"The Sermon on the Mount" - Part 5
The Sermon on the Mount (30)
The Broad and the Narrow Way
'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 thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.' (Matt. 7:13,14)
Only Two Possibilities
The illustration is simple and easy to understand: there are only two gates, two ways, two groups and two destinies for all mankind. It is not said directly what the two gates and ways mean. But the two ultimate destinies to which they lead - either destruction or life are clear. None can doubt the seriousness of these well-known words.
To start with there is a decision. The Lord calls for a decision to enter in at the strait gate and walk in the narrow way of obedience that leads to life. It is much easier to follow the masses through the wide gate on the broad way of disobedience, but it is disastrous to do so because this leads to destruction! The word used for 'destruction' in this passage signifies eternal damnation.
The Way of Discipleship: following Jesus
The Lord's counsel is: 'Enter ye in at the strait gate.' He says this following the warning about the broad way and on to explain, 'Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.'
We see in this that everybody is invited to enter in at the narrow gate. The way of discipleship, however, is 'narrow' because it is a way of self-denial and surrender, as well as being full of opposition that may even bring persecution. But it is the entrance unto life. The Lord already has said in chapter 5:20, 'Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom heaven.' Later Paul and Barnabas exhorted the believers in Minor Asia 'that we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God' (Acts 14:22).
In Luke 13:24 the Lord says only, 'Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.' The warning about the broad way is omitted there. This emphasizes the seriousness of the invitation to His disciples.
We must always remember in the Sermon on the Mount that it does not yet speak of the gospel of grace but of the personal decision to follow the Lord as a faithful disciple. The Lord Jesus does not present the grace of God and the way of salvation, but human responsibility and the way of discipleship. The grace of God together with man's responsibility form the two 'lanes' of the one way. For on the other side there is only one way, which is the way leading to eternal damnation. The disciple's personal responsibility could not possibly be stressed in a more serious way.
'Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.' These words of the Lord are bitter for the flesh, but they express in the clearest manner the seriousness of the situation. The decision to be taken has eternal consequences. This is why we must not look for a conflict between these verses and Matthew 11:30: 'For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.' The natural, unregenerate man is without strength; he is ungodly, a sinner and an enemy of God (according to Romans 5:6-10). For such a one to follow Christ is an indescribable hardship. This is why he needs the love, grace and mercy of God to draw him. In contrast, it is easy for the born again man to follow his Master. He has received a new nature from God, and this has the sole desire to do His will, although the old nature remains and continues to resist the new one.
The Broad Way
It is axiomatic for the natural man (that is a man without new life from God) to go in at the wide gate and walking in the broad way. On this way there are no restrictions. For everything is allowed on this way. But it ends in eternal destruction. We see it today just as the Lord describes then: many are blinded and misled by the inviting, wide entrance. They shut their eyes in respect of their ultimate destination. Generally one does not board a train or plane without knowing exactly when and where the journey is meant to end. But when it comes to the most important journey, the journey of life, multitudes do not even think about the end or their destiny, and lull themselves into a false sense of security.
Let us remember again that the subject here is not the gospel but the responsibility of the disciple, the follower of Christ. The danger also exists for him to be allured by the apparent comforts of life on to the broad way. Let no one who confesses the Lord fool himself by thinking that his manner of life does not matter much and that 'the main thing is faith'. There is not a single word in Scripture to support the view that living in sin, that is to walk in the broad way, will end in glory. Actually the Word of God says unmistakably that walking such a way will lead to damnation (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Eph. 5:5; Phil. 3:18-19).
From this we must not conclude that born again Christians can lose his salvation. Scripture speaks of men saved by the grace of God, for we read: 'No man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.' (John 10:29). But in respect of our testimony it must be proved to be genuine by our way of life in following the Lord. Such are the two sides of our relationship to God. Together they make up the divine seal of 2 Tim. 2:19, 'The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.'
Therefore the Lord's invitation in these verses is very serious. It is addressed to everybody who confesses the Lord.
The Sermon on the Mount (31)
by Their Fruits Ye Shall Know Them
'Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves' (Matthew 7:15).
The Lord Jesus at a very early stage warns His disciples against false prophets. However they did not appear immediately; they are rather a feature of the last days. He also refers to then in the Olivet discourse (Matt. 24:11,24), but there He speaks about the last days still to come. The grievous wolves against which Paul warned only entered among the flock after his departing (Acts 20:29), and the apostle John wrote of false prophets at a time when the first deviations from the truth of the gospel were already manifest
(1 John 4:1).
