by Graeme Tattersall
The sermon Jesus delivered on the mount that day was the first of two such
lessons, the second is recorded in Luke 6:17ff. Included in the first audience
were people from the eastern territories, Decapolis and beyond the Jordan (Matt.
4: 25). However, those who heard the second address included people from the
coastal cities of Tyre and Sidon, places on the western side of the country.
Some would argue that both Matthew and Luke are recording the one and same
occasion, but, to me, the Scriptures are pointing to two gatherings.
Be that as it may, by the time Jesus had reached the portion of Scripture we
know as Matthew 7: 7-12 He had taught many things, and also thrown new light on
many important teachings that had always been in the Law given to Moses. He
stripped away the suppositions and the "add-ons", and cut through the scribal
oral law that made Judaism such a ponderous and burdensome religion. He
contrasted their ritualistic practices with the true goodness God had always
sought in His people, He made it clear that there were no "ifs" about the
righteousness God expected from them, nor were there any "ifs" in His teaching
about the habits and practices that had to cease. (No one that day, nor any
other ever heard Jesus say: "may", "might be", "could be" or "perhaps") - Jesus
spoke with authority!
He spoke freely, there were no parables as He put in place the ground rules
for those who follow Him until the end of time. From that day forward, His every
follower was to be a disciple, and be bound by His teaching, and so conduct
themselves to be pleasing to God, and a blessing to man. Peter would later say
in Acts 2:22 Jesus was a man proved to them by God Himself through the works of
power, and miracles and signs. When the "multitudes" came to Him to be healed,
and to see Him healing, He would use the opportunity to teach them.
And what He was teaching, what they had to learn, was that if they were to be
pleasing to God, they had to make some difficult personal changes. If they were
sincere in their desire and accepted His teaching, they had to do a turn around
in their thinking, they would need to repent, and with that change of heart,
there were before them difficult duties that they would be required to perform.
Duties like "going the second mile", "turning the other cheek", "to bless rather
than curse", "caring about enemies", "to quietly go about doing good", etc. etc.
Like them, we listen intently to this great sermon, a sermon that begins with
the promise of blessings, and which closes with the challenge to obedience. My
lesson today is to show that not only does a follower of Christ need to persist
and seek the truth, but having found it, he is to accept it, embrace it, and be
transformed by it. So we begin:
In Matthew 7: 7-11 Jesus directs our thoughts upward to God, the source of
strength needed for our journey into faithful obedience; for strength to keep to
our promised repentance to ever face away from worldliness. Jesus tells us to
ask of God, and that prayer is the appointed means of obtaining what we need;
and we do need grace to obey the precepts Jesus has given, many of which are so
difficult and displeasing to our natural selves.
We are to pray and to pray often, we are to pray sincerely and earnestly but
we are also told that though we are to ask God for strength to remain obedient
to His call, more is required of us. We are to "seek" and "knock", and that
implies that "seeking" and "knocking", is something more than asking and
praying. God has promised whatever we ask for, if we do His will, (1 John 3:
22): and being obedient to Him is doing His will! And Jesus says in Matthew 7
:7-8 to those who would follow Him, to those who would seek to do the Father's
will: "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.". We're being told that no matter how
difficult it may seem to do the will of the Father, that the possibility to do
so, is open to all. Everyone is invited to "ask", "seek", and "knock".
There is the sure promise of God's help to those who hear and obey the
teaching of Jesus Christ. He will hear our prayers, when we search we will find,
and the door will always be opened to us. In this, God is extending an
invitation, He is inviting men to life! To eternal life, and an abundant life.
Mankind is being invited back to God, that rather than being condemned through
our sins, we can turn around, and through Jesus, have life everlasting. But
meantime, we are invited to the abundant life, that can be ours now through His
Son. Jesus said "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it
more abundantly" (John 10: 10).
