Last week I discussed the wide road that leads to destruction and the narrow road that leads to life.  After services someone suggested that Jesus was actually talking about the game of golf in His sermon.  The narrow road is the fairway that leads to the green were the flag is and it is the goal of all golfers to hit the ball down the fairway to the green which is equated with joy, peace and life itself.  The broad road is the rough, that large area to either side of the fairway where there is tall grass, trees, water and a variety of other hazards that can add many strokes to your game and lead to gloom, despair and agony, or to summarize it, destruction. How is that for an interpretation of the scriptures?

       I don’t think Jesus was talking about the game of golf although His allusion to the two roads can certainly apply to golf.  As pointed out last week, Jesus’ use of the two roads was for the purpose of focusing attention on all that He had taught up to this point in His sermon.  Having begun with the two road analogy, Jesus proceeds in the rest of His sermon to drive home the point that what He has been teaching is not to be taken lightly.  What He has been teaching is a standard of behavior that reflects the will of God for His human creation.  The will of God for His human creation is to practice Kingdom living which is to participate in His Kingdom, the Kingdom of God. Jesus mentions the Kingdom 6 times in His sermon.   

       He began with Matthew 5:3: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  He proceeded with, Matthew 5:10: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  He then made the summery statement, Matthew 5:19: “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

       Jesus then proceeds to contrast the righteousness of the religious leaders with the righteousness required to enter the Kingdom.  Matthew 5:20: “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

       In Matthew 6:10, in what is referred to as the “Lord's Prayer,” Jesus teaches us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  One final mention of the Kingdom is mentioned in a passage yet to be considered.

       As is true of Jesus’ ministry in general, His focus was on preaching the Good News of the Kingdom of God and what was involved in entering the Kingdom.  The instruction in the Sermon on the Mount is all about Kingdom living.  It is all about behaving according to the requirements of membership in the Kingdom.  The Kingdom of God is all about a way of life.  The Sermon on the Mount is all about what that way of life is. 

       Having defined that way of life, Jesus now hammers home what it is like to follow that way of life and what the consequences are for not following that way of life.  He began with the wide and narrow road analogy.  He now proceeds with several additional illustrations.

       Matthew 7:15-20: "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

       When Jesus says “watch out for false prophets,” who is He talking about?  The Greek word translated ‘prophet” appears 149 times in the NT and has the basic meaning of “to speak forth or speak out.”  While this word is often associated with foretelling the future, it can also be applied to anyone who professes to speak on behalf of God in any respect.  This being the case, there is every reason to believe Christ has the religious leaders of His day in mind when He made this statement.  The religious leaders professed to speak on behalf of God.  Jesus repeatedly pointed to the hypocrisy of the religious leaders in their teaching the people to behave one way while they behaved in another way.  

       Matthew 23:2-7: "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. "Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries  wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them `Rabbi.'

       The indication here is that the religious leaders were teaching right principles of behavior but were violating the very principles they were teaching.  They appeared in sheep’s clothing which is to say they appeared righteous on the outside but inwardly they were wolves in so much that their personal behavior and there inward motives were everything but righteous.  This is why Jesus said that "unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

       The Kingdom of God is all about inward righteousness.  The Kingdom of God is all about what is in the heart.  This is why Jesus said the Kingdom is within us as I discussed last week.  If the principles of behavior that pertain to Kingdom living are in the heart, ones outward behavior will reflect those principles.  If the principles of Kingdom living are not in the heart, then the outward behavior will be noticeably unrighteous or it will be feigned righteous behavior which apparently it was with the religious leaders Jesus was using as an example of how not to behave.  The people Jesus was using as examples of how not to behave were people whose behavior appeared to be righteous but in essence was not because the heart had not been changed.  The Kingdom of God is all about a changed heart. 

       Jesus uses the illustration of the two trees to demonstrate this. A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit.  Now a good tree and a bad tree may look identical on the outside.  Even the fruit on both trees may look identical.  But when you bit into the fruit of the good tree it will be very tasty whereas biting into the fruit from the bad tree will leave a bad taste in your mouth and you will want to spit it out.

       In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught what a good tree is to be like.  A good tree is meek and merciful.  A good tree does not to do acts of righteousness to be seen of men. A good tree, when giving to the needy, will not announce such giving with trumpets as the hypocrites do so that we can be honored by men. A good tree will not let the left hand know what the right hand is doing when doing good deeds.  A good tree, when praying, will not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men.

       Jesus was using contemporary to Him examples of how to behave and how not to behave.  He was using the religious leaders as examples of the wrong kind of tree. The principles contained in these examples have ongoing application and are as pertinent to us as they were to the people Christ was addressing.  It should be noted that the good and bad tree illustration is not limited to religious leaders.  Anyone can come in sheep’s clothing and be inwardly a wolf.  We see this every day at all levels of human activity. 

       A major reason our nation is in a financial crisis is because of wolves appearing as sheep.  How about the Bernard Madoff (Made-off) story?   Madoff, a former Nasdaq chairman created the largest swindle in Wall Street history.  Called a Ponzi scheme, it is an operation that pays returns to investors from their own money or money paid by subsequent investors rather than from any actual profit earned on investment.   The scheme is named after Charles Ponzi who became notorious for using the technique after emigrating from Italy to the United States in 1903. 

