Trying to Fool God

Matthew 7:13-28

Human beings often try to deceive human beings. We deceive, most often, not by lying but by refraining from disclosing the entire truth. Our most recent example of this is the controversy surrounding President Clinton. Regardless of whether Clinton is innocent or not, stories and personal accounts are contradicting each other. SOMEONE is not telling the "whole truth".

As we come to chapter 7 in Matthew, we are confronted with this same issue of truth and deception. Not so much deception by words, but more so deception by DEEDS. The idea is that although we may be able to deceive people with a superficial front, we can't fool God .

In the Sermon on the Mount, thus far, we have been told to model the "Beatitudes"--characteristics of a fruit-bearing Christian. We have been challenged to go beyond the minimum requirements of the Law. And we have be exhorted to "lay up treasures" for eternity--to give money to the poor, to pray, and to fast.

Jesus has warned us to examine our motivation for our good deeds and now in chapter 7, along the same lines, He warns us that when we "hear" His words we had better respond, and respond GENUINELY.

Jesus goes on to use 3 illustrations to distinguish between a genuine response and a superficial response. More than that, each illustration contrasts two types of people--the genuine disciple of Christ and the superficial disciple of Christ. The first illustration is the contrasting of two gates in verses 13 and 14.

One of the gates is "wide" and the way that leads there is "broad" and "easy"(v.13). The other gate is "narrow" and the way that leads there is "difficult"(v.14). The way that is "easy", Jesus tells us, is the route to "destruction". And the "narrow" gate is the way "that leads to life".

So what we have is an "easy" road to the "wide" gate of "destruction" and a "difficult" road to the "narrow" gate of "life". So what is the problem here?

The problem is human beings tend to take to the easy road in life . We tend to take short cuts. We are always in a hurry--we can't be bothered to take the time to prepare a meal so we eat out or order a pizza. We hurry around in our car from place to place. We can't wait until our next pay cheque so we overspend on our credit card to get what we want. The 1990's has often been labeled the decade of "instant gratification"--don't make us wait, don't make things difficult for us. Give us bank machines, give us television shopping networks, give us McDonald's.

Jesus, however, wants us to journey down the difficult road--mind you the journey is quite manageable with His help, but it is a difficult road nonetheless. When we journey down this road we are promised persecution when we would rather be left alone. We are told to love people we would rather hate. We are called to give money to people who can't pay us back. Jesus tells us to fast when we can't even comprehend skipping lunch. Instead of promising us instant gratification, Jesus promises us delayed gratification. "Take the difficult road", He says. But remember, that road leads to "life".

The other reason so many people take the "wide" road is that it is not properly labeled. The road to "destruction" does not have a big neon sign that reads, "This way to destruction", but it may very well have a sign that says, "This way to life". Quite often, people in the church wander down the road to destruction, not because they are evil people but because they think they are headed in the right direction. They think they are on the road to life.

Jesus recognizes the role preachers play in this misdirection: "Beware of the false prophets who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves"(v.15). How can we detect a "false prophet"? Jesus says, we will "know them by their fruits"(v.16). Jesus here encourages us to evaluate the fruits of our church leaders, yet He qualifies this evaluation at the beginning of the chapter by warning us against judging others(v.1, 2). And since other Scripture passages encourage judgment on specific actions(1Cor. 5:12, 13) the sense here is that in spite of our necessary evaluations, final judgment on a person is left up to God.

The easiest way to discern a false prophet may simply be to watch which road they point to. Are they presenting the Christian life as a "bed of roses", or as an "easy as pie" lifestyle?
The best modern example I can think of for a "false prophet" is the "info-mercials" you now see on TV. The people who advertise the "Thigh-master", "Gut-buster" and other items make losing weight and gaining muscle seem like an easy and painless endeavour. Now, any doctor or dietician worth their salt will tell you that gaining a waistline like Cindy Crawford or biceps like Arnold Schwarzenagger is not a short-term project. The same goes for Christian discipleship. There is no easy 12 step formula to becoming a mature Christian. Becoming a mature Christian, like becoming physically fit, requires a commitment to a disciplined lifestyle--commitment to journeying on a road that is seldom "easy".

So we have two types of people: People who take the easy road--people who don't cause anyone harm, but who don't leave their "comfort zone"either. And people who take the difficult road of discipleship--people who follow Christ regardless of their discomfort with some of the demands, people who sacrifice instant gratification for eternal glory.

