Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:21-23

Matthew 7:21-23
Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter into the kingdom of heaven — only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day, many will say to me, Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds? 23 Then I will declare to them, I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

Last-minute protests

One of the biggest problems that employers face at this time is resume inflation. Take George O’Leary for example. He was hired to be Notre Dame’s football coach, but he was dismissed twelve days later when officials discovered his resume contained false claims about a certain college degree and about having played college football.

Nobody will enter the kingdom of heaven with an inflated resume. But many will try.

As we begin this section, keep in mind R. T. Frances idea that the people Jesus describes here are people who consider themselves insiders (true disciples) but who are not. This is a troubling category for some Christians to think about, so we will dive right in.

The phrase on that day (7:22) places this outcry ‘Lord, Lord (7:21) on the day of judgment, which is part of the longer period known as the Day of the Lord (see Joel 1:15; Isa. 10:20; Zech. 12-14).

R. T. France explains that Jesus now presents himself as the one who decides who does and does not enter the kingdom of heaven, and even more remarkably the basis for that entry is a person’s relationship with him, whether or not he knew them.[1] This is a powerful affirmation of the idea that Christianity is about a personal relationship to Jesus rather than belonging to a church or even having been baptized.

As Christians we are accustomed to think of Jesus as Lord. But in the ears of those who first heard Jesus say these words, learning that on the day of judgment many would say to me, Lord, Lord (7:22) would have been a shocking claim of authority and power. Jesus asserts that he not only has the authority to admit people into the kingdom of heaven, but also the authority to send others “away from me” (7:23). Life in the kingdom will be life with Jesus; those excluded from him from that assembly of lawbreakers we call hell.

Jesus is not saying that there is anything wrong with prophesying, casting out evil spirits, or performing miracles in his name (7:22). He is saying that none of those activities can replace knowing him and being known by him.

It is important to make a stronger connection between having a relationship to Jesus and doing the will of my Father in heaven (7:21). In the Gospel of John, Jesus said: The person who has my commandments and obeys them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and will reveal myself to him. (John 14:21).

Perhaps it is helpful to say that having a relationship with Jesus does not mean it is an equal relationship. The fact that he is both Lord and God to us means that he has legitimate expectations of us that do not conflict with the fact that he loves us. His love for us is not based on our works, but our love for him is expressed, in part, by our works.

Those who have put their faith in Jesus can rest confidently in his words: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14).

Safety for those who know Jesus

Jesus’ words were not designed to dishearten those who love him. They were meant as a warning to the sort of fast-talking con artists who make their way through life manipulating others. That will not work when Jesus judges all people.

To his own, Jesus said: “My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand.” (John 10:27-28).

Jesus gave his life to make a way to include you in the kingdom, not exclude you. Put your faith in him and rest in his hand.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 294.


Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:15-20

Matthew 7:15-20

Watch out for false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are voracious wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruit. Grapes are not gathered from thorns or figs from thistles, are they? 17 In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree is not able to bear bad fruit, nor a bad tree to bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So then, you will recognize them by their fruit.
(NET Bible)

Trusted liars

Many members of the Palm Beach Country Club had to lobby to get Bernard Madoff to take their money for investment. His marketing strategy was to play hard to get. That worked really well along with the bogus profit statements received by those members he had already taken as clients.

Unfortunately, the only information the clients saw was paper reports from Madoff. They never tried to inspect their own stock certificates or visit the accounting office. Since there were no real stock purchases, there were no stock certificates and no need for an accounting office!

A man selling false profits is one thing, but false claims about knowing God are even worse.

As we begin this section, keep in mind R.T. Frances insight that these false prophets (7:15) are outsiders (i.e. unbelievers) pretending to be insiders. Once again, Jesus gives just one command —watch out for false prophets (7:15a) — followed by an explanation (7:15b-20).

