The Way to the Kingdom
Grace & Fairview United Methodist Churches
April 13, 2014
Matthew 7: 1-12, 21-29 (CEB)
“Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. 2You’ll receive the same judgment you give. Whatever you deal out will be dealt out to you. 3Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother or sister, ‘Let me take the splinter out of your eye,’ when there’s a log in your eye? 5You deceive yourself! First take the log out of your eye, and then you’ll see clearly to take the splinter out of your brother’s or sister’s eye. 6Don’t give holy things to dogs, and don’t throw your pearls in front of pigs. They will stomp on the pearls, then turn around and attack you.
7“Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks, receives. Whoever seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door is opened. 9Who among you will give your children a stone when they ask for bread? 10Or give them a snake when they ask for fish? 11If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him. 12Therefore, you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets.
21“Not everybody who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will get into the kingdom of heaven. Only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter. 22On the Judgment Day, many people will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name and expel demons in your name and do lots of miracles in your name?’ 23Then I’ll tell them, ‘I’ve never known you. Get away from me, you people who do wrong.’
24“Everybody who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise builder who built a house on bedrock. 25The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It didn’t fall because it was firmly set on bedrock. 26But everybody who hears these words of mine and doesn’t put them into practice will be like a fool who built a house on sand. 27The rain fell, the floods came, and the wind blew and beat against that house. It fell and was completely destroyed.”
28When Jesus finished these words, the crowds were amazed at his teaching 29because he was teaching them like someone with authority and not like their legal experts.
We have spent the last several weeks, through our Lenten journey, listening to Jesus’ words as he preaches the Sermon on the Mount. This morning, as we observe Palm Sunday and Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, we come to the final portion of his great sermon. So as we hear these closing remarks from Jesus this morning, our task is to figure out how this all fits together; how Jesus’ preaching on the mountainside relates to his final march to the cross, and where we stand in the midst of this great kingdom which Jesus established through his life, death, and resurrection.
As we have studied Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount over the past several weeks, we’ve heard Jesus advising us on the ways of the kingdom. We’ve talked about what it truly means to be blessed and to share that blessedness as we live as salt and light in the world. We’ve considered the call to perfection and the radical love that requires, and the humble practices that keep us focused on the Lord of our lives. Then, last week, we spent some time considering what it would mean to put our full faith in God and let go of the worry that so often governs our lives. Today, we come to the sweeping conclusion of Jesus’ sermon. And there’s a lot going on here; warnings against judging others, more instruction on how we should pray and seek God in our lives, and a challenge about the true nature of faith, which extends beyond just empty words calling upon the Lord.
Indeed, this is a lot to take in, and as we consider the conclusion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, I want to do so in light of events that happened on this week roughly 1,980 years ago. It was on this very day so long ago, that the gospels tell us Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem. This was the beginning of the end of his ministry. For three years, he had traveled all over the Galilean countryside. He had devoted himself to teaching about God’s Kingdom and offering a glimpse of it through healing, forgiving, and serving. He had touched people with the good news of God’s love, and had given them renewed hope that God was yet upholding his promises. And now those people are praising Jesus, the Son of David. As he entered Jerusalem, he was hailed as King and treated as royalty, with people spreading palm branches, and even their own clothes, before him.
But this is where Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount become so crucial. Those people who had watched Jesus’ ministry unfold, some of whom may have even heard him as he preached on the mountainside; those people who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem with great fanfare…these are the same people who in just a few days will be judging Jesus. But they don’t just judge him, they also condemn him! And yet, here in the ending of his great sermon, Jesus could not be clearer, “Do not judge.” he says. “Don’t worry about the speck in your neighbor’s eye until you have taken care of the plank in your own eye.”
I think Jesus understood that humans would judge one another. He saw how we set ourselves up as moral guardians and critics of one another. When Jesus tells us not to judge, I don’t think he means that we shouldn’t have high standards of behavior for ourselves and our world, but that the temptation to look down on others for their moral failings is itself a temptation to play god, and thus to lose touch with the true Lord of our lives. And I also think Jesus knew he would fall victim to human judgment in the vilest way. But therein lies both the mystery and the greatness of what happened on this week so long ago; Jesus takes human sin and self-righteousness, he exposes them for what they are, he deals with them in a violent death on the cross, and yet allows mercy to triumph over all! But that mercy is empty if we continue to act like we are the supreme judge, if we refuse to acknowledge God for who he is, the merciful judge of all. And how different would our lives be if we lived without rendering judgment on others and instead made our sole focus bearing witness to God’s mercy?
Ultimately, that’s what this whole sermon has been about; the transformation that occurs in our lives because we follow Jesus, because we imitate his love and his mercy, because we bear witness to all that he is and does. Being a disciple, being a Christian means far more than simply affirming that Jesus is a great prophet or teacher. Being a believer means that we do more than just call Jesus “Lord.” Being a Christian means that Jesus really is the Lord of our lives!
You know, 2,000 years ago, when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey, the crowds that had followed him for so long came with him. They rejoiced to see this king entering his great city, and they cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” It sounds a lot like those folks that Jesus talks about here at the very end of his sermon, doesn’t? “Not everybody who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will get into the kingdom of heaven. Only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter.” When Jesus entered Jerusalem, it was the last leg on his way to the kingdom, and he was surrounded by people who were saying, “Lord, Lord!” And again, at the end of the week, they cried out Jesus’ name over and over again when Pilate gave them the choice of who would be crucified.
Following Jesus on the way to the kingdom requires much more than just saying his name. It is so easy to fall into this temptation to call Jesus “Lord” without actually obeying him; to hear his words without actually acting on them. Do you see that? This is the point that Jesus is driving home as he draws his sermon to a close. Being a part of God’s kingdom is a whole way of life. It is not just another thing to do, one check on a long list; it is a response to God who shows us how to live through the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is affirmation in Christ our Lord, but it is also faith; it is following all of Jesus’ instructions from the Sermon on the Mount, and as Jesus tells us so plainly, it is doing the will of the Father.
So what is the will of the Father, what is the ultimate way to the kingdom? It’s what we’ve been talking about for the past few weeks, all these things that we have learned from Jesus as we have listened to him preach the Sermon on the Mount. It is the way of faithful endurance that follows Jesus in every step, even when it involves suffering. And in case we have forgotten, he reminds us one more time right here at the end of the sermon. Jesus’ teachings, demanding though they are, offer the only path to true life. So what is required? “Ask…seek…knock…” Have faith in God to provide for what you need, seek him above all else in prayer, do not worry about the troubles of this world, but know that God will take care of you. Yet even more than that, treat others just the way you want to be treated.
We serve others because we are grateful to God who loves us. And in that love, we are reminded that this life is not all about us. It is about what God is up to in this world, building his kingdom, and calling each of us to be a part of that as we share his love with others. “On this hang all the law and the prophets.”
“Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged.”
Love your neighbors, but love your enemies, too.
Remember this: 2,000 years ago, Jesus was revealed as a king, not because crowds of people followed him around and hailed him as king, but because he hung on a cross and died out of love for all people, and especially those who put him there.
That is the way of the kingdom: Not empty prayers and praises, not selfish seeking, but pure love lived out in our lives every single day.