Sometimes it feels hard to be a real Jesus-follower when so many others seem to get by just fine ignoring most of what he said, and even call themselves Christians while doing it. But Jesus told us right here that that is how it would be. If we claim to be followers of Jesus, it seems only right that we don’t dispute what he said.
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Matthew #23 . 7:12-29
Matthew 7:12 deserves honorable mention, but it isn’t my intention to preach an entire sermon on it. Jesus said:
In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets. (Matt 7:12, NET)
We call this “the golden rule.” It isn’t complicated to understand, so just do it. If you have trouble doing it, ask the Holy Spirit to empower you – ask him to do it through you. There.
Now, let’s move on to verses 11-29. Jesus begins with this statement:
“Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it. (Matt 7:13-14, HCSB)
I think many Christians often forget that Jesus said this. I know I do. I get to feeling uncomfortable that I am so out of step with the culture around me, that my values are so different, or that so few people seem to have the same outlook on life. Sometimes it feels hard to be a real Jesus-follower when so many others seem to get by just fine ignoring most of what he said, and even call themselves Christians while doing it. But Jesus told us right here that that is how it would be.
John records some other words of Jesus that explain this a little bit:
So Jesus said again, “I assure you: I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. (John 10:7-9, HCSB)
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:6, HCSB)
And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. The one who has the Son has life. The one who doesn’t have the Son of God does not have life. I have written these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1John 5:11-13, HCSB)
The gate, the door, the narrow way, the life – is Jesus. If we have Jesus, we have life. If we trust Jesus alone, we are on the narrow way. If we do not have Jesus, we do not have life, and we are on the road to destruction. This is the exclusive claim that Jesus himself makes. This is what makes Christianity different from all other religions. It isn’t about earning points with God. It isn’t about bettering yourself, or peace, or making the world a better place. It is all about Jesus Christ. Some of those other things happen, but they are side effects of trusting Jesus and letting him be our king.
Claiming that Jesus Christ is the exclusive road or gate to heaven may make some people uncomfortable. But it is what Jesus himself teaches, as evidenced right here. If we claim to be followers of Jesus, it seems only right that we don’t dispute what he said.
He also said “few find the narrow road.” This is an uncomfortable statement, but obviously, Jesus said it. We should not expect the majority of people to be on the narrow road, the road to life through Jesus. On the positive side, it should not discourage us when we don’t encounter many people who have surrendered their lives to Jesus. It should also not discourage us when many other people do not understand what we believe or how we are living. As Jesus said earlier in the sermon on the mount, we are supposed to be different.
On the other hand, it should encourage us to tell others about Jesus. If He claims to be the only way (and He does), we shouldn’t be apathetic about Him, or about how others feel about Him. If we really love someone, and we really believe that Jesus is the one narrow way, the loving thing to do is to tell other people about Him,
Jesus goes on, with a related topic:
“Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So you’ll recognize them by their fruit. (Matt 7:15-20, HCSB)
First Jesus says the way is narrow. Now he adds that false prophets will come. To put it another way, not every preacher or leader who claims to speak the truth is actually doing so. Jesus gives us a way to know who is “false” and who is not. He says we should know them by their fruit.
Now, I’m afraid sometimes we Christians forget what the Bible actually calls fruit. Spiritual fruit does not mean “outwardly successful.” Sometimes following Jesus brings outward success, sometimes it does not. Fruit does not mean “something that works.” We can’t say, “Hey I did what this preacher said, and it works for me, so he must be from God.” The bible is actually quite clear about spiritual fruit. First, good spiritual fruit comes only from staying connected to Jesus:
Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. (John 15:4, HCSB)
There are many verses talking variously about the fruit of righteousness or of peace or good works. There are many other verses talking about “fruitless” behavior. Galatians 5:22-23 pulls it all together for us:
Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar. I tell you about these things in advance — as I told you before — that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:19-23, HCSB)
Fruit is found in these spiritual qualities, manifested in connection with Jesus Christ: love, joy, peace patience kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The Galatians passage also lists “the works of the flesh.” We can discern if someone is a false teacher or not by examining whether or not the fruit of the spirit is present and growing, or whether or not the works of the flesh are present and increasing. We can also know them by their attitude toward Jesus Christ. Jesus said we can’t produce fruit apart from him, so if someone appears to be loving and peaceful on the outside, but denies Jesus or His words, we know that person is also not from God.
But then, Jesus adds this sobering thought:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord! ’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven. On that day many will say to Me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in Your name, drive out demons in Your name, and do many miracles in Your name? ’ Then I will announce to them, ‘I never knew you! Depart from Me, you lawbreakers!’ (Matt 7:21-23, HCSB)
First, this confirms what we said above – true spiritual fruit does not consist in the achievement of great deeds, or outward success. Prophesying in Jesus’ names and even exorcisms and miracles do not mean that a person is from God.
