Ask. Seek. Knock.
Summary: Instead of scavenging for our own needs, Jesus encourages us to be sons, persistently receiving from our Father, and concerned for others.
Right now my kids are all fired up about the possibility of getting a dog. They’ve convinced themselves that if they keep their rooms clean for two months they’ll get one. I don’t know where the idea came from. I didn’t agree to it. But, that’s what they’re thinking.
And they’re not alone. Having a pet seems like an essential part of childhood. Most kids pass through a stage of wanting something furry, cuddly, wet or scaly, something on a leash or in a cage or a tank, and wanting a dog seems to be the most common of all.
Now, I’m not entirely against them having a dog. I like dogs. My main opposition is that having a dog takes time, energy, and attention, which are in rather limited supply in this season of my life. A dog needs to be trained, fed, walked, and cared for and I understand that I will be responsible for making sure those things happen – either through the kids or me. Having a pet is a big responsibility; another life is depending on you.
And yet, it has not always been that way. In fact, if you travel around the world today you quickly discover that dogs are not always viewed as man’s best friend. They don’t always eat a well-balanced diet and have chew toys; they don’t always sleep on the couch or at the foot of your bed. Experts estimate around 75-80% of all dogs in the world today – that’s around 200 million animals according to the World Health Organization – are stray or wild. They’re scavengers that travel in packs not unlike their relatives, wolves and coyotes. No one pets them or offers them treats. You have no idea what kind of diseases they might be carrying and they’re often threatening, not friendly.
Calling someone a dog was a tremendous insult in the social customs of the Ancient Middle East, and still is today. On Monday the headlines reported Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the US ambassador to Israel a “son of a dog” because of his support for Israeli settlers in the occupied West Bank. I’m not trying to draw your attention to the political issue, I just want you to see the name he used as an insult – “son of a dog.”
Abbas isn’t the one who thinks in these terms. In Psalm 59 David compares his enemies to dogs. He writes:
Ps 59:14 Each evening they come back,
howling like dogs
and prowling about the city.
15 They wander about for food
and growl if they do not get their fill.
I share all of this because it helps us understand there’s a big difference between what many think of when they hear dog, and what you think of when you look at your pet Labradoodle.
And all of this helps us understand what’s happening when we read Jesus’ next remarks in the Sermon on the Mount. We pick up where we left off last time in Matthew 7, vs 6 where Jesus says:
Matt 7:6 “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.
Now, that doesn’t make sense when you think of puppies, or the Golden Retriever or Cocker Spaniel you had growing up, does it?
Jesus lumps dogs together with pigs here and the imagery is so vivid and absurd. Think about it: a pig has no use for pearls. It won’t wear them and it can’t eat them. The animal and the object have nothing in common. There’s a Proverb that shares this same imagery, it says:
Prov 11:22 As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout,
So is a lovely woman who lacks discretion.
The difference between the animal and the jewelry is meant to be jarring – what good is external beauty when there is no discretion, when you act like an embarrassing fool? So too, what good are gold or pearls on an animal that is most well known for rooting and rolling in mud and slop? They’re no good at all, because the animal has no appreciation for them.
And here’s how this all comes together.
Jesus speaks of dogs and pigs in the same breath because the people He was speaking to, and many people in the Middle East today – both Jews and Muslims – think of dogs and pigs as unclean scavengers that fend for themselves, nosing around in piles of refuse. And that’s what you need to know. They’re not “pets.” Both animals can essentially live on their own foraging for whatever they need.
And of this powerful imagery is meant to get our attention because Jesus is making a point here: dogs don’t appreciate what is holy; pigs don’t appreciate what is beautiful. And many people today have no appreciation for the gospel. They have no appreciation for the holy and beautiful things that God wants to give them; they have no desire to be sons or daughters of God.
Wild dogs can be found living alone, in pairs, or in a pack. So too with people – you have people who love to be alone and those who have found a group to belong to, but they’re vicious to anyone on the outside. Or, like the pig nosing in the slop they might be blissfully ignorant of the beauty they could have. There are all kinds of variations on the theme, but they all share one thing in common – a distance from God, perhaps even a hostility toward Him, and a sense that they are making it through this life on their own.
Jesus said these are the kind of people that may turn around, trample you under foot, and tear you to pieces when you offer them the gospel. Which is exactly what they did to Him.