The characteristic of false prophets is that they come in sheep's clothing but in truth are ravening wolves. They pass for believers (and some might even be such) and yet their true intention is only manifested when they have entered among the flock: they are have come to steal and to scatter the sheep (John 10:12). They are able to deceive unwatchful children of God by cunningly transforming themselves into apostles of Christ (2 Cor. 11:13-15).
We find false prophets come up with new 'revelations'. And yet every Christian ought to ponder over the numerous so-called 'revelations' of modern prophets which have never been fulfilled. The beginning of the time of tribulation, for example, or the appearing of the Antichrist or the coming of the Lord have often been falsely 'prophesied' by leaders of various sects. And thousands have left home and family in a false hope - and have been bitterly disappointed! The Word of God, however, does not give us a single clue for such calculations! We ought to expect our Lord at any moment. And yet false prophets repeatedly succeed in deluding even true children of God.
There is another kind of false prophecy which can ensnare the hearts of believers. Sometimes men arise who speak about so-called hidden sins or entanglements of believers and bring real or supposed sins to light. By doing this they appeal to the feelings of many believers and seek to influence them. Often they not only say false things but some true things as well. And so many hardly recognise that they are false prophets.
The Lord Jesus says: 'Beware of false prophets.' The best way to discern the false from the true in spiritual matters is not to know the false but to know the true. The believer does not need to be able to refute every false doctrine, but should turn away as soon as he recognises that there is something that does not glorify his lord and Redeemer. And to recognise a false prophet one must know the features of a true prophet. A true prophet speaks out of communion with God to the hearts and consciences of his listeners. He will lead them into the light of God, to a deeper knowledge of Him and closer fellowship with Him. A prophetic ministry is characterised by ministering 'oracles of God' (1 Pet. 4:11), by reaching the hearts and consciences of the listeners and by working edification, exhortation and comfort or encouragement (1 Cor. 14:3).
What is meant by Fruits?
'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.' (verses 16-18)
To substantiate his warning against false prophets the Lord Jesus uses an illustration from creation. If you have good knowledge of nature you will often be able to recognise a tree from a distance by its shape and its leaves. But even someone who does not know nature as well as this will be generally able to identify a tree by its fruit. This is an illustration from daily life the Lord Jesus uses here.
The fruits are first of all the words of the prophets. True prophets of God also may fail in their manner of life and their deeds. Whereas false prophets are often characterised by an especially amiable nature. This is why the fruits in this case are not only deeds but particularly the teaching which is brought. By them the disciples of Jesus will recognise if the Spirit of God or a false spirit is speaking. The Word of God says: 'Try the spirits whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world.' and 'He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed' (1 John 4:1 and 2 John 9-10).
Thorns and thistles are symbolic of what the ground brings forth as a result of the fall of the first couple. Surely no one expects refreshing grapes or figs, which the Old Testament refers to as signs of God's blessing (see Zech. 3:10), to come forth from such plants. No, only a good tree can bring forth good fruit, and only a corrupt tree brings forth evil fruit. The word 'evil' (or 'bad' in JND) is used in a figurative sense. The fish in Matthew 13:48 are probably not bad either but inedible.
The Lord sets up a general principle which says that the quality of the tree is decisive for the quality of the fruit: 'Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.' (verse 17) To stress this principle he adds that there are no exceptions: 'A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit' (verse 18). This principle from nature has a spiritual application. It is a simple but clear 'either ... or' which helps the disciple to discern the spring from which the message he is hearing is coming.
'Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire' (verse 19). Already John the Baptist had uttered the same words when warning the Jews against the coming wrath and summoning them to repentance (ch. 3:10). How this twofold warning against God's judgment stresses the seriousness of the Lord Jesus' words! The judgment awaiting the false prophets is according to the holiness and justice of God, and yet it ought to be a warning to the listeners as well so that eternal destruction might not engulf them too.
Will all false prophets be lost, even those who have preached a message that was partially false but have tried to cling to the word of God in other respects? The seal of God in 2 Timothy 2:19 helps us answer this, 'The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity!'
We may not be certain, if someone bringing false teaching is a true child of God or not. But the Lord knows it. He sees the heart and knows if the evil is based upon an error or a proof that there has been no new birth. This is God's side of the seal. If such false prophets are truly born again they will not be lost. Their future is described in 1 Corinthians 3:12-15. Their work will be burned but they themselves shall be saved, yet so as by fire.
