16. Sermon on the mount (3 of 3)
Sermon on the mount (3 of 3)…..JUDGE not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.
¶Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
¶Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
¶ Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.
Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in there at: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
¶Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.
¶Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.
¶Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house: and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
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.
Scripture: Matthew 7:1-5
Meditation 1 of 4:
Everybody is a critic, but nobody wants to be judged or condemned. Then why is judgementalism so rampant, even among Christians? “Thinking the best of other people” is necessary if we wish to grow in love. And kindliness in judgment is nothing less than a sacred duty. The Rabbis warned people: “He who judges his neighbor favorably will be judged favorably by God.” How easy it is to misjudge and how difficult it is to be impartial in judgment. Our judgment of others is usually “off the mark” because we can’t see inside the person, or we don’t have access to all the facts, or we are swayed by instinct and unreasoning reactions to people. It is easier to find fault in others than in oneself.
Jesus states a heavenly principle we can stake our lives on: what you give to others (and how you treat others) will return to you. The Lord knows our faults and he sees all, even the imperfections and sins of the heart which we cannot recognize in ourselves. Like a gentle father and a skillful doctor he patiently draws us to his seat of mercy and removes the cancer of sin which inhabits our hearts. Do you trust in God’s mercy and grace? Ask the Lord to flood your heart with his loving-kindness and mercy that you may only have room for charity and forbearance towards your neighbor.
“O Father, give us the humility which realizes its ignorance, admits its mistakes, recognizes its need, welcomes advice, accepts rebuke. Help us always to praise rather than to criticize, to sympathize rather than to discourage, to build rather than to destroy, and to think of people at their best rather than at their worst. This we ask for thy name’s sake. (Prayer of William Barclay, 20th century)
Scripture: Matthew 7:15-20
Meditation 2 of 4:
What can pearls teach us about God’s truth and holiness? In the ancient world pearls were of very great value and were even considered priceless. They were worn as prized jewels to make a person appear more beautiful and magnificent to behold. Holiness, likewise, is a very precious jewel that radiates the beauty of God’s truth, goodness, and glory. God offers us the precious gift of his holiness so that we may radiate the splendor of his truth and goodness in the way we think, speak, act, and treat others. We can reject or ignore this great gift, or worse yet, we can drag it through the mud of sinful behavior or throw it away completely.
Pearls before dogs and swine (Matthew 7:6)
Why does Jesus contrast holiness and pearls with dogs and swine (Matthew 7:6)? Some things don’t seem to mix or go together, like fire and water, heat and ice, sweat and perfume, pure air and poisonous vapors, freshly cleaned clothes and filthy waste. The Talmud, a rabbinic commentary on the Jewish Scriptures, uses a proverbial saying for something which appears incongruous or out of place: an ear-ring in a swine’s snout. Jesus’ expression about “pearls before swine” and “not giving dogs what is holy” is very similar in thought (Matthew 7:6). Jewish law regarded swine as unclean. Wild dogs were also treated as unfit for close human contact, very likely because they were dirty, unkempt, lice-infested, and prone to attack or cause trouble.
What is the point of avoiding what is considered unclean? Jesus’ concern here is not with exclusivity or the shunning of others (excluding people from our love, care, and concern for them). His concern is with keeping spiritual and moral purity – the purity of the faith and way of life which has been entrusted to us by an all-holy, all-loving, and all-wise God. The early church referenced this expression with the Eucharist or the Lord’s Table. In the liturgy of the early church, a proclamation was given shortly before communion: Holy things to the holy. The Didache (The Teaching of the Apostles), a first century church manual stated: Let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist except those baptised into the name of the Lord; for, as regards this, the Lord has said, ‘Do not give what is holy to dogs.’ The Lord Jesus invites us to feast at his banquet table, but we must approach worthily.
Prayer and gift-giving (Matthew 7:7-11)
Do you expect God to hear your prayers? Jesus wanted to raise the expectations of his disciples when he taught them how to pray. Jesus’ parable of the father feeding his son illustrates the unthinkable! How could a loving father refuse to give his son what is good; or worse, to give him what is harmful? In conclusion Jesus makes a startling claim: How much more will the heavenly Father give to those who ask! Our heavenly Father graciously gives beyond our expectations. Jesus taught his disciples to pray with confidence because the Heavenly Father in his goodness always answers prayers. That is why we can boldly pray: Give us this day our daily bread.
Those who know and trust in God’s love, pray with great boldness. Listen to what John Chrysostom, a 5th century church father, has to say about the power of prayer:
“Prayer is an all-efficient panoply [i.e. ‘a full suit of armor’ or ‘splendid array’], a treasure undiminished, a mine never exhausted, a sky unobstructed by clouds, a haven unruffled by storm. It is the root, the fountain, and the mother of a thousand blessings. It exceeds a monarch’s power. ..I speak not of the prayer which is cold and feeble and devoid of zeal. I speak of that which proceeds from a mind outstretched, the child of a contrite spirit, the offspring of a soul converted – this is the prayer which mounts to heaven. ..The power of prayer has subdued the strength of fire, bridled the rage of lions, silenced anarchy, extinguished wars, appeased the elements, expelled demons, burst the chains of death, enlarged the gates of heaven, relieved diseases, averted frauds, rescued cities from destruction, stayed the sun in its course, and arrested the progress of the thunderbolt. In sum prayer has power to destroy whatever is at enmity with the good.”
Prayer flows from the love of God; and the personal love we show to our neighbor is fueled by the love that God has poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5). Jesus concludes his discourse on prayer with the reminder that we must treat our neighbor in the same way we wish to be treated by God and by others. We must not just avoid doing harm to our neighbour, we must actively seek his or her welfare. In doing so, we fulfill the law and the prophets, namely what God requires of us – loving God with all that we have and are and loving our neighbor as ourselves. The Holy Spirit is ever ready to transform our lives in Jesus’ way of love. Do you thirst for holiness and for the fire of God’s love?