Since prophets are not part of our landscape, the idea of false prophets is a bit elusive. In Matthews Gospel (24:11 and 24:24), false prophets mislead or deceive even true disciples. Luke 6:26 tells us that false prophets are likely to be widely praised. Peter said the false prophets would introduce destructive heresies, even to the point of denying the Master who bought them (2 Pet. 2:1).

From these references, it seems reasonable to assume that false prophets taught misleading theology, heresies, and even denied important things about Jesus. John heard Jesus words, and he warned us to test for false prophets by careful examination (1 John 4:1).

Using metaphorical language, Jesus warns that the false prophets are actually predators (voracious wolves, 7:15) disguised as prey (sheep). Then he offers a way to detect these pretenders. In doing so, Jesus switches metaphors to that of fruit-bearing plants and their fruit.

R.T. France tells us that the basic principle of the fruits-test is that trees produce only the kind of fruit which reflects their basic character, good or bad[1] (7:17-18). R.T. France[2] adds that the fruit Jesus wants is the life and loyalty that God expects of his people; this is the righteousness Jesus has been describing, even though the word is not used.

Evaluating fruitfulness requires the restrained but necessary judgment that Jesus described in 7:1-6. Jesus used this standard of fruitfulness when he condemned the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:1-36. There Jesus exhorts the people to obey what the Pharisees and scribes taught from Moses — meaning the Law — but not to imitate them because they did not practice what they taught (23:3)!

What happens to the trees that do not produce good fruit? Jesus says they are thrown into the fire (7:19). That is the ultimate fate of outsiders pretending to be insiders.

Those who have put their faith in Jesus Christ will not fail the test of fruitfulness. After explaining how God saved us by his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:7), Paul explains that we have been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand that we may do them (Eph. 2:10). The Holy Spirit enables us to do all that God wants.

The real thing

The truth is that over a period of time it is not that difficult to see the Holy Spirit at work in someones life. You will see or learn about acts of kindness, sacrificial service, and devotion to building up the church. Words are harder to weigh than deeds, but we always have the Bible to provide the truth against which teaching can be tested.

Remember Jesus warning! Not all allegedly-Christian teaching is true to Gods Word, even when you see it on the Internet, hear it on the radio or read it in a book. To evaluate a prophet, you need to see their life.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 290.

[2] France, Matthew, 291.


Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 7:13-14

Matthew 7:13-14

Enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. 14 But the gate is narrow and the way is difficult that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
(NET Bible)

The lure of the easy life

When I was in school, some people liked the easy way, so they cheated. Can you guess how much they learned? Jesus offers to all a choice of the easy way or the hard. What will each of us choose, and why?

Jesus concluded his description of kingdom-discipleship with the Golden Rule (7:12). What follows, starting in Matt. 7:13-14, is the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount. The ending falls into four sections skillfully described by R.T. France, who uses the idea that insiders are believers and outsiders are not:

The resultant four sections therefore press increasingly closer to home: the first is a simple contrast between saved and lost [7:13-14], the second concerns outsiders who merely pretend to be insiders [7:15-20], the third looks at those who think they are insiders but are not [7:21-23], and the fourth draws a line within the group of insiders (who hear Jesus words) between those who respond and those who do not [7:24-27].[1]

According to this analysis, todays passage is the first scene and presents a simple contrast between the saved and the lost. Sadly, Jesus says the saved are few and the lost are many. On the basis of such verses, some interpreters teach that only a few members of humanity throughout the ages will end up in heaven. That assumption may be true, or it may not be. In my opinion, Jesus was speaking of his own time about the Jewish nation.

Craig Keener[2] points out that most first-century Jews thought they were saved by the simple fact that they descended from Abraham, but Jesus was letting them know that their assumption was flatly wrong! Those who actually listened to Jesus words would have assumed that the few (7:14) and the many (7:13) were references to the Jewish people of that time. Jesus gave them no reason to think otherwise.

