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Journey to the Kingdom of God

Date: Jan. 24, 2016

Author: Bob Henkins

Matthew 7:13-29

Key Verse: Matthew 7:24

“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.”

During one of our family vacations we wanted to go to Sedona and the Grand Canyon in Arizona. So we started doing our research. First, what route were we going to take. I wanted to follow the historic route 66 and see some sites along the way. Next, we had to figure out where we were going to stay, where we would eat and what sites we would visit. As we were doing our research on the internet, there were so many choices to make. So many hotels, restaurants, attractions etc. And depending upon which web sites you visited, there were drastically different prices and options. If you weren’t careful you could easily get ripped off. So what did we do? We checked many different sources, made calls, sent emails, checked Yelp, Tripadvisor and some others I don’t remember off hand, until we began to get a sense of who we could trust. We found some deals on Groupon, made our reservations, packed the van and away we went. Personally, I think that it was one of the best vacations I’ve ever been on. We visited the big blue whale, Cadillac Ranch, the petrified forest, the Grand Canyon, Bell and Cathedral Rock.  We had lunch in an airplane, went to trampoline world, went to church in Colorado and visited the garden of the gods. It was amazing to see all the stars at night and so peaceful sitting outside having our morning coffee watching the sun come up on beautiful Bell rock. The two hour time difference was really nice because we were able get up so early and see it all.

Why do I bring this up, because I want to brag about our vacations? No. I bring it up because as with any journey you go on, there is a lot of planning, preparation and execution that takes place. And you can have problems almost anywhere along the way. And as I studied this passage, it reminded me of our journey to the kingdom of God. Kind of like the book Pilgrims Progress. Every Christian from the moment we accept Christ, we are on a journey to reach the kingdom of God. And like any journey we take, we have to figure out how to get there and avoid the pitfalls along the way. Today’s passage helps prepare us for our journey. This is Jesus’ conclusion to his sermon on the mount. As Jesus began his ministry, he knew how it would end. He knew how hard it was going to be for those who were going to follow him so he wanted to give them something to help guide them so today’s passage is for us.

Let read verses 13-14. “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” These verses give us a clue in how to find God’s kingdom and they are almost like an overall summary statement. The narrow gate can be either the starting point or the finish line depending how you look at it. But for now, let’s look at it like the starting gate of a horse race. Maybe some of you know what I’m talking about, it the series of gates that all the horses line up in before they start the race. They are very narrow and are all crunched together so that the horses are as close to the center of the track as possible so that each horse has an equal advantage as they start the race. The problem is that the gates are so narrow and confining that sometimes the horses don’t want to go in. It feels unnatural for them and it kind of freaks them out so they have to be coaxed to go in. However, this is the only way they can participate in the race.

Likewise, those who want to follow Jesus must all start at the same place, the gate. In my prep for this message, I read that the Greek word for enter is more like a command kind of like a “start here” sign. No one can be in the race unless you start here so it requires us to make a decision, “do you want to go this way or not?” And like those horses that freak out and start bucking because they don’t to go it, most people do the same thing and don’t want to go in. That’s what verse 14 tells us, only a few even find the gate let alone go through it. Ultimately the narrow gate refers to Jesus. One time to help the Pharisees Jesus told them, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture (Jn 10:7,9). Another time Jesus told his disciples, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). The narrow gate is the way to God through Jesus Christ.

When we make a decision to accept Jesus into our life and follow him, it’s like climbing into that narrow starting gate. However narrow gates are not popular. They appear too confining and lonely. In the case with the horse, it keeps them safe from banging around hurting themselves. Likewise, the narrow gate keeps us safe because it leads to eternal life in the kingdom of God. The narrow gate gives us true joy, which those who chose the wide gate don’t know or understand. Contrastingly, the wide gate is more popular. Most people choose this way. It’s not lonely or confining. It seems to be the way of fun with a lot of freedom. Those who chose this way look at the narrow gate travelers and wonder, “Why do you restrict yourself so much?” Many people want to experience everything that the world has to offer. Like an all you can eat buffet, they want to sample everything good and bad without missing anything. And each generation invents their own catch phrases for it like “YOLO”, you only live once. This lifestyle looks exciting and carefree but we need to know as verse 13 tells us that lifestyle choice leads us down the path to destruction. I know, I’ve been down that path myself. When I started my IIT college career, I had a bright future, I also moved out of my parent’s house around that time starting my adult life. My motto in life wasn’t YOLO, it was “Because I can” and I remember one time in our apartment we were playing catch with a football and the ball hit a lamp and knocked it down and it broke, and someone asked, “Why’d you do that?” jokingly we replied, “Because I can.” That kind of struck a chord with us and they someone jumped up and down on the couch and the other asked, “Why are you doing that?” “Because I can” was the response and we all laughed. That was the beginning of a reckless lifestyle and many of the things I did let to destruction, the destruction of my college GPA for example. People think, “well, that your choice, if you want to do that fine,” however we have to know that not only is there earthly destruction, there is spiritual destruction. Ecclesiastes 11:9 tells us, “You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.” 2 Corinthians 5:10 is more explicit it says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” So we have to consider carefully the decisions we make and how we should live even because they will determine out future.