What a wonderful invitation! A life of eternal bliss with the Lord, when we
pass from this world, and an abundant life now! Here Jesus tells us about this
invitation, how we are to accept the invitation, and the welcome awaiting us. In
His Sermon on the Mount Jesus brings to an end any ignorance of God, and any
ignorance of the attitudes, and behaviour God expected from His people. These
days, we would say, Jesus supplied us with product information. God knew that we
needed to know what to ask for, we needed to know why we should make the
request. When men come to God and want to be in a right relationship with God,
they have to be aware of their needs, and why it is urgent to ask for those
needs to be met.
It is a sad thing, but millions of people, including those in denominations,
believe that so long as they believe in Jesus, believe in God, they will be
saved. But the truth is that the gospel of Jesus Christ not only reveals that
all men are sinners (Rom. 3: 23), it also reveals the only way of salvation, it
reveals the only way we can be saved from our sins.
When man knows the gospel, when he understands and accepts its message and
all that it implies, he turns to God (the biblical word is repentance), he
believes the gospel, and in that belief, he confesses his faith in Jesus Christ
as the Son of God. In his first act of faith, being baptised by immersion in
water for the forgiveness of sins, he is forgiven; he has made his first
request, and proves God to be true. "Ask, and it will be given to you". At this
point God's invitation has been received and accepted. The forgiven sinner has
responded to God's plan of salvation. We have come to know our needs, we have
made our request, and it's been granted. We've made it! We're saved! We've
satisfied our religious obligation! But that's only the beginning!
Back then when we turned to God, when we repented, we promised God we'd be
faithful to Him, so our request for salvation was simply the first step in a
lifetime of walking faithfully with our Lord. Until then the responsibility for
our salvation had been God's. Christians are told, "For by grace you have been
saved through faith, and not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works,
lest anyone should boast" (Eph. 2: 8-9). But the walking faithfully is our
responsibility, and to do that, we have to know all of our Lord's teaching. We
are to seek out the truth, the standard for life God sets before us, and live to
it. That Scripture in Ephesians 2 continues in v.10 "For we are His workmanship,
created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we
should walk in them".
On the mountain that day, Jesus told His disciples and all who would believe
on Him through their word, "Seek!". To "seek" implies searching, it implies that
we are to exercise diligence, and that involves a deliberate and practical
effort on our part. In 1 Timothy 4: 16 is the command that a Christian must take
heed of himself, and to the doctrine (the teaching of Christ). That he must
continue in them, for in doing this, he will save both himself and those who
hear him. The we should know the truth and live it, thereby showing God's way to
others. In 2 Timothy 2:15 we read in effect that the man of God must be diligent
to present himself approved of God, a worker who does not need to ashamed. That
is something that does not come with our baptism!
Rather than a faith that is passive, we're to leave "no stone unturned" to
rightly understand the Scriptures. To seek, requires an individual work on our
part, it's our personal responsibility. That's the way it's always been for
God's people. As the Israelites prepared to cross the Jordan into the Promised
Land, Moses says in Deuteronomy 4:29 "But if from there you shall seek the LORD
your God, and you will find Him, if you seek Him with all your heart and with
all your soul". Those who prefer a "laid-back" approach to a life in Christ
should look at this verse, because no Christian is that strong that their
endeavours to seek the Lord can be anything less than earnest. That was the
message to the Israelites, and today it is the same message to Christians.
But like the Israelites of old who crossed into the Promised Land and
proceeded to do their own thing, there are so many Christians whose souls fail
to prosper after being translated from the power of darkness and into the
kingdom of God's dear Son - the church! Their problem is that they've asked, but
they have failed to seek. They will look at a brother or sister in Christ who is
strong in faith and see the difference between their spirituality as being a
matter of individual disposition; the strong brother or sister have temperaments
that incline them that way. What nonsense! If they would seek, if they would
search the Scriptures, they would find men and women of ALL dispositions whose
faith was strong and whose souls prospered. For instance they may read the
account of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There they would discover
that each of these men had very different personalities, different temperaments.
