sermon only comes in the light of the entire Bible through which mankind is completely furnished unto every good work. (2
Matthew 5, verses 44-45. “But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
Jesus, the Son of God, delivered this sermon in person. He says we too can be sons of God. We become sons of God, like Jesus, when we are born into the Kingdom and God has given us the same characteristics as His Son Jesus. So when we are made “sons of God,” we will of necessity “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us,” just as Jesus did.
“For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and His rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Don't we see? God loves His enemies. The evil, those who are friendly with the world, are enemies of God. (James 4:4). But nevertheless He blesses them with sunshine and rain just like He blesses the good, encouraging them to repent.
Matthew 5: 46-47. “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax-gatherers the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”
After all, it is logical that God's children will have a greater righteousness than the evil people such as the tax-gatherers and the Gentiles (whom God loves too). Now the evil people love their brothers. They don't love their enemies, they hate their enemies. But Jesus calls on the children of God to be different from those who are not children of God. One of these basic differences is that God's children will love their enemies as well as their friends.
Matthew 5:48. “”Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
“1 Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.
“2 So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.
In chapter 5:3-16, Jesus describes the citizens of the kingdom of heaven and God's functions for them in the world. In chapter 5:17-19, Jesus shows the relationship of the righteousness of the kingdom with the Law of Moses.
.Then in chapter 5:20-48, Jesus contrasts the righteousness of the kingdom with the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (or with the traditional teachings of men).
Now in chapter 6, Jesus is discussing the righteousness of the kingdom in terms of the relationship of its citizens to God.
In 6:1 Jesus lays down a principle. He says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.
Then, after stating this principle, Jesus discusses it with three illustrations. First
He illustrates the principle with respect to alms-giving (verses 2-4) Second He illustrates it with respect to prayer. And third He illustrates it with respect to fasting.
In all of these illustrations Jesus is not only talking about the relationship of Christians to God, but very specifically about the secret devotion a Christian should have in his heart toward God as contrasted with a more outward show of devotion in deeds to be seen by men.
Up to this point Jesus has been condemning the teachings of the scribes and Pharisees. He has not said much thus far about their practices. Now, in these illustrations, He condemns their practices and their motives as well. While we were in chapter 5, we discussed the possible motives behind the scribes and Pharisees erroneous teachings of the Law. We concluded that it must have been the result of selfishness and a ruling element of human pride in their lives. Now in the illustrations of the 6th chapter, Jesus makes it clear that it is human selfishness that rules their practices. Jesus makes it clear to us that when the motives behind our practices are selfish and for the satisfaction of human fleshly desires, then the only reward we can expect is a fleshly human one. There is no reward in heaven for works motivated by human selfishness. Why? Because our righteousness must surpass the human selfish righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees or we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. And we cannot practice selfish human righteousness in the kingdom of heaven (the church). Heavenly rewards can only be enjoyed in the kingdom of heaven. Ephesians 1:3 says, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” Ephesians 1:14 says that the inheritance is given only to those of God's own possession. And we are not God's possession unless we are in the kingdom of heaven practicing the righteousness that Jesus proclaims in this sermon. When we practice human selfish (so-called) righteousness, we separate ourselves from God and the kingdom of heaven.
It is important to note that the illustrations that Jesus uses are God ordained practices. They are “good” practices commanded by God. Yet, says Jesus, if you perform these “good” practices for the wrong motive, you have no reward in heaven. No one would argue that there is anything wrong in alms-giving, or in prayer or fasting. But, Jesus says if you do them for the purpose of having them noticed by men, you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.
The three illustrations Jesus chooses are, however, good practices that do not require a public display. Alms-giving can be done without display. Prayer and fasting can be done in secret. But, the fact that the scribes and Pharisees always practiced them with a public display, gave away their motives. The scribe or Pharisee wanting to “put Jesus down” on these points had no rejoinder. Obviously, their practices proved them guilty of wrong motives. Jesus was not being unfair or unjust in His illustrations and those guilty of such practices had no point of argument. Such is the teaching of the Master Teacher. Those guilty of the sinful practices had now to repent and pray, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner.” Or go on in their sin openly acknowledging that the rewards of this life are more important to them , and that they do not believe in, or they consider unimportant the rewards of heaven.
Here in this sermon Jesus said, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them.” But back in Matthew 5:16 He said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works.” Is there a contradiction between these two admonitions? If there seems to be at first glance, the idea will be dismissed when we consider the motive involved. Matthew 6:1 does not forbid the practicing of righteousness but simply forbids one to have an ulterior motive in doing it. But practice righteousness one must. That is the point.
Matthew 5:16 goes on to say, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” The practice of righteousness is for the primary purpose of glorifying the Father, not for the purpose of being seen by men.
However, if the practice of righteousness is done for the right purpose, with no ulterior selfish motive, it will come to be seen by men anyway. It will shine like a light before men because “a city set on a hill cannot be hid” (Matthew 5:14). If we practice righteousness with the right motive, men will not see light coming out of us, but will see the light of God reflected from us, and they will glorify God because of it. Jesus says, in this case, “Let it shine.”
The practices which Jesus discusses in chapter 6, if done unselfishly and without hypocrisy will be done in secret. Notice verses 2 through 4 of chapter 6: “When therefore you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be honored by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing; that your alms may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”
Another meaning of the word “alms” is “deeds of charity,” or “kind deeds.” A man who practices alms-giving in the right way is mentioned in Acts 10. He was the Gentile Cornelius. An angel of God told Cornelius, “Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial before God.” Thought Cornelius was not yet in the kingdom of heaven, he practiced alms-giving in secret and God saw it in secret and repaid Cornelius. In this case God saw that Cornelius was ready to enter the kingdom of heaven, and He made it possible for him to do so.
But the people who made a big show of alms-giving so that than could be honored by men are called hypocrites. Why? Because they pretended to give honor to God, but their real purpose was to receive honor from men. Now men cooperate with men in such activities. Do your good deeds with a lot of publicity and you can receive honor from men. Men will honor you and expect you to honor them in return when they put on their show. In fact many institutions of the world are based on this principle. But when honor is received in that way, you have had your full reward. No future reward in the eternal hereafter await you. In fact, this is the way of the world, the way of sinful flesh, the way of our old man of sin which will one day perish with all flesh. Jesus condemns this kind of practice.
The practice which Jesus commands is to “not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your alms-giving may be secret.” The use of the figure, of hiding from one hand what the other hand is doing, gives a strong picture of secretiveness. Certainly other men will not know about the alms-giving if one of your hands doesn't know about it. But, even though men do not know about our gifts, God does see them and He will reward all such giving.
What does God;s reward consist of? First of all we have peace of conscience here on earth knowing that God approves of what we do. Hebrews 6:10 says, “God is not unjust to forget your work and the love you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.” And we will have glory and eternal life in the future for Jesus said, in Matthew 25:34-36, “The King will say to those on His right, come you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you invited me in; naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me.”
Some might ask, however, if such things must be done in absolute secrecy? Is there no situation in which these righteous acts are to be made known to man? Is it not good and right in God's sight that some publicity be given to the alms-giving of His children in some cases?
Well, if we have gotten the point about motive, then we can move on to see how our light will shine and God will publicize acts of alms-giving for the good of the kingdom. God publicized the giving of the poor widow in Mark 12:41-44. Although she gave only two small coins, she gave all she had to live on. It was said that her giving was the best example of the righteousness which Jesus requires. The poor widow who gave her all but not for the publicity, got the greatest publicity because she glorified God and served as a great example.
“5 When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.
The Lord's second illustration in chapter 6 contrasts the practices of men in their selfish efforts to appear righteous, with what God requires from the worshiper in the secret devotions of the heart.
First let's consider the ones Jesus call hypocrites. What was the nature of the prayer? It was a prayer of the lips but not of the heart. Jesus said in Matthew 15:7-8, “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophecy of you, saying, This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me.” Such a prayer as came from these men's lips gave a forceful exhibition of outward and formal righteousness. But Jesus calls them hypocrites. The word “hypocrite” formerly meant an actor on a stage, a player. An actor in a play never represents himself , but always pretends to be some other person; so the word “hypocrite” came to mean a “pretender.” The hypocrites of this lesson pretended to be giving glory to God by means of prayer. Actually they intended to bring glory to themselves.
These hypocrites would make it a point to be in the synagogues or streets at the appointed time for prayer where they could be seen by everyone. The words of Jesus do not prohibit public prayer. Jesus' reference is not to public prayer in which all who are in an assembly are expected to have a part together; but He refers to personal or private prayer in public places; prayer in which no one else is expected to participate.
What was the purpose of the prayer by the hypocrite? It was to be seen and heard of men. Those who spoke the prayer expected to receive glory or praise from those who could see or hear them. The scribes and the Pharisees were most interested in the praise of people for their pretended devotions.
It reminds me of an experience I had in Pakistan in 1964. I was visiting a village near Lahore, the city in which I lived. Some of the villagers, knowing I was a Christian, asked me to come and say something to a man who was ill and to pray for him. Several of us (including Pakistani men) went to where the sick man lay on his charpai (bed). First I was introduced to the sick man and it was explained to me that he had been ill for a long time. He could scarcely lift himself from the bed. First one of the village men was called upon to pray. (This was a Christian village, not an Islamic one.) The village man began to pray (in the Punjabi language) with a soft and melodious voice, which was, of course, a blessing to him. But as he prayed on and on, he raised his voice louder and louder. Each new sentence was louder than the last until he was literally shouting at the top voice. And he went on for some time. Although I didn't understand the language it seemed as though he was demanding of God and wanted everyone in the village to know it. The very idea that God should be shouted at like that. It seemed clear to me that the man was concerned more with making everyone hear him and learning what a forceful character he was. His was not a private prayer and it seemed to me that it was offered primarily to be heard by men.
What was the result of the prayers of the hypocrites that Jesus spoke about? They received that which they sought after which was the praise of men. Jesus said they would have no other reward.
Now lets consider the prayers of the Gentiles. Jesus said, in Matthew 6:7, “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition, as the Gentiles do, for they suppose they will be heard for their many words.” We are reminded of the prayers of the Gentiles to Baal back in the time of Elijah. 1 Kings 18:26 tells us of the prayers of the priests of Baal who tried to get Baal to send down fire on the altar. It is said, “They called on the name of Baal from morning until noon saying, 'O Baal, answer us.' But there was no voice and no one answered.” Even to this day there are Gentile heathens who believe that their salvation from their god (or gods) depends upon the number of prayers they pray. Some believe that there is not sufficient time during their life to make a sufficient number of repetitious prayers. So they have made a mechanical device, a wheel, which has on it a prayer, written over and over and attached in many places all around the wheel. Then by turning the wheel, the prayer may be presented to their god, they believe, perhaps 20 times a second or 1200 times a minute, 72,000 times in an hour. And so, in Nepal and in some parts of India, I am told, one can see men turning their prayer wheels day after day, thinking that only through repetition they can be heard. This is a prayer to a false god.
It is really an immature idea, isn't it? It is like the small child, who wants so much to get his parents to let him do something. The parents say no. But he asks over and over again to be allowed to do it until, hopefully, the parents will become so weary they will allow the child to do what he asks.
So much for the prayers of the hypocrites and Gentiles. What about the prayers of those Christians in the kingdom of heaven? The nature of prayer that Jesus would have us pray springs from the secret devotion of the heart. Christians are not seeking to just gain the eyes and ears of men, but to gain the ear of God. In verse 6 of chapter 6 Jesus speaks of each of us individually. He had spoken to the hypocrites collectively. But He speaks to us individually, in the singular, indicating that He is speaking of personal and private prayer. Our Father knows all vain repetitions are completely out of place when addressing Him. Actually , the heavenly Father knows what we have need of even before we ask Him. So then, Jesus says to pray this way. And in Matthew 6:9-13 Jesus gives us a model prayer, one that illustrates how we should pray, as contrasted with the way the hypocrites and the heathen Gentiles prayed.
“9 Pray, then, in this way:
'Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name.
“10 'Your kingdom come
Your will be done,
On earth as it is in heaven.
“11 'Give us this day our daily bread.
“12 'And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
“13 'And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.'
This same prayer is given by Luke 11:1-4 on a different occasion. On the occasion in Luke, a disciple of the Lord asks Him to teach them to pray. And then Jesus gave them this same model prayer in answer to that request.
If Jesus saw fit to teach us to pray, it follows that we need to learn how to pray. Acceptable prayer doesn't come naturally. Our natural tendencies will probably make us pray more like the hypocrite did than like God would have us pray.
The words of the model prayer can probably be quoted from memory by more people than any other passage from the Bible. There are perhaps millions of people who can quote this prayer but cannot quote any other passage from the Bible. To many, many people prayer means simply this prayer. When someone says, “Let us pray,” this prayer and this prayer alone springs into the minds of many people. Thus they repeat it over and over again when they pray, and know no other words to use. Did the Lord want us to use it like that, to repeat it over and over again? Those who cannot find any other words to pray need to hear what Jesus said about “meaningless repetition” just before He gave the model prayer.
Let us look at the prayer and see what we can learn from it.
1 – We note that it is a very short prayer. We can recite it in 20 or 30 seconds. I think we can conclude that our prayers do not always have to be long. But this short prayer is most remarkable in that its scope is not short. It is comprehensive in scope embracing the fundamentals of the relationship between God and man and God's eternal plan. And even though short in words, it has a well considered literary structure. For instance, it has a first section we might call the address. Next comes a group of petitions pertaining to God and His work. Then comes a group of petitions pertaining to the people offering the prayer. So we note that the prayer is a well structured model of brevity and comprehension.
2 – Second we note the simplicity and directness of the prayer. It does not require one to be highly educated to understand it. Yet its meaning is not shallow. In fact, as with the rest of God's word, new stores of richness in its meaning spring continually to the minds of those who draw closer to God. Many books, I suppose, have been written about this short prayer. The context of the prayer indicates that Jesus intended it for individual and private use. Yet it is a universal prayer that meets the needs of every human. It is direct in that its requests are distinct and definite. We note that the frankness and directness of this prayer are much like that of a child when he makes his needs known to his parents. It reminds us that Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it at all.” (Mark 10:15). Some one has also pointed out that the character of the key words are such that they have retained their meaning down through about 2,000 years despite translation although many other words have changed in meaning. This prayer is easy to translate directly into any language and still preserve its meaning. The key words of which we speak, for which every language has equivalents, are words like Father, heaven, earth, kingdom, will, bread, forgive, and evil. So the prayer is easy to understand.
