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SERMON ON THE MOUNT: PART TWENTY-THREE

PRESENTED ON 01-03-08

 

       Last week we looked at the teachings of Jesus as to the issue of judging and found that Jesus wasn’t teaching we cannot judge but that when we do judge it better be according to righteous standards.  Some read only as far as the first part of Matthew 7:1 where Jesus said “Do not judge” and conclude we are never to judge anyone.  If you heard the sermon last week, you should realize that is not what Jesus was teaching.  This week we will look at another teaching that if taken only at its face value can lead, and has led, to some rather interesting doctrinal positions.

      Matthew 7:7-8:   Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

       So if you would like to hit it big at the casino, have someone give you a brand new Mercedes Benz or win the lottery, all you have to do is ask and it will be given to you because Christ said “Everyone who asks receives."  There are entire ministries within Christianity that base there preaching and teaching on scriptures such as these.  Some times referred to as the "health and wealth gospel," these ministries use these kinds of scriptures to preach a gospel of health, wealth and prosperity by simply asking God in faith to provide such things and it will happen.  There are ministers who become famous by assuring their listeners, "You can write your own ticket with God! Name it and claim it. Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." 

       There’s a guy on late Sunday night television who asks you to send for his health and prosperity green cloth.  His program is filled with clips of his many healing campaigns where he orders sickness and disease to leave the body in the name of Jesus while the cameras span the audience to show everyone waving their green cloths.  He features any number of testimonies of those who claim to have been healed through his ministry, often as a result of applying the green cloth to their body.  There are also testimonies of people receiving unexpected checks in the mail and receiving various other financial blessings by simply sending for his green cloth. 

       He justifies what he does on the bases of what’s recorded in Acts 19:11-12 which he quotes during His telecast and he makes a point of using this scripture to prove that what he is doing is Biblical.

       Acts 19:11-12: God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.”     

        Well I can’t and won’t judge this gentleman or the many others like him who have similar ministers as I haven’t had opportunity to carefully examine what they are doing and the claims they make.  I just know that there are a variety of dynamics involved in asking and receiving from God and one needs to be aware of those dynamics.  Those who quote Acts 19:11-12 often stop at verse 12 and don’t read the very next verses.

       Acts 19:13-16: Some Jews, who went around driving out evil spirits, tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, "In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out." Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. [One day] the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?" Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.

       Who are you? the evil spirit asked.  I know who Jesus is.  I know who Paul is, but who are you?  This episode with the seven sons of a Jewish priest is rather instructive. It certainly reflects on something Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount as found in Matthew 7:21.

       Matthew 7:21-22: 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!'

       This statement of Christ’s shows that things aren’t always what they appear to be and that we must be careful in how we view the activities of those who claim to be used by God.

       So what is it that Jesus is teaching in Matthew 7:7-8?  Six times in just two verses he all but begs us to make petitions. Verse 7 gives us the imperatives: Ask! Seek! Knock! Verse 8 repeats it in the indicative form: Those who ask, who seek, and who knock will get a response. Jesus continues to dwell on this issue with additional observations, saying that our heavenly Father will give good things to those who ask.

       Matthew 7:9-11: Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

       Some Christians look at what Jesus said here and believe all they have to do is ask and God will fill their requests not unlike going to the local pharmacy and having a prescription filled.  When their requests of God are not filled they become discouraged and begin to have negative thoughts about God and sometimes drift from God to the extent they no longer communicate with God in prayer and even drift from practicing  behavior associated with being a Christian.

       Hundreds of thousands of requests are daily made to God around this world.  The reality is that many requests, if not the vast majority of requests, made to God are not fulfilled.  How then are we to understand this teaching?

        Some requests are granted.  Many are not.  Many repeat their requests over and over again, day after day, week after week, month after month and sometimes for years without having their requests granted.  Yet Jesus teaches that we should ask and it will be given us. We should seek and we will find.  We should knock and the door will be opened.  On the surface there would appear to be some cognitive dissonance here.  This would appear to be a non sequitur statement where the conclusion doesn’t follow from the premise.  The premise is that according to what Jesus said in Matthew 7:21, all we need to do is ask and our request will be granted.  The conclusion is that in the reality of life this just isn’t the way it happens.    