Today is Palm Sunday on the church calendar – the day on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey presenting Himself as the promised Messiah, the savior of the Jewish people and the entire world, for those who receive Him. And there were some who did, there were crowds that came out shouting Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest – they were praising Him and the salvation they thought He was going to bring.
But others resisted Him. Like dogs and pigs scavenging for themselves they resisted what He had to offer. They had no appreciation for it. They enjoyed their independence and had no interest on being put on His leash or gathered into His pen. And so they lashed out. Very religious people lashed out at Jesus.
Looking back on it all, God says they,
Heb 11:29 trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which He was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace
God was offering something holy, something beautiful, something wonderful, it’s free and available to anyone who would take it, and they trampled His offer, despised it, and quite literally insulted Him.
Today the Bible says Christians are to go into all the nations of the world, to every people group, every ethnicity, and make disciples, we are commanded to share the good news of Jesus with everyone we can. The Apostle Peter told early Christians:
1 Peter 3:15 in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,
And yet, no matter what you do, some people will turn like dogs and snap at the hand that reaches out to them in love and kindness. There are those who are hostile to the Gospel, hostile to religion, happy to live life their own way, like a dog with no master. They are scavengers in this world, getting along on their own. Others receive the beautiful things you’re trying to pass on to them and then trample them in the mud of their lives. Not all people respond with an open heart to the Gospel.
But, thankfully, some do – the Bible tells us the Holy Spirit is at work in their lives, preparing them to receive the message of repentance, forgiveness and renewal through Christ.
Maybe that’s happening with some of you right now as you listen – it’s happened to all of us who are Christians at some point. God showed up and started getting our attention, certain things started to bother us, we felt conviction that things were wrong or we started asking questions about deeper things in life, we began to notice uncanny coincidences, different people saying the same kind of thing as if God was sending us a message.
It can happen in all kinds of ways, but the Bible says it’s God bumping into our lives, convicting us of sin, righteousness, and the judgment to come – God showing us that we don’t have to live as dogs and pigs, foraging for whatever we can find on our own in this world, but we can live as something different, we can live as sons and daughters of a generous, gracious, gentle God.
Look at what Jesus says next:
Matthew 7:7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? 11 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!
Here’s the question to ask this morning: Are you a scavenger or a son? Are you like that feral dog roaming the street – tough, independent, scrappy, or are you a son – asking your Father in Heaven for your daily bread? Where do you go to get what you need?
Jesus wants us to know: God offers us a place to belong; there is a God in Heaven who wants to be our Father. And if you’ve been with us for a while, you know that we said this is a new concept He was introducing. When Jesus gave us the Lord’s Prayer in chapter six, and told people to call God “Our Father,” that was revolutionary – to have a personal, intimate relationship with God, to be able to approach Him as a child approaches their father – this was all new – the Jews had never thought of God so personally, but this is what is offered to anyone who comes to God through Jesus.
And, Jesus wants us to know, that this Father is a good father, a generous father, a God that gives. After telling us to call God our Father, Jesus goes on, in that same prayer, to teach us to ask God, “give us this day our daily bread.” And now here He is telling us that God is a Father who gives bread to those who ask, and not stones. Peter says God has actually “given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” (2 Peter 1:3)
But, our Father wants us to stay connected to Him, dependent on Him, at all times. God wants us to be the son who lives in His home and eats from His table, not the pig or the dog that roams the neighborhood and eats from the garbage at the curb – to be sons instead of scavengers. And so we’re told to ask, seek, and knock persistently.
There’s something we miss in the English translation here, and it’s a little bit of technical grammar, so you’ll have to forgive me if this not your thing, but you still need to hear this so you really understand what Jesus is saying.
The books of the New Testament were first written in Greek and the Greek verbs behind, ask, seek, and knock are in a particular form that doesn’t translate directly into English. Greek has two forms of imperative. There is the aorist which is a one-time event, one and done. So, for example, “shut the door.” You do it, and it’s done.
There is also the present imperative form, which is used for events that you want to occur continually, not just once. So, we would say, always shut the door behind you. Do it every time, not just once.
Well, these verbs: ask, seek, and knock, are in the present imperative. So, we could translate them be asking, be seeking, be knocking. Let this characterize your life and conduct.
