Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Great Surpr
Surprising Wisdom
This is the sixth and last installment in this series.
Matthew 7:13-29

The Message of the Sermon on the Mount
Surprising Wisdom
I love Indiana Jones movies.  In “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, there’s a great scene.  In case you haven't seen the movie in a while, there's this bad guy, and he follows Indy (Harrison Ford) into a hidden room full of ancient goblets.  Inside the room are many gorgeous, solid gold, gem-encrusted chalices that are fit for a king.  The story goes that whoever drinks from the cup of Christ (the Holy Grail) will supposedly have immortality.  Whoever chooses the wrong cup will suffer immediate death.  But which one is it?  The bad guy chooses the most beautiful of all the goblets, thinking it surely must be the one.  He drinks deeply.  It's obvious that his choice is a bad one because moments later the flesh melts from his skeleton and then his head implodes.  (This is all very cool.)  It's at this point that the ancient knight protecting the Holy Grail delivers his classic line, "He chose poorly." (See

Choosing well                             That’s the essence of wisdom.

And now we come to the end of the Sermon on the Mount, this message of many surprises.  We have seen…

·                     Surprising Blessings (Matthew 5:1-12).  That’s those wonderful beatitudes, which invite people to come to the God who welcomes the unlikely.
·                     Surprising Righteousness (Matthew 5:13-20).  Where we found out that real righteousness is being salt and light, which far outshines the so-called righteousness of the Pharisees.

·             Surprising Contrasts (Matthew 5:21-48).  Where we saw how Jesus goes to the heart, and that He truly and deeply changes lives. 
·                     Surprising Deeds (Matthew 6:1-18).  This is where Jesus clarifies how to give, pray and fast, not to be seen on earth, but to be seen by heaven.
·                     Surprising Supply (Matthew 6:19-34).  And then He speaks to us about how God will see that we get what we truly need—our treasure, trust and trajectory of life.
·                     Surprising Living (Matthew 7:1-12) Last week, we saw Jesus address three key relationships—with fellow-believers, adversaries and with the Lord Himself.
·                     Surprising Wisdom (Matthew 7:13-27).  That’s today.  And now the question is ours:  
Will we choose poorly, or wisely?

There is nothing conventional or predictable about Jesus and His teaching.  We often misunderstand Him because we think we have Him figured out.  But if He is who the New Testament says He is, that is God in the flesh, would we find it so amazing that there are times when God confounds us?  As someone who has studied the Gospels for forty years, I can tell you that there are many things there that I understand better than I used to, but there are times that Jesus totally astounds me.  There are times when I just don’t see how it all fits together, how flap A fits into slot B, and it just proves to me that I’m just a pretty small human being and He’s so beyond me.

That was much the same reaction of the people who were there that day.  Look at Matthew 7:28-29:

28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

While Jesus honored the Old Testament, He spoke with every word as authoritative as that of the written Scripture.  The crowds were amazed at His authority and His wisdom.

Now, wisdom has to do with choices.  Knowledge has to do with information; wisdom takes that information and makes choices.

Here at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus emphasizes that all His hearers have a choice to make.  We have to exercise wisdom in that choice.  He presents that choice in stark terms: yes or no, A or B, right or left, with no middle ground.  We have decisions to make based on what we have heard from Jesus here in the Sermon.  Are you in, or out?   
It’s time to decide.

13-23 Concluding Warnings

So here, at the end of the Sermon, Jesus gives a series of warnings, a series of inter-connected choices we must make:
     Be careful what path you choose!
·         Be careful who you listen to!
·         Be careful how you see yourself!
·         Be careful how you build your life! 

First, be careful what path you choose…

First Warning: Enter the Narrow Gate, Walk the Narrow Road (13-14)

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. 

There is something sad in these words.  Don’t you wish that all was good with the world, and that most people would live the right way, love God and do good to others?  But Jesus says that most don’t.  The gate is narrow, and so it the road that leads to life—few find it.
It isn’t because the gate is hidden; it’s because we’re willfully blind.  There is something radically wrong with us.  By instinct, animals do what is for their benefit, but not us human beings.  There is something twisted in us.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that there are parallels between the Sermon on the Mount and the giving of the law to Moses.  Near the end of Moses’ life, he also told the people of Israel that they have to make a choice (Deuteronomy 30:15, 19):

15 See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction…
19 This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.

And Jesus is setting the same choice before us, in different words.  Choose wisely.  Good choice—the Godward choice—is the life-ward choice.