       Jesus had just made the statement “Do not judge or you too will be judged.”  He then went on to show by example that He wasn’t prohibiting the judging of someone but that  we are not to be hypocritical in our judging of others and we are to use discernment in making a judgement about someone.  In the Sermon on the Mount, we sometimes hear Jesus making blanket statements and then qualifying those statements by providing examples of what He is talking about. At other times He doesn’t do this and it becomes necessary to examine other passages of scripture in order to arrive at intended meaning.  It’s called exegesis. We did exegesis when we discussed Christ’s statements about murder, divorce, forgiveness and judging others.  We looked at a host of other scriptural passages to better determine what Christ and the leadership of the first century Church were teaching about these issues.

       The whole of the Sermon on the Mount is instructional.  It deals with how we are to behave so that we may be sons of our Father in heaven as Christ teaches in Matthew the 5th chapter. 

       Being a son of our Father in heaven means we communicate with our Father.  It means we make requests of Him just like our children make requests of us.  Now do we grant every request of our children? I think you all know the answer to that question.  I would suspect we fail to fulfill a great deal more requests than we fulfill, especially when our children are young and are seemly requesting something much of the time. As parents we often establish parameters and conditions in association with the fulfillment of requests.  Sometimes we make decisions in response to requests from our children that have long range considerations.   Sometimes we leave their requests unfulfilled because we know to grant their requests would produce negative consequences. 

       God has given us humans the ability to make choices.  Free choice is a most profound dynamic of human behavior.  With free choice come consequences.  There are always consequences that follow the choices we make.  Sometimes we don’t like the consequences that flow from the choices we make.  It is when we experience negative consequences from the choices we make that we often go to God and ask that he bail us out of the consequences of our choices just like our children do of us.  Sometimes, God in His mercy will bail us out of the consequences connected with poor choices.  Many times He will not.

       The human experience is a learning experience.  We learn through the consequences incurred by the choices we make.  If God were to intervene to undo every negative consequence of every bad choice we made, He would be compromising His purpose to have us learn from our experiences.   

       A key dynamic connected with this whole issue of God responding to our requests is the matter of His will.  1 John 5:14: "This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us." 

       The will of God is the key dynamic in God responding to our requests in the manner that we would like.  We should always pray with the understanding that our request will be granted if such request is in sync with the will of God.

       On the night of His betrayal, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed to His Father that the ordeal He was about to face be removed from him.  Yes you heard that right. Jesus, as a physical human being, did not want to experience the physical, psychological and spiritual suffering that He knew He was about to face.  His human will was that He not go through the ordeal that lay before Him.   

       Mark 14:32-36: They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, "Sit here while I pray." He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death," he said to them. "Stay here and keep watch." Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. "Abba, Father," he said, "Everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will."

       The human will of Jesus was to have this cup removed.  Jesus implored His Father to in some manner accomplish His purpose in some other way. The scriptures indicate Jesus prayed this prayer three times in great anguish where He sweat actual drops of blood. He said "everything is possible with you Father" implying there must be some other way of doing this.  But Jesus had lived His entire life in total commitment to His Father’s will.  And so even as He now faced indescribable physical and spiritual pain and suffering, He continued to submit to the will of His Father. 

       Now you might ask, didn’t Jesus know it was His Father’s purpose and therefore His will that He die to become the human sacrifice for sin?  Didn’t He know this is the reason he was born and this was his purpose for His existence?  Why would he even think He could persuade God to change His mind and do this some other way?  One could argue He prayed the way He did simply out of human anguish at the thought of having to face the suffering He was about to face.  On the other hand he knew that God can and does change His mind and will at times and God does respond to persistent prayer.  During His ministry He gave an illustration of this very thing in teaching that men should always pray and not to give up.

       Luke 18:1-7: Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: "In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, `Grant me justice against my adversary.' "For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, `Even though I don't fear God or care about men, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!'"  And the Lord said, "Listen to what the unjust judge says.  And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?

       Jesus is teaching here that if an unjust judge can be persuaded to change his mind, surely God can be persuaded to respond in a positive way to our requests.  Can we persuade God to change his will?  There are scriptural examples that certainly indicate that this is possible.  When God intended to wipe out Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham interceded and kept petitioning God to spare the cities if a certain number of righteous could be found in the cities.  Abraham began by petitioning God that if just fifty righteous could be found would He spare the cities and God said He would.  Well apparently fifty righteous could not be found so Abraham petitioned God to spare the cities for forty righteous and then thirty, twenty and finally ten. At each petition God said He would spare the city thus showing that God was flexible in His decision to punish Sodom and Gomorrah.

