Matthew 7:13–29comment (0)
November 22, 2007
By Jim Barnette
Related Scripture: Matthew 7:13–29
Associate Professor of Religion and Director of Ministerial Formation, Samford University
Anyone who would attempt to classify the Sermon on the Mount as merely worthy teachings that demand no personal response is sorely mistaken. One only needs to study this last section of the sermon to realize that Jesus is calling all listeners (or readers) to a point of decision. Depicted in these verses are four significant “contrasts” used by Jesus that collectively call for an “either-or” commitment. There is the broad gate and the narrow gate (13–14), the bad fruit and the good fruit (15–20), the authentic disciple and the nominal disciple (21–23) and finally the weak foundation and the solid foundation (24–27).
There is no middle ground here; one must choose which way he or she will go — Christ’s way, which leads to life, or the world’s way, which leads to destruction and waste. The demand for a personal decision on the matter clarifies without question the reality that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is an evangelistic sermon that demands a “yes” or “no” commitment.
About Life’s Directions (13–14)
One may enter into the broad gate of destruction or the narrow gate of life. Some translations read “hard” instead of “narrow” in verse 14. The Greek term means “pressed together,” meaning that the road is not for everyone. Jesus offers abundant life (John 10:10), but the abundant life is not without discipline. One only achieves abundance by the disciplines that condition it. Bishop Fulton Sheen said, “The difference between a river and a swamp is that the river has borders and a swamp does not.” To have the freedom to play the trumpet, one must go though the discipline of achievement. The narrow gate of the Christ-way demands that we discipline ourselves to follow the restricted borders of the road leading to that gate.
About Life’s Influences (15–23)
The “false prophets” who appear in sheep’s clothing but who are inwardly ravenous wolves are not Pharisees or Sadducees, for neither claimed to prophesy. These are persons within the church body who pose as prophets but who are false. It is worth noting that “fruit” is a major term in the New Testament that is never equated with outward works (see Matt. 3:8; John 15:1–10; Gal. 5:22–23). This reminds us of Jesus’ intention of the sermon: it takes commandments from the Old Testament laws and interiorizes them. Good fruit has its origin on the inside as reflected in the inward-to-outward virtues depicted in the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22–23).
It is significant that Jesus combines words with “doing” five times in verses 17–19 and two more times in verses 21–23. The false prophets are condemned not for what they say but on account of what they do or do not do. It is not the one who says “Lord, Lord ... but he who does the will of My Father” who is accepted in Christ. There is only one proof of love and that is obedience. The attitude of obedience is authentic when it is evident in one’s actions. William Barclay declared, “Faith without practice is a contradiction in terms, and love without obedience is impossibility.”
About Life’s Foundations (24–29)
The illustrations Jesus used from building are most appropriate as a conclusion to this great message. They came from His knowledge and skills in carpentry. They were also relevant to His land: there were many valleys, which were dry gulleys in summer, but when the rains came, they filled with torrents of rushing water. Most significantly, the image is appropriate for us as we engage in discipleship, for we are building ourselves on the virtues and practices demanded in this sermon. Such building calls for a rock-solid foundation, and this is precisely what Jesus promises to provide us if only we determine to choose His way.
It is interesting to note that after Jesus finished His great sermon, the people were astonished, as “He taught them as one who had authority.” The word for “authority” is from the Greek exousia, which means literally “out of his being.” This very word reinforces the inward-to-outward nature of following Christ. Our own authority and authenticity as Christ-followers are realized when what emerges out of our inner life brings glory to the Master Preacher of this message.
Associate Professor of Religion and Director of Ministerial Formation, Samford UniversityMake Up Your Minds