Matthew 7: The Sermon on the Mount
In Matthew 5, Jesus explains that true justice comes from within and is a matter of the heart - not just behavior. In the 6. Chapter we read what Jesus says about our pious acts. You must be sincere and not be presented as a benefit to make us look good. In the two chapters, Jesus addresses two problems that occur when one focuses primarily on external behavior in the definition of justice. For one thing, God does not want to change only our outward behavior, and on the other hand, it leads people to pretend to change the heart. In chapter 7, Jesus shows us a third problem that arises when behavior is paramount: people who equate justice with behavior tend to judge or criticize others.
The splinter in the eye of the other
"Do not judge, so that you will not be judged," said Jesus, "for whatever law you judge, you will be judged; and with what measure you measure, you will be measured » (Matthew 7,1: 2). Jesus' listeners knew what kind of judgment Jesus was talking about. It was directed against the judgmental attitude of the people who had already criticized Jesus - against the hypocrites who focused on the external behavior (see John 7,49 for an example). Those who are quick to judge others and feel superior to others are judged by God. All have sinned and everyone needs mercy. But some find it difficult to admit this, and they also find it difficult to show mercy towards others. That is why Jesus warns us that the way we treat other people can result in God treating us the same way. The more we feel our own need for mercy, the less we will judge others.
Then Jesus gives us a humorous exaggerated illustration of what he means: "But what do you see the splinter in your brother's eye and do you not notice the bar in your eye?" (Matthew 7,3). In other words, how can you complain about someone's sin when you have committed a major crime yourself? "Or how can you say to your brother: Stop, I want to pull the splinter out of your eye? And, behold, there is a bar in your eye. Hypocrite, first pull the bar out of your eye; afterwards watch how you pull the splinter out of your brother's eye » (Vv. 4-5). Jesus' listeners must have laughed out loud at this caricature of hypocrites.
A hypocrite claims he helps others to identify their sins. He claims to be wise and claims to be a zealot for the law. But Jesus says that such a person is not qualified to help. He is a hypocrite, an actor, a pretense. He must first remove sin from his life; he has to understand how great his own sin is. How can the bar be removed? Jesus did not explain that at this point, but we know from other passages that sin can only be removed by God's grace. Only those who have mercy can really help others.
»You should not give the sacred to the dogs and you should not throw your pearls before the swine» (V.6). This phrase is usually interpreted as prudent preaching of the gospel. That may be true, but the context here has nothing to do with the gospel. However, if we look at this saying in context, its meaning may contain a certain irony: "Hypocrite, keep your pearls of wisdom to yourself. If you think the other person is a sinner, do not waste your words on him, because he you will not be grateful for what you say and only upset about yourself. » This would then be a humorous conclusion to Jesus' key message: “Do not judge”.
God's good gifts
Jesus already spoke about prayer and our lack of faith (Chapter 6). Now he speaks this again: «Ask, it will be given to you; seek, you will find; knock, so you will be opened. For whoever asks there receives; and whoever searches there finds; and who knocks there will be opened » (V 7-9). Jesus describes an attitude of trust or confidence in God. Why can we have such belief? Because God is trustworthy.
Then Jesus makes a simple comparison: "Who is among you people who offer his son a stone when he asks him for bread? Or if he asks him for a fish, offers a snake? If you, who are evil, can still give your children good gifts, how much more will your Heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him! » (Vv. 9-11). If even sinners take care of their children, then we can certainly trust in God that he also takes care of us, his children, because he is perfect. He will provide us with everything we need. We don't always get what we want and sometimes we lack discipline. Jesus does not go into these things now - His concern here is simply that we can trust God.
Next, Jesus comments on the golden rule. The meaning is similar to that of verse 2. God will treat us the way we treat others, so He asks us, "Now everything you want people to do to you, do them too!" (V 12). Since God gives us good things, we should do good to others. If we want to be treated kindly and want to be decided in our favor when in doubt, we have to be kind to others. If we want someone to help us when we need help, then we should be willing to help others when they need help.
Jesus says about the golden rule: "This is the law and the prophets" (V.12). It is this rule of reason that the Torah is really about. All the many victims should show us that we need mercy. All civil laws should teach us to behave fairly towards our fellow human beings. The golden rule gives us a clear idea of God's will to live. It can be easily quoted, but it is difficult to act on. That is why Jesus ends his sermon with some warnings.
The narrow gate
"Go in through the narrow gate," advises Jesus. 'Because the gate is wide and the road is wide that leads to damnation, and there are many who go on it. How narrow is the gate and how narrow is the path that leads to life, and there are few who find it! » (V 13-14).
The path of least resistance leads to destruction. Following Christ is not the most popular way. To go with it is to deny oneself, to think for oneself, and the readiness to lead by faith, even if nobody else does. We can not go with the majority. We also can not favor a successful minority just because it is small. Popularity or rare occurrences are not a measure of the truth.
"Beware of the false prophets," warns Jesus. «... who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inside they are raging wolves» (V.15). Wrong preachers make a good impression on the outside, but their motives are selfish. How can we tell if they are wrong?
"You shall recognize them by their fruit." It may take some time, but in the end we will see if the preacher is trying to take advantage of it or if he is really serving others. Appearance can be deceptive for a while. The workers of sin try to look like angels of God. Even false prophets look good temporarily.
Is there a faster way to find out? Yes, there is - Jesus will go into it shortly afterwards. But first he warns the false prophets: "Any tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire" (V.19).
Build on rock
The Sermon on the Mount ends with a challenge. After people heard Jesus, they had to decide if they wanted to be obedient. "Not everyone who says to me: Lord, Lord! Will come to the Kingdom of Heaven, but will do the will of my Father in heaven" (V.21). Jesus indicates that everyone must call him Lord. But words alone are not enough.
Even miracles done in Jesus' name are not enough: «Many will say to me that day: Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name? Didn't we cast out evil spirits in your name? Have we not done many miracles in your name?
Then I'll confess to them: I've never known you; depart from me, you evildoers! » (Vv. 22-23). Here Jesus indicates that he will judge all of humanity. People will answer before him and it will be described whether there will be a future for them with or without Jesus.
Who can be saved? Read the parable of the clever and foolish house builder: "Whoever hears my speech and does it ..." Jesus puts his words on the same level as his father's will. Everyone must obey Jesus just as they obey God. People are judged according to their behavior towards Jesus. We all fail and need mercy, and this mercy is found in Jesus.
Whoever builds on Jesus is like a clever man who built his house on rock. When a downpour fell and the water came and the winds blew and pushed against the house, it did not occur; because it was founded on rock » (V 24-25). We don't have to wait for the storm to know what will end up in the end. If you build on bad ground, you will suffer great damage. Anyone who tries to put their spiritual life on a basis other than Jesus relies on sand.
"And it came to pass when Jesus finished this speech" that the people were horrified at his teaching; for he taught them with authority and not like their scribes » (Vv. 28-29). Moses spoke in the name of the Lord, and the scribes spoke in the name of Moses. But Jesus is the Lord and spoke with his own authority. He claimed to teach the absolute truth, to be the judge of all mankind and the key to eternity.
Jesus is not like the law teachers. The law was not comprehensive and behavior alone is not enough. We need the words of Jesus and he sets the requirements that no one can fulfill on his own. We need mercy, with Jesus we can be confident to receive it. Our eternal life depends on how we respond to Jesus.
by Michael Morrison