A different destination - Matthew 7

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the evening service on 30th March 2003.

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They were coming from all directions, like fans converging on a football ground. They came alone, they came in groups. Husbands brought their wives, mothers brought their children, youths brought their mates. Some seemed to have brought the whole town with them . They came because they were sick and handicapped, and thought he might heal them. They came because they were poor and oppressed and thought he might deliver them. They came because they were bored and thought he might amuse them. They came... well some didn’t quite know why they had come ,except that everybody else was coming. But there was one word on Jesus lips which both excited and intrigued them. It was the word - ‘kingdom.’

Every society has its dream of a better world. In the sixteenth century Thomas More called it Utopia. In the 19th century Karl Marx called it the ‘classless society.’ In the 20th century the United States simply called it the ‘American Dream.’ And first century Israel was no exception. Right through the Old Testament the hope was held out that God himself, would establish his ‘kingdom.’ Prophets like Ezekiel and Isaiah had declared that a specially anointed person- a Messiah would be raised up to care for God’s people and that he would usher in a new age, an age of - righteousness. It would be a time when the corrupting effects of humankind’s rebellion would be reversed- spears would be hammered into ploughshares, war would give way to peace, poverty would be replaced with plenty. No longer would the false gods and idols rule, the Lord himself would dwell amongst his people and his law would be written on human hearts by his Spirit.

And that is why the rumour spread throughout Palestine like an earth tremor that the King had finally arrived. They said, he was one of the people, a carpenter from the North, a preacher and miracle worker- a life changer. And so they came from all the four points of the compass. Like the peace marchers swarming to Hyde Park, the kingdom seekers gathered on the Galilean mountainside. The people had never seen anything quite it.

His disciples had never seen anything like it either. Those crowds of thousands simply confirmed that they had made the best judgement of their lives-they had taken up Jesus invitation to follow him. ‘ I will make you fishers of men’ ,he had told them, and boy was he right. This was the biggest catch Israel had ever seen. Even Jesus cousin, John the Baptist couldn’t pull in the crowds like this man No, they had hitched their wagon to a star, from now on it was going to be onward and upward-the future could not have been brighter.

And that is when Jesus dropped his bombshell. Instead of working the crowd as Hitler was to do a couple of thousand years later, Jesus withdrew from the crowd and started to teach the 12. You see, he wanted them, and us, to learn how to make right judgements, because he knew that our eternal destiny depended upon it. And the way his followers were to make judgements was by using criteria which was quite different from that of the religious leaders of the day-the Pharisees. They were taken by show, style, statistics- the crowds. In short they judged by external appearances, what looked good. For Jesus there was only one thing that mattered- internal attitude- changed lives. Lives which listened to the Word of God and did it. Everything else, he said was a hollow sham- hypocrisy. And the worst sham of all is religious sham. So how do we make right judgements which will determine whether we enter Christ’s kingdom or are for ever cast into a dark Christless eternity? That is what is at stake. Well, that is what Matthew chapter 7 is all about. So do turn with me to these words of Jesus which ,as we shall see are going to be some of the most important words we shall ever hear.

First of all we called to be negatively positive-vv 1- 12. So negatively, Jesus followers are not to be judgemental, v1. They are not to be hypocritical, v3- searching out the speck in your neighbour’s eye while ignoring the whopping great plank in your own. They are not to be stupid, v6- ‘Casting pearls before swine’, but showing some discernment as to who to spend time with in Gospel work as distinct from those who no matter what you say will remain implacably hostile.

Instead, more positively the radical followers of Jesus are to trust in God for all things, because all things are in His hands, not ours, for he is a wise and loving Father who will only give what is for our best vv 9'Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!’ And because we are children of such a gracious heavenly Father who does cause the sun to shine upon the righteous and unrighteous alike, we are to show the same attitude towards others, only doing to other people what we would like done to ourselves, and that sums up the whole teaching of the Old Testament- v12. You know, At its most basic there is nothing terribly complicated about Christian ethics. We make things complicated by adopting the attitude of the Pharisee- minimum requirement, asking ‘What can I get away with?’ Rather than, ‘What can I do most?’ Jesus says, ‘Look, it is quite simple. Put yourself in the other person’s position and think-how would I want to be treated?’ You can do that can’t you? If you were old and frail, would you want to be visited? You bet. If you were struggling bringing up a family by yourself would you want some help with the kids? Of course. If you were the isolated teenager at school, the butt of the joke, would you want someone to befriend you? Without any doubt. Then why are you agonising about what you should do? You know what to do, so do it. Yes, I know there are moral grey areas and sometimes we have to choose between the lesser of the two evils, but from a day to day living point of view- most of the choices we are presented with are clear cut. It’s just having the will and motivation to do them because by nature we are selfish and don’t like being put out. But Jesus followers have been given a new nature and should be wanting to be put out. So learn the verse by heart ‘Do to others what you would have them do to you’ and you needn’t watch Kilroy ever again. We have to make sound judgements to live in the kingdom of heaven.