The other side of the seal is connected with our responsibility as men, who confess the name of the Lord Jesus. The Lord expects us to depart from any iniquity, that is from all that displeases God and that we bring forth fruit for him which corresponds to this confession. No one leading a life in contradiction to the will of God ought to take comfort in the thought that he is saved. This is why the paragraph ends with the repetition of the words: 'Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them' (v.20).
The Sermon on the Mount (32)
A Worthless Profession
False and True Profession
'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' (verse 21).
We are reaching the end of the Sermon on the Mount the Lord Jesus is addressing the consciences of the disciples in a very serious way. He had spoken of entering into the kingdom of heaven (ch. 5:20). And now He comes back on to this important matter. A mere confession of lips is not sufficient to have part in the blessings of the kingdom, be it now on earth or in a future day in heaven. Likewise a mere acquaintance with the name of the Lord Jesus or an infrequent use of that name will not do. Man's religion falls far short of what is needed, and by it many have been deceived and lost for eternity.
Our faith in the Lord Jesus and our love for Him ought to be recognised by our keeping His Word and by doing His and the Father's will from the heart (cf. Jn. 14:21, 23; Eph. 6:6). Every disciple who honestly professes to follow his Lord will admit that he is often falls in doing so, but the Lord knows our hearts and our desires to serve Him as we should.
We sometimes cannot say with certainty if someone who professes the Lord Jesus is a true believer or not. But the Lord is not only the saviour of sinners but the one who knows the heart and will one day be the incorruptible judge. Not only does he see the outward appearance but also the inner reality.
We are not say that profession does not have any importance. However, it should go further than this, 'For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation' (Rm. 10:10). A true disciple of Jesus will confess his Lord wherever he can. But in our verse in Matthew the Lord is warning about mere profession without true faith.
More than once the Lord Jesus has been talking to his disciples about God as their father (ch. 5:16, etc.). In our verse 21 it is the first time the Lord Jesus calls God 'my Father'. It was grace alone to bring the disciples into this relationship, riches of which the Lord opened up to them after his redemptive work on the cross. But as the Son of God only He knows God as His Father from eternity. He is and will always be the Son of His love. He was so when He came from heaven and being man upon earth revealed God and accomplished the work that was necessary for our salvation in greatest humility.
Can the Devil Perform Miracles?
'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?' (verse 22)
The Lord Jesus warns those who are lead religious lives, and even perform great deeds in His name and yet are lost for eternity. He does not speak of a few in this connection but of 'many' who have performed extraordinary things by calling upon his name and yet have to be condemned by him as wrongdoers.
Many believing readers of the Scriptures may ask, 'How is such a thing possible? Is it possible for men who are not born again but who wear a religious garment to perform miracles in the name of the Lord?' or they say, 'Is it possible for men doing great things in Christ's name to be lost?'
The Lord had already spoken of false prophets in verses 15 to 20. Balaam (2 Pet. 2:15-16), Saul (1 Sam. 10:11) and Caiaphas (Jn. 11:51-52) were prophets who had not been born again. And among the Lord's own disciples we find Judas Iscariot! (Note that the Lord Jesus had given his disciples power to cast out unclean spirits. See Mt. 10:1). Even amongst the Jews were such who cast out demons (Mt. 12:27). In Acts 19:13-16 we are told that seven sons of the Jewish high priest Sceva called on those who had wicked spirits in name of the Lord. In this case the wicked spirit was not submissive but prevailed against the 'would be' exorcists. But in how many other cases Satan has brought men under his spell! As Paul mentions in one of his letters, '...false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works' (2 Cor. 11:13-15).
These things have not been restricted to the beginning of Christendom only. In our days we will find - and especially so in charismatic circles - false prophets, healers and preachers, who perform miracles 'in the name of Christ'. And yet these men are not truly converted. The source of these miracles - if they are miracles at all, is none else than Satan himself. Every child of God should be most careful in judging extraordinary phenomena in Christian circles. By writing this we do not want to give the impression that all who distinguish themselves by sensational doings are not saved. Satan is able to beguile the heart of a believer also.
Men who have performed sensational miracles 'in the name of the Lord Jesus' but have not been converted will one day stand before him as their judge. Then it will be clear where that stand in regard to Him.
