The Sermon on the Mount is typically read and studied in fragments over days or weeks. But these three chapters contain what Jesus said –primarily to the apostles– in just a matter of minutes. Studying it at length is fine; however keep in mind that during that short time His audience didn’t change –and neither did His topic.
Chapter five contrasted the Old and New Covenants’ ministries. The Old used pictures and dramas to demonstrate the results of mankind taking over God’s role of Judge (of determining good and evil). There were the Ten Commandments to show that everyone was guilty and estranged from God. And there was the Levitical Priesthood’s oversight of inspections, cleansings and sacrifices to foreshadow how reconciliation with Him would be accomplished.
The New Covenant unveils Jesus as the One who completely reconciled everyone to God. He is the Peacemaker that whole Old Covenant described. Those who continue to judge –even if they use the Law– are deceived. They haven’t relinquished that role back to God.
In chapter six Jesus warned the apostles to not be like those self-righteous men who used the Old Covenant to promote themselves –it was intended to reveal Him.
He gave them the Lord’s Prayer as a future reminder of the crucial changes that would take place at the cross to establish the New Covenant. Later, as His witnesses, they would be fasting –living without the Bread of Life and the Living Water.
They were to carefully evaluate what was important (referring to “store up for yourselves treasures in heaven”) and to put themselves wholly into His hands (“do not worry”). He stressed the impossibility of living a life of faith in the One who grants mercy and life –and being obsessed with determining what’s good and evil (trying to “serve two masters”).
This chapter continues the warning about what happens when trying to be an advocate of the kingdom while also being a judge of people.
“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. “For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you.
“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?
“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)
The apostles would be presenting the good news –that Jesus’ life exactly fulfilled everything the Law described so that everyone is reconciled with God and can be saved through faith.
They would be tempted to point out their countrymen’s lack of faith. But in telling them that they should do this and not do that, their own hypocrisy would surface and become a distraction from the gospel. Sprinkled throughout the New Testament are examples of behaviors to avoid for the sake of another’s faith.
Paul openly criticized Peter for his hypocrisy. Peter told some visiting Jews that he kept the Law –but he was in fact living like the Gentiles (in Galatians 2:11-16).
“Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. (Matthew 7:6)
The term dogs refers to Gentiles and swine to Samaritans. Both were the Jews’ adversaries. Remember, “He was sent to the lost sheep of Israel” –everyone else (that’s us) was incidental (Matthew 15:21-28). This short instruction is expanded later when Jesus told His apostles to speak to everyone but if they refused the good news then leave them. Their message would be welcomed by the humble –those ripe for harvest.
These next verses go deeper than merely asking God for a change in circumstances.
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. (Matthew 7:7-8)
So what’s to be asked for? What’s to be searched for? What’s behind the door? The answer is stated throughout the Bible.
We’re to see our needs, search for fulfillment, and find God! Here are a few more examples of needs instilled by, and resolved by, Him.
“Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? “Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?
“If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!
“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:9-12)
This short, seemingly disconnected story actually predicts Jesus leading His apostles to fulfill people’s physical needs in order to introduce Himself as their ultimate fulfillment (in Matthew 14:15-21).
Five thousand worldly men were going to follow Him –not to become His disciples– but because they were hungry. Even though they were “evil” (with hearts set on satisfying their desires, not God’s), He was going to give them bread and fish in abundance. That’s the opposite of what He received after fasting forty days and nights in the desert. He was given a a stone from the Serpent. These are the very items called out in the verses above.
The Bible is filled with people expressing their needs and fears. The resolution to each case is the same. It’s developing a close relationship with God. He is our Savior, our Hope, our Shepherd, our Rock, our Anchor, our Strength, our Shield, our Stronghold, our Defender, our Provider, our Helper, our Light, our Refuge, our Rest, our Peace, our Friend, our Comforter, our Daily Bread. He is the One to ask for, to seek out and to meet at the door.
The Old Covenant had one message –mankind needs God’s salvation. Although He is known as Jesus, that’s a Greek transliteration of His Hebrew name –Joshua. That name, Joshua, means exactly who He is –”the Lord’s Salvation.” He is the embodiment of God’s compassion for the world.
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)
Jesus describes false prophets as wolves in sheep’s clothing (also in John 10:11-15 and Matthew 10:16-20). His sheep have enemies disguising themselves as people of God. But those men are detractors and destroyers who teach that faith is not sufficient for this life in the kingdom –that the flesh also has to be improved by doing the works of the Law.
“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? (Matthew 7:15-16)
“So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “So then, you will know them by their fruits. (Matthew 7:17-20)
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23)
There are two plants listed here: thorns and thistles –and two fruits: grapes and figs. That first pair, thorns and thistles, foretells Jesus enduring the cursed ground for us. Not only does He work within each person’s heart (the soil) –trying to bring about salvation, He wore the crown of thorns to show that His death ended the curse and He has triumphed over death.
The latter pair, the grapes and figs, relate two opposite crops of the heart. Grapes (the “blood of the vine”) depict faith in His blood being sufficient. And figs are about self-righteousness –like the fig leaves used for covering nakedness –like the tree that Jesus cursed on the way to Jerusalem.
Who is it that Jesus will tell “I never know you”? It’s those who try to mislead His sheep –demanding results from works of the Law rather than entering His rest (living by faith). Notice their self-condemning words ”. . .did we not prophesy. . .” Those wolves emphasize their own importance rather than His.
We know that He’s alluding to Himself and His followers when talking about the Rock the wise builder of his house. But what about the sand?
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.
“Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. “The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” (Matthew 7:24-27)
You could say that the sand represent’s anything else but Him. But it is an intentional reference to the Jews. This entire sermon tells the apostles about what they would encounter during their ministry of the New Covenant.
Abraham’s children, through Issac and Jacob, would be living in the Promised Land and they would be as numerous as grains of sand. Building a house –a secure life with God– can’t be accomplished through their continuation of the Old Covenant. It had to be on a person whose authority came directly from God.
When Jesus had finished these words, the crowds were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes. (Matthew 7:28-29)
Until His coming the people had learned about God through men. But then they heard from the Author Himself.