III. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1–7:29)

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III. The Sermon on the Mount (5:1–7:29)

5:1-2 When the crowds came to Jesus, he went up on the mountain, sat down, and began to teach. Matthew 5–7 is known as the Sermon on the Mount. It’s Jesus’s kingdom manifesto. In this sermon, he explained what the kingdom is, how it works, and what it ought to look like.

The first few verses of the Sermon on the Mount are known as the Beatitudes (5:3-10); they set forth the character of kingdom men and women. Jesus spoke primarily to those who were his disciples in order to take them to the next level. We could call the Beatitudes antibiotics from God’s pharmacy that can aid life transformation. Each one includes a blessing, which is the God-given capacity to enjoy his goodness in your life and to extend that goodness to others.

Jesus pronounced these blessings on people with a kingdom mindset—those who consciously and unapologetically align their lives under the rule of God. The blessings are for those who reject religious externalism. Jesus is primarily concerned with what’s happening on your inside, which should be the basis of what you’re showing on the outside.

5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. To be “poor in spirit” is to be in spiritual poverty, to be conscious of one’s continual dependence on God. Kingdom people recognize their own inadequacy and insufficiency apart from him. As long as you think you are rich in spirit, you’ll actually be independent and proud. So become a spiritual beggar.

God’s kingdom refers to God’s rule. If you are poor in spirit, you will get to see God’s heavenly rule in your earthly life. Only by being desperately dependent on God can you become what he created you to be.

5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted refers to being saddened by the things that sadden God. God grieves over the sin and wretchedness of the world (see Gen 6:5-6). Jesus lamented the disobedience of Jerusalem (Matt 23:37) and wept over the existence of death, which sin had produced (John 11:35). We must not laugh at or excuse that which causes God to mourn. Sin and its consequences surround us, so that we are tempted to become numb. Instead, we must pray that God would give us the emotions of his heart, so that we can experience the comfort of God to encourage and strengthen us.

5:5 Blessed are the humble, for they will inherit the earth. Some translations render “the humble” as “the meek.” It’s important to understand that meekness doesn’t mean weakness. Consider, for example, the process of breaking a horse. The idea is not to break the horse of its strength or speed; rather, the goal is to break the horse of its self-will. As long as you remain independent and “wild,” you will never maximize God’s intention for you. To be meek is to learn to submit your will to God’s. Those who do will inherit what God has allotted for them.

5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. This blessing is about having the right spiritual appetite. Far too many of God’s children are malnourished—not because they don’t eat, but because they eat the wrong things. Donuts taste good, but they have no nutritional value. You can’t have a donut-level spiritual diet and then wonder why you don’t experience God’s blessings. To hunger for righteousness is to apply the righteous standard of God to your life. You need to be hungry for that which pleases God. If you train your appetite in this way you will be filled—that is, you’ll be satisfied with divine contentment. Discontentment will give way to satisfaction in God.

5:7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. To receive mercy is to not get what you deserve, to receive pity instead of just condemnation. Rather, when you’re guilty, mercy removes the misery you ought to receive. There’s a blessing for those who extend it, because you can bank on the fact that a time is coming when you’ll need mercy. This is the Golden Rule in action: “Whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them” (Matt 7:12).

5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Purity of heart involves being authentic, and this begins with honesty before God. Prayer for many people is a stale practice because there is no raw conversation with God— respectful but raw. We must go to God with our hearts completely open because we’re not hiding anything from him; he knows everything already. So come clean with him about the good, the bad, and the ugly, and you’ll see him operating powerfully in your life.

5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. To be at peace is to be in harmony. To be a peacemaker is to be a mediator and resolve conflicts between estranged parties—whether individuals or groups. You make peace by identifying the truth, addressing the sin, and constructing a bridge between those who are at odds with one another. Peacemaking can be difficult work. But, if we persevere in it, we will be called “sons of God” because we will resemble our Daddy. He sent the Son of God to be our mediator, bridging the gap created by our sin and granting us peace with him.