'That day' is not a single day but the whole time in which Christ as Son of man will execute a just judgment. In the Old Testament this day is called the day of the Lord (Isa. 2:11; Zech. 14:1-9). As we study through the New Testament we learn that 'that day' includes the whole time from the believers' appearing before the judgment seat of Christ up to the end of the millennium:
- The raptured saints will be made manifest in 'that day' before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Tim. 1:12 & 18; 4:8).
- The Lord Jesus will come on earth 'in that day' and His glory will be seen in all His saints (2 Thess. 1:10).
- 'In that day' He will execute judgment upon earth over the living. These will include mere professors who are without the life of God and who will receive their judgment (Mt. 25:31-46).
- The 1000-years reign of Christ with it's blessings and joys belongs to 'that day' as well (Mt. 26:29; cf. Mk. 14:25).
- Lastly all unbelievers will receive their eternal and just sentence to damnation 'in that day' (Mt. 7:22).
'And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.' (verse 23)
This awful moment will take place when these false professors will appear before the throne of Christ to receive their final sentence to damnation (Rev. 20:11-15).
The judge is the Lord Jesus to whom the Father has given all judgment because he is the Son of man (Jn. 5:22 & 27). He will no longer be the gracious Saviour of sinners but the Judge seated upon a great white throne. The sentence will be as follows, 'I never knew you.' It is not that these men are not known to the omniscient Lord but that He cannot accept them and their deeds. They may often have used his name and therefore in a certain sense have 'professed' Him but He will testify to them that they have not believed in him and therefore have no relationship with him.
What a proof these words are that a true believer cannot be lost again, for otherwise the Lord would have to say to them. 'It is true that I have known you but now I do not know you any more.' But no, he will say to these people:, 'I never knew you.' On the other hand He will say to those who have taken refuge in faith with Him, 'I know those that are mine and am known of those that are mine' (Jn. 10:14, N. Tr.).
The righteous judge will pronounce the terrible punishment, 'Depart from me'. Those who have made a false profession and pretended a nearness to Christ will be seen to have always been a stranger to him and will receive their punishment: eternal damnation from the presence of God and his glory (2 Thess. 1:9).
Here the Lord calls they who are eternally damned 'ye that work iniquity.' Literally it means 'workers of lawlessness'. For the Jews listening to His words in this passage are disregarding and trespassing the law of Sinai. Such is also the meaning of this word in Hebrews 10:17 where it is mentioned together with 'sin'. In other references lawlessness signifies more than that, for example in 1 John 3:4, where we read: 'Sin is lawlessness' (N.Tr.). Lawlessness in this verse is rebellion against the will of God which is binding upon every man. Lawlessness therefore is the true character of every sin. So 'those who work iniquity' are not the only guilty ones but all who do not want to submit to the will of God even if they have accomplished great things in the name of the Lord during their lives.
What a serious warning for the whole of Christendom!
Sermon on the Mount (33)
Hearing and Doing
The Lord Jesus concludes His teachings with the well-known picture of the wise man who built his house upon the rock and the foolish man who built his upon the sand (compare the parallel reference in Luke 6:47-49). Later on in the gospel He speaks of the same contrast again in the parable of the wise and foolish virgins (Mt. 25:1-13), and Paul exhorts the Ephesians, 'Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is' (Eph. 5:17). The wise or understanding man is someone who knows and does the will of the Lord, the foolish man, who hears the words of the Lord but does not do them.
The House upon the Rock
'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' (Mt. 7:24). As we have learnt in the previous passage a mere profession of the lips that we belong to the Lord Jesus is not sufficient to be accepted by Him. Now He explains what really matters in the lives of those who call themselves His disciples: not only to hear but also to do His words. We are often reminded of what the Lord Jesus says here when we read the words of James, 'But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves' (Jas. 1:22-27).
The Lord Jesus uses the symbol of a house to illustrate a human life. Just as every house requires a solid foundation to keep standing so every man needs a sure foundation for his life. The best foundation for a house is rock.
The rock upon which a wise man builds his life's 'house' is Christ. He is the 'rock' which accompanied the people of Israel during their wilderness journey (1 Cor. 10:4), the 'rock' upon which his church is built (Mt. 16:18) and the living stone to whom we come when we believe on him (1 Pet. 2:4). And here at the end of the Sermon on the Mount He is also the unshakeable foundation of the practical life of faith. In building his life's house upon the rock Jesus Christ the wise man finds it does not fall but it stands eternally. It means he directs his life according to the Lord Jesus and his word, which is the only way we can prove our love for Him. 'He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me... If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him' (John 14:21&23).
