King Jesus stands on the mountain for quite some time, preaching words meant to shape His listeners so they’ll be equipped to inhabit the kingdom He’s prepared for them. Toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus speaks words that differentiate true kingdom dwellers from those who are not:
“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter.”Matthew 7:21, NLT
In other words, claiming to be a Christian or saying Jesus’ name aloud does not get someone in the Kingdom. Repeating Creeds, making professions of faith, and attending church every Sunday do not make people citizens and children of the King. When someone says, “Lord, Lord,” they might imply they’ve followed all the rules or have done loads of good works, yet none of these are proof of a dwelling in the “inward kingdom of heaven” (Wesley, 400).
Nope. All our saying and doing and appearing will never be enough to enter the narrow gate (v.13). Instead, we must move from religion to a relationship, from lip-service to living out the law of Jesus’ holy and perfect love (Wesley, 402).
But, let’s not be discouraged by these truths. Rather, let’s embody them so we can live like we belong to the Kingdom of God by:
- Embracing the true faith Jesus describes in the Fifth Chapter–the inward religion John Wesley calls “those dispositions of soul which constitute real Christianity” (333). Like those the Beatitudes describe, such as poverty of spirit and a hunger for righteousness.
- Engaging in the practices of giving, praying, and fasting with right motive and holy love from the Sixth Chapter so that we keep our focus and treasures in heaven, never worrying about our needs here on earth.
- Adhering to the warnings and exhortations Jesus gives us now in the Seventh so we can avoid the “hindrances to holiness” and enter into God’s Kingdom full of assurance that we are His and He is ours (Wesley, 333).
While scrolling social media or flipping through news channels, it doesn’t take long to hear the sounds of judgment. Judgmental words and voices pummel our eyes, ears, and hearts everyday–whether they come from people we know or not. The minute we have an opinion, we launch viciously at those with a different view. When we think we’re right, we sling hatred and animosity at the ones we deem wrong.
I have witnessed and felt this firsthand as an Astros fan. The cruelty that has ensued since their cheating scandal (of which I do not approve, yet have forgiven) has been painful. The scorn of others has gone on for years with no grace in sight. And I’m reminded just how easy it is to judge others.
It just is.
Jesus knows this about us. It’s much simpler to put the focus on someone else’s sin to make us feel better about ourselves. It’s easy to pile onto others the criticisms we have of them without taking the time to notice our own shortcomings. Maybe, sometimes, we even lay into someone with the hope of fixing them. But unless we come alongside them and help, our words become weapons because they deconstruct hearts and minds and lives.
But Jesus wants us to get in the business of reconstruction. The idea is to deal with our own messiness first, then if we have some wisdom to offer, we speak up AND stand in solidarity with them (Smith, 187).
Keeping It Golden
To live for God’s Kingdom now means doing life like our holy Jesus. Scripture shows us how, and the Holy Spirit makes it possible. So, in this chapter Jesus makes us aware of hindrances to a life of holiness. Hindrances like judging others and failing to ask God for help as we strive in our own strength. Hindrances like self-sufficiency, which keeps us from going to God for the wisdom and strength we need. But there is another way. John Wesley elaborates on the keys to holiness that Jesus gives us:
“Ask, that you may thoroughly experience and perfectly practice the whole of that religion which our Lord has here so beautifully described.”
“Seek, in the way he hath ordained, in searching the Scriptures, in hearing his word, in meditating thereon, in fasting, in partaking of the Supper of the Lord, and surely you shall find.”
“Knock; continue in prayer, and in every other way of the Lord. Be not weary or faint in your mind. Press on to the mark. …And the door of mercy, of holiness, of heaven shall be opened unto you.”Wesley, 348-349
Friends, when hindrances to holiness are removed, we can live with “charity towards all” (Wesley, 350). We’ll see people as Jesus does and desire to live by that golden rule of treating others as we want to be treated (v.12). And as we do, our love for people deepens. Our relationships strengthen. Our hope in Jesus grows. Our purpose turns to passion, and we bring Christ’s holiness into the world.