Can you think of a better choice, a more important choice, than to heed the words of Jesus and to follow Him?  I can’t.  We can urge people to make good decisions about their money or their education or their relationships, and some choices are sure better than others, but no choice in life is more important than the choice to go through the narrow gate and walk on the narrow road.  It’s the good life choice, and it’s a choice that blesses your eternity as well as your life.

Further, after the decision to enter the narrow gate, there is no choice more important that the one to stay on the narrow road.  You choose, in the past, to follow Jesus, and that’s good; but what about today?  Are you daily taking up your cross and following Him?  Are you becoming more like Jesus in your character, and discovering more of the will of God for your life?  Are you engaged in God-honoring ministry?  Are you sharing your faith?  Folks, we don’t just go through a gate, we walk on the road.  That’s the road that leads to life.  Be careful what path you choose.   

Next, He says, “Be careful who you listen to.” 

Second Warning: Beware of False Prophets (15-20)

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Wolves in sheep’s clothing: that phrase was born here, in Jesus’ words.  Jesus does not buy the line that all faiths teach the same thing.  He affirms that what you believe is all important.  He boldly says that there are false prophets out there who really want to deceive you, but they will show themselves, eventually, by their “fruit.”  Fruit here means, “their natural output” in terms of both their character and their teaching.  All throughout the Bible we have the analogy of fruit, and in passages like John 15 and Galatians 5, fruit stands for Christ-like character, but here “fruit” seems to be broader than that—the total output of a person’s life.  Look at what they produce.  Good trees will produce good fruit; bad trees produce bad fruit. 

Let me give you a quick example of this.  When Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code burst on the scene in 2003, I had people tell me to my face that now that the secrets were out about Jesus that the whole Christian faith would be gone soon!  This despite the fact that everyone—I mean everyone who knows anything about the Bible and Church history slammed the book as sheer nonsense.  Even horror writer Stephen King called it the "intellectual equivalent of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.”  (Which I think is an insult to mac and cheese!)

What I found really interesting were the believers who came to me right after it was published asking sheepish questions along the lines of, “Uh, I hate to ask, but, uh, do we have anyway of disproving this stuff?”  They were always surprised—and a little relived—that there was so much ammunition against it. 

But consider the fruit of the Da Vinci code.  Even in the book, the so-called secrets were used to justify shocking immorality.  By their fruit you will know them!
So, be careful of the life path you chose and be careful who you listen to.  Next,
Be careful how you see yourself. 

Third Warning: Beware of Being a False Follower (21-23)

This may be the most telling warning we have here.  I don’t know about you, but my capacity for self-deception is almost boundless.  I can convince myself of almost anything.  It’s only by constant exposure to the word of God that the Spirit of God corrects me and shows me by foolishness. 

The single most dangerous form of self-deception is this one: that we are part of the people of God—that we are saved—when we’re not. 

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

Two quick notes: the reference to prophecy in v. 22 links what’s said here to the reference to false prophets in v. 15.  Also, “that day” in v. 22 is a reference to the “last day,” the Day of Judgment, or the day of the Lord (“Yom-Yahweh” in Hebrew). 

What Jesus is addressing here is the possibility that there will be those who have convinced themselves that they are part of the redeemed when they are not.  Jesus even says that it is possible for to prophesy in the name of Jesus, even drive out demons and do miracles in His name, and He can still say of them, “I never knew you.”  How can this be?

It is possible to be in close association with the things of God and not know God.  Take Judas Iscariot, who was sent out with the other disciples to evangelize, and in the process we’re told that the kind of miracles Jesus talks about here happened.

More to the point for us is this: there are church people who don’t know God, but who think they do.  This, by the way, was a major theme in Puritan preaching.  A lot of preaching was directed to church members, urging them to examine themselves on whether they really know God, whether they really are saved.  I think sometimes we rush too fast to assure someone of their salvation when they are questioning it.  You can hang out in a garage, but that doesn’t make you a mechanic; you can hang out at church, but that doesn’t make you a real, transformed, born-again follower of Jesus.

Right now, some of you are questioning your own salvation, maybe for the first time in a long time.  Some of you are wrong.  You do know Jesus.  You are redeemed.  But some of you may be right to question your salvation. 

You know what I’ve found?  People understand the Good News a whole lot better once they’ve really understood what the bad news is.  The goodness of Jesus the Savior is so much clearer when you really wrap you head and heart around the idea that apart from God, all our so-called righteousness is like filthy rags.  I mean just pulled out of the septic tank filthy.  The bright light of God’s holiness is so bright that we can’t even glance in His direction.  In our nature, we are far, far, far from God.  When this reality really gets you, and you see yourself as so far from Him, and understand that you are sin-infested right down to your DNA, then, then, the Good News of a bleeding Savior on a cross becomes infinitely sweet and wonderful. And sometimes it is the lack of seeing how terrible sin is and how great God’s grace is that creates the church-going lost person. 