'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' (v. 25). It is often only a crisis that reveals if the house has been built upon a solid foundation or not. From a superficial point of view it may appear that a house is built on firm ground but a storm can prove otherwise.
Southern countries like Israel, for example, can suffer very heavy rainfall which transforms the wadis (rivers dried out during summertime) into rapid torrents within a very short time. The rain pouring down, the floods pressing on the foundations and the storm blowing against the walls will prove the worth of the foundations of houses. If they are laid on an elevated rock the storm may well damage the house but it will not be able to destroy it.
'For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again' (Proverbs 24:16). A disciple wanting to be faithful to the Lord and obey his word - that is the wise man in our parable - can fail also. Nor will he be spared trials. There are happenings and events that will shake the life of even the strongest believer to it's very foundation, but he knows that his house is built upon a solid rock and won't fall. And he has the full and unshakeable security of salvation in respect of eternity as well.
The House upon the Sand
'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.' (vv. 26-27)
The foolish man's thoughts do not go very deep. He builds a house as it pleases him without considering the foundation. There is a great temptation in 'building our lives' to put importance on those things that we can see outwardly and neglect the deeper matter of the foundation that is essential to a life for God. Everyone who hears and knows the words of scripture, the commandments of the Lord, and yet does not follow them is acting like the foolish man.
The rain pours down, the floods come and the winds blow against the walls of the house. The house is unable to stand up to it, '...and great was the fall of it'. Clearly this goes beyond the failures of daily life. The rock upon which the wise man builds his house is not temporary but the eternal Son of God and His everlasting word (Matt. 16:16-18). This is why the house stands the attack of the elements whereas the efforts in the life of the foolish man end in a great fall. Both have heard the word of the Lord but only one of them has lived accordingly.
This parable does not teach salvation by works. No one can stand before God on the basis of his own works but only as he has faith in the Lord Jesus. Then the life will be followed by works of faith. Such is one of the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount. A mere profession without faith is worthless but on the other hand there is no true faith without works.
The Lord puts the sad fate of the foolish man at the end and concludes His lengthy sermon with the words: '... and great was the fall of it.' This stresses in a remarkable way the eternal weight of His words and impresses the seriousness of our responsibility on our hearts and minds again - as it did on the hearts of His listeners at the time.
The Sermon on the Mount (34)
'And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine' (v. 28). The sermon of the Lord has come to an end. Although his words were directed to his disciples in the first place (see ch. 5:1), the crowd of listeners was much greater. Many had listened to the serious and clear teachings, and were astonished at them. We read of such astonishment on the part of the listeners at the doctrine of our Lord in Matthew 13:54; 22:33 etc. as well. It was different from what they were used to hearing from the Jewish scribes. His words were filled with authority, wisdom and grace (Mark 1:22; 6:2; Luke 4:22).
Many are still impressed today by the words of the Sermon on the Mount but they think they can use them to lead mankind out of the misery and injustice of our world! How many there are who admire the human greatness of Jesus of Nazareth without accepting him, the Son of God, as Saviour and Lord in faith! Others are astonished at the uniqueness, greatness and literary value of the Bible without recognising it as the Word of God, which shows the way out of darkness (and distance from God) into his wonderful light!
'For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.' (v. 29) The Lord Jesus spoke with His own, incontestable authority. His words were the words of God, and therefore sharper than any two-edged sword (compare with Heb. 4:12). As Son of God he revealed the thoughts of God, but he also knew how the heart of man, into which his words pierced as a sword, would respond to them.
In contrast the Jewish scribes relied on the authority of well-known Rabbis who had lived before them for all they taught. This is why their explanations were often lengthy and dry. Many of the schools of Jewish teaching from the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes had grown up in the 400 years after the last prophets of the Old Testament. They disputed over basic questions but were often taken up with debates about trifling matters. It is difficult to follow the arguments of the scribes, but many a sermon of our own day is not much better.
Certainly there were those listening to the Lord who were astonished and yet remained in unbelief as their fathers did in Isaiah's time. The prophet complains: 'Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?' (Isaiah 53:1). But many must have left for their homes after this sermon with serious and deep thoughts about their lives because they had been touched in their innermost soul. The words of the Lord Jesus are words of eternal life (John 6:68) and those who follow them in faith will only find blessing.
|« Previous chapter|