Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Sermon: Matthew 7: 13-29 Two Ways To Live

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveller, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair...

So writes the poet, Robert Frost. I wonder if you’ve ever had a similar experience. It might be on a walk in a forest; it could be while you’re out driving, and you come to a fork in the road - which way will you go? Which way should you go? Both paths might look the same, but the important question is - where are you trying to get to?

The Sat Nav is a great help these days, as it helps to point out where you are, and how to get to your destination. As Jesus brings the Sermon on the Mount to a close, it’s as if he’s giving us a spiritual sat nav. Jesus tells us that there are only two ways to live, two paths to take, two types of tree, two claims of discipleship, and two houses. The challenge for us in each of these cases is to ask ourselves - where are we? Which path are we on? What is our ultimate destination?

In verse 13, we find the first contrast. Jesus tells us that there are two gates and two roads: ‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.’ (13) I wonder if you’ve been on the new A4 dual carriageway recently? It’s a great road, wide, smooth, fast, room for overtaking, it makes getting to Belfast (or home) a lot easier.

There’s a road like that in life as well - it’s wide, easy to enter, smooth to journey on, you can coast along nicely, going with the flow. But just as we’ve been hearing of some of those horrific motorway crashes in England and in Europe, so Jesus says that this broad road leads to destruction. Picture a wide, fast-flowing river which suddenly drops over a waterfall. Many take the road, and are heading for destruction.

By contrast, Jesus tells us to enter through the narrow gate - ‘for the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.’ (14) I used to take my granny out for drives on Sunday afternoons. Rather than heading on the motorway and going for miles, we would take the wee country roads around and about Dromore. We never covered great distances, the roads were too windy, so the speed was low but we saw a lot more. Jesus says that the Christian life is hard going; it’s not popular; it’s a struggle - yet the final destination is life, not destruction.

Which road are you on? What is the direction of your life? Where are you finally heading? Keep the end in mind - the narrow way is worth it in the end.

Jesus’ next picture is that of two trees; two teachers. Here’s what Jesus says: ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.’ (15-16) Can you imagine the shepherd getting a new sheep - it looks like all the rest - there’s wool, it has four legs, it might even baa. But when you look closer, it’s very different - what big eyes you have; what big teeth you have!

Jesus is saying that false prophets, false teachers don’t come with a big neon sign above their head saying ‘false teacher!’ They’ll look the part. In the Church of Ireland, they’ll be wearing their cassock and surplice, scarf or stole. You can’t go by looks. But they’re a danger to the flock. So how can we tell if the minister we’re listening to is genuine or not? Jesus says: ‘You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.’

We need to look a little closer, not just at what they say, but also at what they do; how they live their life. What kind of fruit are they producing? Or to bring it closer to home, what kind of fruit am I producing? The actions of my life will flow from my heart - showing what is on the inside, either a sinful heart, or a born again new heart.

So what way are you going? Who are you listening to along the way?

Next, Jesus presents us with two contrasting claims. Just as false teachers may initially look like the real deal, so Jesus says that there can be people who are in the church, who look like and sound like genuine Christians, and maybe even have marvellous experiences, and yet are outside of Jesus’ flock. Here’s what he says: ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven.’ And further on he says: ‘On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.”’ (21-23)

You see, it’s not enough to be able to call Jesus Lord. It’s not enough to have wonderful experiences, or to be leading God’s people, or to be using the name of Jesus. These very people are those to whom Jesus says that he never knew them (and therefore that they never knew Jesus). Their end is destruction - sent away from Jesus, away from paradise on that last day.

The name of Jesus has power - just think of the seven sons of Sceva in Ephesus in Acts 19. They had seen Paul cast out demons by Jesus’ name and they tried the same. The demons turned on them and beat them, so that they fled naked. This was an example of this judgement within time - but we’re dealing here with the last day, at the judgement.

Should this give us cause for alarm? Regular churchgoers, decent people who never miss church, people who can speak the language of church, who talk about Jesus being their Lord. Yet cast away. What is needed? How can we be sure that we won’t be sent away?

It’s in the words we missed out. You see, there’s a difference between calling Jesus Lord and recognising him as Lord. Here’s what Jesus says: ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.’ (21)

It’s just like the false prophets, isn’t it? They look like the real thing, but on the inside, they’re the very opposite. The name of Lord on the lips, but Jesus is not Lord of their hearts - Jesus isn’t ruling over their life. We’re not saying that you have to be perfect - but if Jesus is Lord of your life (as well as your lips), then you’ll be leading a life of repentance - when you sin (as we all do and will), returning to the Lord and turning from that sin. It’s not perfection, but integrity that Jesus is after.

Two ways to go; two types of teacher with their fruit; two claims of discipleship - is Jesus really your Lord? Does your inside and your outside match?

Lastly, we come to one of the most famous pictures in the Bible. They’re the perfect conclusion to the sermon on the mount, because they address everyone who has been listening in. All have heard these words of Jesus - the challenge is, what are you going to do about it?

To illustrate, Jesus tells us about two builders. ‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.’ (24) ‘And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand.’ (26)

Both men have been to builder school; both set out to build their house, the only difference is in where they build. The wise man builds on rock - the foolish man builds on sand. A beachfront location; a good sea view; lots of fresh air.

And then comes trouble: ‘The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house.’ The storms of life come to everyone, following Jesus is not a guarantee of an easy life. The storm exposes the foundations of the house - the foolish man’s house on sand falls with a crash, but the wise man’s house stands firm.

Jesus isn’t teaching a course on housebuilding. He’s asking us how we will respond to his teaching, as we’ve heard it over these past six weeks - indeed, every time we gather in this church; every time we open the Bible.

Will we hear and respond - hear and do? It’s like building on rock. Jesus is the rock on which to build our life; the good foundation to meet the storms which will come; the place of safety and security.

Or will we hear and not act - just let it wash over us and return to how we’ve always done things? It’s a dangerous place to be - destruction is just around the corner.

So where are you? What path are you following? What direction are you heading? Who are you listening to? Is your claim to follow Christ authentic? Are you building your life on Christ?

Even tonight, we can transfer from one road to the other; even tonight we can repent, and acknowledge Jesus as our Lord; even tonight, we can start to build on rock. Let’s pray.

This sermon was preached at the Lent Midweek service in Aghavea Parish Church on Tuesday 27th March 2012.

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