So, be careful how you see yourself. Beware of being a false follower.            

Fourth warning: Be careful how you build your life (24-29)

OK, this is the very end of the Sermon on the Mount, and it’s not like Jesus to finish without a flourish.  He’s referring to the whole message when He says this:

24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

It’s a simple and memorable picture: a house on sand may be easy to build, but any good storm will knock it down.  A house on rock is harder to build, but it will stand.  So be careful how you build your life.  If you build them on Jesus’ words, your life and even your eternity will stand.  If you don’t, it won’t. 

One thing that’s striking here is the sheer audacity of Jesus.  Everything depends on how we respond to “these words of mine.” He could have said that it’s how we respond to the Scripture (there are similar warnings in Proverbs and in Isaiah[1]), but He is bold and says, “It’s all how you respond to Me.  It’s all in how you respond to My words.”  You want life, real life?  It’s all in how you respond to Me.  You want blessing?  It’s all in how you respond to Me.  You want to live forever with God?  It’s all in how you respond to Me. 

He’s not recommending His teaching as a good idea; He’s saying something far bolder and sweeping than anything any Old Testament prophet ever said.  Everything hinges on what you do with His words—even more so—what you do with Jesus Himself.   

I read it before, but look at v. 28-29 again:

Postscript: the Reaction of the Crowds (28-29)

28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

I think that day was a great turning point in their lives.  Both the Man they encountered, and the teaching they heard, was unlike anything they’d ever heard before.

There’s an old hymn with great words:

I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene
And I wonder how He could love me,
A sinner condemned, unclean.

When you linger near the words of Jesus, He always surprises.  To tell you the truth, the words of Jesus always frighten me just a little.  I feel like I’m Doc Brown in Back to the Future holding the cable on the city hall clock tower as the lightening goes through!  So much power!

Michael Miller is a member of Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena, California.  He writes:

“At the age of twenty-three, I was a drug addict. In 1982, for the fourth year in a row, my New Year's resolution was to get off drugs. That year my commitment to abstinence lasted less than two days. I had started experimenting with marijuana six years earlier, and I quickly went on to more potent, even life-threatening, drugs. I tried it all—LSD, hashish, pills, PCP and other drugs that fry the brain.

“For a long time I was blind to the mood-altering effect the drugs had on me. I went through many girlfriends, even having several at the same time. Still, I became paranoid when I suspected any of them of two-timing me. If I even thought that one of them was involved with another guy, I would fly into a jealous rage. I was becoming a monster.

“By the time I was twenty, I needed more and more money to support my drug habit. Somehow, I was able to land a job at a large bank. Even when I was high, I functioned well enough to hold on to my job, so I regularly got loaded on breaks and during lunch hour. But as I got to know the people I worked with, I noticed that without the need for drugs, they seemed so free, so peaceful, and so normal that I wanted to be like them. Yet I couldn't. Maybe it was too late.

“Then one day a friend invited me to a series of free rock concerts at some church. At the first two, I went out to the parking lot to get high during intermission and before I went home. At the third concert I was able to listen to a few of the songs and hear what the pastor said. Certain words stuck, but there was one sentence that pounded in my head: Jesus will change you from the inside out. That's what the pastor kept saying to us. Was that possible? Could I really change and actually become like my friends at work?

“Right at that moment, I felt the lightest touch of a gentle hand over my heart. I looked to my right and left and even turned around, but there was no one near me. Who had touched me?

“When the pastor invited people to stay after, I responded. As I followed the people who wanted to talk with me about God, I was very much on guard. But I quickly realized that there was nothing to fear. They were sincere, kind people who never asked me for money or tried to force anything down my throat or draw me into their church. They even told me to find a church that I was comfortable with and to read the Bible to find out about Jesus for myself. Then someone prayed with me. I was scared, but I knew that submitting my whole life to Jesus was the right thing to do.

“That's when the miracle happened. Right there, Jesus made Himself real to me and removed my drug addiction. That was the night I met God. I went home a new person, healed of a habit that had controlled every day of my life for six years. In answer to one heartfelt prayer, God just took it away.”

That’s Jesus.  No one else is like Him.  No one.

[1] See Proverbs 10:25; 14:11; Isaiah 28:16-17.

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