The study, Sermon on the Mount by Jen Wilkin, concludes today. All of the posts for this series can be found under the Bible Studies Archive tab. Our journey began with Jesus teaching a litany of blessings available to those who choose to live humbly and obediently to God. And now at the close, Jesus concludes his sermon with a series of contrasts that challenge the listener to choose which path their life will take and the type of faith foundation that endures.
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13,14
In this passage, we are presented with two gates and two roads. The similarity between the two, however, ends there. Jesus encourages us to seek the entrance to the small gate and to walk the narrow road but warns that few find the entrance. Instead, he states most will enter through the wide gate and walk the broad road leading to destruction. We are given a choice to choose who we will become and how we will walk out our faith. Ms. Wilkin taught on the video that the Father is most concerned about the changing of our hearts and the process of becoming people who make right choices. She stated that the person who walks the narrow path is the one who makes right decisions based on wisdom. In walking this narrow road of sanctification, she also taught that we should expect to be in the moral minority. We considered many cross references this week in regard to this portion of scripture. One of the verses we read is found in John’s gospel. In John 10:9, we read that Jesus is the gate. The opening that few will find. Salvation can only be found through him (Acts 4:12). He alone is the path to life.
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” Matthew 7:15-20
A prophet’s job is to act as an intermediary by sharing the message(s) given by God to him/her with others. Jesus warns his followers that some prophets will appear to be God-people but in reality they’re false. The root of their faith and their inward life is far from Him. By their message, they can influence and prevent others from entering the narrow way which leads them astray. These verses reflect back to the passages from last week on hypocrites. However, these deceivers are more dangerous. Unlike a hypocrite who may or may not realize how they’re behaving, the false prophet, who is actually a ferocious wolf, may know their intention. The Arabian wolf, according to Wikipedia, doesn’t live in a large pack but hunts in a group of no more than four. They don’t howl so their presence is not detected. These creatures are known for their treachery, ferocity, and bloodthirsty nature. A false prophet may have an agenda that they seek to achieve which reflects the predatory nature of the wolf.
Jesus gives us an insight into detecting their true nature. In these verses, he tells us that these false prophets can be recognized by their fruit. Ms. Wilkin shared that not having first hand knowledge of scripture primes a person for the acceptance of false teaching. Discernment is a necessary tool in the arsenal of a Christian. We should know truth so we can recognize when truth is twisted. As we learned in our reading from Hebrews this week, we need to feed ourselves on solid food, train ourselves in righteousness, and become mature in faith to distinguish good from evil (Hebrews 5:11-14). Bad fruit can not stand against the word of God. I highly encourage the weighing and testing of all teaching that you hear. An excellent biblical example is the Bereans who tested everything they heard (Acts 17:11).
True followers of Christ sometimes make mistakes but they have no desire to lead anyone astray. On the other hand, the fruit of false teachers can be recognized in several ways: the distortion of the word of God, the relaxation of obedience to God and living right before Him, the denial that the broad way leads to destruction, and the lack of acknowledgement of Jesus as Lord and Savior. These persons may make the claim of Christianity but the actual practice of living faith is not seen in their lives. One school of thought that the disciples contended with as they sought to establish the early church was gnosticism. John combats this heretical line of thinking in his epistle 1 John. As Jesus states in Matthew 12:34,35; “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.”
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 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 in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Matthew 7:21-23
Jesus reiterates and warns his listeners that a relationship with him is the only way to enter the kingdom of heaven. We are responsible for our own faith and our own choice. The faith of a teacher, friend, or family member will not give us entrance into the kingdom of heaven. Entrance can only be gained through a relationship with Jesus and doing the will of God. Actions do not guarantee access. To know God, to do good deeds, and to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior puts us on the right narrow road to enter into his kingdom. But to know God, to do good and then to reject Jesus, prevents a person from entering.
“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. 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. 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. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” Matthew 7:24-27
Both of these builders were building spiritual houses and heard the words of the Lord. Only one, though, acted upon the words heard. This builder had a strong foundation built upon the rock of Jesus ( 1 Peter 2:4-10). The other had a weak foundation built upon shifting sand. Both houses and builders appeared strong until a time of trial and crisis came. Then, their true quality was revealed. In our lifetime, we will face many obstacles, difficulties, trials, and suffering. We might face disappointment, illness, fear, doubt, and persecution for our faith. We might also experience good times filled with busyness, accomplishment, and wealth that could distract us becoming an obstacle in our life. How we endure these moments will reveal our faith’s foundation.
“When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” Matthew 7:28,29
The teachers of the Law shared their knowledge and understanding of the Law with one another and then taught that understanding to the people. They had a collected authority. When Jesus went up the mountain, sat down, and began to teach, he taught with personal authority. He, as the Son of God, had the divine right to teach given by his Father. Jesus said of himself; “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:7). He could teach truth because he is truth. The crowds were amazed. The disciples’ lives forever were changed. These words of Jesus recorded by Matthew are presented before us. How will you and I respond to the message of the Sermon on the Mount and to all we have learned? Will we be citizens of heaven or citizens of the world? Will we have a faith that lasts built upon a firm foundation? The choice we make has eternal consequences. By seeking a life of deeper obedience to God and loving others preferentially, we can live a life of righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees.
Thank you for joining me on this journey through the study, Sermon on the Mount by Jen Wilkin. I have learned much about pursuing a deeper obedience in my walk with Jesus. I hope you have too.
References: The New Bible Study Series Matthew Volume One William Barclay; The New International Version Study Bible; biblegateway.com; blueletterbible.org; Wikipedia