Isaac, it seems was the quiet on of an illustrious father, and the quiet father
of an illustrious son. Each of these men life began with different goals, but as
time passed each became men of faith in the living God. Each were hard workers,
each of them had trials, great trials of faith, but, these men with their
differing natures, humbled themselves before God, accepted His way for them, and
they were made great!
Isaac didn't point to his dad saying Abraham was a better man because that
was the way God made him, nor did he declare Jacob to be better than himself,
because that was the way God made him! The Christian whose soul is not
prospering should see that each of these great men of the past, bowed before God
and accepted His way for them, and their souls prospered.
Christians whose growth in faith is somewhat stunted might look also at the
twelve disciples Jesus called. Peter was rash, forward and presumptuous; on the
other hand his brother Andrew seems to have been a strong communicator. Jesus
called the two other brothers, James and John, "sons of thunder". It seems from
Luke 9: 54 they both had fiery dispositions. It is very probable that Nathaniel
(John 1: 45ff) was later known as Bartholomew, (Luke 6: 14), Jesus noted this
about him in John 1:47 "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile". There
was no deceitfulness in him.
That fact is, that as we continue to study the various dispositions of these
twelve men, it must be concluded that their natures were "poles apart", and all,
save Judas Iscariot (the son of perdition), went on to become faithful apostles
of Jesus Christ. How was that? Well, some would argue that having received the
Holy Spirit who would lead them into all truth, living faithfully would be the
natural outcome in their lives. In a way that is correct, but when they received
the Holy Spirit they were empowered as we read in 1 Corinthians 2:12 "Now we
have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that
we might know the things freely given to us by God". They were, through the Holy
Spirit, able to reveal the word of God. The Holy Spirit also gave them power to
confirm the word by performing miraculous signs.
As to the advantage they had over us, that was the extent of the Holy Spirit
in their lives. From then on, it was their responsibility to "seek" to use that
knowledge by applying the revealed truth, the teaching of Christ, to their
lives. Each of those apostles had to work out their own salvation, had to make
the same commitment to a Christ led life, exactly as we do today!
In his second letter 1: 5ff having already told us that now that we are
saved, that we have through Jesus Christ the most precious promises made to men,
that God by His own action has given us everything that is necessary for an
abundant life and holiness. He says that it is now up to us to be diligent, to
be determined to escape worldliness and its lusts. And He gives us vital steps
for living faithfully, by telling us to be persistent about implementing the
whole of the revealed will of God in our lives.
If it's essential to know the Gospel, to know the truth of God to become a
Christian, it's crucial for the Christian to embrace that truth and let it
govern his life. Peter says (v.4) our effort, our labour, will result in a
loveliness of life like no other, because we'll share the divine nature. The
first thing we have to work at is adding virtue or courage to our faith. Our
faith must not be a hidden thing, it must be a living service to God and man;
Christians must have the courage to show that we belong to God, and that it is
Him only we serve. To virtue/courage, we must add knowledge, that is, the
ability to enable us to decide rightly, and to act honourably, in the day to day
circumstances of life. (If you don't think seeking this quality in life is hard,
there is a strong possibility you haven't tried it!)
Peter hasn't finished with us yet, he says the next thing we must add to our
faith, (incidentally, none of these qualities are optional, we must see to
them), the next thing we are to add to our faith is temperance. The realism of
this quality, is seen in the fact that with all our human passions, when we have
temperance, or self-control, we can keep those passions under perfect control,
so that instead of them being our tyrants, they are our servants.
To this self-control we are to add patience. That is, we are cheerfully to
endure, no matter what life throws at us, to consider every happening as just
another step on our upward way. The Hebrew writer speaking of Jesus in Heb.
12:2b "...who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising
the shame..." That's the patience Peter says we're to add to our faith. Next
we're to add godliness, That is the quality that correctly worships and serves
God, and also serves man by giving him his proper due. Do we see the practical
qualities God wants us to seek and have in our lives?