But even before all of that we have to make sound judgements to enter the kingdom of heaven and so we are presented with two ways to live in vv 13 to the end.

Look at v13 '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.' You see, if you follow the mob, if you are swept along with the crowd, you are on the road to destruction and practically everyone is on it. The broad way says, ‘Life is all about pleasure, the here and now.’ The crowd ironically says, ‘It is the individual that matters, what is in it for you, for you alone are the important one. You make your own rules.’ And that is exactly what we are doing isn’t it? Rule breaking itself has become the number one rule. Madonna’s former choreographer said that she told him that he was, ‘To break every rule he could think of, and then when that was done to make up some new ones and break them.’ Are you like that? Rule breaking and its corresponding exhibitionism is seen as a way out of boredom, so the shock-rocker Marilyn Manson, (who is a man for those who are not in the know) recently complained , ‘We can’t go any further without starting over.. what other violence can you show? What other drug can you do? What other thing can you get pierced? It’s all been done.’ Worse still is when we attempt to prise open the Christian gate to make it broad, so we Christianise the worlds values and make Christianity the latest escapist drug, or a bigger pleasure pill. But what does that do but shift the emphasis from service to self- just like the rest of the world. Now Jesus reverses that. That is the narrow way which Jesus says only a few find. Sometimes pain is the better option than pleasure if it means doing the right thing. Being thought of as uncool is a far better option if it means making a stand for Christ and his values rather than courting popularity. Whereas others may well be asking:’ What’s in it for me? The Christian should be saying, ‘What’s in it for Christ? How can I best serve him and further his kingdom, even if some things may not be to my personal liking.’ So could I ask whether that is the sort of thinking that goes on when you are faced with a choice, say, about supporting a Christian group- like the CU, Mark 2, After 8 or a homegroup? Do you say, ‘Well, these are my brothers and sisters, Jesus loves them enough to die for them. Can I, by being alongside them, be a source of encouragement and support?’ That is the narrow way. Or is it, to be frank, saying what everyone else would say, ‘ It doesn’t do anything for me, so I am out. It doesn’t please me. It doesn’t thrill me. I’m off’? That is the broad road. Now, which road are you on? Self or service?

And we need to be able to make right judgements because there are plenty of accomplished performers out there who would con us every time and tell us we can have a Christianised version of the broad road, why waste your time with the narrow ‘evangelicals’ who will insist they are right, that we should do what the Bible says, that is far too restrictive- v15 'Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.’ You have got to watch out for them. They will not appear like wolves, they will look and sound like sheep and use the right lingo and buzz words, so that we say, ‘He quotes the Bible so he must be alright.’ Well, so does the devil. Of course at some point in the future you will recognise them, the fruit will show, but sometimes it is too late, the damage has been done- churches have been destroyed and people are left high and dry, disillusioned. Beware of the clever communicator. Look very carefully at what they say and perhaps more importantly how they live. Do the two tie up?

Now let me let you into a little secret. The Bible did not originally have breaks and headings, one passage flowed into another. So let us take the last two sections together- v21 to the end.

Here is the climax of the sermon, the main point. It all has to do with making right judgements in ministry- Christian service. Remember the context?- Jesus’ successful ministry? The disciples are impressed. They are impressed by the crowds, by the miracles, by the teaching. Is that what matters? Is that how you decide whether your ministry is successful or not, whether you belong to a successful church or not? Hardly.

After warning about the false prophets and their fruit, Jesus goes on in v21, ‘Not everyone who says to me 'Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.’ Now, is this another category of ministers from that of the false prophets? I think it might be. It is hard to see that they are false prophets in any conventional sense, which seems to be the target of the previous section. After all they do call Jesus ‘Lord’, so sincerity is not the issue. They really do believe they are doing Christ’s work. But, their ministry is a waste anyway. That is the shocking thing in v22 ‘ 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 perform many miracles?’ And then we have the words you never ever want to hear: ‘ I never knew you, away from me you evil doers.’ Those are the words you never want to hear, not from the mouth of the Lord Jesus Christ on the last day.

