Build your house on the Lord Jesus Christ: A Sermon from Matthew 7:24-29

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And 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. And 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. And 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.”

And when Jesus had finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes (Matt 7:24-29).

Jesus ends the Sermon on the Mount with a parable about 2 builders, 2 foundations, 1 test and 2 vastly different outcomes from that test. Watch my sermon that closed out our 32 week study of the Sermon on the Mount.

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2 Gates, 2 Roads: A Sermon on Matthew 7:13-14

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. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Matt 7:13-14).

Jesus issues a firm challenge: all of us will either enter the wide gate and walk the easy road… or enter the narrow gate and walk the hard road. But he also offers us a promise: He is the gate. And he is the way.

Practicing Righteousness, Pursuing Eternal Rewards

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for them you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).

In prepping for an upcoming sermon on part of Matthew 6, I was struck by the two presuppositions of Matthew 6:1, along with the three specific areas that are then elaborated on. In short, verse 1 serves as the big idea of which the rest of the chapter serves as an explanation and application of verse 1.

Two Presuppositions in Matthew 6:1

Practicing RighteousnessVerse 1 presupposes two important things:

  • We are supposed to practice righteousness.
  • That is a funny statement, but we are to be living out the disciplines of the Christian faith. There are good and necessary out workings of our faith, and we are expected to be applying them to our lives.
  • We are to long for rewards.
  • Unfortunately, too many Christians think that rewards are bad. Never does the Bible condemn pursuing rewards, but instead presents a picture of actively pursuing rewards, crowns, and treasures.

The caution the Bible does provide with respect to pursuing rewards is to pursue eternal rewards, not temporal ones. Pursue treasures that will last forever, not ones that will be pass away. Pursue heavenly rewards, not immediate gratification rewards from those around us. And therein lies exactly the reason that Jesus then elaborates on three specific areas of application.

Three Specific Areas to which Jesus Applies Matthew 6:1

  • Giving to the needy (vs 2-4).
    • “Thus when you give to the needy…” (vs 2)
    • “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (vs 4).
    • There is a temptation to approach giving to the needy as a means of paying it forward, thinking that it will come back to us in the future. Or we make a big deal about our giving, trumpeting how many kids we sponsor or how many wells we’ve helped dig. There is a reward to our giving to the needy. But for me, I want my reward to come from the Father who sees in secret…
  • Prayer (vs 5-6)
    • “And when you pray…” (vs 5)
    • “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (vs 6).
    • Daniel went into his closet and prayed. May that be a great example for us that our prayers not be marked by ten-cent words, but rather by humble spirits dependent upon God to move in our lives and on our behalf. But there is a temptation to show off our praying. here is a reward to our prayer. But for me, I want my reward to come from the Father who sees in secret…
  • Fasting (vs 16-18)
    • “And when you fast…” (vs 16)
    • “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (vs 18).
    • This is one many (most) of us rarely do. But if we do, we want to make sure everyone knows about it. “I’m fasting from Facebook for Lent.” Nevermind my thoughts on that even counting as a “fast,” but notice how self-congratulating it is. And likely, also its own full reward. here is a reward to our fasting. But for me, I want my reward to come from the Father who sees in secret…

Did you see the structure of those sections? Each started with “when you…” and ended with “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Those sections begin and end by addressing the two presuppositions of verse 1. May each of us ever grow in our practice of righteousness, and eagerly await the day we will be with the Father in glory and receive his eternal rewards.

Kingdom of God vs. Kingdom of Heaven: A Meaningful Difference?

Having seen in the prior posts (1 | 2) the priority of the kingdom in the gospels – both in declaring Jesus the rightful king over all and in Jesus’ own preoccupation with the kingdom – we must ask an important question. Is there a meaningful difference between the term “kingdom of God” and “kingdom of heaven”? Matthew, in his gospel, always uses the term “kingdom of heaven” while Mark and Luke both use “kingdom of God.” Is there a difference?

Let me suggest that the difference is not of meaning in the term but rather primarily with respect to audience. Matthew was writing to a primarily Jewish audience which held names for God in the utmost of respect. Heaven, then became a word used as a substitute for the venerable name of God. Last year, I was presenting at a conference on leadership. While attending another session at the conference, one of the presenters, Jewish by descent, wrote and spoke of “G-D.” That is, even today, rather than use the name of God, he inserted a dash for the vowels. That is what we are talking about here. Matthew, knowing his primary audience was Jewish, substituted the word “heaven” for the word “God” in deference to their tradition.

Mark and Luke, on the other hand, were writing to more Gentile audiences (Luke himself was a Gentile). A phrase like “kingdom of heaven” would not have had context or meaning to their audiences. So, they use the phrase “kingdom of God” because it was more contextualized and meaningful to their audience.

So, in short, “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” are not two different expressions with two different meanings. No, they are one and the same, contextualized for the original audiences of the gospel writers.

Interact: What expressions do we contextualize in our culture to help our audience understand us and make sure our message is clear?