I once met a woman on a plane who worked a conference for a famous Christian healer. I know people who have been healed and delivered at his events. Even so, I have heard him preach on television, and it didn’t sound right to me. What this woman told me, along with the preaching I had heard, suggests to me that this man may be a false teacher, a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Yes, he has healed people and performed miracles in Jesus name. But according to this passage, that does not necessarily mean that he actually knows Jesus and has surrendered his life to Him.
You may wonder, how can this be? Actually, there are a number of places where the bible teaches that miracles can be done by false prophets and those who would lead people astray. The magicians of Pharaoh’s court duplicated Moses’ first few miracles, in Exodus chapters seven and eight. A slave-girl at Philippi prophesied through the power of a demon (Acts 16:16). Jesus himself reiterated this later on, as recorded by Matthew:
False messiahs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Take note: I have told you in advance. (Matt 24:24-25, HCSB)
Paul, led by the Holy Spirit, also taught this same thing:
The coming of the lawless one is based on Satan’s working, with all kinds of false miracles, signs, and wonders, and with every unrighteous deception among those who are perishing. They perish because they did not accept the love of the truth in order to be saved. (2Thess 2:9-10, HCSB)
In some ways, it is in the book of Deuteronomy that we hear mostly clearly how to evaluate false miracles:
“If a prophet or someone who has dreams arises among you and proclaims a sign or wonder to you, and that sign or wonder he has promised you comes about, but he says, ‘Let us follow other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us worship them,’ do not listen to that prophet’s words or to that dreamer. For the LORD your God is testing you to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul. You must follow the LORD your God and fear Him. You must keep His commands and listen to His voice; you must worship Him and remain faithful to Him. (Deut 13:1-4, HCSB)
The fruit of the Spirit is important in evaluating false prophets. So is the truth. No matter what kind of miracles someone works, if what they are teaching goes against the truth of God’s Word (the Bible) then we consider them to be false teachers who work miracles either through trickery or demonic power.
I have a friend who really doesn’t like this verse about people who said they did all kinds of things in Jesus’ name. He worries that maybe he’s one of the people doing that. You may have the same fear. I have a few responses. First, I hope you can see now that this is connected to the business of false prophets and wolves in sheep’s clothing. In other words, it is partially about understanding the things I have just laid out in the previous few paragraphs. Second, I think the whole passage is all about knowing Jesus. The gate is Jesus. The road is Jesus. The way is Jesus. The life is Jesus. And Jesus is a person. So the way to have the life, the gate, the road etc is to “have” Jesus.
I’ve used this analogy before, but it’s like marriage. I’m married. That means I “have” a spouse. What “having” a husband or wife means is that you have a certain kind of relationship with that other person, a relationship that is not like any of your other relationships. In the same way “having” Jesus means you have a relationship with him. It is unlike any of your other relationships. It requires a lot of trust on your part, because you can’t see him or feel him physically.
Suppose I get married. I go through the ceremony with my wife, consummate the relationship, and then leave her. Maybe every few years I find my wife again, and spend a long weekend with her. But on a regular basis, I don’t live with her. I don’t interact her. In fact, I almost never act like a real husband. If that were the case, would our wedding really mean anything? Could you really say I am a husband?
Now, imagine that after a lifetime like this, when we are old, I find out that she has inherited a huge amount of money. I find her in a big, beautiful new house, and say, “OK honey, I’m ready to share my life with you. Let’s take a trip around the world, and maybe buy a private island.”
Wouldn’t such a husband be thoroughly despicable? Wouldn’t the woman have every right to say: “Forget it. You’ve never been a true husband. You’ve had nothing to do with me for years. You come back and use me when it suits you, but you’ve never wanted to even live with me. You think you can just waltz in her, now that I am wealthy, and have whatever you want? No way.”
Too many people treat Jesus like that despicable husband. Doing things “in his name” is not the same thing as having a relationship with the Person, Jesus Christ. The relationship starts with trusting Him and letting Him be the King of our lives. In other words, how you live and what you do should be directed by Jesus, starting with what He says through the Bible. That’s what Jesus is saying here. If you get baptized as a baby, and later confirmed in the church, but have nothing to do with Jesus afterwards, you are not in a relationship with Jesus. You are not his follower. If you “get saved” in church, and baptized, and then afterwards have nothing to do with Jesus, you are not his follower. You are in danger of being someone who says “But Lord, I got baptized in your name. I got saved, and said a prayer in your name!” And Jesus might reply: “But you never knew me. You never trusted me, you never obeyed what I said.”
You see, we are not called to be just converts, or church-goers. We are called to be disciples – people who trust Jesus and increasingly seek to let him work in and through us. Jesus makes it clear that we should also be people who seek to trust and obey what he says. The whole bible was inspired by the Holy Spirit. So when we seek to trust and obey, it isn’t just the “words in red,” the words of Jesus. It is the whole bible.
“Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. And its collapse was great! ” (Matt 7:24-27, HCSB)
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