5:10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs isn’t about being persecuted because of wickedness. Instead it’s about being mistreated because you display the kingdom characteristics described in 5:3-9, and some people won’t like you for doing so. Persecution may take a variety of forms and come from a variety of sources (family, an employer, the culture, the government). But in receiving it you’ll be in the company of a class of people (see Heb 11) of whom the world is not worthy (Heb 11:38). If you’re willing to be rejected by men to be accepted by God, the kingdom of heaven is yours.

5:11-12 These verses expand on the idea in 5:10. It’s hard to believe that undergoing persecution is a blessing, but Jesus wanted his disciples to know that he was serious. Notice that the persecution that brings blessing is directly tied to Jesus. When they insult you and tell lies about you because of Jesus, you are blessed (5:11). Since essentially the same thing happened to the Old Testament prophets, you’re in good company. But how can you be glad and rejoice in the midst of the mess? You can remember that your reward is great (5:12). God knows how to deliver. And as Paul told the Romans, “The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is going to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18).

5:13 After describing the character of kingdom people, Jesus described the impact and influence of kingdom people. He told his disciples, You are the salt of the earth. Before the advent of refrigeration, people used salt to preserve food. Salting down a piece of meat slowed the decaying process. Notice that Jesus didn’t tell them, “You are the salt of the shaker.” Since it’s under the curse of sin, the earth is like a decaying piece of meat. And salt can’t preserve meat if it stays in the shaker.

For salt to lose its taste is to lose its uniqueness. Christians are to be salt in a decaying world. But if you become too mixed up with the world and allow its values to affect you, you will lose your uniqueness as a Christian and your ability to make a kingdom difference. Remember, Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed—not only because of wicked people—but also because there weren’t enough righteous people there to prevent God’s judgment (see Gen 18:16–19:29).

5:14 You are the light of the world. Light has only one job: to shine. In Scripture, the world is pictured as a dark place that requires illumination (see John 1:5; 3:19). Jesus is “the light of the world” (John 8:12), so he expects his followers to be lights too.

5:15-16 A city situated on a hill cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and puts it under a basket (5:15). In other words, you’re not to be a private Christian. Your faith must go public. There are to be no covert, secret agent Christians in the church. Are you a light among your family and acquaintances? Are you a light at work and at the gym? Are you a light in your culture and in your community? To hide a light is contradictory to its purpose. Let your light shine (5:16).

You must shine so that people may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven (5:16). Non-Christians are capable of doing good things, so what does Jesus mean by “good works”? Good works are connected to the kingdom work of God (see Eph 2:10). A good work is a righteous and biblically authorized action that is beneficial to others and for which God gets the credit. So, unless God is a part of it, it’s not a good work. It’s merely a good thing. Our good works are accomplished so that we may glorify—that is, highlight, put on display, and make a big deal of—God.

5:17-20 Jesus did not come in opposition to the Law or the Prophets (which is a way of referring to the Old Testament); he came to fulfill them (5:17). The Old Testament was intended to point to Christ, who’d bring it to its God-intended consummation. He, in fact, is the theme of the Old Testament Scriptures (see Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:39-40). In order to provide us with righteousness, making us acceptable before God, he had to live a life of complete obedience to God’s law. Not only is each letter of the Bible vital, but so is each part (or stroke) of each letter (5:18). God’s Word is entirely authoritative, and Jesus submitted to it perfectly, allowing him to impart perfect righteousness to those who place personal faith in him (see 2 Cor 5:21). Christ calls them to follow him in obedience to the law—not for salvation but for sanctification, so they may see the kingdom rule of God in their lives.

Unless, as a disciple of Jesus, you are committed to growing in righteousness, the heavenly kingdom will not be expressed in your earthly history. As we will see, the scribes and Pharisees were concerned only with external righteousness (5:19-20).

