What it Takes to Ask: The Sermon on the Mount

Over the past few weeks I’ve been focusing on the wisdom of Jesus in sermons. Biblically  wisdom is more than simple knowledge of facts that would enable one to win at Trivial Pursuit or even just give intriguing talks like king Solomon. Wisdom, biblically, includes discernment between good and evil with a  view towards the appropriate course of action and godly living, the combination of knowledge and practice.

Although the wisdom of Jesus can be found all throughout the Gospels, and the rest of the Bible as far as that goes since he is the eternal Divine Word, the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is one of the most succinct summaries of Jesus’ wisdom teaching, which “astonished” the crowds (7:28-29).

To sum up his famous sermon, Jesus employs a parable of two different men, one wise, one foolish. Biblically, the fool is not someone who necessarily lacks knowledge, but one who fails to take the right course of action, what Jesus called the narrow way (7:13-14). In Jesus parable the wise man build his house on the rock, a solid foundation; the fool, on the other hand, builds on the shifting sands. The difference between the two is the wise one hears the words of Jesus and does them, the foolish man hears but does NOT do them. The later builds a life that cannot withstand the wind and waves of the coming judgment, whereas, the wise man will come through the judgment fine because of his solid foundation.

The words Jesus is referring to, most specifically in this context are the message he began to teach at the beginning of chapter 5, the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. The wind and the flood waves represent the final judgment, with entrance into the consummated kingdom of heaven at stake, not just the loss of extra rewards. This is made clear by the context of the immediately preceding warning about how to know true from false prophets and the warning that not everyone who professes Jesus to be Lord will enter into the kingdom (7:15-23). In fact some will be turned away as “workers of lawlessness”in spite of their claims to have exercised mighty gifts in the name of Jesus. But Jesus said you will know them by their fruits, meaning obedience to his commandments, not by powerful gifts, which could just be lying signs and wonders (see Matthew 24:24; cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).

Also, it is likely that the winds and waves standing for final judgment has in view the flood of Noah’s day (Genesis 6-8), which Jesus would later use as an analogy for the final judgment yet to come (see Matthew 24:36-51).

Nevertheless, this little parable about the different building projects stands as the conclusion to the Sermon on the Mount, whose teachings make up the word of Jesus that the wise are to do. The significance of this is highlighted by the fact that He says, it is those who do the will of His Father in heaven who will enter into the kingdom of heaven (7:21).

A stroll through the Sermon on the Mount reveals what followers of Jesus are in terms of character, and how they should live as a result. The stroll doesn’t go on too long before you realize just how stringent the demands and expectations of Jesus are for his followers. Indeed the righteousness that Jesus demands of his followers surpasses that of some of the most devout religious people in his day, scribes and Pharisees, also a requirement for entering into the kingdom of heaven (see 5:17-20). Jesus didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it, and see it fulfilled in the lives and lifestyles of his followers (cf. Romans 8:1-11, especially noting v. 4).

His followers will be those who are poor in spirit, meaning humble. They are those who mourn, over the sin and brokenness in the world, including in them. They are meek to the word of God rather than the wisdom of the world as they hunger and thirst for righteousness rather than madly craving that which gratifies the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes. They are merciful and pure in heart, not driven by self-promotion and self-gratification. They are peacemakers, reconciled to God and neighbor. Persecution and slander do not deter them from the narrow path because their eyes are fixed on the eternal prize. They are salt and light for whose sake the earth is preserved and whose good works reveal to the nations the light of the one true God.

They are filled with love, compassion, and forgiveness, not hate, contempt, and condemnation. They are sexually chaste, in thought and action, in singleness and marriage as they radically mortify anything that tempts them to sin. In marriage they commit to God’s design for one man and one woman for life, as long as they both shall live, not as long as they feel like, or not just as long as no one “better” comes along (cf. Matthew 19). Their honesty lacks no integrity; special oaths are never required as they make no concessions to the idea that sometimes one must lie to get by. They are not people of personal vengeance; neither do they love only those who love them; they love friends and enemies alike and pray for the forgiveness of their persecutors. Indeed they are “perfect” as their “heavenly Father is perfect.”

They give to the needy, and pray and fast not to be seen and praised by peers, but to be secretly rewarded by God. Neither do they live for greed; rather they live to serve God because they pray for His will to be done not their own. They do not live for material wealth or worldly comforts of any kind; instead they seek God’s glory and kingdom and righteousness, not their own comfort and convenience. They judge others rightly and humbly not hypocritically and self-righteously in order to restore never to condone sin or to condemn sinners. And they are judicious and cautious with the sacred things of God.

The level of righteousness that Jesus demands can easily leave one wondering, “who then can be saved?” as His own disciples were once left wondering (Matthew 19:16-26). Truly it is humanly impossible, but thank God, “with God all things are possible.” The inner dispositions and the outward behaviors, all of them, that Jesus demands of his followers are impossible. No one can live up to those standards; no one can be or live that way on his or her own in this fallen world. So what are we to do?

Earlier this week I went to the funeral of my mother’s sister-in-law’s sister. At the funeral my aunt’s son-in-law, who was a member of the same church as the deceased, helped lead the service. He shared his testimony, how he came to know the Lord. He said, for years he ran from the Lord and avoided church. In his early 20’s he pulled a tiny Gideon’s Bible from the sock drawer where he had tossed it years before when he brought it home from school. He had never even cracked it open until that day. He said, he began reading in Matthew and it wasn’t long before he was feeling incredibly convicted, guilty, and quite hopeless because he realized that he did not have any of those things that Jesus was talking about, an he certainly wasn’t living like Jesus said he should be living. As Tim talked about how he was feeling I knew he was probably in the vicinity of Matthew 5, 6, and 7. I had been preaching about these very things for the past couple of weeks. He felt totally helpless under the weight of conviction that Jesus’ sermon had put him under. He was left wondering, “How could I possibly be saved?” “What can I do?”

Then he read these words:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11 ESV)

God gives what God demands! The “good things” Jesus is referring to here are the qualities and dispositions that make up the character of his true disciples who do the will of God from the heart with pure, kingdom seeking rather than self-seeking, motives.

The good life cannot be bought in a store or found in worldly acclaim and prestige. Neither can it be found in how well you eat and what you wear, not in delectable delights or in fashionable fashions in clothing or housing. The good life that Jesus is talking about comes from a good heart with all the wonderful motives and dispositions that only God the Father can give. And all we have to do is ask!

But that’s easier said than done. Because we will not ask if we don’t think we need it. We will not ask if we don’t really believe it’s possible. We will not ask if we don’t really believe Jesus is telling the truth, if we believe He is actually a liar or a lunatic rather than the Lord. In other words, we won’t beg and plead with God until we come to see that we are just poor, miserable, helpless and hopeless (in terms of self-sufficiency) beggars. But that’s what it takes to ask.

If we do ask, however, we will receive; if we will humbly seek, we shall find; if we do knock, God will open the door to the storehouse of heaven’s good things, starting with forgiveness, new birth, His righteousness, and the Holy Spirit and ending with the kingdom of God in the New Heaven and Earth.

 

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