Following, is brotherly affection, which is literally the love of the
brethren, it is the quality that allows a Christian to handle the claims on his
personal relationship without fuss. Those familiar with this Scripture know that
the last quality we are to seek is love. That's the love we are to show forth in
our lives. The Christian is to show all men the love which God as shown to him.
None of these virtues that we're to add to our faith come easily. We are to
seek them, we are to want them, we are to work for them. No one else can claim
them for us! Those divine blessings promised by Jesus in what we now know as The
Beatitudes, Matthew 5: 3-11, are not blessings for a group of people. When Jesus
spoke on the mountain that day, He wasn't talking to a group of disciples, or a
stack of people who had gathered there, He was inviting each individual to
"ask", "seek", and "knock". And the invitation is still being made.
The way we are to ask is by prayer, meaningful, sincere, earnest, persistent
prayer. Ideally we should listen to God first by reading His word; when we
listen to Him this way we understand our needs far better, and our requests are
much more heartfelt and in harmony with His will.
Seeking is the strenuous and personal and spiritual effort to have our lives
square off with Christ's teaching. And it is not sufficient to attain the
minimum degree of those qualities. 1 Peter 1: 8 tells us that the qualities that
must be added to our faith are to abound, they are to be lavish and generous.
And this is the way we can be if we "seek", and seeking means that we are
prepared to work at being changed, so that we have attitudes and behaviour
pleasing to God. These efforts will be crowned with success, because He has
promised that if we "seek, we will find". Day by day we will change from what we
are, to what we can become. And when the time comes we may not even have to
When Jesus invites us to "knock", He is telling us that we can enjoy the
rewards of the invitation. Those rewards are an Eternal life, a fulfilling life
now, by helping brethren, and reaching out to the lost. In 2 Peter 1: 10b and 11
we read "...for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an
entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our
Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ". We won't have to knock because the door will be
held wide open for us.
Finally we come to Matthew 7: 12 a portion of Scripture we know as the Golden
Rule. It tells us that we should do to all men as they would do to us, if our
circumstance and theirs were reversed. Here is a teaching that we should carry,
into every relationship in life. It embraces every moral obligation, every duty
between man and man. It eliminates backbiting, talebearing, cheating, falsehood,
unjust criticism, sensuality and the like. It makes us charitable, merciful,
helpful, honest and considerate.
When Jesus invited us to "ask", "seek", and "knock" we were being shown how
to behave as the children of a heavenly Father. In this last part He is
instructing us in how to behave in a brotherly relationship with those with whom
we have to do. And much better we are able to have this relationship, if we have
sought to live as Jesus has thus far taught us. God acts in a fatherly manner
toward us, therefore we should act in a brotherly manner toward each other. The
fatherhood of God involves the brotherhood of man. If God is your Father and if
God is my Father, you and I are brothers. That is the brotherhood we invite all
the world to hear, we want everyone to hear, so that as many who will, will
accept it! We want folk to know that a life in Christ, that a Christian, has
available to him the most fulfilling life of anyone. If you haven't responded to
the gospel invitation, you are without God, and without hope. Christ asks you to
come, the Spirit asks you to come, and we ask you to come. If you've heard the
gospel of Jesus Christ and believe it, and believe that Jesus Christ is the Son
of God, then if you believe these things, why go on without hope?
Repent, and confess Jesus is God's Son and be baptised for the forgiveness of
sins, then "seek" to do the will of God from then on. The abundant life Jesus
promises is a life of inner contentment that comes with having the peace of God.
More than that, you begin the path to eternal life. There is no other way these
things can happen.
Then again there may be brethren who have failed in seeking to apply the
teaching of Christ, have not changed their attitudes nor their behaviour, who
have not sought to become as God has planned for them. That is a sin and if that
is your problem, you too need to repent of it. There may be others who are being
dragged down by troubles or weaknesses, who desperately need the prayers and
comfort of their brethren. Please make that known.