Simple observation will show you that Jesus gives only one command in these verses: Enter through the narrow gate (7:13a). All the rest of the material (7:13b14) explains why. When you think about it, you will realize that Jesus is speaking to people who have each trekked to the countryside of Galilee to find him. They have already taken trouble to hear him, and now he challenges them to prepare for even more. Will they take the narrow gate and the difficult road with Jesus, or will they return to the easier path, the unrestricted gate used by the many?

Presumably, those taking the wide, easy road do not know where it leads. Jesus clearly states that it leads to destruction (7:13). That is a metaphorical description of Gods eternal condemnation. On the other hand, the narrow gate leads to a narrow, constricted road (7:14), making it less popular and certainly filled with danger. But the few who find the narrow road are rewarded by arriving at life (7:14).

Jesus understands the struggles faced by the faithful, and he does not leave them to face danger alone. That God approves of the faithful few is plain, because they are rewarded with eternal life!

Never forget that Jesus understands the hardship of the difficult road. The author of Hebrews tells us this about Jesus: Although he was a son, he learned obedience through the things he suffered (Heb. 5:8). Jesus is our gracious and tested high priest. For we do not have a high priest incapable of sympathizing with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way just as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace whenever we need help. (Heb. 4:15-16).

The harder life

Certainly it is easy to think that our contemporary society satisfies the same description Jesus gave to the first-century Jews; many are rejecting the narrow road, if they even think about it at all.

Yet Tim Keller, a well-known thinker and pastor, has established a huge evangelical church in Manhattan. People are still seeking Jesus! Keller says: We have neither the Western Christendom of the past nor the secular, religionless society that was predicted for the future.[3]

The narrow gate still stands, and the difficult road remains open for those following Jesus. The reward of living with God is worth the struggle.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 286-287.

[2] Keener, Matthew, 250.

[3] Tim Keller, The Reason for God (New York: Dutton, 2008) xv.


Sermon on the Mount: Matt. 6:5-8

Matthew 6:5-8

Whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray while standing in synagogues and on street corners so that people can see them. Truly I say to you, they have their reward. 6 But whenever you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you. 7 When you pray, do not babble repetitiously like the Gentiles, because they think that by their many words they will be heard. 8 Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

What impresses God?

My favorite definition of an opportunist is a person who has a keen eye for the main chance. The guiding light for such a person is not principle — they take all kinds of contradictory positions — it is advantage. Short-term advantage is what an opportunist seeks.

An opportunist can often manipulate people, but can they manipulate God? How?

Some people know how to turn on the charm when the cameras are rolling. Since there were no cameras in the first century, some Jews did the next-best thing: they sought places where lots of eyeballs would be gathered, like a street corner or an assembly. There they would recite their daily prayers so that people can see them (6:5). We could also translate that phrase as “so that they might shine for men” (my translation).

Jesus did not deny that this strategy worked, but he vowed that momentary attention was all the reward such prayers would bring. Craig Keener points out that Jesus was not forbidding public prayer — as shown by 18:19-20; 21:13; and 1 Tim. 2:8 — but was banning prayer designed to gain personal approval from others.[1]

Jesus next provides the contrasting principle that should control his disciples prayers: privacy (6:6). Keener says that Galilean homes had one or two rooms, and the only one with a door would be the storeroom.[2] There you may pray to your Father who is in secret (ESV and HCSB for 6:6). While the Father is unseen, he sees the seeking heart of his children and rewards them.

Instead of understanding this instruction as a literal formula for prayer, the whole point is that the private person is seeking God while the public person is seeking people. While Jesus often prayed privately, he also prayed aloud in the hearing of others (11:25; 14:19; 26:39, 42), so it is plain that he is not forbidding public prayer. The actual, deeper issue is: why are you praying?

In 6:7-8, Jesus also criticizes the prayers of religious outsiders, people who do not understand what it means to know God as a heavenly Father.[3] The verb translated babble repetitiously means to speak in a way that images the kind of speech pattern of one who stammers, use the same words again and again, speak without thinking.[4] Jesus explains that this practice is based on a false belief that piling up words will move God to act (6:7). To the contrary, the Father already knows what you need (6:8) before you open your mouth!