 

Jesus’ Preoccupation with the Kingdom

In the previous post, I introduced what will be an ongoing look at the kingdom of God. The first contention was that the primary polemic and purpose of the gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) was to establish Jesus as the rightful king. At his birth, at his trial and at his death, the Scriptures declare Jesus as king. But the gospel writers go further. As the describe Jesus, his teachings and miracles, they picture someone who was himself consumed and preoccupied by the kingdom of God.

That is, Jesus taught about and thought about the kingdom of God more than any other single topic. More than money. More than heaven or hell. More than salvation. Because all of those find their meaning and purpose under the umbrella of the kingdom of God. Following are just some of the verses about the kingdom found in the gospels, with a short declaration of its implication.

  • “From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near'” (Matt. 4:17).
    • The coming of the kingdom should lead us to repentance.
  • “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3).
    • The kingdom is coming not to the powerful, but to unexpected people.
  • “Then Jesus asked, ‘What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches'” (Luke 13:18-19).
    • The kingdom of God is growing and expanding – and will do so until it fills the whole earth.
  • “But Jesus called the children to him and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it'” (Luke 18:16-17).
    • Again, the kingdom is coming to unexpected people.
  • “This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
    • In his model prayer, Jesus calls us to pray that the kingdom would come on earth. More on this important thought in a future post.
  • “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matt. 6:33).
    • The kingdom is to be of first priority to us as God’s people.

In total, the NIV has 116 verses with the word “kingdom” in the gospels! This is, obviously, just a subset. I have compiled the full list here: Kingdom Verses. Here’s the point: the kingdom of God was Jesus’ preoccupation. And, according to Matthew 6:33, he has invited (nay, instructed) us to be preoccupied by his kingdom too.

Interact: Jesus has instructed us to be preoccupied with his kingdom. But to do so, we have to know what the kingdom of God is. What is the kingdom of God?

 

Slaying the Money Idol

Over on FB and Twitter, I referenced an article over at Faith and Leadership that asks, “Should pastors know what members give?” I wasn’t even really trying to push one answer, just referencing F&L article as it offered some useful insights. This set off quite a discussion, but most of the objections center around money being a private issue,  shaped by the privitistic, individualistic culture in which we live. While not intending to answer the question about pastors knowing, I do think the discussion raises an even bigger issue.

As is often stated, Jesus spent more time talking about money than he did any issue short of the kingdom of God. Why? Because money is a big deal. Consider Matthew 6:24…

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” Matthew 6:24.

You cannot serve both God and money. They are at odds with one another. Only one can be that in which you hope and trust. Our money may say “In God we trust,” but, for most of us, it’s money we trust. We idolize and worship money, not God. Consider this cartoon…

Poignant, huh? It has often been said that “Jesus is either Lord of all or not at all.” That is, there is no keeping your money out of the conversation. When our money is out of bounds, or kept unto ourselves, you are making a choice to serve money. And, again, as Jesus has said, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t serve both God and money. The real issue here is one of slaying idols and of sanctification. At some point in your sanctification, your attitude and approach toward money will be brought to the forefront. Just a few verses earlier, Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Bring your money into the waters of baptism that you may be sanctified and Jesus may be all in all.

Interact: What money idol do you need to slay in order to set your heart on the Kingdom of God?

Hypocritical: Part 2 – A look at Matthew 23

In part 1 we saw the perception the world has of us: we are hypocrites. Before we can consider how to reframe that perception, we must turn to Matthew 23, the seminal passage on the topic. Six times in this passage Jesus calls the Pharisees “hypocrites.” While the entire passage is relevant, we are going to focus on verses 25-28.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness (Matthew 23:25-28).

I love the pictures Jesus paints in these strong words of condemnation. Imagine going to get something to eat and drink in your kitchen and realizing all the dishes are dirty. You turn on the water and wash the outside of the cup you are going to use, but never clean the inside! You wouldn’t have to do that too many times before bacteria and mold would make you sick. And picture your local cemetary. They are usually very well manacured lawns with great landscaping. But underneath the surface are bones returning to the dust from which they came.

A few years ago, I attended the a conference on “Homosexuality and the Church.” It was a great learning experience for me. One quote in particular from the conference has continued to shape and inform my thinking. “The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality. It’s holiness.” The point: homosexuality is a sin, but change begins by being renewed in the grace of Christ, not merely by modifying outward behavior. Modifying outward behavior without inward change (cleaning the outside of the cup but not the inside) is legalism and part of the reason that we are in this mess of turning people away based on hypocrisy.

When I was with Young Life, people often asked why we allowed students to smoke at camp. (To be honest, it wasn’t so much as curious asking as chiding poorly disguised a question.) The answer was simple: before we worried about their behavior, we wanted them to experience the Christ can bring them life. Only then change true transformation and life-change occur. We could expand the idea that the opposite of homosexuality is holiness to include any sin. “The opposite of [insert my sin struggle here] is holiness.” And the path to healing and restoration from any sin is the same: the inner-workings of the Holy Spirit to sanctify us. As Karen referenced in her comment on part 1, 1 John 1:9 holds a key for us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Then, as the Holy Spirit cleanses us through the atoning work of Christ, our inner-beings will be cleaned and overflow into right actions.

Interact: In what area of your life are you busy cleaning the outside without asking the Spirit’s aid in cleaning the inside?