The golden rule (Matthew 7:12)
Jesus summed up the teaching of the Old Testament law and prophets with the expression, So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them (Matthew 7:12) – and in the same breath he raised the moral law to a new level of fulfillment and perfection. God’s law of love requires more than simply avoiding injury or harm to one’s neighbor. Perfect love – a love which is unconditional and which reaches out to all – always seeks the good of others for their sake and gives the best we can offer for their welfare. When we love our neighbors and treat them in the same way we wish to be treated by God, then we fulfill the law and the prophets, namely what God requires of us – loving God with all that we have and are and loving our neighbor as ourselves.
How can we love our neighbor selflessly, with kindness, and genuine concern for their welfare? If we empty our hearts of all that is unkind, unloving, and unforgiving, then there will only be room for kindness, goodness, mercy, and charity. Paul the Apostle reminds us that “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). It is the love of God that fuels our unconditional love for others. Are you ready to let the Holy Spirit transform your life with the purifying fire of God’s love?
The narrow gate and way (Matthew 7:13-14)
Jesus used an illustration of a narrow gate which opens the way that leads to a life of security and happiness (Matthew 7:13-14) to reinforce his lesson about choosing the one true way which leads to peace with God rather than separation and destruction. The Book of Psalms begins with an image of a person who has chosen to follow the way of those who are wise and obedient to God’s word and who refuse to follow the way of those who think and act contrary to God’s law : Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:1-2). When a path diverges, such as a fork in the road, each way leads to a different destination. This is especially true when we encounter life’s crossroads where we must make a choice that will affect how we will live our lives. Do the choices you make help you move towards the goal of loving God and obeying his will?
The Lord Jesus gives us freedom to choose which way we will go. Ask him for the wisdom to know which way will lead to life rather than to harm and destruction. See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil. …Therefore choose life that you and your descendants may live (Deuteronmy 3:15-20). Choose this day whom you will serve (Joshua 24:15). Behold I set before you the way of life and the way of death (Jeremiah 21:8). If we allow God’s love and wisdom to rule our hearts, then we can trust in his guidance and help to follow his path of love, truth, and holiness.
“Let me love you, my Lord and my God, and see myself as I really am – a pilgrim in this world, a Christian called to respect and love all whose lives I touch, those in authority over me or those under my authority, my friends and my enemies. Help me to conquer anger with gentleness, greed by generosity, apathy by fervor. Help me to forget myself and reach out towards others.” (Prayer attributed to Clement XI of Rome [1649–1721])
Scripture: Matthew 7:21-29
Meditation 3 of 4:
What do grapes, thorns, figs, and thistles have to teach us about the kingdom of God? The imagery used by Jesus would have been very familiar to his audience. A certain thornbush had berries which resembled grapes. And a certain thistle had a flower, which at least from a distance, resembled the fig. Looks can fool us. How do you know when someone or something is genuine? Jesus’ warning about false prophets and teachers applies today as well. What’s the test of a true or false teacher? Jesus connects soundness with good fruit. Something is sound when it is free from defect, decay, or disease and is healthy. Good fruit is the result of sound living — living according to moral truth and upright character. The prophet Isaiah warned against the dangers of falsehood: Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness (Isaiah 5:20). The fruits of falsehood produce an easy religion which takes the iron out of religion, the cross out of Christianity, and any teaching which eliminates the hard sayings of Jesus, and which push the judgments of God into the background and makes us think lightly of sin. How do we avoid falsehood? By being true — true to God, his word, and his grace. And that takes character! Those who are true to God know that their strength lies not in themselves but in God who supplies what we need. The fruit of a disciple is marked by faith, hope and love, justice, prudence, fortitude and temperance. Do you cultivate good fruit in your life and reject whatever produces bad fruit?
“Lord, may I bear good fruit for your sake. Help me to reject whatever will produce evil fruit. And help me grow in faith, hope, love, sound judgment, justice, courage, and self control.”
Scripture: Matthew 7:21-29
Meditation 4 of 4:
If the threat of disaster were to come your way, would you be ready to meet it and overcome it? When Jesus told the story of the builders he likely had the following proverb in mind: When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm for ever (Proverbs 10:25). What’s the significance of the story for us? The kind of foundation we build our lives upon will determine whether we can survive the storms that are sure to come. Builders usually lay their foundations when the weather and soil conditions are at their best. It takes foresight to know how a foundation will stand up against adverse conditions. Building a house on a flood plain, such as a dry river-bed, is a sure bet for disaster! Jesus prefaced his story with a warning: We may fool humans with our speech, but God cannot be deceived. He sees the heart as it truly is — with its motives, intentions, desires, and choices (Psalm 139:2). There is only one way in which a person’s sincerity can be proved, and that is by one’s practice. Fine words can never replace good deeds. Our character is revealed in the choices we make, especially when we must choose between what is true or false, and good or evil. Do you cheat on an exam or on your income taxes, especially when it will cost you? Do you lie, or cover-up, when disclosing the truth will cause you pain or embarrassment? A true person is honest and reliable before God, neighbor, and oneself. Such a person’s word can be taken as trustworthy. What can keep us from falsehood and disaster? If we make the Lord and his word the rock and foundation of our lives, then nothing can shake us or keep us from God’s presence and help. Is the Lord and his word the sure foundation of your life?
“Lord, you are the only foundation that can hold us up when trials and disaster threaten us. Give me the wisdom, foresight, and strength of character I need to do what is right and good and to reject whatever is false and contrary to your will May I be a doer of your word and not a hearer only.”