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The Sermon on the Mount (5)

J Gibson, Derby

(Mt 5.1-7.29; Mk 3.13-19; Lk 6.12-49)

True righteousness (Mt 5.20-7.5)

Example 8: Generous attitude (Mt 7.1-5; Lk 6.37-42)

How we judge and measure others influences how we ourselves are judged and measured. If we forgive others, they will forgive us (Lk 6.37). If we are generous, "good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into [our] bosom" (Lk 6.38). But if we harbour a critical spirit, which detects the tiniest faults in others, while failing to see our own enormous flaws, we will be judged more severely. Such hypocrisy is comparable to offering to "pull out the mote [karphos, 'a small, dry stalk, a twig'¹] out" of your brother's eye while "a beam [dokos, piece of timber] is in thine own eye" (Mt 7.4). Of course, we can only effectively address the failings of others after we have sorted out our own gigantic faults. As the Lord Jesus asked, "Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?" (Lk 6.39) While this teaching probably referred primarily to the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees who despised the publicans and sinners, the concept is highly relevant for Christians, who are exhorted to "esteem other better than themselves" (Phil 2.3). When it comes to generosity, and a gracious disposition to others, Christ's disciples will never better Him; they can but endeavour to be like Him (Lk 6.40).

Although Christ's disciples must not be hypercritical, they are expected to be sharply discerning, only sharing precious truths with people who will appreciate them (Mt 7.6). Just as dogs have no appreciation of holy things and unclean swine have no sense of the monetary value of pearls, but would "trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you", the ungodly have no appetite for divine truth. Sharing such truths with the ungodly will only lead to personal injury. As Solomon wrote, "Speak not in the ears of a fool: for he will despise the wisdom of thy words" (Pr 23.9). The Lord Jesus went on to assure His disciples that if they prayed with determination – ask, seek and knock are all in the present tense – their prayers would be answered. After all, if human beings, who are inherently evil, have a tender care for their children, "how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him" (Mt 7.7-11). Before rounding up and completing His discourse, the Saviour summarised everything He had said so far with the words, "all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them" (Mt 7.12; Lk 6.31).

Strive to enter the Kingdom (Mt 7.13-14)

"The Old Testament concept of eternal life was an endless life on earth. Even resurrected saints hoped for an earthly eternal life (Gen 13.15; 49.29; 50.24-25; Deut 30.15, 19-20; Job 19.25; Prov 11.31; Is 65.17; Dan 11.45-12.3; Heb 11.9-16, 22, 39-40). When therefore the king spoke of the way which led to life, the audience would immediately think of the everlasting life which would be characteristic of the Kingdom age."² Access into that Kingdom will come at such a heavy personal cost that few will choose it. The gate, which depicts entry into the coming Kingdom, is described as "strait," which translates the Greek word stenos, meaning a narrowing. Such language emphasizes the strenuous effort and self-denial associated with entering the Kingdom. The way in is also described as "narrow," which translates thilbo, meaning to suffer affliction. The full impact of these words will be seen in the unprecedented persecution of believers during the tribulation. But the price paid, in personal suffering and loss, will be worth it. The only alternative to entering the Kingdom is eternal destruction in hell.

Beware of false prophets (Mt 7.15-20; Lk 6.43-35)

The potential for false prophets to arise – who would use miracles to entice the people into idolatry – was held out as a genuine threat in Israel (Deut 13.1-5). The equivalent danger within the church is that of false teachers, "who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them" (2 Pet 2.1). During the future tribulation "many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many" (Mt 24.11). Their subtlety adds to their danger. Just as "Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light" (2 Cor 11.14), these false prophets "come to you in sheep's clothing [feigning innocence and vulnerability], but inwardly they are ravening wolves", determined to destroy (Mt 7.15). The quality of a fruit-bearing tree is not measured by its appearance, but by the quality of its fruit. Similarly, it is by carefully scrutinizing the lives and words of these false prophets that their falsehood can be detected. This is because a man's words reveal the condition of his heart, and like "a corrupt tree [a false prophet] bringeth forth evil fruit" (v.17). Reassuringly, just as "every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire" (v.19), God will punish these wicked men.

Judgment precedes the Kingdom (Mt 7.21-23; Lk 6.46)

In all dispensations, the cast iron test for genuine conversion is a heartfelt desire to please God. A verbal confession that Jesus is Lord – without heart belief – is insufficient (Rom 10.9). Prophesying, exorcising demons and even working miracles in Christ's Name – while disobeying the Father's will – are all counted as iniquitous. "In that day" (v.22) "is almost a technical term for the Messianic age (Is 2.11,17; 4.2; 10.20; Jer 49.22; Zech 14.6.13,20,21)".³ In a definitive judgment just preceding the establishment of the Kingdom, Christ will separate the true from the false, the wheat from tares, the sheep from goats, preventing anyone who has falsely associated themselves with His name from entering the Kingdom (v.23).

The wise and the foolish builders (Mt 7.24-27; Lk 6.47-49)

The Lord's closing analogy of two builders re-emphasized that conversion evidences itself by obedience. And such obedience, like the rock solid foundation of a house, gives enduring stability. The foundations of a house are unseen. So too, when confronted with religious people who profess to love Christ, it is difficult to tell the true from the false. But severe testing, as will be seen in the tribulation, will cause many to "be offended…And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold" (Mt 24.10,12). The wise builder represents a true believer who, having built his life on obedience to Christ, will endure till the end. The foolish builder represents a false professor who, despite an outward show of religion, is un-submissive to Christ. He will either fall away because of adversity, or will fail at the final hurdle of Christ's righteous judgment at the beginning of the Kingdom.

"When Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. When he was come down from the mountain, great multitudes followed him" (Mt 7.28-8.1). Thus, His popularity continued for a time, even though most in the crowd would eventually reject Him.

Having appointed twelve apostles to join Him in announcing the coming Kingdom and outlined the qualities of those who will enter it, the King warned His audience of the possibility of never entering the Kingdom. Since Israel went on to disown Christ, a further offer of the Kingdom is required. This offer will take place in the future tribulation, when the Messianic Kingdom will once again be imminent. It is then that the Sermon on the Mount will most forcibly apply, even though it remains deeply challenging for Christians today.

Concluded.

¹ Vine, W E. Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.

² Toussaint S D. Behold the King. A Study of Matthew.

³ Toussaint S D. Behold the King. A Study of Matthew.

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