5:21-22 After addressing God’s commands in general, Jesus spoke about some specific commands. Six times in this chapter he said, You have heard that it was said . . . but I tell you . . . (5:21-22, 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 43-44) so that he might offer a corrective to some misunderstandings.

Do not murder was one of the Ten Commandments that all Jews knew (5:21). But Jesus said if you are angry with [your] brother or sister or use vicious words toward them, you are guilty of breaking the law (5:22). That takes God’s standards to a whole new level. It tells us God not only considers our actions but also our thoughts and words, and it provides us a deeper understanding of the law. Jesus demonstrated that God is concerned with the motives of the heart.

5:23-26 So if you come to worship and remember that you are at odds with your brother, go and be reconciled with him (5:23-24). Jesus emphasized the connection between the vertical and the horizontal. In order to have a healthy vertical relationship—intimacy and fellowship with God—you must maintain your horizontal relationships with others. Make peace with your adversary inasmuch as it depends on you. Be reconciled before he takes legal action or the consequences of your dispute become worse (5:25-26).

5:27-30 Sexual purity involves more than avoiding a physical act. It too involves the heart. Do not commit adultery (5:27) was another of the Ten Commandments that many Jews probably assumed they could check on a list of sins successfully dodged. But Jesus said that looking at a woman lustfully is to commit adultery with her in [your] heart (5:28). Immoral actions, then, begin with immoral thoughts—and the immoral thoughts are evil too. You can’t address sin by only dealing with external actions.

In today’s world, pornography is a huge stumbling block to moral purity and a clear example of the kind of sin that Jesus warned against. Jesus wants his disciples to be so radical for moral purity that they’re willing to cut . . . off anything that draws them to sin (5:29-30). He’s not calling for physical mutilation (again, sin is a matter of the heart and not merely the eyes and hands); instead, he’s calling for a radical approach to avoiding sin.

5:31-32 The Jewish religious leaders had varying understandings of divorce. Some thought you could divorce for any reason. But Jesus limited divorce. He said, a man who divorces his wife, except in a case of sexual immorality, causes her to commit adultery because such an action would drive her to marry another. (In the first century, marriage provided a woman with necessary economic support.) Moreover, the one who marries such a woman commits adultery (5:32). Why? Because hers was an illegitimate divorce unsanctioned by God. Marriage vows are to be viewed as sacred and permanent. Notice that it is the person seeking the illegitimate divorce who is blamed for the sin—not the woman who remarries.

5:33-37 Jesus didn’t deny the legitimacy of all oath-taking. We find oaths in the Old Testament, as when covenant relationships were established. Jesus, then, was warning against careless, profane, and flippant uses of oaths in everyday speech. An oath shouldn’t be used to convince someone of the truthfulness of what you’re saying; that might only be a cover-up for deception. Remember, anything in creation that you swear by is under God’s authority. So speak with truthfulness. Let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no’ (5:37).

5:38-42 Kingdom people think and live differently than those in the culture around them. The Old Testament principle an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth (5:38; see Lev 24:20) was intended to keep justice fair and limited. Punishment was to be in proportion to the crime. But Jesus wanted his followers to develop a servant mindset. He thus presented several scenarios with the same emphasis (5:39-42): Your spirit of servanthood must go beyond what is required and extend even to those who mistreat you.

If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two (5:41). This example refers to the practice of Roman soldiers forcing civilians to carry their packs for up to a mile. According to Jesus, servanthood should be such a dominant orientation in kingdom people that we are willing to go the extra mile even for people who don’t like us. This doesn’t involve placing yourself into an abusive situation, however. Nor does it mean there are no limitations. Instead, as Paul says, it means not repaying “evil for evil . . . but [conquering] evil with good” (Rom 12:17, 21).

5:43-48 God’s law commanded, Love your neighbor (see Lev 19:18). The natural conclusion for many Jews, though, was that you could hate your enemy (5:43). Jesus turned that thinking on its head. Instead, he said, you must love your enemies (5:44). To do so is a simple reflection of the character of your Father in heaven. It’s a reminder that God doesn’t show kindness only to believers. He extends common grace to all, meaning that there are certain blessings that he gives to all people. For instance, he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good (5:45). You don’t have to be a Christian to feel the sun shine and to breathe oxygen.