3 – The very order of the thoughts in this prayer serve a a model for us. It illustrates that God's glory must come first. Before a word was said about personal needs, Jesus taught us to pray that God's name would be hallowed, that His kingdom would come, and that His will would be done. So let us remember, when we pray any prayer, God's glory must come first before any personal requests. When we learn to prefer God's will to our own, then we will have no trouble praying that way. This prayer fits well into the context of this Sermon on the Mount with the announcement that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand and God's righteousness must become our righteousness if we are to enter the Kingdom. When we sincerely seek His Kingdom and His righteousness we will be able to pray “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Later in the sermon, chapter 6:33, Jesus says, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.” And that's what this whole sermon is about. So this prayer serves as a model of the priorities about which we should pray.
4 – Jesus said in John 4:24, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” When we consider closely, we see that this prayer is not only a model of “truth” in its order, structure, words, and meaning, but it is also a model in “spirit.” There is a “spirit” of childlike confidence and trust in this prayer that transcends the mere words. The prayer is permeated with the “spirit” of faith and belief in God, who is invisible to our fleshly senses. Many would relate the word “spirit” here to mean merely the spirit of outward earnestness, like when we get into the spirit to win an earthly athletic event. But, with regard to praying to God, not only our personal “spirit” but faith in the “Holy Spirit” is involved. The writer of Hebrews 11:6 says, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” The one who starts his prayer with the sincere words, “Our Father.” demonstrates his trusting “spirit.” He demonstrates his belief in Christ's words later in this sermon (Matthew 7:11), “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”
Let us think of that audience of Jews who actually heard Jesus deliver this sermon on the mountainside that day. Had they only remembered God's word to them through Moses and the prophets, and had they only had faith in God, they would have understood clearly what Christ was speaking. When Jesus said, “Pray in this way: Our Father who art in heaven,” they would have remembered God's word in Deuteronomy 31:6, “Your God is the One who goes with you. He will not fail you nor forsake you.” And they would have remembered Psalm 118: 5-6, “From my distress I called upon the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me in a large place. The Lord is for me; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
It is with these things in mind that we are to pray. And the measure of our trust in God will be the measure of our power in prayer. It was because of Jesus' perfect faith that His prayers always connected right through to God. He called God “Father,” and honored that Fatherhood by placing absolute trust in Him.
Question: Was this prayer intended for use by present day Christians? There are those who feel that the prayer was not intended for us to use today. They say that the kingdom has already come, and we can not utter the words of the prayer in the same sense in which Jesus prayed. They say that when Jesus prayed, “Thy kingdom come,” He referred to the future coming of the kingdom on the Day of Pentecost some fifty days after His death. Since the kingdom came on that day, now almost 2,000 years in the past, we cannot pray, “Thy kingdom come.” If this is the only sense in which we can conceive of the kingdom coming, I believe that the reasoning is right and we should not violate our conscience in saying something we do not believe.
The Lord undoubtedly included this
meaning that day in His phrase
“Thy kingdom come.” But there doesn't seem to be anything in the context which limits the Lord's meaning to that. When men read the Sermon on the Mount today, it still serves as a lesson to prepare them for the coming of the kingdom in their lives. There is today a world of people to which the kingdom of heaven has not come, though it may have been available to them all of their adult lives. The petition, “Thy kingdom come,” need not be time limited any more than the other petitions of the prayer.
And then some say that all prayers today must be in the name of Jesus Christ. This prayer was not offered in His name because prayers were not yet offered in Christ's name before and during the time Christ was in the flesh on earth. Therefore, they say we cannot offer this prayer today.
But, of course, Jesus was teaching us how to pray, not necessarily in set form or exact words, but in principle. He said, “Pray then in this way.” And he also taught us personally, while He was alive on earth, to pray in His name. He said in John 14:13-14, “And whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” So we conclude that we can pray according to this model prayer, and we can and should add to it the expression, “In the name of Christ,” because He also told us to pray in His name.
If we follow this prayer in principle, understanding, as Paul taught us in 1 Thessalonian 5:17, “Pray without ceasing,” then we will constantly hallow God's name; we will constantly seek to do God's will; and we will always be asking for forgiveness of our sins after we have forgiven those who have sinned against us; and we will be asking merely for our daily needs to be supplied – never worrying about tomorrow. The doing of God's will here and now leaves scant room for the expression of our own wills.
I have often wondered why the Lord put in that phrase, “and lead us not into temptation.” I have reasoned that God does not tempt us; Satan does that through our own human selfish desires. God will deliver us from evil. Then it does not seem logical that God would lead us into temptation.
Perhaps the meaning is, Keep us away from temptation, which, of course, we are always prone to get into.
Brother James Burton Coffman makes this comment in his commentary on this verse: “This indicates the danger in temptation and stresses man's weakness ... This line is intended to impress the worshiper with the incredible force which evil can lure men from the path of honor and safety.”
Although Jesus is talking about the necessity of secret and private prayer, He does not condemn the offering of prayers in fellowship with other Christians in an assembly. In fact, He isn't discussing that here. He doesn't condemn a private prayer given for the right motive. He speaks primarily about motives here.
So let us take this opportunity to consider briefly what the Bible teaches about some other kinds of prayers. In Matthew 18:19-20 Jesus said, “If two of you agree on earth about anything they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst.”
Here we see that Jesus wants us to gather together and “ask” of the Father in heaven when we are together. And He wants us to agree on what we shall ask. He promises that the Father will hear and answer. And He points out clearly for our understanding why and how the Father will hear and answer. Because “there I (Jesus) am in their midst.” We ask in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Then, because we know He is in our midst, we can expect our prayers to be heard. They will go up from those gathered together as one voice because all shall be agreed on what is asked. And the Father will hear because it is the voice of His Son which comes through!
This teaching was learned by the disciples who followed Jesus. For in Acts 1:12-14 we have a record of them practicing just what Jesus had taught them. This occasion was just after Jesus ascended into heaven but about 10 days before the power of the Holy Spirit had descended upon them on the Day of Pentecost and thus ushered in the Kingdom. “Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day's journey away. And when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying; that is, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Phillip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas the son of James (Eleven Apostles). These all with one mind were continually devoting themselves to prayer, along with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.”
Here is what we might call a public prayer meeting, an assembly for prayer in which they all prayed with one mind. They all agreed in this prayer.
Another example is given in Acts 20:26, when Paul was meeting with the elders of the church at Ephesus. Paul spoke to them, “and when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.” Here then is another example of praying in an assembly when all prayed with one mind; all agreed on what was prayed. Is it inferred that Paul “led the prayer?” I do not know. But it is plainly inferred that they prayed with each other, as though with one mind, agreed, as Jesus taught.
When Peter was put in prison by King Herod, Acts 12:5 tells us that “prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.” Then, Acts 12:12 tells us that “many were gathered together” in one place at the house of Mary, the mother of John, “and were praying.”
Now prayer is essentially an individual thing. It is an expression of devotion of the individual to God. But individuals can be “agreed” in these expressions and they can be offered in the assembly from many, but “with one mind.” And the Bible speaks of this as “prayers made fervently by the church.”
It is generally assumed as we study the Bible that some one was chosen to lead the prayers that were prayed together by all in the assembly. But there are other ways it might have been done. Perhaps there was a discussion first of what should be prayed. Then, upon agreement, they each prayed individually, but silently, together with one mind to God. Apparently the Holy spirit did not specify all the mechanics of how they were agreed and exactly how they prayed with one mind. It seems to be left up to us as an expedient necessity for us to work out in order to accomplish the necessary thing which Jesus taught us to do.
The Bible gives us two examples when Jesus prayed aloud in the hearing of others. One was on this occasion in the Sermon on the Mount when He gave us this model prayer. Its purpose in being said aloud before the disciples was to teach them as well as to actually speak to God. Another is in John 17. Jesus had made a long discourse to His Apostles in chapters 14 through 16. Then He lifted up His eyes to heaven and prayed aloud before them. The entire 17th chapter of John is devoted to this prayer.
Not only was it a prayer for the ear of God, it was a prayer also for the ear of men. It was an individual prayer from Jesus. Essentially then it was a private prayer from Jesus offered in the hearing of men for the purpose of its effect on them. Of course, this prayer was uttered by the Son of God, Himself, and we cannot emulate Him in every respect. But as children of God, in Him, we too might on occasion deliver an individual prayer to God in public for the additional reason of the effect it might have upon men.
Now this would be entirely different from the prayers of the hypocrites who prayed in public for the primary purpose of being seen by men, which Jesus condemned. The public prayer of which I speak is to emulate Christ in speaking first of all to God, and secondly, as a part of a fellowship, with our loving brethren around us, each of us being influenced and even taught by what the other says. We may not have agreed beforehand on what is said in the prayer, but as we listen to our brother pray, the yearnings of our hearts are led to join with him in fellowship toward God. We then utter silent Amens (or say them aloud) as he prays. The younger Christians are led to deeper understandings through the expressions of the more experienced, and the older Christians may be led out of their ruts of meaningless traditions by the zeal and fresh approach of the younger. Prayers are thus offered by the church to God.
To summarize, Why do we offer public prayers in the assembly? First of all we do it to satisfy Jesus' teaching. In Matthew 18:19-20 Jesus said, “If two of you agree on earth about anything they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst.” Further, we follow the divine example in Acts 1, Acts 12, and Acts 20 which show assemblies of God's people praying with each other, with one mind, so that the prayers are said to be by the church.
More than this, it would be well for us to study 1 Corinthians 14:15-16 which intimates that in the assembly of the First Century church one man at a time prayed and others said the Amen.
“16 Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.
Jesus was speaking on this occasion to the Jewish audience to the Sermon on the Mount. No one had yet entered the kingdom of heaven for it had not yet been established among men. When Jesus speaks of fasting it is obvious that he speaks of something that the Jews already knew something about. They are apparently accustomed to fasting. Why and how should they have fasted? Did the Law of Moses require fasting?
I am told by scholars of the Old Testament that the Law did require fasting on at least one occasion. That was on the celebration once each year of the Day of Atonement. Leviticus 16 tells us they were to “afflict their souls” (or humble their souls) during the 10th day of the 7th month. Scholars tell us that that this “humbling of the soul” meant that they were to fast. There is no doubt that they did fast on that occasion each year, for during the first century the celebration of the Day of Atonement was spoken of as “the Fast” (Acts 27:9). Psalms 35:13 strengthens our understanding by actually combining the phrase “humbled my soul” with the word “fasting.” It says, “I humbled my soul with fasting.”
The Bible testifies to the fact that all through the old times men of God fasted on great and solemn occasions and in connection with prayer as a means of increasing spiritual strength and discipline. Jesus fasted on other days than just the Day of Atonement. The major example was His fasting for 40 days and 40 nights when He was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1-2).
The Pharisees of Jesus time were accustomed to fast twice a week (Luke 18:12), on Thursdays and Mondays. These days were selected (so I'm told) because it was believed that Moses went up on Mount Sinai (to get the second set of stone tablets of the commandments) on a Thursday and returned 40 days later on a Monday. There were days on which it was easy to attract public attention, and the Pharisees let the people know they were fasting by their sanctimonious behavior. It was this spirit that Jesus condemned.
It is important for us today to ask the question, Does Jesus want us to fast today? When we look around us at our fellow Christians in the church, indeed, if we look into our own lives, we see that evidently we do not think it important that we fast. Not many of us practice fasting. Should we practice fasting? Does Christ want us to practice it?
Jesus, in the verses we have before us today (Matthew 6:16-18), uses the practice of fasting among the Jews as an example to teach a lesson primarily about motives, about the secret devotions of the heart, that should characterize the Jews who wanted to enter the kingdom of heaven. The use of this illustration is incidental to that lesson in this passage. Let us not miss the emphasis Jesus is giving to this main point. But, at the same time we can notice some important incidental lessons. One is that Jesus takes it for granted that those of His listeners, who would be blessed by being made citizens of he kingdom of heaven, would practice fasting. So He uses “fasting” as an illustration and instructs them how to go about it both before and after they enter the kingdom. He uses the illustration of fasting just as He used the illustrations of giving alms and of praying. They are all practices that His followers practiced and would continue to practice in the kingdom. Is it not clear and plain then that Jesus commended these things to be practiced in the kingdom as long as they sprang from the secret devotions of the heart toward God? Fasting is commended just as prayer is commended. So Jesus said, “You, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face; so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father whom is in secret; And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.”
Going on into the account of the actions of those who were added to Christ's kingdom, we read Acts 14:23 of Paul and a group of Christians traveling with him throughout Asia converting people and forming local congregations of the Lord's kingdom. It says, “and when they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.” There is a divine example of fasting in the church!
So with the commendation of our Lord and the example of the New Testament church recorded in the inspired word, has not the Lord answered our question? Should we as Christians today practice fasting? Certainly we should. There is as much evidence in the Holy Word for the practice of fasting as there is for eating the Lord's supper on Sunday and for singing a part of our worship.
Concluding then that we in the church should, upon proper occasions, practice fasting, we naturally come to the question of when and how? Does the Bible give us any help on when and how to go about fasting? Yes, quite a bit.
Before we consider that, let us pause for a moment to define what is meant by “fasting.” From a worldly standpoint, “fasting” is the partial or total abstinence from food for a period of time. What is “fasting” from a Biblical standpoint? There is a lot of “fasting” going on in the world. We have all heard of the “Think thinner Club” or the “Weight Watchers Club.” There are thousands of books on the subject of dieting or fasting. The market for these books is brisk. Many people are interested in fasting. Much of this worldly fasting is done to be seen of men. Many women, as well as men, fast so their bodies will be more attractive to look upon. Some of it is done for the loftier reason of improving physical health.