       Madoff swindled people out of billions of dollars all the while making himself out as a philanthropist by spreading around the money he stole to make himself look good.  In 2006, Madoff gave away a total $1,277,600 to charity. The Madoff family established a charity in 1998 and since then has given multimillion-dollar donations to New York's big-league charities.  Talk about a wolf in sheep's clothing!

       We find wolves in sheep’s clothing throughout society.  Some are financial advisers.  Some are used car salesmen.  Some sell insurance.  Some are mortgage brokers.  Some sell pharmaceuticals. Some sell nutritional supplements.  Some promote a particle political, social or religious point of view.  There are false prophets appearing in sheep’s clothing everywhere you look. 

       Jesus is warning us to be careful.  He is instructing us to test the fruit of the tree to see if it tastes the way it is suppose to taste. He is also showing that bad trees eventually will be cut down and burned in the fire.  Bernard Madoff has been cut down and will now suffer the consequences of his crime.

       Jesus continues to instruct His audience as to the consequences of failing to live by the instruction He has provided and failing to respond to the will of His Father.

       Matthew 7:21-23: Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

       The point Jesus is here making is that lip service isn’t going to cut it.  It is not enough to acknowledge Jesus as Lord.  It is not enough to speak on His behalf and even perform miracles using his name.  What Jesus is looking for is a change of heart.  What Jesus is looking for is a submissive attitude. What Jesus is teaching is that we must respond to the will of God.  The very will that Jesus just covered in the instruction He provided in the Sermon on the Mount. 

       Jesus says that many will say to Him in that day that they prophesied and performed miracles in the name of Christ.  Speaking for Christ and performing miracles in His name carries with it the responsibility of also behaving according to what He taught.  In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had just taught a way of life.  He had just given instruction as to what is necessary to be citizens of the Kingdom.  He is now saying that what really counts is not the outward show of looking like a representative of Christ but actually behaving like a representative of Christ. 

       Being a Christian means to embrace and apply what Christ taught during His ministry. This is the theme found throughout the scriptures. There are dozens of scriptures that plainly teach us that to be a follower of Jesus is to live according to what he taught.  In Luke’s abbreviated version of the Sermon on the Mount or possibly a record of a different sermon by Jesus, Jesus is quoted as saying:

       Luke 6:46: Why do you call me, `Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?

       To express faith in Christ is to not only believe that He went to the cross to pay our death penalty but to also believe what He taught as to standards of conduct and then to apply those standards to our behavior.  Apostle James plainly wrote that faith without works is dead. Paul wrote that the doers of the law are justified and not just the hearers. Apostle John in writing about our relationship with Christ wrote:

        1 John 2:3-6: We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.  The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.

       To claim we know Christ and then walk contrary to what He taught is to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  It is a virtual oxymoron, a contradiction.  If we claim to live in Christ we better be living according to what He taught.   Will we do this perfectly?  No we won’t.  This same Apostle wrote:

       1 John 2:1-2: My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense--Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

       Christ wants us to live a righteous life.  That is the will of the Father.  That is the requirement to be considered a participant in the Kingdom of God.  But out human nature will get in the way of living a righteous life.  This is where the atoning sacrifice of Jesus comes in.  But our focus should always be to override our human nature with the Divine nature. The goal should always be to participate in the Divine nature. The Divine nature is the very nature of God that Jesus came to reveal and did reveal in His teachings as represented in the Sermon on the Mount. Look what Apostle Peter wrote:

       1 Peter 1:3-4: His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

       Our goal is to escape the corruption caused by evil desires.  We do this by applying the standards of conduct as found in the Sermon on the Mount.  It is this teaching that if implemented will provide the necessary foundation for living a life pleasing to God, a  life that will reflect the law of love and result in being a Golden Rule Christian.  Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount by saying this very thing in presenting the illustration of the two houses.

       Matthew 7:24-27: Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

       Last summer, Barb and I along with my son Kevin and his wife were kayaking on the lower Wisconsin River near the Dells. As we were going along we saw in the distance a rather large object sticking out of the water.  As we approached this object we could see it was the upper story of a house.  Yes, it was the remains of one of the houses that had broken away when Lake Delton gave way and flowed into the Wisconsin River taking several houses with it.   

       The houses that fell into Lake Delton were literally built on sand.  When the winds and rain came and the waters rose, these houses could not withstand the pressure and they fell with a great crash.  In His illustration, Jesus shows that to not put into practice what He was teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, is to place oneself at risk for a great fall.  It is to live your life on a shaky foundation that will not handle the pressure that may come your way.

       In the Sermon on the Mount we have two ways of life presented. The way of righteousness and the way of unrighteousness.  The way of light and the way of darkness.  The way of Kingdom living and the way outside the Kingdom.  The wise man puts into practice the teachings of Jesus and develops a strong foundation of behavior based on righteousness standards of conduct.  The foolish man fails to place into practice the teachings of Jesus and builds a weak behavioral foundation. 

       This is the message of the Sermon on the Mount.  We have covered a great deal of material in this series.  I trust you have benefited from this material.  More importantly, I hope that this exposition of Christ’s teachings will lead to change where change is necessary. In all probability, I got more out of this series than you did. Doing the research and seeking to understand the message Christ delivered on that mountainside nearly 2000 years ago was both challenging and humbling.  I know that much of what I have covered has already been forgotten as research shows we humans only retain a small percentage of what we learn. I hope to eventually post this series on my website so that if you have internet access you will be able to go back and review this material if you so desire.

       This concludes the series on the Sermon on the Mount.