Jesus expects the behavior of his disciples to stand out in a sinful world. Even wicked people will look out for those who look out for them (5:46). So, if you love only those in your circle who like you, what are you doing out of the ordinary? (5:47).

To be perfect as God is perfect (5:48) does not mean to be sinless; rather, it means to love others—in the power of the Holy Spirit—by seeking their best interests as a reflection of God’s character. To do this even for people you don’t like. Loving your neighbor doesn’t require having warm and fuzzy feelings for him; it means seeking his well-being.

6:1-4 Jesus wanted his followers to be kingdom people, but he didn’t want them to do kingdom activities in order to be praised by others: Be careful not to practice your righteousness . . . to be seen (6:1). He gives three examples of practicing righteousness: giving to the poor (6:2-4), praying (6:5-8), and fasting (6:16-18). These are all good, legitimate practices. But we mustn’t do them for public recognition.

To do so is to be a hypocrite (6:2, 5, 16)—that is, to be a play actor, giving an external appearance of spirituality without an accompanying internal reality. In the old western movies, they would create a town that appeared to be full of buildings. But each structure was a façade. A building might look like a saloon from the front, but there was nothing on the other side of its door. Such a movie set gave a false impression.

When you give money to those in need (whether directly or through your church or another ministry), don’t sound a trumpet and don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing (6:2-3). In other words, don’t brag about your giving to let others know how generous you are. Those who announce their giving have their reward (6:2) and receive nothing from God (6:1). So, if you’re playing for the applause of people, you have all you’re going to get. But give in secret, and then your Father will reward you (6:4).

6:5-8 Likewise, when you pray, don’t do it for the applause of people (6:5). The hypocritical religious leaders would pray in public to be seen. Sometimes you’re going to be called upon to pray in public. But, if you do it to put on a show, that’s a problem.

Do you pray in public while God never hears from you in private? Go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father (6:6). And don’t babble like the Gentiles, using meaningless repetition and uttering chants, thinking that God hears you because of your many words (6:7).

6:9 When Jesus said, “whenever/when you pray” (6:5-7), he assumed that disciples pray. What is prayer? You don’t need to attend seminary to understand it. Put simply, prayer is talking with God; it’s communication with him. The religious leaders sounded fancy when they prayed, but they did it to impress others (6:5). You don’t have to use fancy theological words.

How, then, should a disciple pray? Jesus showed them: You should pray like this. He wasn’t giving them a prayer to repeat but guidelines to provide prayer categories—a prayer template, if you will.

Opening with our Father in heaven reminds us that when Christians pray, they’re addressing their Daddy, their heavenly Father. Some people have had bad fathers and say they can’t relate to God as Father, but we are not to measure our heavenly Father by the standard of our earthly ones. Rather, we are to measure our earthly fathers by the standard of our heavenly Father—who is perfect. He is the ultimate definition of what a father is. Notice also that he is our Father (so you’re not the only kid in the family), and he is in heaven (a reminder that heaven overrules earth).

What should we ask of our heavenly Father? First, we must pray that his name would be honored as holy. When Scripture talks about God’s “name,” it’s referring to who he is, his character. To honor him as “holy” is to treat him as unique—in a class by himself. He is the Creator of all and the only one deserving of worship.

6:10 In the phrase your kingdom come, Jesus calls his disciples to make a pledge of allegiance to the kingdom of God—to God’s rule over his creation. But, if you want to know his kingdom purpose for your life, you must be committed to his kingdom agenda. When the U.S. Olympic athletes are awarded gold medals, they don’t get to choose the songs they hear at the accompanying ceremony. They are representatives of our nation, so the song played is the national anthem of the U.S. Similarly, you are called to march to God’s tune.

Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven suggests that if we’re following God’s agenda, we’ll want his heavenly will to be done in our earthly history. So, what is God’s “will”? God’s will is what God wants—when, where, and how he wants it. Those who are part of God’s family are to follow God’s rules. He’s sovereign, and he’ll accomplish his purposes with you or without you. The question is, Will you get to take part in it? Remember, he’s not limited to our obedience.

6:11 Once we align ourselves to God’s program, that’s where our requests come in. Give us today our daily bread. First, you ask God to meet your daily needs so you can fulfill his plan. God doesn’t establish a program that he doesn’t fund. Nevertheless, our requests for his provision are to be “daily.” This is a reminder that you are dependent on him all day, every day. Just as the Israelites relied on God to provide manna regularly in the wilderness, so you are to live your life in dependence on God—one day at a time.

6:12 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors relates to sins. When God forgives, he no longer credits sin to your account. And as we have been forgiven by God, so we are to forgive the sins others commit against us.

Some people have been seriously sinned against. They have endured horrific cruelty. Nevertheless, the Bible teaches that anything that comes a believer’s way—the good, the bad, and the ugly—has to come through God’s fingers. God is sovereign, and he permits things for the good of his children—even when we don’t understand. Just as in the story of Joseph, human beings may intend to do evil against us, but God intends even that for good (see Gen 50:20).

6:13 Do not bring us into temptation requires that we face facts. Satan is smarter than us and has centuries of experience ruining human lives. So ask God to keep you from getting into situations that detour you from the kingdom road. Pray that he would deliver you from temptations that you’re not ready to handle.

6:14-15 Though Jesus emphasized forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer (6:12), he returns to it here. Don’t miss that God’s forgiveness is conditioned on your forgiveness of others. Jesus isn’t talking about salvation here, though, but about our fellowship with God after we’re saved, as a part of our discipleship. To forgive is to hold a grudge no longer, not to seek retribution. Since we all need God’s forgiveness regularly, we must not withhold it from others. If we do, we’ll lose out on fellowship with God.

6:16-18 As with giving and praying, Jesus exhorted his followers not to fast for public recognition. The fact that he says, Whenever you fast (6:16), tells us he considers fasting a legitimate spiritual discipline. To fast is to temporarily give up a bodily craving—typically food—because of a spiritual need. Instead of eating, then, you devote yourself to prayer in secret (6:18), seeking God’s kingdom intervention. But, if your goal in avoiding food is for other people to celebrate how spiritual you look, then their approval will be your reward (6:16).

6:19-24 In these verses, Jesus emphasizes the spiritual over the physical. Everyone collects treasures on earth. But they don’t last (6:19). Heavenly treasures are a far better investment. They’re eternal and imperishable (6:20). For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (6:21). Store your treasure where you want your heart to be. Your heart will follow your treasure.

In order to focus on heaven and store treasure there, you have to see clearly. The eye is the lamp of the body (6:22). Either you let light in through your eyes, or you remain in darkness. It’s that simple. And unless your spiritual perspective is directed by God, you’ll wander in the dark.

Few things can distract our spiritual focus and fill us with darkness as effectively as becoming a slave to money. Note that having money is not the problem, though. The danger is when money has you—that’s when the physical becomes more important to you than the spiritual. You can’t serve two masters (5:24). God must have your devotion if you are to receive his kingdom direction.

6:25-30 For many of us, the admonition not to worry about your life (6:25) sounds just as impossible to obey as, “Don’t breathe.” Worry and anxiety over life are commonplace. But to this Jesus said in effect, “When was the last time you saw a bird with an ulcer?” Birds don’t worry about where they’re going to get their next meal, and yet the heavenly Father feeds them (6:26). Flowers don’t agonize over looking pretty, but not even Solomon in all his splendor could match the beauty in the fields of God’s creation (6:28-29). If God gives this kind of attention to birds and flowers, won’t he do much more for you (6:30)?

