Jesus brings his marvelous sermon that we call the Sermon on the Mount to end with a call for the people who are listening to him to choose. Jesus gives us a number of pictures as he ends his sermon for us to decide between the two choices that lie before us. Let us notice the first picture Jesus gives.
The Narrow Gate (7:13-14)
This is the appeal that Jesus has been moving toward throughout this sermon. Now is the time to decide about becoming citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Jesus has shown the characteristics of his kingdom in his sermon. The first picture Jesus gives is very simple but surprising. There is a wide gate that many enter through, yet it leads to destruction. Enter the narrow gate. Few will find it and the way is hard but it leads to life. Notice that this decision is a matter of life and death. Jesus’ sermon cannot be admired for its ethics. Jesus forces a decision. There is one right way that few find and there are many false ways that lead to destruction. We should have a good grasp of the narrowness of this gate to life when we think about what Jesus has said about the character of those who are truly kingdom citizens. It is a gate that requires denying self, being poor in spirit, mourning over sins, loving your enemies, not being angry with your brother, not lusting in the heart, turning the other cheek, laying up treasures in heaven, not being anxious about this life, and doing to others what you would have them do to you. This narrow gate that leads to life requires a constant striving to enter. Notice verse 14 again: “The way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” This path is hard. There is nothing easy about entering through the narrow gate. Joining masses in belief, doctrine, or practice will not lead us into eternal life. Following the masses is a destructive spiritual choice. Jesus did not give us any kind of picture that declares that you are a citizen of the kingdom of heaven if you pick a church and go every Sunday.
God has always called for his people to make the choice to follow him to receive life. Moses declared that he had set the choice of life and death, blessing and curse, before the people (Deuteronomy 30:19-20). Joshua set before the people to choose this day who they would serve (Joshua 24:13-15). Elijah on Mount Carmel to stop waffling between the two choices (1 Kings 18:21). Jeremiah declared, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death'” (Jeremiah 21:8). Jesus sets before us the same decision of life or death. One way is easy and many find it but it goes to destruction. One is way hard and few find it but it leads to life.
The Warning of False Teachers (7:15-23)
Now Jesus gives a warning. There are all kinds of people who look like they are Christians but they are not. Isn’t this sad? Beware of false prophets. Beware of false teachers. There are those who come to you in sheep’s clothing but they are wolves in their hearts. There are churches that look like they are doing what is right but they are not because the gate is narrow and there are many false teachers and prophets. There are many Bible teachers who look like they love God but they are not to be listened to because they are false. What are we supposed to do to know? How can we know what is the right church? How can we know who is a true teacher? Listen to what Jesus says.
First, in verse 16 Jesus says that you will recognize them by their fruits. Healthy trees bear good fruit and diseased trees bear bad fruit. Healthy trees do not bear bad fruit and diseased trees do not bear good fruit. Fruit is the first component to watching out for false prophets and teachers. We are looking for pure motives and good hearts which can only be ultimately evaluated by the fruit in one’s life. Pure motives and hearts that love God will bear the fruit the reflect that. People like to say to ignore someone’s actions because they have a good heart. Jesus tells us that this is not possible. Good hearts produce good fruits. People who are inwardly ravenous wolves will deceive you with their words, but you will see by their actions who they truly are.
The other way to recognize those who are false is given in verses 21-23. You will notice the similarity of what Jesus just said. Christianity is not about words but about submission and obedience. Now I want you to carefully consider verses 21-22. There are going to be many people who say the right things. There are going to be people who claim to be followers of God. There are going to be many who seem to be devoted to the Lord because of the way they talk. Further, there are going to be many people who on the day of judgment will say that they did many good works in the name of the Lord. Not only are there going to be people who look like Christians, who speak like a Christian, and look like they act like Christians. They had Bible classes. They had worship services. But notice what Jesus will say to them in verse 23: “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”
Is this surprising to hear? We live in such a pluralist society which says that you can go to any church, that there are multiple ways to God, that if you are generally a good person, or something like this that you will go to heaven. I want us to pause and listen to what Jesus has told us. The way to life is a narrow gate that is hard and few find it. There are many people who are false teachers that will try to take you off of the narrow path to life. There are many people who will speak like Christians and do works like Christians but Jesus says that he does not know them. Why does Jesus not know them? They are confessing the Lord. They are prophesying in the Lord’s name. They are doing many mighty works in God’s name. Why does Jesus not know them? Look carefully at the text. Jesus calls them “workers of lawlessness.”