What is the difference in the worldly view of fasting and the fasting which the Lord commands? In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6: 18) we see that the difference is in motive. Jesus says our fasting in the kingdom is to be done to be seen by our Father who is in secret. So, fasting from the Biblical standpoint means also partial or total abstinence of food for a certain period of time. But it is to be done for a spiritual and a God given purpose. It differs from worldly fasting in the purpose for which it is performed.
When should fasting by Christians, for a God given purpose, be practiced? There is no instruction in the New Testament, that I know of, which points out any specific time in the annual calendar for fasting as the Jews were instructed in the Old Testament to do as on the Day of Atonement. If we took it upon ourselves to form a tradition among Christians to fast for a specific period every year, we would be going beyond the teaching of scripture and that would be sinful. Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount warns that God's righteousness is not based on the traditions of men. And Paul specifically warns in Galatians 4: 9-11, “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.” For us to set aside a regular calendar period for fasting as a spiritual religious practice would be turning back to the weak and elemental things of the world. The fasting then from meat once a week, as has been practiced in the past for religious reasons, is wrong. And the regular observance of Lent each year is said by the Apostle Paul to be wrong.
Fasting as a practice divorced from religious observances is not condemned. Fasting to improve our health or to make us look better can be wholesome reasons for fasting and is not condemned. To fast for such worldly reasons can give us better health and can make us look better, which are rewards for such fasting. But fasting as a sanctimonious religious act to be seen by men is wrong in the sight of God.
Does this mean fasting as a religious practice is out altogether in the Christian life. No, not at all. Fasting as a secret devotion of our hearts to the Father is commanded by Jesus. We come to the conclusion that God has honored us with the privilege of deciding for ourselves how often and to what extent we will fast, as long as it is to the glory of God and the good of our own souls. And then our practice of fasting will grow upon us as we grow spiritually and live as the Spirit leads us.
Our scriptural study to expand our understanding and spiritual appreciation of fasting can very well start right here with our study of the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon looks back to the beginning when God's eternal purpose first came to view of mankind, acknowledges and points out to us the point in God's plan at which the world stood when Jesus delivered the sermon, and looks forward to the future of the carrying to completion of God's purpose. The truths that Jesus deals with in this sermon are those that mankind needed for life in the kingdom of heaven which came into existence in reality with Jesus' mission on earth in the flesh of a man. The message of the Sermon on the Mount transcended any specific period of God's plan, but at the same time, acknowledged all of the periods and covenants, old and new.
So our study of Jesus' illustration (of an eternal principle by means of fasting) has already led us to discover something about fasting under the Old Law . Indeed, the truth that we have discovered almost undoubtedly preceded in time the giving of the Law to Moses. Of what am I speaking? I am speaking of the fact that we have discovered, that, to the Jew of old, the “affliction of the soul,” or “humbling of the soul,” mentioned by Moses in Leviticus 16 necessarily meant an accompaniment of fasting. God has always required of men who would draw near to Him that they afflict or humble their soul. Jesus started the Sermon on the Mount with the beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” “Blessed are those who mourn,” and “Blessed are the meek.” All of these thoughts are connected with man's humbling of his soul before God. Additionally, the Jew who heard and thought about this sermon almost undoubtedly connected the state of humble soul with fasting from food for the body. Perhaps this was the reason Jesus, in His sermon, chose to illustrate certain principles with the practice of fasting. Not only did Jesus have the corrupt practices of fasting to illustrate His comparisons, He drew upon the fact that fasting was a God ordained practice from the very earliest times. What do we learn? God has always required man to humble his soul and fasting has always been associated with the humbling of the soul.
Are we “poor in spirit?” Do we “mourn” because of our depravity as Paul did when he said in Romans 7:24. “Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free of the body of this death?” Are we meek? The lesson is: That fasting can help us bring our living, breathing bodies (our souls) under control so that we can be “poor in spirit,” that we can “mourn,” that we can become “meek,” in God's sight.
I am convinced that Paul had in mind fasting, as well as other things, when he said, “I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly , after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27).
What else does the scripture tell us about fasting for the child of God? Let's note again Matthew 4:1-2, “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after He fasted 40 days and nights, He then became hungry.” Jesus is our perfect example. He humbled His human soul before God. He found fasting useful, perhaps even essential, so that He fasted during His time in the wilderness. To the Jew who understood the connection between fasting and the humbling of the soul, this passage may have meant more than it usually does to us who are not acquainted with the practice.
But all was not fasting with the followers of Jesus while He was on the earth. In Matthew 9:14-15, we read of a time when the disciples of John the Baptist came to Jesus saying, “why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast? And Jesus said to them, the attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them and then they will fast.”
Notice that Jesus here used the word “mourn” interchangeably with the word “fast.” So it is not accidental that in the Sermon on the Mount He said “Blessed are those who mourn,” but later said, “but you, when you fast, ...” We conclude that the disciples did not mourn or fast when Jesus was alive on earth, but they both “mourned” and “fasted” when Jesus was taken from them to die on the cross. And their mourning and fasting must have continued for some days . Fifty days later with the coming of Jesus' Holy spirit upon them on the Day of Pentecost, and the adding of thousands to His kingdom, we read in Acts 2:46 that this particular mourning and fasting was over. The bible says, “and day by day continuing with one mind in the Temple , and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart.”
“20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;
This passage is a continuation of that section of the sermon that we might outline as “the righteousness of the kingdom of heaven.” It has to do with the relationship of the citizens of the kingdom to God. This section of the sermon was opened (Matthew 5:20) with the statement, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Then Jesus contrasted the teachings and practices of the scribes and Pharisees with the eternal teachings of God; that is, He contrasted the ways of the world, which is headed for destruction, with the ways which God would have His children follow so that they can start their life in the eternal kingdom of heaven. And who can better explain God's ways for us than God's Son Himself, who, as He delivers this sermon, is graphically portraying all the principles in His own life here on earth?
So now in this passage Jesus contrasts the worldly man's trust in worldly wealth with trust in God. If there is any one trait which most universally characterizes fleshly man, from Adam to this very day, it is probably his seeking for worldly treasure or wealth. We call it materialism. One man's ambition for more material things may not be quite as high as another's. For instance, the poor Indian (I have seen them in India) who owns little more than the clothes on his back (and they may be rags) and a few utensils, may not even be able to imagine, much less hope for, a home with electricity and plumbing with a car in the driveway. But he yearns and works for a western style suit of clothes and a bicycle and a transistor radio. We who have houses and cars and many luxuries yearn and work for new cars, better houses, or a second car and a second house. Those whom we term rich (never ourselves) are imbued with the idea that the riches must be ever expanding. We can never allow our wealth to remain in a static condition or something will consume it. It must be invested at interest. And each of us from that poor Indian man up to the richest of men are all worried that we will lose what we have. And yet that is the inevitable result that will occur to all of us. We will inevitably lose our material wealth when we die because we can't take it with us. And even before we die, thieves will try to steal our money and our HiFi, rust will consume our cars, moths will eat our clothing, termites will eat our houses, and inflation will devour parts of them all.
Knowing all this better than any of us, Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break through and steal.”
Initially, it seems, when we study this passage, or one of the many other passages like it, the teacher makes haste to point out that Jesus is not saying it is wrong to accumulate material wealth as such, but the wrong comes in the use we make of it after we get it. If the teacher doesn't say that, surely someone in the class will say it. That is, Jesus just meant that the Christian is not to let his material wealth become an overpowering influence that will make him forget that he is to use his riches in the right way. Then after that understanding is reached by all, they can go ahead and discuss the pros and cons about ways of getting riches, and the fact that the church is sorely hindered from doing many things because it doesn't have enough money, and about how we must all strive much harder to be unselfish with our hard earned riches.
Did you ever stop to think that a lot of these discussions boil down to the fact that we don't want to give up our basic selfishness, our basic desire for wealth. We just want to make it appear that we are unselfish after we have achieved a certain amount of selfish satisfaction. How well Satan is entrenched in our lives! I wonder if our deliberations don't sound silly or even blasphemous to our Lord who went about with no place of His own to lay His head (Matthew 8:20), who didn't even own a donkey to ride (Luke 19:30), who didn't acquire gold or silver or copper for His money belt, who didn't take with Him two coats or two pair of shoes (Matthew 10:10), whose material possessions at the time of His death was summed up as a single coat made without seam (John 19:23).
Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth.” And that's the way He lived. His disciples knew it. Many, if not all, those gathered around Him on the mountainside knew what He meant because His plain words were backed up by His way of life. Why do we think that He did not mean the commands that He gave? When we ask, in our little faith, how then are we going to to care for our families if we don't lay up any treasures at all? And how is the church going to send missionaries into all the world if someone doesn't lay up treasures on earth? The Lord answers in this sermon in Matthew 6:33. It says, “All these things will be added unto you.” The Lord surely meant it when He said, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth.” Note that He put in that phase, “for yourselves.” Then He added in verse 33, God will do it for you in accordance with your need and His grace. Will the kingdom of heaven have rich men in it? If it does, it will be men who did not lay up treasures “for themselves.” They will be rich in only whatever God gave them.
Jesus, in Luke 16:1-13, calls worldly riches “the mammon of unrighteousness.” But He points out that it is useful to God's work on earth if His children are faithful to God in its use. In this request it is like our fleshly bodies, the body of this death. If we will “humble our souls,” God can use us as vessels. So with the mammon of unrighteousness,. If we will denounce all selfish claim to it, God will give it to us to use in His service. Do we not know that “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called to His purpose?” (Romans 8:28). Jesus says it is “according to His purpose” that we “do not lay up for ourselves treasures on earth.”
The important question is, how can we lay up treasures in heaven? Jesus answered that question Himself in Luke 12:33. Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys.”
In Matthew 19:21 Jesus told a young man, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 6:17-19. “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited nor to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing for themselves the treasures of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed.”
It is interesting the way Paul put this teaching. In our worldly culture we usually try to store up treasure here on earth that we may take hold on this worldly life. We realize that opportunities for gain are not always with us, so we grasp while the getting is good, for it is prudent and worldly wise to lay up for our old age, for the time of retirement when we think we can finally “take hold on this life.” But when we realize the reality of eternity, the importance of the future lies beyond this worldly life. And then, to the really prudent person, the thing of greatest importance is storing up a good foundation for that eternal future. Then the laying up of earthly treasure pales into insignificance and we understand what Paul meant when he said, “Take hold on that which is life indeed
Then Jesus really gets to the nitty gritty of these two commandments: 1- Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, but: 2- lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, for (v21) “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
The main point is that you must give your heart to God, if you will live and work in the kingdom of heaven. “For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world, and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (Matthew 16:26). Jesus here warns that if you live now to store up earthly treasure, you will not only lose it when you die, you will lose even yourself.
In verses 22 and 23 we obviously have some figures of speech. I believe Jesus used them to make things easier for the true seeker to understand the truth. However the Pharisees were such lovers of money that they were blinded to the truth and they scoffed at it. Luke 16 records a time when Jesus spoke of the “mammon of unrighteousness” and made some similar statements about money. Luke 16:14 says, “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things, and they were scoffing at Him.” This may be just an instance of things being hidden from the wise but revealed to babes, that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 11:25. Let us not to be blinded to the truth as were the Pharisees were (though they thought themselves wise), but let us try to approach Jesus teaching as babes.
I ran some references on verse 23 concerning the phrase, “but if your eye is bad” (or “If thine eye is evil”) and I found that there may have been much more to this figure than “meets the eye” today. The first reference was Matthew 20:15. In Chapter 20 Jesus told the story of the landowner who hired laborers into his vineyard. The laborers who worked all day received the same wage as those who only worked part of the day. The workers who worked all day became envious of the others and complained to the landowner. He replied to them, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with my own? Is thine eye evil because I am good?” Here one who was envious of another's money was spoken of as having “an evil eye.” Another reference is in Mark 7:22. There Jesus spoke of the bad things that come out of the heart of a man. Obviously, this phrase, “an evil eye” was a generally understood figure of speech to the Jews of Jesus' day, meaning “envy” (and perhaps especially with regard to money). Later translations actually use the word “envy” in place of the phrase “the evil eye.”
So when Jesus said in His sermon (Matthew 6:23), “But if your eye is evil,” His listeners probably understood that figure to mean, “but if you are envious about money.”
Keeping that in mind, lets look at the whole figure Jesus places before us. Verse 22 says, “The lamp of the body is the eye.” We can understand that light and the physical vision of all things enter the body through the eye. When we see things through the eye, it is actually the brain inside the body that does the seeing, that has the consciousness of the picture within view of the eye. The eye is just the “window” through which the light passes to the brain. So we can imagine if we were inside someone's head looking at the eye from behind, it would appear as a lamp shining into the head. “If therefore your eye is clear (healthy), your whole body will be full of light.” If the eye is performing as it should, the scenes we see seem to light up all the darkness inside the body. When the eye is open, we see none of the darkness inside us. We only see the scene which comes through the eye. We feel as if we are full of light. Now if we close our eyes, what will we see? Nothing but darkness. Now we are aware that all the light that was in us came through the eye, for when the eye is shut there is no light in us. Our whole body is full of darkness.
But Jesus doesn't say, “But if your eye is shut.” He says, “But if your eye is evil, your whole body is full of darkness.” That's close enough, however, for us to understand His meaning with respect to light in the physical body. And at the same time it brings understanding of the whole complex figure into the mind of the listener. If you have an evil eye physically it couldn't transmit light. If you have an evil eye figuratively, you are envious about money and that will stop spiritual light. If you are envious about money, your heart is not with God.
How does it all fit? If your spiritual vision is clear, you will seek God with a single purpose and you will be filled with spiritual light. You will lay up yourself treasures in heaven an d your heart will be in heaven.
But if your spiritual vision is blocked by an evil eye, your desire will be for earthly treasures and you will be in spiritual darkness.
Then Jesus said, “ If the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness.” (I can hear the Pharisees and other worldly literal minded people scoffing about Jesus' statement. If light is darkness, if white is black, if opposites are the same – He must be mad!)