Ok, so we’ve determined that the narrow gate leads to life, the kingdom of God, but according to verse 14, only a few find it. In order to find it we need someone to guide us. This reminds me of the scene in the movie, “The Fellowship of Ring” when they are looking for the door to get into mount Moria. The fellowship needs help to find the door because they can’t do it themselves. Likewise, we need a guide to get us there. Therefore, God sends us the Holy Spirit to guide us to study His word and come to know Jesus as our Lord and Savior. But you must be careful and watch out for the false prophets, or teachers, along the way because they might lead you astray. Take a look at verses 15-20. “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” False prophets don’t broadcast who they are. Instead they’re deceptive like wolves dressed in sheep’s clothing.  On the outside they appear humble, gentle and maybe even naïve, but inwardly they’re selfish, greedy and ferocious. There are some who want to take advantage of God’s people for their own gain. Others interpret God’s word incorrectly and lead people astray. Either way they are very dangerous and it’s hard to spot them. So how can we tell the good from the bad? Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them” (16a,20). Everyone produces according to their inner nature. That’s why they say our actions speak louder than words. Jesus tries to help us understand, “Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, 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” (16b-18). As trees bear fruit according to their kind, so people bear fruit according to their inner nature. Though false prophets talk and act like good sheep, they cannot hide their inner nature. Their teachings look enticing focusing on health, wealth, and success. They say, “Follow your heart,” “Have confidence in yourself!” They never say “deny yourself,” “take up your cross,” “you are a sinner-repent,” or “God judges.” People who listen to false prophets are not led to Jesus but instead, they become greedier and more selfish. Judas was one of Jesus’ most trusted disciple but in the end he revealed his true nature take a look at (Acts 1:16). “and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus.” If we want to bear good fruit, our nature has to be good. The only way to have a good nature is to receive Jesus and be transformed by his grace. We should not only examine the teachings of false prophets, but also their lifestyle and influence. In the end, God will judge them by their fruit (19).

However even if we get the right guide, it doesn’t guarantee us a successful journey. Everyone knows that one third of the world claims to be Christian, it’s the largest single religion in the world but Jesus says that only a few find the narrow road, how is that possible? How can the world’s largest religion be Christian and yet only a few find it? Either there are many false ones or many are deceived. Take a look at verses 21-23. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.22 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 in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” People like this say with their mouths, “Lord, Lord,” but don’t really accept Jesus as Lord in their hearts. They live by their own will, and for their own glory. The scary thing is they can do some really good things like driving out demons and performing miracles however, they don’t sincerely honor Jesus in their hearts, or obey God’s will. We can’t do this by ourselves we need help. We need a personal relationship with Jesus. However, we find in verse 23 the problem with these people, Jesus says to them: “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” In spite of their claims, they didn’t actually have a personal relationship with Jesus. From this we learn that having that close personal connection with Jesus is more important than doing many great acts. What Jesus wants from us is that personal relationship.

Jesus concludes with his main point demonstrated through a story about builders. In verse 24, the word “therefore” connects this story with verses 21-23. Those who don’t know Jesus and don’t live according to his words, will be cast out of his presence and he doesn’t want that to happen to us. So he explained how we should live and respond to his entire Sermon on the Mount. Take a look verse 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. 25 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. 26 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. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.

This is like owning the best GPS in the world but it’s no good to you unless you actually follow the directions it gives you. You still need to follow the directions to get to your destination this means that when you hear the word of God, you must actually put what you learn into practice in your life otherwise it’s useless. This is Jesus’ main point. Here is a principal we should live by, take what you learn and apply it to what you do, no matter how you feel. There are many many times that we know what the right thing to do is, but we don’t feel like doing it. That’s when we have a decision to make, do we turn left or do we turn right. And a struggle pops up in our heart as we think about our decision. But I promise you one thing, IF you make the right decision, you will NEVER be let down. When that situation passes, you will feel much better than you did the moment right before you made your decision. Guaranteed. A truly wise person examines their own life in light of God’s word and tries to live according to it. They love Jesus and his word more than anything else. They try to imitate Jesus. Take for example, when we studied “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness,” the wise person would take it to heart and base their decisions to give priority to Jesus and his kingdom. In this way they lay a firm foundation on the rock of Jesus’ word. Such people can endure the storms of life and grow to be a blessing to the people around them. If you have been around for a while you will have either experienced or have heard about someone that has gone through difficult personal hardship. That’s what I mean by a storm. But even if you never experience such a thing all people will experience the ultimate storm, that is they will have to stand before God in the judgment. In this passage alone there are four different allusions of judgment. There is the wide gate that leads to destruction, a tree that does not bear good fruit is thrown into the fire, “that day”, and the storm. Those who have not built their life upon the good foundation, Jesus Christ, will not stand. Only those who have accepted Jesus as their savior will stand.

Take a look at verses 28-29. “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” Jesus could teach differently than the religious leaders because he had authority, his authority came from the fact that he came from heaven so he knew the way back to heaven. He spoke as if he were there because he saw it with his own eyes. This amazed those who heard him speak.

Our Christian life is a journey, the journey’s tough, but if you make it, it will be worth it all. However, along the way of our journey we should enjoy life because Jesus said that he came to give us life and have it to the full.  As engineering students we have a tendency to be efficient, and the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, so we try to go from point a to point b as quick as we can. But we shouldn’t be like that in life. Our journey is part of the discovery, we should explore along the way and find new ways to enjoy God and God’s people. We have a wonderful community we should work together enjoying one another’s company as we walk our journey to the kingdom of God.

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