       We have the account found in Exodus 32 where the Israelites made the golden calf while Moses was receiving the law from God.  God became extremely angry with the people and told Moses He intended to destroy the Israelites and make a great nation of the descendants of Moses instead.  But Moses reasoned with God and virtually convinced God to change His mind and not wipe out the nation of Israel.

       God’s will always prevails but it is apparent that God’s will can be changed and, therefore, if there is something we really want and we can perceive that it may be in the realm of the will of God, we should be diligent and even relentless in our pursuit of that which we seek. 

       The example of Jesus submitting to His Father’s will over his own should tell us where our focus must always be relative to making requests of God.  God expects us to look to Him as our heavenly Father and make our needs and even wants known to Him.  When Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you," it is understood that such asking is to always be done within the context of recognizing that the granting of our will must be secondary to God’s will. 

       It is not just a matter of recognizing that God’s will is going to be done no matter what but that we are willing to submit to God’s will no matter what and make our own will subservient to God’s will regardless of what that may mean for us.  Christ was willing to submit to God’s will no matter what the consequences were for Him.  This is what our own attitude should be.  This should be our mind set before God at all times. 

       Jesus, in the passage under consideration, speaks of asking, seeking and knocking, in the context of asking for good gifts from God as we saw in verses 9-11.  The message that appears to come across is that Jesus is teaching us to be persistent in asking God to give us those things that will be of of edification to us and help us in our relationship with each other and with the Father. 

       This can be seen in a parallel passage to this teaching we find in Luke the eleventh chapter.  In verse one of this chapter, we see Jesus praying and His disciples asking him to teach them to pray.  He responds by repeating much of the same instruction He gave in the Sermon on the Mount regarding prayer and then He gives another one of His classic illustrations.

       Luke 11:5-13: Then he said to them, "Suppose one of you has a friend, and he goes to him at midnight and says, `Friend, lend me three loaves of bread, because a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have nothing to set before him.'  "Then the one inside answers, `Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children are with me in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.' I tell you, though he will not get up and give him the bread because he is his friend, yet because of the man's boldness he will get up and give him as much as he needs. "So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.  "Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"

       In this passage the good gifts spoken of in the Sermon on the Mount is defined as the Holy Spirit. The context wherein we fine instruction about being persistent in our communication with our heavenly Father is one of seeking the power to be pleasing in our behavior before God.  The whole focus of the Sermon on the Mount is how we ought to behave in relationship to each and in relationship to God.

       In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave instruction as to how we should pray.  In that instruction Jesus said we should ask that the Father’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  He instructed that we ask that God’s kingdom rule in our lives.  He instructed that we ask the Father to forgive us as we forgive others.  These are all spiritual requests.  These are all requests associated with how we behave toward God and man.  These are all requests associated with expressing the Holy Spirit in our lives. 

       If we place Jesus’ instruction to ask, seek and knock in the context of the entire Sermon on the Mount, it would appear that this instruction has nothing to do with asking for health, wealth or prosperity.  It has to do with asking for the ability to live a Godly life. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:

       Matthew 6:31-33: Do not worry, saying, `What shall we eat?' or `What shall we drink?' or `What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

       Here Jesus is saying don’t worry about the mundane things of this physical life.  You don’t have to ask, seek and knock in regard to such things.  God knows you need these things and He will provide for them if you ask, seek and knock as to the one great and all important thing which is His kingdom and His righteousness.

       If we could sum up the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, it would be Matthew 6:33. "Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." The “His” being referred to is God the Father.  It is God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness that is the theme of the Sermon on the Mount.  This being the case, when Jesus speaks of asking, seeking and knocking, it is not a stretch to conclude it is the righteousness of kingdom living that Jesus is instructing us to ask for, seek for and knock on the door for.

       When we compare what Jesus said about asking, seeking and knocking in the Sermon on the Mount with what He said about this matter as recorded in Luke, it becomes rather obvious that asking, seeking and knocking is associated with righteous living and that is the focus.  So once again we see the importance of comparing scripture with scripture so we get the whole teaching on a subject before we draw a conclusion, Something the health, wealth and prosperity ministers should probably pay closer attention to.

SERMON TWENTY-FOUR