But He means: If all the light you have within you is worldly wisdom, if you lay up treasures of yourself on earth, then you have no spiritual light within you at all. Compared with the true light, the true knowledge of your eternal existence, your worldly light is as darkness. And if you open your eyes and all that comes in through them is more darkness to join the darkness that is already inside you, then how great a darkness that is! You can be blinded that way. You can get so involved in laying up treasures on earth, that you cannot see past this earth. Materialism can blind you so that you cannot understand God's eternal message of salvation to all men and your part as you as a Christian should play in it. You can get like the Pharisees who scoffed at Jesus' figures of speech.
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” NASB.
Now Jesus uses another figure. He places before us a picture of a servant and a master (or two masters). It is a well known worldly fact, subject to no argument, that a servant cannot serve two masters. He can only serve one master at a time.
Who is the servant in this figure? The servant represents each of the listeners on the mountainside who sought to enter the kingdom of heaven. Today the servant represents each of the readers of this sermon from the Bible who seek the kingdom of heaven. Who are the Masters? One is God to whom belongs the kingdom of heaven. The other is called mammon. The word “mammon” is simply the Aramaic word for riches or wealth, a word which the Jews of that day actually spoke. Jesus personifies the word mammon in this figure and recognizes it as master or a god one can serve in life.
We servants must have a master. In this figure we have a choice of which master we will serve. We choose either God or mammon. The way we choose, or the act of choosing, comes in our “laying up of treasures” and upon whom we give our hearts. If we lay up wealth on earth, we give our hearts to mammon, the figurative god or master of wealth. The master, the wealth, and the servant will all perish with the world. If we lay up spiritual treasures in heaven, we give our hearts to the true God of eternal spiritual wealth. This Master, this servant, and this spiritual wealth will last for eternity.
God will not accept you for His servant in the kingdom of heaven if you are serving mammon. God requires all your love. That was the “great commandment” in the Law: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and all your mind,” said Jesus Himself in Matthew 22:37. The servant who follows that Law will have to hate mammon. On the other hand, if you love mammon, then you hate God. All our heart, soul, and mind must go to God leaving nothing to serve mammon. (Jesus certainly knew the k,ind of lessons we need. What do we commonly try to do? We try to serve two masters, both God and mammon.)
With one part of my mind I understand something of the eternal kingdom of heaven. With this part of my mind I yearn to act like a citizen of that eternal kingdom and to be with God through eternity. With this part of my mind I “joyfully concur with the Law of God” (Romans 7:22). and actively seek “to lay up treasures in heaven.” But, at the same time, “Wretched man that I am” (Romans 7:23). with another part of my mind I try to serve mammon. That part of my mind has been well trained to lay up treasures on earth and it can think of little else. Its eye is evil, envious of money. With this part of my mind I am entrenched in the world and I want to lay hold on security and happiness in this world. This part of my mind doesn't have faith in the unseen treasures laid up in heaven with God but only money laid up in the bank of mammon.
I cannot come to a realization that I am actually a double minded person. With one part of my mind I would like to trust God to take care throughout eternity. But with another part of my mind I haven't got enough faith. I doubt. I must come to a realization that I am a doubting man of whom James says, “The one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:6-8).
Jesus said, “Your heart is where your treasure is.” Jesus' Spirit speaking through James said in James 4:8, “Purify your hearts you double minded.” As if to say, if your heart is down there in the unclean world with those worldly treasures, your heart will have to be purified before it can go up with those spiritual treasures into the kingdom of heaven. You don't have treasures in both places, and serve both masters. If one little bit of your heart and mind is attached to materialistic things on earth then your heart is unclean and it cannot go into that spotless kingdom of heaven until it becomes unattached from the world and is purified. Your heart has to be wholly given to God and purified or else it won't be with God at all. You cannot serve two masters.
That seems to have been the problem of the young man who came to Jesus as recorded in Matthew 19:16-22. A young man came to Jesus and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” In the ensuing conversation Jesus told him to keep the commandments. The young man answered, “All these things I have kept. What am I still lacking? Jesus said to him, 'if you wish to be perfect (complete), go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me! But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieved, for he was one who owned much property.” What was the problem? He was double-minded, wasn't he? He was trying to serve two masters. He felt he already knew the way to have material security on earth. Now he was ready to think about getting eternal security, to really reach perfection, to really be complete. When Jesus made it clear that he had to completely abandon his trust in material things, and place entire faith in Jesus in order to be complete, he was grieved. He went away sorrowful.
What then happened to the young man? Some would say, He was lost! He didn't obey Jesus. He could have done what Jesus told him to do, but he didn't. He could have made himself complete! He didn't. He obviously decided he liked earthly riches better than heavenly riches. Therefore, he chose to be lost. Some people scoff at the young man.
However, I can't dismiss the young man in my mind like that because I don't think Jesus did. The record at this point does not say what happened to him ultimately. It says, “He went away sorrowful” - or “grieved.” The fact that he went away from Jesus was not good. The fact that he was grieved was good. He had learned something. His eyes had been opened to some extent. Perhaps he had come to realize that he was double-minded, that he was trying to serve two masters and this was why he was grieved. He was certainly not like the Pharisees. He did not scoff at what Jesus told him. His new-found knowledge about himself, and his grief about his condition were the first steps toward salvation. He may have returned to Jesus later. The young man was at that time much more of a fit subject to hear and obey the gospel than when he had first come to Jesus.
Let us not judge the young man, or anyone we might think to be in a similar position, even today. For Jesus Himself said to His disciples, recorded by Matthew immediately after Jesus' conversation with the young man (Matthew 19:23-26), “'Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through he eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.' And when the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, 'then who can be saved.' And looking upon them Jesus said to them, 'With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'”
Jesus was certainly having sympathy for the young man, as He does with all of us today, for He said, “It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus had just told the young man to sell all his possessions and give the money away, and then come and follow him and live the way he lived, depending only on God for sustenance. In other words He had told the young man, “You cannot serve God and mammon.” So give up mammon entirely. But then Jesus said sympathetically, it is hard for a rich man to do that. In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to do what he must do to make himself perfect or complete, to purify his own heart from its double-mindedness, and thus enter the kingdom of heaven. In fact, Jesus said, “With men this is impossible.” It is quite likely, is it not, that this is just what the young rich man already realized and that is why he went away grieved. He realized that it was a thing so hard as to be impossible by himself. Then Jesus said, “If you wish to be complete.” making a path to salvation possible. We, of course know, that the young man would not be made complete by just selling all his possessions and giving the money away. No, we realize that only after he came and followed Jesus would he be made complete. For only in and through Jesus could he be made complete. Only through Jesus could his heart be purified of its double-mindedness . The young man could have hope because, “with God all things are possible.” The gospel is the only hope of rich men (as with all men, rich or not) and their grief over their condition is a necessary step in their coming to Jesus.
Jesus said in His opening sentence of the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” That is, blessed are those who realize they have “poor” spiritual resources. When the young rich man came to Jesus and asked “What am I still lacking?” it is an indication hat he was beginning to understand that his spiritual resources were not enough.
In the second sentence in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn.” When the young man, as the result of Jesus words to him, had confirmed in his mind that his spiritual resources were too meager to make him “complete,” he began to grieve, or “mourn.” If the young man continued in the process then started, then he came back and followed Jesus, purifying his heart through God's action, through the blood of Christ,
Remember then, that it was in this context that Jesus delivered this sermon, that is, the context of His coming death, burial, resurrection, and His ascension to His throne on high of the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth” and showed us His life as a perfect example, yet He knows that we won't be able to learn it altogether. He said, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” and He showed by His life how to do it. But He knows that we will often fail to do so. He said, “You cannot serve God and mammon.” He served only God in His life. Yet He knows that we cannot perfectly observe that warning any more than a camel can go through the eye of a needle. He knows we are going to need His help.
Remember Jesus said, early in this sermon (Matthew 5:20), “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven.” That was a definite statement defining a standard that will definitely keep us out of the kingdom of heaven. What is that standard? Luke 16:14 defines it. “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money …. were scoffing at Him.” The young rich man had been a “lover of money” but he didn't scoff; he was sorrowful. Could it be that Jesus told us about him because he was going to be so typical of us today? He was not without hope for he exhibited the beginning of faith.
It is clearly shown in the New Testament that the beings who went and followed Jesus and were later appointed as His Apostles, did not fully uphold Jesus' teachings at first. They were not unlike the young rich man. They went away from Jesus at times, but they went back. They were sorrowful many times, but their sorrow was eventually changed to joy unspeakable. When they supposedly gave up their past lives to follow Jesus, they didn't really burn all their bridges, at least not at first. The fishermen in the group were able to go back to fishing and did so on at least one occasion. They didn't give up their anxiety for what they should eat and wear. In fact, Jesus had to constantly remind them. Jesus said to them on one occasion (Matthew 16:8), “You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves because you have no bread? Do you not yet understand or remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many large baskets you took up?”
“25 For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
In Matthew 6:25-30 Jesus starts to give us help and encouragement. Jesus calls us to simply look around us at the blessings showered by God at His creatures in nature. The birds of the air and the lilies of the field are used for examples. Obviously God made them. And obviously God provides for them. We are God's creatures too, worth much more to Him than the birds or the lilies. Is it not obvious to us that God will care for us? Has it not been proven to us before our very eyes?
Jesus could have gone to the Old Testament scriptures to prove this point. He could have gone to the Law and the Prophets to show that God promised to care for His children and demonstrated it over and over again through history. But Jesus referred to more universal scriptures even than the Law and the Prophets. He referred to that which God wrote within all men whether they had ever seen the Bible or not. Paul reminds us in Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.” Jesus cites examples of two things that God made (birds and flowers) and says that we ought to know from observance of them that there is a God and that He will take care of us if we put our trust in Him. There's nothing here to indicate that God's care for one on earth depends upon who he is, where he lives on earth, or whether he has yet heard the gospel. Anyone can look at the birds and the flowers and know hat there is a creator and know that the creator cares for His creation. Therefore I fully expect that there are people here in Thailand or in any country “who have read the scriptures written inside them and they have the beginnings of faith in their creator because they have recognized Him in nature. They will be receptive to Jesus' teachings and recognize God as their author when they hear the gospel. These people make up the fields that are white unto harvest.
Jesus here intimates people everywhere by being overly anxious in their lives, sin in striving for material things, not only because they break a written law, but because they fail to heed what God has made evident to every person. Herein is one of the reasons Paul said, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23). But Jesus lesson is presented in the positive sense. God expects people to be seekers. And seekers for the kingdom of heaven, the creator's own kingdom, should not be overly anxious for food and clothing.
Matthew 6: 31 to 34 contains a practical summary given to us by a sympathetic savior. How good these words sound to us . Jesus had said in verse 24, in absolute terms, that you cannot serve both God and mammon. However, we all try to do it. We need something more than a law we cannot keep. Jesus gives us encouragement in what He says to us after that. He sums up in verses 31 and 32,”Do not be anxious then, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or, 'What shall we drink?' or, 'With what shall we clothe ourselves?' For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.”
The disciples have already been reminded in the sermon that the practices of the pagan Gentiles are not worthy of emulation. He said in Matthew 6:7 that they should not pray as the Gentiles do for the Gentiles have not given their hearts to God. Now he says it is characteristic of the Gentiles, who do not know God, to be primarily concerned with laying up treasures on earth, to be anxious about food and clothing. But you disciples know who your heavenly Father is, and He knows what you need and He will provide for you. Don't act like a Gentile who has cut himself .off from the heavenly Father.
But many of us must say, Lord, it seems as though I can't help but be anxious about these things. I try not to be anxious, but I fail. For us, the Lor.d adds verses 33 and 34. “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to .you.” The Lord is going to give us all these things as gifts. What does the Lord really expect of us? He expects .us to be seekers for the gifts from God. He says in Matthew 7:7, “Ask, and it shall be given to you, seek, and you shall find;knock and it shall be opened to you.” God does the giving and God opens the door. It will be impossible for us to achieve righteousness through our own efforts. Even the Apostle Paul said in Romans 7:18-19, “For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the wishing is present in me, but the doing of good is not. For the good that I wish, I do not do; but I practice the very evil that I do not wish.” That was the Apostle Paul talking about himself as a representative of the human race. Yet, he could also say in Philippians 3:14, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Paul continually sought for the gifts from God.
One thing we can do; we can keep seeking, keep pressing on toward the goal.
If we are still discouraged and think the seeking is hard, He adds verse 34, “Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” If you think that you cannot press-on through life all the way up to that distant goal, then think just about today. Press-on just for today. That is something that is not so hard to do.
Some wise people have said, “Live in day tight compartments” - “Don't borrow trouble ahead of time” - “Live one day at a time.” These are paraphrases of what Jesus said. We have a problem we can't solve. We continuously try to serve both God and mammon. Don't give up today. Don't lose heart today. Live one day at a time. Read the scripture God wrote in nature all around you and within you. They say that the Creator cares for creation on this earth. They say that the Creator will provide your food and drink and clothes. And they say far more than that. Was it not these scriptures written within him that Job read and learned and came to know. In his distress he said, “My Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand upon the earth. Even after my skin is flayed, yet without my flesh I shall see God.” (Job 19:25-26).
This Sermon on the Mount was delivered by the Redeemer Himself who is spoken of by the very birds and flowers , by Jesus with the advance knowledge that the Creator who gives all people food and drink and clothes, also “gave His only begotten Son , that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” All creation has cried out since its beginning that “my Redeemer lives.” And Job “read” it and sought for Him. And Abraham “read” it and sought for Him. And God caused them to find Him in accordance with His plan for their day. Still today all creation cries out that the Redeemer lives. Seek for Him!
The scriptures of the birds and the flowers and the living creation around us are the only scriptures that many men of today's earth have read. But some have learned from the “words” of creation and they are seeking for the gift of redemption from their loving Creator. When they learn more in particular about Jesus, the Christ, they will recognize Him, and when they learn about His kingdom, they will seek it, the kingdom of heaven.
Now we see another way in which “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God.” (Romans 8:28). He uses those who have sought the kingdom and found it, to take God's answer to those who are asking, to take God's gospel plan of these “last days” to those who are seeking.