A fascinating example of useless babbling is presented in 1 Kings 18:16-29. That is followed by a short model of public prayer by Elijah (1 Kings 18:30-39). Check out the difference!

I suggest that a key theological test of prayer offered in public is that the person praying must actually be speaking to God— perhaps on behalf of the gathered believers — and not to the people listening. You will know the difference! Further, if you do not speak to God frequently in private, allow those who do pray to lead you to his throne of grace in public.

The goal is to shine for God!

In explaining what Jesus taught about prayer, some may feel I have crossed over from teaching into meddling! Prayer practices are a sensitive subject, but Jesus is the one to tell us how it is done.

In private prayer, there is no temptation to play to the people, because the sole audience is God. All your prayer should be heart-felt, and delivered in plain words. Then your prayers will shine! Your Father in heaven already knows what you need, and he will hear all you say with love.

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 211.

[2] Keener, Matthew, 210.

[3] R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 240.

[4] BDAG-3, battalogeo, babble, speak without thinking, q.v.


Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:43-45

Matthew 5:43-45

You have heard that it was said, Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.
But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
(NET Bible)

J-e-s-u-s spells change!

The Kingston Trio used to sing: Italians hate the Yugoslavs; South Africans hate the Dutch; and I dont like anybody very much![1]

My wife is the most gentle person on the planet, yet even she once had an enemy. Who is yours?

When Jesus quoted the then-prevailing view, only the first half — love your neighbor (5:43) — came from the Old Testament (Lev. 19:18). The second half, hate your enemy (5:43), cannot be found in the OT. So, hating your enemies appears to have developed as part of the elaboration of the law that the religious leaders had created over time. This example shows how error in Bible interpretation can pollute the pure waters of revealed truth.

Jesus sets out his own teaching by cutting away the error and replacing it with two astonishing commands: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (5:44, ESV).[2] R.T. France informs us that the word neighbor (5:43) was restricted to fellow Israelites in the OT[3], but Jesus expands the concept of neighbor to the limit by including enemies. This extended concept of neighbor is also apparent in the parable of the merciful Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). One application of such love would be to pray for those who persecute you.

R.T. France[4] makes the telling point that loving your enemies does not mean that your relationship is free from controversy and rebuke. Jesus loved his disciples, but he did not let error go unchallenged.

The commands Jesus gave his disciples can be illustrated by two examples. Paul explains that God reconciled us to himself through the death of his Son while we were enemies (Rom. 5:10). Prayer for ones persecutors was demonstrated by Jesus words from the cross: Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing (Luke 23:34). Stephen prayed in similar fashion for those who were stoning him to death (Acts 7:60).

Jesus explicitly reveals the purpose of his startling commands in 5:46: so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven (5:46, ESV). The italicized phrase is an idiom which here means being the kind of person who shares the characteristics of God himself.[5] Naturally, it includes daughters!

Jesus provides two obvious examples of how God loves his enemies as well as his children. The Father sends the sun and the rain on all humanity, whether good or evil, the righteous and the unrighteous.

R.T. France does an excellent job of capturing the purpose of the Sermon on the Mount:

The purpose . . . has not been to provide a suitable ethic for getting along in the world but to challenge those who have accepted the demands of the kingdom of heaven to live up to their commitment by being different from other people.[6]

Whose son or daughter will you be?

People can think of many reasons to be your enemy. You have money and they do not; you lack money and they have it. You are the boss, but they feel they should have been. Your appearance is really striking, or perhaps it is too ordinary. They need not even know you and yet dislike you or try to undercut you.

The worlds rule is to do unto others before they get the chance to do unto you! Of course, that means you must harm them to protect your own interests. Jesus calls on you to prove that you are his disciple by utterly rejecting that thinking! But he demands even more when he says to love your enemies. Just as Jesus intended, you have to decide whether you are his disciple or not!