Jesus does not know them because they are lawless. They are workers of lawlessness. What does this mean? Simply break down the phrase. The works that they are doing are without the law of God. That is, they do not act with God’s authority. They are saying the right things and they are doing good works but they are operating outside of the law and authority of God. We cannot have a lax view of God’s law and cannot have a lax view regarding our obedience to God’s law. The gate is narrow that leads to life and people who seem to say Christian things and do good works are not entering the kingdom of heaven if they do not keep to the laws of God as revealed to us in the scriptures. This is why you cannot pick the church of your choice. All religions do not lead to God. All denominations do not lead to God. All churches do not lead to God. Not even all churches of Christ lead to God. Look again at verse 21. Only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter the kingdom of heaven. It is not doing good works or saying Christian things. We must do what Jesus has told us to do. We must do the will of the Father. We must act within the authority of God’s law. Otherwise we are also workers of lawlessness.
This changes everything about how we live our lives and how we function as a church. There are all kinds of churches today that say, “Lord, Lord” but are false teachers because they are not doing the will of the Father. They are not acting within the authority of the scriptures. There are churches that teach that sexual immorality is acceptable. There are churches that teach that homosexuality is acceptable. There are churches that teach that adultery is acceptable. There are churches that refuse to pass judgment on sinful behaviors. There are churches that teach that divorce for any reason is acceptable. There are churches that teach that promiscuity is tolerable. There are churches that do not emphasize the word of God and “thus says the Lord” but instead are more concerned about entertaining you and making you comfortable. There are churches that are invested in social activities, offering softball leagues and other social functions. There are churches that do not think it matters how we worship God even though the scriptures are filled with commands and examples that how we worship God is of the utmost importance to God. We cannot act without God’s authority in worship. Sure, it would be fun to put instrumental music in the building and rock out. But that is lawlessness because there is no authority in the scriptures to do that. There are churches that turn worship into a show so that we come to be entertained rather than coming to give God the glory and praise he deserves. There are churches that teach that we can use the treasury of the church for all kinds of social uses, when the scriptures give us that we must use the money of our Lord teach the lost (evangelism), teach the saved (edification), and help those brothers and sisters in Christ who are in need (benevolence).
Do we see what Jesus is saying? We must have a spiritual intensity about us because the gate is narrow and few find it. The easy path leads to our spiritual destruction. We must have a spiritual intensity about what we are doing and what we are teaching because there are false teachers, and they will look like they love God but they are wolves who lead people away from the Lord. We must have a spiritual intensity because Jesus just said that even people who say, “Lord, Lord” and do good works will still be excluded from the kingdom of heaven if they are not acting within God’s authority as revealed in the scriptures. Friends, this should make perfect sense to us. Jesus did not give this sermon so that people would think that however you come to Jesus is fine. Jesus has taught us some very hard lessons in this sermon. From anger, lust, judging, loving others, forgiving others, and trusting God we have seen how narrow the gate is to the kingdom of heaven. How can we possibly be surprised to know that there are going to be many people who want to look like Christians but are actually workers of lawlessness? As a church we cannot do whatever we want to do. As a church we cannot worship however we want to worship. As a church we cannot teach whatever we want to teach. We cannot teach warm, fuzzy stories that are devoid of the word of God. As a Christian, we cannot do whatever we want to do either.
Wise and Foolish Builders (7:24-29)
Jesus concludes by contrasting wise and foolish builders. There was a wise man who built his house on the rock so that when the rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew, that house did not fall. There was also a foolish man who build his house on the sand so that when the rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew, that house fell and its fall was great.
Who is the wise person in this illustration? Look at verse 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.” Who is the foolish person? Look at verse 26. “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.” What is the difference between these two individuals? Both of them heard Jesus’ words. Both of them have listened to this sermon. The difference is one person did what Jesus said and the other did not.
Do we hear and do what Jesus says or do we just hear? We must not disregard God’s law! We must not ignore what Jesus is teaching! How amazing it is that this is exactly what happens! We have a choice. The way to life is not easy and few find it. Let that sink into our hearts. Jesus said that few find the way to life. The ways of God are not intuitive. The ways of God are not to follow your heart or your desires. The ways of God are to listen to what Jesus says and then to do them. The poor in spirit, the pure in heart, the meek and humble, and the ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness are the blessed in God’s kingdom. Now we can see why the crowds were astonished by this sermon and the way Jesus taught (7:28-29). What challenging words!
Build your house on the rock. Hear the words of Jesus and do them. Take the narrow path to life and enter that narrow gate. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. Jesus says it is foolish to hear what he is saying and still build your life on anything other than his will and his authority. It matters how we live our lives. It matters how we worship. It matters what teachers say. This is our spiritual lives at stake. We must have an intensity for the outcome of our souls. Be wise and build your house on the rock.