Matthew 7: 1-12:
In Chapter 7 of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus speaks of the righteousness which He requires with respect to our relations to our fellowmen. He approaches this subject negatively in 7:1-6, and positively in 7:7-12.
Immediately as we start chapter 7 of Jesus sermon it is clear that Jesus is speaking of the relationship to the fellowmen of those who are seeking the kingdom of God. He says, Judge not other men lest you be judged yourself. And immediately we can tell from the way it is stated, that the kind of judging He is warning against is a kind of judging that one does not desire to be applied to himself. Therefore, just from the way it is stated, we conclude that He must probably is talking about a kind of judicial sentence of condemnation, since this is most obviously the kind of ultimate judging that we want to escape. In other words, if you do not wish to receive a judicial sentence of condemnation, do not pass any such sentence on your fellowmen.
James enlarges our understanding of this very thing in James 4:11-12, “Do not judge against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother, or judges his brother, speaks against the law, and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law, but a judge of it. There is only one lawgiver and judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy; but who are you who judge your neighbor.”
James makes it clear that his reference to judging a brother is a “speaking against” the brother. James says that this practice of speaking against a brother must be considered in the light of God's law. Law is an element of God's plan to redeem men. Law has been given to all men since the foundation of the world in order to bring them to a knowledge of sin and make them accountable to God. (Romans 1:19, 2:14-15, 3:19, 3:20, 5:20, 7:7, 11:32, 10:4). God's role for us with respect to law is for us to attempt to be doers of the law, not a judge of each other with respect to the law. We are all “in the same boat” with respect to God's law. We are trespassers of it. There is only one judge. He is the lawgiver Himself. We all stand without excuse under law before the One Judge. Therefore, who are you who judge your neighbor? Who are you to speak against or condemn another? Rather you should humble yourself in the presence of the Judge, submit yourself to Him, and draw near to Him, because He is able to save you with His mercy. (James 4:5-10).
I am convinced that these things written by James were inspired by the Spirit of our Lord Himself, commenting on and bringing us to a fuller understanding of His Sermon on the Mount. It is indeed in this same context that our Lord delivered the Sermon on the Mount. For He said in Matthew 5:17-18, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.”
So when Jesus said a little later in the same sermon (Matthew 7:1), “Do not judge lest you be judged yourselves. For in the way you judge, you will be judged.” His listeners must have understood it with respect to a God given Law. To the Jewish listeners there that day, it should have brought to mind the Law of Moses and the judgment, or the judicial sentence of condemnation that they had all earned under it. With the clarification that the Spirit of Christ has brought to us through the pens of Paul and James, we Gentiles understand the same principle with respect to the law written by God within us, or any law of God, not only the Law given through Moses.
So Jesus is telling us here in Matthew 7 that we must learn our place in God's scheme of things. And with respect to our fellow men, it is not our place to condemn or speak against them as if we are judges.
Not only is it not our place to be such judges, if we insist on speaking against or judging one another, we remove ourselves from God's grace. We have all sinned by breaking the law of God. Because of our sin we have stored up wrath for ourselves “in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Romans 2:5). But, “while we were yet sinners , Christ died for us,” and we have been “saved from the wrath of God through Him” (Romans 5:8-9). The grace of God has saved us. We today can say this in the past tense. Those listening to Christ on the mountainside (in Matthew 7) and seeking the kingdom of heaven had only a prospect of salvation through God's grace, but it was a prospect that was as good as accomplished. Jesus said in the beginning of the sermon that they could be in the kingdom of heaven, could be comforted, could be satisfied, could inhabit the earth, could receive mercy, could see God, could be called sons of God. But He also said, not if you speak against or judge your fellowmen. If you do that you will be right back where you were before, “you will be judged” by the lawgiver and judge. And that judgment is the “wrath of God.” So when you speak against or judge one another you remove yourselves from God's grace and put yourselves under law. If you measure out to your fellowman the standard of measure that the wrath of God ordains for lawbreakers, “it shall be measured to you” also.
Let us first see the picture. A speck or a mote (Greek KARPOS) means a dry stalk, a twig, a straw, or chaff. The wind can blow it around and it can get in the eye. It is small. A log or a beam (Greek DOKOS) means a big stick or timber, or the main timber in the roof or floor of a building. It is certainly much larger than the mote, so large in fact that we can't conceive of it actually getting into the eye. It might exclude all vision just from being in front of the eye. So the Lord wants me to see a picture of something obstructing the vision of a brother. But something small like a small twig of a tree. Then He wants me to visualize myself trying to look into his eye to get the twig out, but I have a similar problem. However, my problem is much worse in that instead of a twig in my eye, I have a whole log that really completely covers my vision. There is a special point here in that I, who am trying to help, have a much bigger thing in my eye.
Now Jesus doesn't say that I can't ever help my brother with the little mote in his eye, but He says I will have to first take the log out of my eye.
Now we have just been discussing the fact that my brother and I both have been guilty of breaking God's law. The 0mote in my brother's eye is evidence that he has broken God's law. The only basis on which he can be judged is the basis that he has broken God's law. I have broken God's law too and because of that I too might be said to have a mote in my eye. But Jesus said that I have a big log or beam in my eye. So Jesus is not saying that I can't help my brother because I have a mote too, or that I have broken God's law. No. He says my problem is worse. I am judging, speaking against my brother. It is not that my brother and I are “in the same boat,” but the reason Jesus cannot use me to help save my brother is because I insist on judging him, a thing which Christ even refused to do when He was on earth. Jesus said in John 12:47, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.”
Jesus is talking about our usefulness to Him in carrying out His work in His kingdom while we are here on earth. He say, if we have a “beam” in front of our eyes, we can't help. The “beam” of which He speaks is our headstrong practice of censuring, or condemning, or judging our fellowman for his faults. Until we get rid of this practice, we can't be useful to Christ because we are under judgment ourselves. “First take the big log out of your own eye; and then you will see clearly enough to take the speck out of your brother's eye.” If we will but pay attention to God's word we can understand why Jesus does not want us interjecting our human tendencies into His work, especially why, in this case, He doesn't want us to judge or condemn.
1- First of all. as we have already pointed out, He does not want us to put ourselves back under law, removed from God's grace by judging others. He came, the first time, to save us, not to judge us. If we will do what He says, we will escape judgment and be saved in Him.
2 – Another reason He does not want us to judge is because we are humans with a built-in tendency to get a beam in our eye. That is, we, as humans in the flesh, are unfit to form correct judgments.
3 – Another reason is like unto the 2nd one, because we are mere humans beings, we would at times condemn in other things which are not sinful at all. Jesus was condemned by many but He was not a sinner. Paul was condemned by some people for some things which were not wrong at all. An Old Testament example of wrong judgment is in 1 Samuel 1:12. Eli condemned Hannah for being drunk when she wasn't drunk at all but was indeed engaged in communion through prayer with God.
4 – He does not want us to judge because we cannot understand all the circumstances which led our brother to sin. The only righteous judge will be the one who understands us to the fullest extent, from whom nothing is hidden. We can't approach that level of understanding because we will never have all the facts. We cannot even gather enough facts and analyze them sufficiently to even judge ourselves, much less someone else. We must not only leave the judging of others to God, but we must allow ourselves to be kept under Jesus' protective wing of mercy, and help others to get there too.
5 – Finally, we must not judge simply because we do not have any right to do it. Judgment is the prerogative of God. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3:5, summarizing several of these reasons, “But to me it is a very small thing that I should be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact I do not even examine myself. I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore, do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts; and then each man's praise will come to him from God.”
In Matthew 7:1-2 the Greek word for the verb “to judge” is KRINO. And Greek word for the noun “Judgment” is KRIMA. From a study of these Greek words I found that every New Testament usage of the noun KRIMA (judgment) means condemnation or damnation. Not every usage of the verb KRINO, however, means to condemn. In this passage here in Matthew 7 , we conclude from the context that it means “to condemn.” Also, the fact that it is used with KRIMA, means that condemnation was the result of the judging. However, there are a few other passages in the New Testament where the verb KRINO means simply “to call in question,” “to conclude, “ “to decide,” to determine,” or “to judge” in a sense other than that of passing a sentence of condemnation.
Paul used the verb KRINO in 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 to mean “to determine.” He said, “And when I came to you brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined (KRINO) to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” So even here the meaning carries the idea of “judging.” Paul says, in essence, I do no judging among you that will interject me personally into Christ's teaching, but simply I declare Jesus Christ and Him crucified. So there is one judgment we can make, to decide to teach simply Christ and Him crucified.
Jesus said in John 7:24, “Do not judge according to appearance but judge with righteous judgment.” The same Greek word (KRINO – to judge) is used here, but the meaning is “to conclude,” or “to form an opinion.” Jesus says, form your opinions with “righteous judgment” (KRISIS). The Greek language gives us reason to believe that the term “righteous judgment” refers only to God's “righteous condemnation” of those who have earned His wrath. So Jesus is saying in John 7:24 , do not form your human opinions according to appearance but form them keeping in mind God's righteous judgment to come. If we do that, we will remember that the judgment of condemnation belongs only to God and we must keep away from that type of judgment. So Jesus says we are to judge but not to pass judicial sentence of condemnation . We must judge what is right and wrong in our daily lives, keeping in mind God's prerogatives and God's standards for us.
When Peter and John were brought before the Jewish Council and told not to speak any more in the name of Jesus, Peter and John answered (Acts 4:19), “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge,” That is, you must form your own conclusion. That is the kind of judging man can and must do. Inherent in this statement is a plea by Peter and John that your judging should be based on God's standard of righteousness. And then Peter and John say, in essence (Acts 4:20), we have made our judgment, we have formed our conclusion, “for we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard.” These kind of judgments we can and must make.
And we must not shrink back from making such conclusions. We must not neglect judging in the sense of forming conclusions to govern our actions based on God's revealed truth. Paul called the Corinthian brethren to task because they were failing to judge a situation in their midst that needed action. Paul said to the Corinthians (in 1 Corinthians 5:2). “It is actually reported that there is immorality among you …. and you have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, in order that the one who had done this deed might be removed from your midst.” Paul went on in 1 Corinthian 5:11-13, “But actually I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he should be an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler – not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked men from among yourselves.”
There are judgments that we must make in the church just as the Corinthian Christians were urged to judge one in the church. The judgments that Christians are to make are not to take over the prerogatives of God and condemn a brother to wrath, but to form a conclusion for action so that we might save our brother from God's wrath.
Jude said in verses 22-23 of his short book, “and have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.” We must judge when we do this. We must use God's righteous standard, and we must hate the “garment” of sin; but we must not hate the sinner,
Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:1-5) has covered one extreme of judging that we must not do. That is, we must not take over God's prerogative judicial sentence of condemnation on a bother. We should not even have an attitude or a tendency to do so if we want to be useful to Christ in the kingdom of heaven. In previous studies, however, we examined some scripture which show us that we must judge in forming the conclusions that govern our actions in the church.
So Jesus goes on in Matthew 7:6 and warns not to take your judging (your forming of conclusions) to another extreme. He says, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet and turn and tear you to pieces.”
It seems as if Jesus might have felt that people might conclude from the first 5 verses of chapter 7 that they must not see any fault in others, or condemn any sin. They might refrain from judging at all, even in the sense of forming conclusions in their own minds to govern their actions. Thus, in going out to preach the gospel, they might just ignore the gross practices around them, and find themselves being used by Satan.
“Do not give what is holy to dogs.” Possibly the picture that Jesus wants us to see is that of a Jewish Priest throwing a piece of the sacrificial flesh from the altar of burnt-offerings to the dogs which infested the streets. The animal being offered on the altar is holy before God. The Priest and the people know the significance of this sacrifice. But the dogs which roam the streets have no conception whatsoever of the holy sacrifice. They have only an animal concept of survival and they search for food through instinct. To them the holy flesh of the sacrifice is just another morsel of food to be fought over. One could be sure that any Priest would be able to judge this and would not throw what is holy to the dogs.
But in the spiritual realm it is not so easy to discern the dogs. “Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 1:14). Therefore we must be alert to discover Satan in his disguise.
The picture of the swine is an understandable one to anyone who has ever observed wild pigs. They are unpredictable and dangerous. They have been known many times to attack human beings and literally tear them to pieces. A literal picture of someone taking his treasure of pearls out to the swine expecting them to have some appreciation of the pearls, is a ridiculous one. It surely was meant to appear ridiculous. However, in the spiritual realm our ridiculous actions are not always so apparent to us. We must be diligent to judge and not get us into a predicament in which we could be “torn to pieces” spiritually.
Jesus in this sermon gave a very practical guide on how to determine who are the “dogs” and the “swine.” In Matthew 7: 15-16 He says, “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.” So, to the list beginning with “dogs” and “swine,” he adds “wolves,” and says you are to judge, or discern, by their fruits, who are spiritually like such animals.
Now it is interesting indeed that Jesus put the next verses (Matthew 7: 7-11) into this context of how we should act toward our fellowman, and right after these teachings on judging.
“Ask and it shall be given to you.” Of whom are we to ask? “Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened to you.” To whom is our seeking and knocking to be addressed? As we read on down through verses 9, 10, and 11 we see that it is the heavenly Father to whom we are to address our asking, seeking, and knocking.
The subject of asking, seeking, and knocking in a broad sense is prayer to receive what is good from our heavenly Father. Jesus is telling us then that prayer has application in determining our behavior toward our fellowman. In verse 12, “Treat people the same way you want them to treat you,” It is clear that Jesus has not abandoned the subject. The distinction we have just studied, in not judging, and discrimination in judging, is a fine distinction and creates for us a serious difficulty. How are we to act in obedience to the warning not to pass judgment on others, and at the same time to discriminate so carefully as always to keep holy things from dogs, and pearls from swine?
As usual the righteousness which Jesus demands is not easy for the Christian living in the “body of this death.” But as Jesus has done previously in this sermon, after posing a perfect standard of conduct most difficult to achieve, He offer us some real practical service on how to approach it. Now he seems to be saying that prayer has a bearing on our approach to the problem of judging.
What would happen if we prayed before judging? We need God's help in all Jesus tells us to do, and especially in order that we may be sure that we do not condemn in our judgments, nor lack the true principles of discrimination in handling the word of truth.