The illustrations distinguishing between two types of people continues with the metaphor of "good fruit" and "bad fruit". True disciples take the narrow road while superficial disciples take the wide road. How can we tell what road we presently are on? By examining the type of fruit in our life. Are we "thirsting for righteousness" or are we pretty content with how we are living? Are we striving to be gracious to those who either don't like us or can't return the favour? Or are we only good to those we like and to those who can return the favour? Are we giving generously to the poor or merely looking out for our own interests? Are we devoting ourselves to prayer or are our earthly responsibilities dominating our time? Our fruit will indicate which road we are presently on.

Jesus warns the people that, "Not everyone who SAYS to Me, 'Lord, Lord', will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who DOES the will of My Father who is in heaven"(v.21). What we SAY we believe won't matter if our deeds betray our words. We can't fool God. Our fruits will reveal which road we have been taking.

But then some will object, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?"(v.22). The modern-day equivalent being, "Lord, did we not preach good sermons on Sunday, did we not sing Your praises in the choir, did we not bake pies to help Your church?". "Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness"(v.23) is the stark reply. The idea here is not a vengeful, mean God who is eager to condemn--the emphasis is the same here as it has been since the beginning of chapter 6--those of us who superficially follow Christ, thinking we can somehow fool God, will have a rude awakening.

Now I realize, there is a real temptation to draw hard and fast lines between those on the narrow road and those on the wide road. A temptation to separate those bearing good fruit with those bearing bad fruit. It is easy to sit and listen to me this morning if you say to yourself, "Thank goodness I am on the right road. Thank goodness I am bearing good fruit". But I don't think it is that easy. In fact, I sometimes wonder if it is even possible to accurately know who is on which road and when. There is a sense where we all take both roads, and bear both kinds of fruit. For this reason we must evaluate our present situation. Sure, we believe in Christ, but are we PRESENTLY journeying the difficult road towards Him? Yes we want to live like Him, but does the fruit NOW present in our life reflect that?

Some people take the narrow road to life while others take the wide road to destruction. What indicates which road you are on? The indicator is whether you are bearing good fruit or bad fruit. Well, what is our indicator that we are bearing good fruit? The specific indicator is found in verses 24 to 27.

Verse 24 tells us whether we are bearing good fruit, and therefore, whether we are journeying on the right road: "Everyone who hears these words of Mine, and ACTS upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock"(v.24). How do you know if you are on the right road? If you are bearing good fruit. How do you know if you are bearing good fruit? You are bearing good fruit if, after hearing the challenges of Jesus, you go out and "act upon them".

Disciples of Christ must do more than listen to sermons, attend Bible studies, and read theological books. Genuine disciples of Christ ACT upon what they hear and read. When Jesus refers to "these words of Mine" He is referring back to everything He has said previously in the Sermon on the Mount. It is not enough that we memorize the Beatitudes--we must model them in our lifestyle. We say we love our neighbour as our self, but does our generosity towards strangers reflect that? We say we want to be like Christ, but are we building our faith through prayer and fasting? Jesus wants our deeds to back-up our words. He wants us to PRACTICE what we preach. He wants us to "walk the talk". And when we do we are like a person who builds their house "upon the rock".

All of this sounds demanding, doesn't it? On the surface, these challenges may seem very burdensome. I can assure you, however, as I have tried on previous Sunday's, that these challenges are FOR OUR OWN GOOD. Acting upon the words of Jesus helps us. Acting upon the words of Jesus protects us. This is what the final illustration teaches us: "And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and yet IT DID NOT FALL, for it had been founded upon the rock"(v.25).

The "rain", "floods", and "winds" is probably meant to symbolize the pressures of life in this world. Our spouses let us down. Our children agitate us. Our bosses demand too much. Our finances squeeze us on every side. We suffer through physical illness---How are we going to make it?! We will make it if our house is "built upon the rock". We will endure and persevere through every kind of hardship if our life is built on the words of Christ. If we learn to act as Jesus acted, we will survive the storm. This does not mean the storm will be enjoyable, it only means our foundation in Christ is stronger than any storm.

What is our alternative? "And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall"(v.26, 27).

If we live a superficial Christian life we only harm ourselves. We may fool our friends, but we won't fool God. The storms of life will close in on us and they will break us. For when we follow Christ only superficially, we don't have the foundation to survive the storm--we suffer total collapse. The genuine disciple, however, can survive any storm.

Which road are you presently on? Take the narrow road. What kind of fruit is evident in your life? Be sure to bear good fruit. What foundation is your house built on? Build on the rock of God's holy Word.

Superficiality doesn't do us any good, and it doesn't fool God. Genuine discipleship, however, is a gift from God to help us.

In the movie "Chariots of Fire", runner Eric Liddle explained how when he ran he could "feel God's pleasure". When you, as disciples of Christ, base your life on His Word, I can assure you--You will feel God's pleasure. Amen.