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] From The Merry Minuet.

[2] Contrary to NETs translation, the Greek word for enemies is plural, as all other translations recognize.

[3] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 223.

[4] R.T. France, Matthew, 226.

[5] NET Bible Notes for Matt. 5:46.

[6] France, Matthew, 224.


Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:40-42

Matthew 5:40-42

And if someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, give him your coat also. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not reject the one who wants to borrow from you.
(NET Bible)
Note: any Bible reference containing only a chapter number and verse number is understood to be in the Gospel of Matthew.

Whats in it for me?

The color poster from Nike showed a dirt path, twisting and rising through a dense forest with dappled spots of sunlight and a rushing creek. My immediate impression was Wow! How inviting that looks!The caption simply said, You wont know if you dont go.

The path Jesus paints for his disciples is much more difficult, even daunting. Will you shrink from the challenge?

Jesus continues to press the point he made in 5:39 that his disciples must not continue to participate in the worldly pattern of protecting their honor and property as if those things had higher value than the kingdom of heaven. For the disciples, things have changed!

Before we can understand Matt. 5:40, it will be necessary to give a short explanation of clothing customs in the first century. At the innermost level would be a loincloth, which did not cover much. Next outward would be the [Greek] chiton, a long garment which touched most of the skin from shoulder to mid-calf. The chiton is generally translated as tunic (NET, ESV, and NIV) or shirt (HCSB and NLT).

The outermost garment, the [Greek] himation, was a long robe that covered the chiton and provided essential warmth against the cold nights. The himation is usually translated as coat (NET, HCSB and NLT) or cloak (ESV and NIV). OT law allowed legal forfeiture of the tunic, say for payment of a debt, but never the coat (Exod. 22:25-27; Deut. 24:12-13). As NET would put it, an opponent could sue you for your tunic, but not your coat. On many nights of the year, a poor man without a coat would not survive the night in Israel without shelter.

So, when Jesus says, If someone wants to sue you and to take your tunic, give him your coat also (5:40), he is telling his disciples to be willing to give up their rights under law for the sake of the kingdom. This is likely an example of hyperbole, an exaggeration for the purpose of making a point. Keener says: Jesus provides a shockingly graphic, almost humorous, illustration of what he means by nonresistance to force his hearers to consider their values. They value honor and things more than they value the kingdom.[1]

I hope you understand that Jesus is not providing a new set of rules to supersede the law; instead, he is challenging the disciples values and loyalties at a deep level.

Roman soldiers had the right to compel a member of a subject population to carry loads for up to a mile. The Jewish people hated this practice, but Jesus tells his disciples to give double the required distance (5:41). The disciples of Jesus are distinguished by serving selflessly. Keep in mind that such behavior would put the disciples at odds with other Jews. Oh well!

The final illustration (5:42) shows how far we have come from retaliation (5:38). The generosity described in 5:42 makes no sense to a secular world, but it marks a disciple of Jesus. R.T. France says the point being made is that in the kingdom of heaven self-interest does not rule, and even our legal rights and legitimate expectations may have to give way to the interests of others.[2]

To whom or to what are you loyal?

Jesus challenges us to examine whether we are more committed to him or to those things that our culture tells us to value. To follow Jesus, a Jew had to commit himself to causes that would sometimes put him at odds with others. Jesus often called for the abandonment of self-interest.

To follow Jesus will mean that you are not free to follow the values, religion and politics of your parents, unless they were following Jesus! History plainly shows that not even Christian churches always do what Jesus said. The way of Jesus is not necessarily popular; pursuing God faithfully is a demanding way to live.

Yet in obeying Jesus, you are taking the one true path that leads to eternal joy in the kingdom of heaven. You wont know if you dont go!

Copyright 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from material created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Craig S. Keener, A Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999) 198.

[2] R.T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2007) 222.