Jesus has already made it plain in this sermon that prayer is a part of the life of one who is seeking the kingdom of heaven. In Matthew 5:44 He said, “Pray for those who persecute you.” In Matthew 6:7-15 He said, “And when you are praying …. pray …. in this way.” And He gave a model prayer for our consideration. Now He says, “Ask,” “Seek,” and ”Knock.” Possibly Jesus used these three different words because they are somewhat similar concepts , and, thereby, give emphasis to the concept which He is teaching. But in addition to this, it seems likely that Jesus used these three different words because their precise meanings are different and He wanted to enlarge our concept of prayer and to give us an idea, perhaps, of how we can progress in the prayer relationship until it permeates our lives.
The concept of the word “Ask” is not just to be inquisitive but is to crave, to beg, or to require something. This is the original Greek meaning of the word here. The Greeks had another word for the concept of simply asking a question. But the word used here for “Ask” does also carry the idea of a literal, specific request for the thing craved or required. So when Jesus commands us to “Ask,” He is telling to specifically voice a request for the thing we require and crave.
We can see from the context that He is not telling us to ask just for the things we crave from a human standpoint, but the things we require and should be craving spiritually in the kingdom of heaven. Concerning such material things as food and clothing, He has already told us not to be anxious, for the heavenly Father knows we have need of them. He does not restrict us from asking for food and clothing on a daily basis for He prayed in the model prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” But there is no room in His instruction for selfish asking, only for asking in accordance with God's own will. While we require food and clothing in this life, it is for the purpose simply of sustaining us while we become useful to Christ in the kingdom of heaven. Therefore we should be asking for spiritual things that will make us spiritually useful.
The concept of the word “ask” also indicates the dependence of the one who “asks.” Therefore, in order to ask as we should, we must be conscious of our need. The needful thing which we most totally lack as humans is spiritual resources. When we ask for spiritual blessings, it is asked from a base of poverty to the only and all sufficient source of spiritual blessing. It was no accident that Jesus started off this sermon by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Recognition of our lack of spiritual resources is the starting place of the Christian life of “asking.” Moreover, the concept of asking in this sermon is based upon a belief in a personal God with whom we can have fellowship through Christ, and a God who is able and does answer the requests of His children.
Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given to you.” While this asking requires our consciousness and understanding of our dependence on God, it is not our action that achieves the result; it is given to us by God.
And then Jesus said, “Seek, and you shall find.” The word “seek” (ZETEO) also includes the concept of requiring, but more: the concept of endeavoring for, and going about after something. The word has an idea of persistent effort on the part of the one who is seeking. So we see when Jesus says, “Seek,” He has carried us one step further than the idea of “asking.” Not only must we specifically voice our request, we must do something. We must start looking for God's answer. God has already placed many things within our reach. He has already answered many of our requests even before we have asked. We have a part to play. We must be willing to do our part towards finding and using God's answer. Jesus didn't say that God would knock us out of bed with His answers, but if we will seek, we will find what God has done. This does not mean that the answer to our prayers lies within us. It does not mean that there is some great thing that we must do in order to earn God's answer. No. The answer is still a gift of God's grace. But we must seek to find what God's gift is, and where it is, and how God will use us in dispensing it to others.
Remember the context of this command, to seek, is in respect to our usefulness in the kingdom of heaven in taking the speck out of our brother's eye; in our usefulness to Christ in our relationship to our fellowmen. Jesus had just said in Matthew 6:33, “Seek first His kingdom.” That is, first of all, seek for the things that will put you into His kingdom. Once in the kingdom, seek for the things that will make you useful subjects of the King.
Seek and you will find what God has already done, and what He will do in response to your request.
Then Jesus said, “Knock, and it shall be opened to you.” Jesus would have us picture ourselves standing in front of a closed door. We have a strong desire, a craving, and a need for the door to be opened so we can see on the other side, and so we can enter to the other side through the door. Jesus says we must do something – Knock. Is the knock to knock the door down? No. It can't be knocked down through our efforts. We can't gain entrance through our knocking. But we must knock nevertheless. And if we knock, someone who is able will hear and open the door for us.
Now for the spiritual application of this picture. We can again see this as the next progressive step in our prayer life after asking and seeking. Asking was based on a consciousness of our need. Seeking is based on a realization .that there is something to do. Knocking, now, is based on the fact that what we have done has paid off. We have sought and found something. We have, through the grace of God, arrived in front of the door. But we are still human beings living on earth. We are still apt to get a beam in our own eye, not to mention the speck that is there. We are still sojourners in this body of death. We have not yet entered into the Sabbath rest in heaven. So we must not stop praying. If we have found a door, we must continue to knock. I get the idea that Jesus is telling us to persevere throughout this life. Continue to knock until the door is opened. And it will be opened. God will open it.
The principle was taught by Jesus with another figure in Luke 8:1-8. Jesus told His disciples that “at all times they ought to pray.” and never lose heart. Then He told them a parable to illustrate. He said there was a certain widow who kept going to a hardhearted judge for justice in a certain matter. The judge had no sympathy for her and didn't care if she got justice or not. In fact, he just wished she wouldn't bother him. But she kept going to the judge and complaining until he gave in and helped her. Then Jesus said, “Shall not God bring about justice for His elect, who say to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them speedily.”
Jesus commanded us, then, to ask, seek, and knock. That is, pray and not lose heart. Cry to the Lord day and night. And the Lord will open to you. Paul put it this way: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). How can one devote his entire life to praying without ceasing? Jesus has already given the answer in the Sermon on the Mount. Not only should our praying consist of asking (which is all we usually think of as prayer), our praying should also consist of seeking and knocking which encompasses the whole of life. Then we can truly “pray without ceasing.”
There are other important applications of the God given principles of asking, seeking, and knocking. We have just applied it to citizens of the kingdom of heaven (that is, Christians) in their prayer life. Jesus actually spoke to people who were not yet Christians because the church had not yet been established while Jesus lived on earth. His reigning over the kingdom occurred only after He ascended to His throne on high and the church was established on earth. So the principle applied then to the Jews living under the Law of Moses. I am convinced that Jesus proclaimed no new principles in this sermon.
The Spirit of Christ speaking through Paul seems to be elaborating on this very principle in Romans 2:6-10. In this passage Paul is speaking of “every soul of man” since the “creation of the world” (Romans 1:20). He says, God “will render to every man according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.” Notice the similarity of thought between Jesus statement in the Sermon on the Mount, and the statement of His spirit through Paul in Romans. Jesus said, “Ask and it shall be given to you; seek and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened to you.” Paul said, God will render eternal life “to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality.” A life of perseverance in doing good is a life of asking, seeking, and knocking. The doing good of which Paul speaks in Romans is not a life of perfect obedience to God, or of gaining of enough merit to earn eternal life. But it is a life of imputed good, imputed because we ask, seek, and knock. Paul says it has been so since the “creation of the world.” In the light of Jesus disclosure of this principle, we see that it has been the responsibility of every man who has ever lived (as well as those living now) to ask, seek, and knock.
We've made this point several times in our study in the past. But we keep coming back to it because I believe it is a very important basic point. For years I had only a hazy notion of God's plan of salvation or men during the time from Adam to Moses. I know that we referred to this period as the Patriarchal Age and I was told in Sunday School that God dealt with men in that age through heads of families. But this was only part of the story. The Roman letter tells us that God's plan of salvation has always been based on His grace, a gift of righteousness to those who rendered “obedience of faith” in reference to God's revelation to them during their covenant age. And from the creation of the world men have had enough revelation and knowledge available to them to make them responsible for carrying out an action of faith. Paul said in Romans 1:19-20, “That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made.” Paul made another statement about the early inhabitants of the earth in Romans 2: 14-15 , “For the Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these …. are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts.”
We know, for instance, that Job of old responded to the revelation of God within him and around him, and he said, “I know that my redeemer lives.” We studied earlier in this class that Jesus Himself called our attention to the thing that have been made, the flowers and the birds, and He said that these have been revealed by our Creator to demonstrate that He cares for us. Now, what is our responsibility in return for these revelations that God has given to all men? Our responsibility is a self evident one, to ask, seek, and knock. The Lord will answer, Jesus said.
Someone says, 'I thought the heathen could only be saved through the gospel of Christ?' Of course, that is true. “In these last days (God) has spoken to us through His Son” (Hebrews 1:2). But that does not rule out man's responsibility to ask and seek. The gospel is God's answer to those who ask and seek. God's word shows us clearly that the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 11:16). That knowledge is the answer of God to those who ask. Jesus said, “Ask, and the answer shall be given to you.”
But someone says, 'How can the heathen, even when he is asking the right question, hear the gospel when we take it to him?' The answer, Jesus said, is that the Father will “give” it to him. “Your Father who is in heaven (gives) what is good to those ho ask Him.” But, 'isn't it through preaching that the heathen is saved?' Yes. Paul tells us that is the method which God uses to take the gospel to people (1 Corinthians 1:21), “God was well pleased through the foolishness of preaching to save those who believe.” Romans 10:13-15 says, “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. (As Jesus said in this sermon, Ask, and it shall be given to you.) How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?” God's method is to send a preacher.
Paul reminds us (2 Corinthians 4:7), “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels (Christians are the earthen vessels), that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not from ourselves.”
In Matthew 7:9-11 of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus teaches us about the kinship of God and man. He says God is the Father and we are His children. He makes three points about the Father/son relationship:
1 – If earthly fathers are good to their children, will not the heavenly Father be good to His children?
2 – If earthly fathers do not disappoint and mock the hunger of their children, would anyone expect the heavenly Father to disappoint and deceive His children?
3 – If earthly fathers are discriminating in their gifts to their children, withholding harmful things and giving only good things, will not the heavenly Father do so also?
But Jesus goes much further than make comparison of equality. He says in verse 11, “How much more” must the heavenly Father deal kindly with His children. The heavenly Father is infinitely wise and His children have been redeemed by the blood of His only begotten Son. How much more significant is our relationship with God than even our relationships with our earthly fathers? The earthly father can make mistakes and it is possible for the children, in some cases, to be wiser than the fathers. But not so with the heavenly Father. So our prayers to Him should not request that He alter His will. Rather our prayers should bring us closer to God and put us more in harmony with His will, so that God can do more with us and even do more for us than otherwise.
In Matthew 7:12 of Jesus' sermon, Jesus summarizes His teaching regarding the attitude which citizens of the kingdom of heaven should have toward their fellow men. We call this verse “the golden rule.” This comes as a summary of the first 11 verses of the 7th chapter. In these verses Jesus has said that His disciples are not to condemn others. Then He indicates that they must judge with discrimination and separate good from bad. Faithful disciples of the Lord, therefore, are confronted with a situation which poses a problem beyond their ability to solve alone. How are they as weak and finite beings going to be able to know what to do under all conditions? They need God's help in order to have the necessary wisdom to decide what the Lord requires. So the disciples are to ask, to seek, and to knock in order to learn how the Lord will use His disciples. Then as a final practical summary Jesus gave a rule which they can easily apply under any and all circumstances. He said, “Therefore whatever you want others to do for you, do so for them; for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
The general idea of the Golden Rule has long been appreciated by the human race. As Jesus said, it is a basic principle of the Law and the Prophets. It seems also to be one of the principles that God wrote in the hearts of men before He gave the Law to Moses. Cain evidently knew this principle or he would not have disclaimed it with the question, “Am I my brother's keeper?” In recorded history we have evidence of men teaching a form of this rule before Jesus expressed it in the Sermon on the Mount. Hillel (a Jew) said 'What is hateful to yourself, do to no other.' Epictetus (a slave and a cripple) said, 'What you avoid suffering yourselves, seek not to inflict on others.' Socrates said, 'What stirs your anger when done to you by others, that do not to others.' Aristotle said, 'We should bear ourselves toward others as we would desire they should bear themselves toward us.' Confucius said, 'What you do not want done to yourself, do not to others.' These statements bear some resemblance to the rule given by Jesus , but they are different. They are stated in negative or passive form and thus lack the positive, active, wholly unselfish aspect of Jesus statement. Jesus said, “Whatever you want others to do for you, do so for them.” There is no waiting around with Jesus' rule. The responsibility is placed on disciples to positively and actively carry out this rule. They are not merely to refrain from something. They are to do something.
This teaching is echoed by the Spirit of Jesus throughout the New Testament. Romans 8:13 says, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Law.” Galatians 5:14 says, “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” James 2:8 says, “If you are fulfilling the Royal Law, according to the scripture, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” Romans 12:10 says, “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.” In this teaching is not only the thought of doing acts of love for your brother, but also the thought of leading and teaching others to follow suit.
The rule in negative or passive form is excellent as far as it goes. But it can be followed in that form for purely selfish motives. Indeed, many business men have said that they use the golden rule in their business because they have found that it pays off with more profit. This is good as far as it goes. But Jesus certainly didn't intend it as a rule for business to make more worldly profit. Jesus did not intend its application in any selfish manner. He intended it for use by His disciples in the kingdom of heaven to make them more effective vessels for taking the spiritual treasures to mankind. “By this men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
It is a practical rule to have love for one another. It can be put into practice on a daily basis. His purpose in this statement was not to unveiling some divine mystery, but to give guidance for daily living. If we are incapable of loving our fellow man as we should (and we are), He gives a completely possible, practical way of learning to love him. Do for him! “Whatever you want others to do for you, do so for them.”
Choosing A Road.
Lets get the setting of this teaching before us. It has its place in God's eternal purpose and plan for mankind. The Prophets of old have told of a King and a Kingdom that is coming. Many Jews know enough of these prophecies to be expecting the Messiah to come in their own lifetime. However, they have many varying ideas about the nature of the kingdom that the Messiah is to set up. Although it is commonly referred to as the kingdom of heaven, most people think it will be another earthly kingdom but with heaven's blessing. Now the One who is to be the Messiah Himself has entered the world, and together with the Prophet John, He is preparing the ground and getting ready to set up the kingdom of heaven. Just prior to this sermon Jesus was going about in all Galilee, teaching and proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. And as He preached, He healed all kinds of sickness and every kind of disease among the people. And sick people were brought to him from all Syria, and great multitudes followed from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and even from beyond the Jordan.
