Matthew 7:12-29 summarizes two great themes we’ve seen in this sermon: 1) You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 2) There is a road that seems right to us, but it leads to destruction.
Matthew 1-4 contain introductory material to Matthew’s gospel.
- In Matthew 1, Matthew gave us the genealogy of Jesus, explaining that Jesus is a son of Abraham and a son of David.
- In Matthew 1-2, Matthew told us the story of Jesus’ birth and upbringing from Joseph’s perspective.
- In Matthew 3, Matthew told us the of the ministry of John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus.
- In Matthew 4, Matthew told us about the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness.
- Matthew gives us a narrative introduction (Mt 4:12-22) and a summary statement (Mt 4:23-25) before the sermon on the mount.
Matthew 5-7 contain the Sermon on the Mount which is about one topic: Who will be accepted by God and receive a place in His kingdom?
The Golden Rule
Theme 1: Love your neighbor as yourself.
12“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12
- The “so” or “therefore” refers back to the entire sermon. This section is the conclusion.
- This very famous verse is known as the “Golden Rule.”
- To love your neighbor is to act for his/her benefit regardless of your feelings or their response.
- In Matthew 22:34-40, Jesus defines the two greatest commandments as love God with all of you and love your neighbor as yourself. The Golden Rule is another way of stating the second great commandment (love your neighbor).
- The fundamental truth (love your neighbor) is behind much of the Old Testament Law. The law forbids murder, theft, vengeance, taking advantage of the poor and so forth. All those things are wrong because they represent a refusal to love our neighbors as ourselves.
- This “principle of the mirror” – when I am looking at my neighbor I am seeing a sinner like myself – is one of the themes we have seen throughout this sermon.
- The point of the Golden Rule is not to create good relationships and an ordered society. The idea is NOT: be nice to others so they will be nice to you. Rather if anything it is: be nice despite how the other person acts.
- The Golden Rule is not meant to stand by itself. We need wisdom to figure out how to act in our neighbor’s benefit in any given situation.
- The Golden Rule is more like a compass pointing us in the general direction; it does not teach us specifics.
The 2 Roads
Theme 2: There are two roads. One road seems right to us but it leads to destruction. The other road leads to Life.
In this section we see 4 variations on this theme of two roads:
- the broad road and the narrow road;
- false prophets with the bad fruit and true prophets with good fruit;
- Some who call Jesus Lord who will NOT enter the kingdom and some who call Jesus Lord who will enter the kingdom;
- Some will build on the sand and their houses will be destroyed and some build on the rock and their houses will stand.
We need to understand these metaphors in the context of the entire Sermon on the Mount. In these verses, Jesus doesn’t say how to choose the narrow gate. He doesn’t tell us what bad fruit looks like. He doesn’t say what the will of God is that the person who calls Jesus Lord should be doing. He doesn’t tell us how we find the rock to build on or how to avoid the sand.
He doesn’t answer those questions here in these verses, because he’s answered those questions in the rest of the sermon.
13″Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” – Matthew 7:13-14
- Jesus tells us there are two roads. One road leads to life and one road leads to destruction, and those who choose the road to life are in the minority.
- People don’t choose the road to life because they don’t want to. It doesn’t look attractive; it looks hard (wide vs narrow).
- By nature, we’re foolish blind people. Taking the road to life requires waking up, opening our eyes, and admitting we were wrong.
- Making that choice can cost us our family and friends and even our very life.
15“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” – Matthew 7:15-20
- Wolves are the classic enemy of the sheep.
- In this analogy, we are to picture ourselves as the sheep, the prey.
- Jesus warns his followers that people will come who claim to know the road to life and preach a message from God. Yet in fact they are not from God at all.
- Compare to Matthew 23:13-15.
- You recognize false prophets and true prophets by their fruit — that is how they live their lives.
- The true prophets will be poor in spirit, humble, merciful, peacemakers, seeking life in the kingdom of God as he’s just described in this sermon.
- The false prophets will be worldly, focused on the pleasures of this world, self-righteous, judgmental and unloving, as described in this sermon.
21“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” – Matthew 7:21-23
- Up to this point in the sermon Jesus has been contrasting the pharisees, the hypocrites and the gentiles with the people of Israel.
- Now he focuses on the subset of people who call him Lord. Even among those who claim to follow Jesus, some will be on the wrong path.
- Living a religious life is no guarantee that you’ll be in the kingdom.
- The one who does the will of God is the one who has embraced the truths Jesus has explained in this sermon (e.g. humbly repenting before God, being merciful, hungering for holiness, seeking first the kingdom of heaven, counting on the promises of God, seeking to follow what God says is true, seeking to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves, etc.)
- The lawless ones are those who like the Pharisees claim to follow the law of God, but in fact they use the law to pursue their own self-righteous and worldly gain.
24“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” 28And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. – Matthew 7:24-29
The poet Edna St Vincent Millay wrote a little 2-line poem that captures this image:
Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!
- It doesn’t matter how big and grand the palace is. If it’s built on the sand, it’s not going to last. That’s how we are to picture our lives in this world. Are you building on the rock or the sand?
- How do you build on the rock? Jesus tells us: you hear and you act. You act on the kinds of things Jesus has been teaching in this sermon. You hear and embrace the truths he has proclaimed and you seek to live in light of those truths.
- If you act on what Jesus taught in this sermon, you are building on the rock and your house will stand. If you do not act on what Jesus taught in this sermon, you are building on the sand and your house will fall. That’s how important this sermon is.