You see, it is not because of their profession, ‘Lord, Lord’ that they are his disciples. Nor is it because of their ministry, it is ‘Christian’ ministry, at least nominally, ‘we did it in your name.’ Nor is it because of the success of their ministry, they performed ‘many miracles.’ They claimed they had prophesied and exorcised and healed in the name of Jesus. And that claim is not contradicted by Jesus. Sure they have done all of those things, but they are the ones to whom Jesus says, ‘I never knew you. It is not the profession, it is not the ministry, it is not the size of the ministry that matters. And yet this is the popular ministry, even mainstream- ‘Many will say to me.’ Now throughout this sermon the contrast is being made between the many and the few- many go the broad way, only a few find the gate which leads to life. Many will have this kind of big, impressive active ministry, so where are the few, those whom Jesus does accept? The few are those who, ‘Do the will of my Father.’ That is what Jesus is looking for.

You see it isn’t the crowds that are key, for those crowds will in just a few short years be calling out ‘Crucify.’ They are not the disciples. It is to the disciples he says, ‘You are to be salt, you are a light and a city on a hill’ and you will be persecuted for it. Men will see that you are different and hate you for it and also praise God for it. For if the Kingdom of heaven is coming with me, it is coming with suffering. It is not coming with the turning of stones to bread, or the spectacular stunt of throwing myself off a temple and being caught by angels. It is coming by me going the way of the cross to hang in the place of sinners, bearing their guilt and punishment in their stead so as to do the will of my Father, to give my life as a ransom for many and so fulfilling all the law and the prophets as we saw in chapters 4 and 5.

Real, authentic Christian ministry ,then- fishing for men- is not Pharisaic legalism, or the miracle ministry, or wealth and prosperity ministry. It about changed hearts , the changed way of life that is so supernatural that it cannot be explained except that it has something of the touch of God about it. It is change on the inside which leads to change on the outside-that is what Jesus wants.

And how does that change happen? Look at v24 ‘Therefore,( in the light of everything I have been saying to you, here is the conclusion, the devastating punchline ) everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built is house upon the rock.’ Doing the will of the Father means doing the words of Jesus, its as simple as that. For these are words of wisdom and God is wisdom. As they are heard and acted upon, they provide a foundation which can withstand whatever life might throw at you, and more importantly the survive the test of the final judgement. But only if they are acted upon. To simply hear them, to be the sermon taster, to applaud the minister or for the minister to applaud himself and not do anything about what he has preached is more than stupid it is dangerous- it is the situation of the foolish man in v26. For when the storms of life hit, which they will-with a bereavement, a disability, a failed relationship- you want to be able to stand. And when the final judgement breaks upon us we most certainly will want to be able to stand for then we will not be able to say, ‘But I went to church, my parents were Christians, I belonged to the right group.’ The only thing that will matter will be whether you listened to the teaching of Jesus-the whole Gospel- and did something about it.

You see, many of us are with the crowds who have been listening in to his instructions to his disciples , v28 ‘ The crowds were amazed at his teaching for he taught as one who had authority.’ They were impressed-amazed. They even recognised something of a divine about it, his authority. But do you know what that counted for in Jesus eyes? Absolutely-nothing. Because the crowds didn’t do anything about it.

In a nutshell it boils down to this, and it goes right against the conventional wisdom of much that passes for Christianity today, Crowds are not the reality of a successful ministry, but changed lives are essential for a successful ministry, because if we are not different, we have nothing to say. Now it may well be that you are here tonight and you are thinking to yourself, ‘That is exactly why I am not a Christian, why I am holding back. I have seen how some professing Christians have behaved and I have been hurt.’ I wouldn’t deny that for a moment. But let me say this, whether you are a teenager, whether you are a student or a little older: Don’t let the short comings of others make you fall short. Just because others have not taken Jesus’ teaching seriously, doesn’t mean that you should fail to take his teaching seriously and so imperil your eternal soul. Just because other people have accepted a sham, please don’t you do it. In fact, you have the opportunity to show how the Christian life is meant to be lived. If you are disappointed with your friends or family who for all that they say keep Christ domesticated, you can go the whole way and become a radical Christian. You can allow your mind to be renewed- ask the tough questions, go against the flow of comfortable Christianity and contemporary society with its hedonism and self-indulgence and say, ‘I want Christ to be number one, I want to make my life count for something by giving up my life for him.’ What about it? You know Jesus is real, he is God. You know he gives the Holy spirit to change you, that he died for you so that your life can count and go on beyond the grave. Let tonight be the night when you say ‘Yes’ to him with no turning back. Forget the crowd and follow Christ.

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