When the multitudes gathered around Him on the mountainside, He taught them about the nature of the kingdom of heaven and the nature that its citizens must have. Much of His teaching was in figures of speech. He knew His audience . He knew their human characteristics and their misunderstanding about the coming life in he new kingdom of heaven. He wrote no books while He lived. But He did much teaching in simple “pictures” that could be remembered even by illiterate listeners. For His teachings had to weather many storms in the lives of these people. It will be yet three years or so before Jesus actually sacrifices His life and gives His Spirit to the kingdom by means of His Apostles. So after this sermon, every time the people put salt on their food, they will remember Jesus said, “you are the salt of the earth.” Every time they light a lamp, they will remember Jesus said, “you are the light of the world.”
And now in two sentences, in Matthew 7:13-14, He gives he audience an eternal lesson contained in the common everyday occurrence of choosing a road. Everyday from now on when they have to choose a road, they will remember what Jesus said about a road to destruction, and a road to life. Jesus' Spirit was to reveal much more about the “two ways” so that those who remembered Jesus' words in His sermon would more easily understand truths reveled later in the written word.
Actually Jesus' picture about the “narrow way” was so well impressed in the minds of the early Christians that they spoke of the Christian life as “the way.” (6 places in Acts chapters 9, 19, 22, and 24). Just what could the people understand from the pictures Jesus gives them?
First of all, there are gates to go through. Beyond the gates are “roads” or “ways” to travel upon. So there is a picture of inevitable movement of human beings. Jesus does not see people at a standstill. They are all traveling toward a certain destiny on one or the other of two ways.
No matter which of the “ways” people are traveling, they first entered through a gate. So the term “gate” seems to be figurative of the method of entrance into the “way.” Jesus has just been discussing the nature of His kingdom. Now He urges everyone to pass through the “narrow gate” into the “narrow way” that leads to life in the kingdom. But He warns that unless one is careful, he will find it easier to enter the “wide gate” onto a “broad way” that leads to destruction.
The Broad Way.
From God's word now we get an overall picture of the “wide gate” and the “broad way.” It is very plainly available and near to us all. We might say it is the natural way, and to human beings it is an inviting way. In fact, this gate is so wide that we can pass through it with almost no effort at all. This wide gate stands for the conscious choice of those who follow the way of the world with all its inducements. I say “conscious choice” because I do not believe that a man can enter into the broad way without first being aware that he has reached a gate and has chosen to go through it. God created humans with wills of their own and the ability to see the two gates and the two ways and to make their choice. Adam and Eve had their choice and when they chose to disobey God, they chose the wide gate and entered the broad way. Again I turn to Romans 1:19-21, to a passage Paul wrote, that seems to explain so many things about mankind. Paul says that all men since the creation of the world have had some knowledge of God, and because of that knowledge and their inherent ability to choose, they are without excuse, “for even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations and their foolish hart was darkened. … and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four footed animals and crawling creatures.”
The fact that they exchanged the glory of God indicates that they had been conscious of having God and that they consciously chose to trade Him for something else. That explains what Adam and Eve did and what every human being since then has done at one time or another. So when we first go through the wide gate it is not unconsciously. We choose to go through it because we have allowed ourselves to be deceived into thinking that it is the way of liberty and freedom.
The broad way is alluring at first and many who travel it scarcely realize that they are in reality captives. But Jesus said in John 8:34. “Truly, truly I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.”
There is room in the broad way for all kinds of people to walk. A man may work out his schemes, gather his material wealth, and achieve his cherished worldly ambition on this broad way. He may eat, drink, and be merry on the broad way. He can destroy his moral life and and abuse the divine image within himself and still pass on down the broad way without being checked in any way.
To look at the wide gate and the broad way, one might suppose that it leads to some magnificent palace. But No. Jesus points out it leads to destruction. “These will go away into eternal punishment,” says Jesus in Matthew 25:46. The Bible reveals the place of destruction is Hell (Gehenna) “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:48). At the end of the broad way, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 says, “The Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”
The Narrow Way.
Matthew 7:14, “For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are there who find it.” Here again, the entrance is through a gate. But this gate is a narrow one. This gate may be taken to mean our conversion to Christ, and the way beyond is the Christian life in the kingdom of heaven. This narrow gate takes a definite and decisive act to open it and enter the kingdom of heaven. One will never drift through this gate by taking the easy choice with the many. This choice is not so easy. Jesus does not try to hide that fact. Jesus said, in Matthew 16:24, “If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me.” In Matthew 10:37-39 Jesus said, “He who loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of me; and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for my sake shall find it.”
These scriptures reveal to us part of the reason this gate and this way are spoken of as being narrow. Just how does one find and enter the narrow gate? We believe that our passage through the narrow gate is our conversion to Christ. Jesus reveals that no one is converted until he has been taught. He said in John 6:44-45, “No one can come to me, unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up in the last day. It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught of God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to me.” So God draws us and teaches us. We see in Romans 1:16 that God's drawing power is the gospel (the good news of Christ), “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”
So the gospel is the power that draws us and the action we take to follow that drawing power through the gate is to believe, have faith that God will take us through the gate and put us on the narrow way. Now in this same Roman letter Paul tells us that this faith is exhibited by obedience to the commands of the gospel. Paul speaks of the “obedience of faith” and indicate that there really is no faith where obedience is not exhibited. This concept was first set forth by Jesus in this Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Faith prompts us to do the will of God, and it is the doing that gets us through the gate into he narrow way that is in the kingdom of heaven. But what we are called upon to do is so small and so little it is not meritorious to get us through the gate. It is God's grace which is given to us as a free gift that gets us through.
I said it is not much that we are called upon to do. What is it? Jesus said in Mark 16:16, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved.” The Holy Spirit of Christ, in Acts 2:38, guided Peter to say, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”
Do you see how the gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes? The first little glimmer of belief in Jesus Christ prompts one to study His word, and thus be taught. One then learns that he must repent and be baptized. If now his belief is sufficient, he will do these things. He will repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of his sins. We know that when he does these things the Lord forgives his sins, because the Lord said He would. Acts 2:41 tells us that those who received His word (that is, the word of Christ through Peter who said, Repent and be baptized) were baptized; and there were added that day about 3,000 souls. Notice that wording, “there were added that day about 3,000 souls.” A few verses down in Acts 2:47 Matthew says, “And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.”
The Lord added to the church those who were being saved. What did they do to get their sins forgiven, to be saved? They believed, repented, and were baptized.
So, going back to Jesus' word picture given in the Sermon on the Mount, the picture that previewed all this, the Lord took them through the narrow gate onto the narrow way, into the light that is in the kingdom of heaven, the church. These people spoken of in the Book of Acts didn't have to worry about whether they went through the correct narrow gate. They did not have to worry about which church to join. The Lord took them through the narrow gate into the way; the Lord added them to His church.
The gate is small but it is wide enough to accommodate all who will follow Christ. It is called narrow and small because it is only through Christ that we enter. But through Christ it becomes easy. Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my yoke is light.”
The way is also called strait, which literally means a narrow, contracted road. In this figure (of strait) it signifies a way characterized by trouble, affliction, and distress. Jesus said in John 16:33, “These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, But take courage, I have overcome the world.”
Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:12, “All who desire to live Godly in Christ will be persecuted.” So the way is called strait because it must be lived in the flesh and there is no way to escape trouble, affliction, and distress while we live in the flesh.
Now God did not arbitrarily decree that the way would be straitened (made hard), that we would be persecuted. But Jesus reveals to us the fact that it is a straitened, narrow way. And Paul tells us in Romans 8:28 that God transforms even the troubles and distresses along the way “to work together for good to those who love the Lord.”
Just look what God has done for us. First of all He has provided Jesus who is both the small gate and the narrow way. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; No one comes to the Father but through me.” Second, this God also causes all to find the gate who will seek. Jesus said in John 6:44, “No one can come to me, unless the Father who sent me draws him.” And Peter tells us in 2 Peter 3:9 that the Lord does not wish “for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
And the way, although narrow, is broad enough for us to walk beside Jesus, a privilege we cannot have in the broad way. Though the Lord's way is narrow, the Lord's sympathies and patience are not narrow. Those who travel with the Lord must allow the sympathy and patience of the Lord to work through them, thus leading as many other people as possible through the small gate into the narrow way.
Jesus came to earth and delivered this Sermon on the Mount to help men find the small gate. He said in John 12:47, “I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.” Jesus came to get us off the broad way that we often have chosen to turn down.
So we get from this picture of the two ways an insight into God's eternal plan of salvation. The figure fits all ages of God's plan, those past ages as well as these last days. All men have at one time or another chosen the broad way to destruction. But God will rescue us if we will but pay heed to Him. Today, in this age, through Jesus Christ, God has already done all that needs to be done to provide a gate and a way for our salvation. And God will draw us through the gate if we will but let Him. And once on the way, Jesus will lead us by the hand to show us how to walk to stay on the narrow way. Moreover as we walk, if we let Him, He will use us to bring others through the gate into the way. Moreover still, God has patience and He has given those of us still on the broad way, day after day and year after year in the past, chances to cease our opposition to His drawing power. Up to this very moment we still have a chance to cease our headlong plunge down the broad way. Is God not fair? He is more than fair. He is merciful. He is gracious. Why do so many insist on staying in the broad way?
So in Jesus' picture of the two ways, there is only one way of salvation and it has only one gate into it. And the Spirit of the Lord speaking later in the New Testament explains the specific actions we must take in order to be in a position from which God will add us to the one church in which lies the one way to eternal life.
The Lord's Warning.
With the picture before us of the two ways, and with the knowledge that there is only one way to life eternal, and that the way contains fleshly tribulations and distress, Jesus now gives us a timely warning. As you enter the small gate and walk along the narrow way there are going to be “false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”
First of all let's think about this picture Christ has put before us. We all know that real wolves in the natural world that God has created, have been given the nature of beasts of prey who live by attacking and eating smaller and more docile animals. Sometimes real wolves can't find enough food and they actually become ravenous to the point that individual wolves will attack other animals as large as sheep. The wolf is naturally cunning and he will use stealth and deception to get as close to the sheep as possible in order to attack them. Now this is the nature of the fleshly, worldly wolf. He was created this way. He grew up this way. He knows no other way and if he doesn't live this way he will perish. Of course, he will eventually perish anyway when he grows old and feeble and cannot attack other animals. So the wolf is compelled by his circumstances of life to prey on the sheep.
It is clear that the figure of “wolves” stand for some people of the world that are traveling on the broad way. People are not created by God purposely to be like wolves, but neither are they created purposely to walk on the broad way. They choose to walk the broad way. So also they can choose to be like wolves. People are created with fleshly bodies that are like the bodies of wolves in that they are created by God from the dust of the earth. But people are different from wolves in the kinds of spirits and souls that they have. Ecclesiastes 12:7 tells us that the spirit of man returns to God who gave it. Ecclesiastes 3:21 tells us that while the spirit of man ascends upward, the spirit of the animal descends downward to the earth. And while God provides for the souls of both men and the animals while they dwell in the body on the earth, it is only the soul of man which can be saved to go through the small gate and walk the narrow way. Animals (even wolves) are somewhat like men in that they are “of the earth, earthy,” but only men can become heavenly. (Matthew 6:26; Proverbs 1:10; 1 Corinthians 15:47-48). So Christ is warning that there are men on the broad way who will not choose to be heavenly.
But who will choose to be only of the earth, earthy like the animals. The animals have no choice. They must be that way. But man has a choice and often he chooses to be as an animal. Satan, the evil spirit, is allowed only to have influence on the earthy parts of humans. Satan, in his animal figure on the earth, “prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Satan lied to us in order to draw us onto the broad way, and tries to turn us into “ravenous wolves” seeking sheep to devour. Satan's ravenous wolves are even more cunning than natural wolves. They can actually put on other clothing and look like someone else. No wonder Jesus finds it necessary to warn His “sheep” to beware.
The warning is two fold. (1) If you choose to walk the broad way, Satan can turn you into a false prophet, who is like a ravenous wolf, but who is even more cunning spiritually than a real wolf. (2) You who have not allowed this to happen to you, but have taken the heavenly way, remember that Satan has turned many others into ravenous wolves who appear as prophets of God, to appear even as those who have been drawn onto the narrow way. And do you know another tragic thing about all this, among all the tragedies of the broad way? By the time Satan has led one to be a false prophet, that one may think himself to be a true prophet. He undoubtedly will have been led by Satan through some small gate onto a counterfeit narrow way. Just a short distance down the broad way, Satan has set up all sorts of small gates and narrow roads for one to choose from. Satan may even arrange for you to choose one which is strait and difficult and has persecutions.
When we read Matthew 7 verse 22, we see that the false prophets will prophesy in the name of Christ and will cast out demons in the name of Christ and will perform miracles in the name of Christ. They themselves may by that time think that they are genuine. In verse 21 Jesus says the false prophets and false sheep will say “Lord, Lord,” just like the true prophets and true sheep. And in verse 22 Jesus says the number of false prophets will be many.
Jesus said in Matthew 24:24-25, “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible even the elect. Behold, I have told you in advance.” Paul said in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, “For such men are false prophets, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as Apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose end should be in accordance to their deed.” Paul told the elders of the Ephesian church (in Acts 20:29-31), “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore, be on the alert.”
There are two things to guard against at the Ephesian church: (1) Guard against being one of the false prophets, and (2) Guard against being devoured by them. Learn to recognize them.
How can we mere human beings, although true sheep on the narrow way, recognize these wolves who look just like sheep, these false prophets who look like real prophets of God? Jesus said in Matthew 7:16, “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?”