6:31-32 Don’t worry about life’s needs (6:31); after all, idolaters seek after things and become anxious. They plead with their false gods for help, but you have a heavenly Father—the true and living God—who knows what you need (6:32). It’s not wrong to plan and work hard. We should do these things. Our error is when we remove God from the equation or fail to give him priority.

6:33 What, then, is the antidote for worry? Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. This statement is the centerpiece of Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. If you get this right, everything else falls into place. God demands that his kingdom rule be first in your life. When it’s missing, you’ve identified the key to your problems. Righteousness is the standard God requires in order for his people to rightly relate to him. To seek his kingdom is to seek to live in accordance with his standards, his guidelines.

Of course, prioritizing God’s kingdom in this way doesn’t mean you won’t experience challenges and suffering, but your life will be aligned under his kingdom authority so you can experience his provision. In baseball, you can step on second base, third base, and home plate without being tagged. But, if you miss first base on the way, nothing else matters. You’re out.

God cannot be second. So, how do you know if you’re putting God’s kingdom first? Ask yourself this question: When I need guidance to make decisions, where do I go first? For many Christians, God is like a spare tire. He’s where they run when all else fails. So, do you seek God’s perspective first (through his Word and godly counsel), or do you seek the world’s perspective? Kingdom Christians appeal to God’s view and his righteous standards first. Do this, and all these things will be provided for you. Align yourself with his agenda, and your Daddy will take responsibility for meeting your needs.

6:34 So take care of today’s concerns, and don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Today is the tomorrow you were worried about yesterday. Focusing on living for God’s kingdom today is the antidote to worry.

7:1-2 Do not judge (7:1). That’s one thing that most people seem to do very well. To illegitimately judge is to create your own standard of what is acceptable and measure everyone against it, hypocritically critiquing them. Not surprisingly, people who do this typically find no problems with their own behavior. That’s because when a sinner creates a standard, he becomes the standard. When my son was eleven years old, he wanted to show me how he could dunk a basketball in the gym. The problem was that he had asked a janitor to lower the rim so that he could dunk it. Those who hypocritically judge others use a standard, but it isn’t God’s. It’s been lowered.

Judgmental people lose sight of the fact that they too will be judged. And the same measuring stick they use will be used against them (7:2). Pass judgment on others, and your standard will be used to judge you. It’s a boomerang effect.

7:3-5 Jesus compared having a judgmental attitude to noticing a tiny splinter in your brother’s eye while being unaware of the beam of wood in your own (7:3-4). Imagine straining to see a nearly invisible speck but being oblivious to the board protruding from your eyeball!

Notice Jesus’s remedy to the situation. He didn’t say you shouldn’t help the brother with the speck in his eye. He says, First take the beam of wood out of your eye (7:5). It’ll hurt, but you’ll see clearly. Instead of being judgmental toward others, allow God’s standard to be applied to your own life. If you’re honest, you’ll discover that you fall short. When you’ve addressed your own sin, you’ll be more understanding, compassionate, and righteous in your assessments and better able to help a brother address his own sin.

7:6 Jesus’s instructions in 7:1-5 don’t preclude all judgments. There are numerous places in the Bible in which God instructs his people to make judgment calls. Here is one of them: Don’t give what is holy to dogs or toss your pearls before pigs. These are references to those who despise spiritual things, but you can’t obey this command unless you can discern who the “dogs” and “pigs” are.

The difference between judgmentalism and what Jesus calls us to do here is the standard we use. When you sinfully judge, you use your own standard and condemn others. When you obey Jesus’s words in 7:6, you use wisdom, refusing to give what is precious in God’s sight to those who refuse to value spiritual things.

7:7-8 Prayer is an earthly request for heavenly intervention. It doesn’t make God do what’s outside his will but releases him to do what is inside his will. God has determined that he will not do certain things until asked. So we are to ask, seek, and knock for what we need (7:7). When you pursue and request those things that are in his will, he promises to deliver (7:8). The question is this: How long should you ask, seek, and knock? Until you get an answer. There are three answers to prayer: yes, no, or wait. If you haven’t heard yes or no, then you keep asking.