Living Aware and Alert
Few people choose the narrow way that Jesus calls us to walk–maybe because it comes with costs and demands obedience. But the blessings that come with this holy way of living far outweigh the costs, namely the blessings of Christ’s presence and all it promises. Like rest. And joy. And peace.
Even when we make our way to this narrow gate, the wiles of the world can pull us off course. But, the gate always stands open to us. It’s never too late to push through the crowd and make our way back to the road that not only leads to eternity but offers Jesus’ presence to us now.
As we journey through our time here on earth, endeavoring to walk the narrow path, Jesus warns of false prophets–those who try to look the part of a holy leader, who teach with fervor and come with an “appearance of love” yet are none of these things (Wesley, 381). The Holy One tells us the way to discern true teachers from false: look for their fruit (v.16).
I’ve struggled with this notion of “fruit” because so many leaders in today’s churches have fallen so hard these past few years. By all counts, their ministries looked fruitful. But, as I’ve read John Wesley’s discourses on the subject, he’s helped me zoom out a bit and discover what kind of fruit to look for. Rather than merely focusing on huge congregations, beautiful campuses, and fat budgets, we need to look at hearts and lives.
Having served alongside two great leaders of a church in Oklahoma for lots of years, I can say leaders are human. They won’t get everything right all the time. And any judgment besides one of grace and holy love is not helpful. Rather, we need to get to know our leaders and pastors and love them. Not grovel. Not sneer. But build relationships with them–”as far as it depends on you” (Romans 12:18).
In the end, we need to be wise about what voices we listen to. Because if they aren’t truly following Jesus, we shouldn’t be following them.
Inhabit the Kingdom
This brings us back to where we began–to those who say they know Jesus but don’t (v.21). When we pull all the threads of Jesus’ message in this portion of His sermon together, we realize that this last warning is less about us hunting down all the fake believers and more about making sure we don’t fall in that category ourselves. Remember that log in our own eyes (v.5)?
So much has been woven across this chapter–all to the end of equipping us for life in God’s kingdom. Jesus doesn’t want us milling around with the hordes on the wide path, just waiting for eternity to happen to us. Instead, He desires us to go higher than that, deeper in His love and ways–for a better life full of freedom and peace, love and joy. For the good of others and for the benefit of His kingdom. Friends, Jesus has created a tapestry full of stark contrasts, latent with warnings and directives because He is ready for us to inhabit His kingdom–now!
- Is there a log in your eye? Or a conviction in your spirit pointing out how you’re not living by the Golden Rule (v. 12)? Share below what the Spirit is speaking to you about this life in the kingdom we’re meant to be living now.
- Our LENTEN PRACTICE for this week: Feast on the Word by reading Matthew 7:1-6 every day. This lesson about not judging others is a timely lesson for us. These days everything has the potential to divide us from each other – from masks to worship music styles, from politics to people’s driving skills, from sport teams to spiritual practices, from denominational differences to discipleship definitions. You name it, we can choose sides on it. But that’s not the way of Jesus. So, as you read this particular passage each day, allow its truths to reveal ways in which you set yourself against another person/group, then invite its convictions to bring you to confession. Jesus is the center of us all, so may He be the One who unites us by His Spirit and grace.
- I added another song to our Spotify Playlist because I found a great song that captures the truth of ASK, SEEK, KNOCK. I hope the power of it builds your faith and moves you to look to God for more spiritual wisdom, more physical help, and more holy interaction. The song is “Pour Your Spirit Out” by Thrive Worship.
- This Lent series on the Sermon on the Mount is a collaboration with New Covenant UMC, so if you’d like to watch their sermons, you can check out their Facebook page each week at any time. Or you can catch the sermons live at either 8:30am or 11:00am on Sundays on their website.
- I so appreciate having Seedbed’s book Thirteen Discourses on the Sermon on the Mount, based on John Wesley’s sermons on these three chapters in Matthew. (My page references to Wesley are from the digital book). I also continue to pull from James Bryan Smith’s book, Good and Beautiful Life–James discipled under Dallas Willard of Divine Conspiracy fame.