Isn't it marvelous how Jesus goes from one word picture to another in the Sermon on the Mount? He went from a picture of a wolf covered by a sheep skin preying on the sheep, to a picture of grapes growing on a thorn bush and figs on a thistle! Jesus didn't see fit to write any books. His listeners were shepherds of sheep and tillers of grape vines and fig trees. But if they had any interest at all in the kingdom of heaven, they remembered the pictures of the cunning wolf among the sheep, or the ludicrous thought of grapes growing on thorn bushes and figs growing on thistles. They had had experience with rotten trees that would bear no fruit. Many of them had cut down fruitless trees and had thrown them into the fire. If they couldn't transfer the pictures in to spiritual truths right then, they could keep them in their memory and be able to make application later upon receiving further revelation from the Spirit of Jesus. How blessed these people were to hear these words directly from the mouth of Jesus. But how much more blessed are we? We have them recorded in full for every man. And not only the words of this sermon, but all of the revelation of their meaning in God's eternal plan of salvation, all written down, complete, thoroughly furnished unto every good work. (2 Timothy 3:17).
So we will know the false prophets by their fruit. Men produce all kinds of fruit. We can discern the kind of man by the kind of fruit. Jesus said in Matthew 12:33-34, “The tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers. How can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” There is a practical application that Jesus makes of his picture of a tree and its fruit. You can judge false prophets by the way they speak. Hebrews 13:15 says, “Let us constantly offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that gives thanks to His name.” And Galatians 5:22 tells us what the good things are that come from God's Holy Spirit, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” Examine their fruit in the light of that list. John the Baptist said of the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 3:7-8, “You brood of vipers. Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore, bring forth fruit in keeping with your repentance.” That suggests also how we can discern the false Prophets. If they are truly on the narrow way, they will have repented and turned away from their old sinful way. The fruits which come after repentance are “to do the will of my Father who is in heaven.” The Spirit of Jesus has filled the New Testament with truths with which we can compare men's fruits and discover the kind of “tree” they came from.
Now let us think for a while about how to keep from becoming one of those false prophets, or how to keep from becoming one of those who beg, “Lord, Lord,” as in verses 21-23 of chapter 7. The Lord answers these, “I never knew you. Depart from me you who practice lawlessness.” The way Jesus describes the words of these false prophets, they are genuinely surprised when Jesus tells them to depart. They have not been idle, lazy men. They have been doing something. They have been telling people their works have been in the name of the Lord. They have prophesied, they have cast out demons, and they have performed works of power. But Jesus says to them, “I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work lawlessness.” There is the reason their work is unacceptable. They practice lawlessness. The acts of prophesying, casting out demons, and doing works of power are not in and of themselves wicked deeds. But, although they are trying to serve the Lord, they are said to practice lawlessness. Why? One translation says “they work iniquity.” What is the meaning of “practice iniquity” or “work lawlessness?”
Iniquity is sin. Paul's Roman letter tells us that sin is transgression of God's l;aw. (Romans 3:20; 4:15; 5:13; 7:5; 7:7-9; 7:13).So these whom Jesus tells to depart from Him in the judgment are just like all who will be lost in the last great day. They are among those who have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). But wait. “All have fallen short of the glory of God,” even those who are on the narrow way and are numbered among Jesus sheep. Some who have sinned have repented and are on the road to everlasting life. Some who have not repented are turned away by the Lord in the end. They are actually on the broad way to destruction and don't realize it. What has made the difference?
Remembering the pictures Jesus gives in this sermon, perhaps they have not entered at the small gate. If they have never entered at the small gate, they are lost. Those who are saved enter at the small gate though faith in God's grace, knowing God will forgive us of our iniquity and lawlessness. When we enter at the small gate, the principle (law) of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus “ sets us “free from the principle of sin and death” that we lived under as breakers of God's law (Romans 8:2).Those who will be saved are not those who have started to try to keep the law perfectly but those who are taken out from under the system of law altogether and put under a system of grace. When we go through the small gate we change systems. So perhaps those whom Jesus said He will tell to “depart from me” are those who never really changed systems by going through the small gate.
On the other hand, they possibly could have gone through the small gate at one time but later stepped off the narrow way and slid back down into the system of sin and death. Whether or not they were ever among those who were once enlightened (Hebrews 6:4), when the day of judgment comes Jesus finds them among those who practice lawlessness. That very phrase, “practice lawlessness,” tells what is wrong in their lives. They practice in the name of the Lord as though they are under law. They work for their justification as though under law. They prophesy as though in the name of the Lord but perform their own work under law, not the Lord's own work under grace. They cast out demons saying it is in the name of the Lord, but they actually do it themselves by the power of their own souls under law, not by the power of the Holy Spirit dwelling in them. They perform miracles (or works of power) saying (perhaps even believing) that they work in the name of the Lord, but actually they perform by the power of their own human souls as vessels of Satan.
It is clear that the false prophets are among those who work, or attempt to work, the works of the law. And their wage is reckoned by what they merit (Romans 4:4). Their wages are death, the wages of sin (Romans 6:23). they fail to understand the statement of Christ's Spirit through Paul, “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness” (Romans 4:5).
The false prophets try to give God the unclean works of their own souls instead of just letting God work the perfect works of His Son through them. They fail “to do the will of my Father who is in heaven,” Jesus said. The New Testament teaches us (Romans 6) that God's will for man's doing is for him to let his old human soul-life die and be buried with Christ in the waters of baptism, and arise from baptism to let his new God-given life be a vessel for the work of Jesus' Spirit. He wants us to walk as a member of the Body of Christ along the narrow way which leads to life eternal.
Perhaps the false prophets once entered through the small gate but wanted to do their own thing instead of just being a member of Christ's Body, instead of being used along with the other members as Christ sees fit. The temptation to work that way is a potent danger to the members of the body. Satan has nothing to work with but the souls of men. If our own souls insist on working individually outside the Body of Christ, even though we proclaim our work is in the name of the Lord, we really serve Satan and we are false prophets. Christ's Spirit does His own work, and with our regenerated soul in the Body of Christ, we can be used by that Spirit. It makes the difference between forging our own way down the broad way towards destruction or being led down the narrow way to life eternal. It makes the difference between being a tree cut down and thrown in to the fire, or being a fruitful tree for the Lord. John the Baptist said in Matthew 3:10-12, “And the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown in to the fire. As for me, I baptize you in water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I , and I am not even fit to remove His sandals; He Himself will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. And His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
Jesus has pointed out the narrow way for His people to travel. And He has made it plain that any person who promotes or encourages any change in the Lord' plan will be punished. It was to guard against false prophets and false teachers that Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2-4, “Preach the word, be ready in season and out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.”
“So you will know them by their fruits,” said Jesus.
Matthew 7: 24-29.
Need For A Solid Foundation.
Now we come to the last paragraph of the Sermon on the Mount delivered directly from the mouth of the Son of God. Before this sermon, Jesus had been going about in all Galilee, teaching in the Synagogues, and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people. And great multitudes followed Him. And when He saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. And opening His mouth, He taught them. (Matthew 4:23 – 5:2).
Recognizing that man's chief concern is his quest for happiness, He began by revealing the qualities of character that produce true happiness or blessedness in the lives of individuals. Throughout the sermon He spoke to them as individuals. He spoke in such a way that there could have been no doubt in the mind of each individual listener but that he personally was being taught. And yet, behind it all was the clear understanding that every individual was to become a member of the kingdom. It was the gospel (good news) of the kingdom that Jesus was proclaiming. The good news of a fellowship of people who would act, not individually, as common, collective subjects of a King. But instead of organizing His subjects into states or groups, with governors appointed and delegated authorities as men would have Him do, He taught them that there were to be no earthly authorities but that every subject was to be poor in spirit, a mourner, meek and would even be reviled and persecuted on earth. He taught them that their reward was not to be in life on earth where the rewards of earthly kingdoms are, but to be in heaven. The only things of which they could be assured on earth, from the usual worldly standpoint of a subject of a King, was provision, on a daily basis only, of food and clothing.
So the gospel of the kingdom is a gospel to individuals, requiring individual action as a subject of a King. And that's the way Jesus spoke in the Sermon on the Mount. He covered God's eternal truths of individual citizenship. He unfolded God's marvelous and comprehensive plan of righteousness until He had laid a foundation sufficient for the needs of every individual who heard (or even now hears) the sermon, who was (or is now) willing to subject himself to the King.
Throughout the sermon, as throughout all of Jesus' teachings, He divided people into just two classes, those who chose to do God's will, and those who do not. There are those who are persecuted and those who persecute. There are those whose righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, and those who were like the scribes and Pharisees. In each of His illustrations and figures. the one right way is clear, and all other ways are wrong. There are only two masters, God and mammon. You are serving one or the other. There are only two gates and two ways. You have either gone through the small gate onto the narrow way to life, or you have gone through the wide gate and are on the broad way to destruction. You are either a good tree bearing good fruit, or you are a bad tree bearing bad fruit, in which case you will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
You are either a doer of God's will, or you are a doer of someone else's will. And although you may prophesy and cast out demons, and perform many miracles, unless you are doing the will of God, you are not a subject of the King. As we studied earlier, Jesus does not say that the difference in the two classes of people is in doing and not doing. No, the difference is in doing the will of God or in doing something that is not His will. All doers are not subjecting themselves to the King. The doer of the will of the Father is poor in spirit and meek and subdues his own will, allowing the will of the King to exert itself through Him. So we see the two divisions of people of whom Jesus constantly spoke.
Now in the closing paragraph of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus again divides men into two classes.
Read Matthew 7:24-27. Again Jesus paints word pictures that everyone can see; that are within the experience of almost everyone. Not everyone, however, discerns right away the full spiritual meaning he pictures. But everyone can see and retain the pictures in their memories and thus continue to be taught by Christ long after the sound of the words die out. So it is with this picture of two houses built upon different foundations. Even the child who has built castles of sand on the beach knows what happens when one builds on a sand foundation. Sand does not provide a stable foundation. It shifts constantly, especially when a wave washes over it. The characteristics of sand were known even centuries before Christ lived in the flesh. No wise men ever tried to build permanent structures upon sand foundations. To the contrary, wise men knew that even dry sand flows like water and had used that principle to move huge stones to build the pyramids.
On the other hand, foolish men even today, sometimes fail to place their buildings upon solid rock foundations and we hear of buildings collapsing in floods when the foundations are washed away.
The very use of such word pictures as these divided the seekers for truth from those who had convinced themselves that they had no need for further truth. To the lovers of truth this picture of two builders and their houses built upon different foundations was remembered to flash upon that inward eye and teach them continuously throughout their days. But I can imagine how the Pharisees scoffed at His words (Luke 16:14). “The Sermon on the Mount,” the Pharisees might have said, “was an altogether disjointed, immature, and meaningless thing. Jesus skipped around wildly talking about gates and roads, then sheep and wolves, then fruit trees. He then ended up with the most common of truths as if we were ignorant children. He insulted our intelligence. Can you imagine! He told us we ought to build our houses on solid foundations or they might fall down.” Thus we see how Jesus' Sermon on the Mount serves either to illuminate our lives or it serves as a stumbling block.
What are some of the eternal truths that we can learn from Jesus' story of the two builders?
(1) We are all builders. During our earthly lives we are figuratively building houses. God gives us all some material with which to start building our lives on earth, and we all build something whether we want to acknowledge that fact or not. The contrast of the story is not building or not building, We are all building something. The contrast is in how we build.
(2) We are each one either a wise builder or a foolish builder. There are only the two classes, the wise and the foolish, and the class to which we belong depends upon how we use what God has given us with which to build our lives.
(3 ) At the very beginning of the building the wise man is distinguished from the foolish man by the type of foundation upon which he builds. Our lives can be founded upon the solid rock of God's eternal truth as revealed in this sermon, or they can be founded upon the sands of men's so-called truths. Our lives can be founded upon doing the will of God, or upon doing our own will. We all have the choice of foundations.
(4) We are all building lives for eternity although we may reject that thought and refuse to even consider eternity. But the human soul and the human spirit do not die with the body. They are preserved for everlasting life or destruction. And even the body, when it dies, is but asleep. It too is preserved to be changed for everlasting life or for destruction. That is why we are so foolish if we do not build our lives on the foundation that lasts for eternity. Many builders know on what kind of a foundation they are building. Many who build on sand have convinced themselves that they are building only for his earthly life, or they have been defrauded by evil building contractors (false prophets).
(5) All the foundations will be tested. This is inevitable. “It is appointed for men to die once, and after this comes the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). “So then each one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12). So, ultimately all foundations will be tested in the judgment. But actually our houses will have trouble long before the judgment if we have tried to build upon the sand.
Even before the judgment, in this life, the foundations of our lives will be tested. We live in the world where the evil one, Satan, has power (John 17:15). He continually tests our foundations, and if they are the least bit shaky, he tries to tumble our house then and there. Paul says that temptations are common to man. If you have built your life on the solid foundation, “God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able; but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13). If you are building on the solid foundation, you can “consider it all joy … when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3). But if one is building on the sand “he is carried away and enticed by his own list. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death (James 1: 14-15).
(6) The solid foundation is Jesus Christ Himself, the One who delivered this sermon. “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). No man can lay any other foundation for life which will be solid and able to stand the trials. There are plenty of other foundations that man can and does lay and proceed to build upon. But all these foundations are classified by Jesus as sand foundations. And the builders who build upon them are called foolish. Jesus Christ, the one and only firm foundation for eternal life, has once and for all been laid and is available for each to build upon.
So the Sermon on he Mount ends, not with words of consolation, but the tragedy of the fall of the house on the sand, a warning to men individually. “And everyone who hears these words of mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. And the rain descended and then floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house, and it fell, and great was its fall.”
What is the Kingdom of Heaven?
Jesus and John the Baptist preached the same thing before Jesus' death. John preached, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2). When Jesus began to preach, He also said, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17). In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus makes reference to the coming kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20; 7:21). He tells them to seek “His kingdom,” that is, God's kingdom (Matthew 6:33), thereby seeming to equate the “kingdom of heaven” to God's kingdom. But it is clear by the language of the sermon that the kingdom of heaven or God's kingdom, had not come as yet, and that none of them had entered it yet. Jesus prayed in the model prayer that His Father's kingdom might come. (Matthew 6:10).
Some Final Questions.
What is this kingdom of heaven? Did it come during the history covered by the Bible? Has it come yet? Is it called in the Bible anything else other than the kingdom of heaven, or God's kingdom?