7:9-11 Children will ask their parents repeatedly for things until they receive a reply. And God doesn’t give harmful things in response to prayer—any more than a loving father would give harmful things to his kids when they ask (7:9-10). If even sinful dads know how to give good gifts to [their] children, how much more will your perfect Father in heaven give what is beneficial to you when you ask (7:11)?

7:12 In the context of this discussion of judging others and prayer, Jesus utters this boomerang principle: Whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them. We call this the Golden Rule. In short, it means to love others: to practice the “one anothers” of Scripture (e.g., John 15:12; Gal 6:2; Eph 4:32; 1 Thess 5:11). Do for the people around you what you want God to do for you, and watch how he delivers.

7:13-14 There’s a wide gate and broad road that many people follow, seeking to have a relationship with God (7:13). It’s called religion. Religion is man’s attempt to make himself acceptable to a holy God. But the narrow gate that leads to life is Jesus; he makes us acceptable (7:14). Few find this road because few are willing to accept God’s way to obtain eternal life. The only legitimate way to a relationship with God is his way: through his Son and his cross.

7:15-18 Often people follow the wide gate and the broad road because they’ve been given faulty directions. That’s why people need to be on . . . guard against false prophets. They claim to speak for God, but they’re liars. They come camouflaged, looking like sheep when they’re actually wolves (7:15). How will you know them when you see them? You’ll recognize them by their fruit (7:16). In saying this, Jesus used an agricultural illustration that makes perfect sense. If a tree is healthy, it will produce good fruit. If the fruit is bad, it’s because the tree itself is bad (7:17-18).

The lesson here is that you need to examine the evidence of a teacher’s life and ministry. Is that person’s teaching and doctrine consistent with God’s Word? Does his lifestyle display holiness and love for the Lord? If either answer is no, don’t be deceived. Watch out for the counterfeit.

7:19-23 False teachers will experience God’s judgment because their actions will demonstrate they never had a spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ (7:19-20). Someone can call Jesus, Lord, Lord, and have a ministry that appears to be authentic (7:21-22). Nevertheless, a lack of good fruit will expose them. The King of kings will thus respond, Depart from me, you lawbreakers (7:23).

7:24-27 I once had a crack on a wall of my house. No matter how many times I had it fixed, the crack came back. Finally, I learned the problem wasn’t with the wall; the problem was a shifting foundation. Many of us have “cracks” in our lives—emotional, relational, financial—but we address the symptoms and not the source of the problem.

Jesus concluded the Sermon on the Mount with a story about two men who had three things in common. Each man built a house (7:24, 26); both heard the words of Jesus (7:24, 26); and both encountered a violent storm (7:25, 27). That’s where the similarities end and the contrast begins. One of these men was wise and the other foolish. Wisdom is the ability and willingness to apply spiritual truth to life’s circumstances. In contrast, foolishness is the inability and unwillingness to apply spiritual truth to life’s realities.

The wise man heard Jesus’s words and acted on them—that is, he built on a foundation of rock (7:24-25). To do so is harder and more time consuming. The fool built on sand. This is easier, cheaper, and faster to do. But the choice of approaches raises a question: How long do you want your house to stand? You cannot build a skyscraper life on a chicken coop’s foundation. If you want stability in your personal life, your family, your ministry, and your community, you need the strong, sturdy foundation of God’s Word—which includes both knowledge of the Bible and applying it to life.

The storm revealed which man was wise and which one was foolish. The trials of life will expose what your foundation is made of.

7:28-29 When Jesus had finished his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7), the crowds were astonished at his teaching (7:28) because he taught like one who had authority, and not like their scribes (7:29). The Jewish scribes had their traditions and opinions, but Jesus spoke with the authority of the voice of God. And we have his words in the Bible.