Jesus is telling you: be dependent on God. Don’t be like a wild dog or the pig foraging for your own food, come and ask from your Father, and keep on doing it.
I’ve been feeding my kids faithfully for years now and they still have no problem asking for a snack or meal. I actually get asked for bread, or more specifically toast, on an almost daily basis. Not so much for fish… though Ben will work for sushi. And even though I’m not perfect, even though I have my days when I wish they would stop asking, I have those moments when I don’t respond in the most loving manner, I still make sure they eat. I don’t make them go hungry.
Jesus says, you know that about yourselves, and God is WAY better, far more loving, patient, and understanding than you are – so what’s keeping you from Him? Come. Keep coming – be-coming (present imperative), and keep receiving. Remember, He just finished telling us to pray for our DAILY bread! So be a son, not a scavenger.
But, there’s something else you need to know here, an added bonus. Jesus used this same imagery in another sermon recorded in Luke’s gospel, but there He added something to it:
Luke 11:9 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Now, may I ask: Are you this connected to, this dependent on God? Do you ask Him for your daily bread, do you ask Him for the strength and power of the Holy Spirit to be present in your life daily? Are you presently connected to Him – asking, seeking, knocking, or are you wandering the streets oblivious to the holy and beautiful things that He offers to those who will receive them?
Do you think life is about whatever you can make of it, whatever you can find and discover on the way, are you fiercely independent and self-sufficient? Is life yours to make of it what you will, or do you believe that you are the child of a God in Heaven who loves you?
Do you see the value of what you are being offered? Do you appreciate that which is holy? Do you appreciate pearls?
Jesus is calling us toward sonship, toward adoption by our Heavenly Father. He’s calling us to turn away from scavenging in this life, from taking care of ourselves. He’s calling us to live as children of a good Father who knows our needs and meets them. You can persistently keep scavenging like a dog or pig looking for your own thing, rejecting what is offered to you, refusing to be domesticated, taken in or controlled, or you can persistently come to your Father with your needs. Life will not always be easy, no matter which course you choose, but God wants you to be His child, He wants to provide for you as you keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking.
And then, having received all of these blessings from Him, He calls us to go out and be a blessing to others.
Matthew 7:12 Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.
This is the so-called Golden Rule – perhaps the most famous ethical command of the Christian faith. A similar idea has been expressed by a variety of thinkers from Greek philosophers to even Confucius who said: “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others.”
But the difference is, everyone else expresses it from the negative. They say, if you don’t want others to do it to you, don’t do it to them. Jesus makes it more difficult by saying, do to others the kind of things you would like to have done for you. Jesus calls us to initiate – to do the good thing we want others to do first, before they do it to us. After all that we have received from our generous Heavenly Father, He expects us to live proactively – not just responding, but initiating. He wants us to receive from Him and then reflect to others.
None of us were a friend to God when He entered into our lives. None of us started life with a great relationship with God. He had to initiate with us. This is the wonderful mystery of Rom 5:8 that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
And of John 3:16: For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.
Where do you stand this morning? What is your identity? Are you a stray dog with no appreciation for the holy, an oblivious pig with no appreciation for the beautiful thing God is offering, or are you a dependent child? How do you solve the problems of this life? By foraging on your own or by turning to your Master, your Father, and persistently asking, seeking, and knocking for help?
One way to tell is by looking at how you treat others – do you snip and growl at them, or do you do for them the kind of things you wish people would do for you? Do you initiate love and kindness? And if you are snipped at, growled at, how do you respond? Do you patiently and persistently ask God to save, or do you bitterly turn away?
There’s a lot to consider this morning, because there is a lot being offered to you by God. But let me encourage you: receive it. If God is calling you to Himself, come. Like a good dog, come when the master calls. You’ll discover that He is a good Father; He wants to transform you into a son or daughter. He wants to take care of you, provide for you. So ask Him to forgive you for all your wandering and disobedience, and surrender yourself entirely to Him. He’ll take you in, and He’ll do it right now if you ask.
For those of you who are already sons and daughters – persist. Be asking, Be seeking, Be knocking. Don’t give up. Don’t slack off. Ask for your daily bread; ask for the Holy Spirit –
God knows you can’t do this on your own; He wants you to depend on Him. And then, He wants you to reflect His love to others. Take a look around, see what people need, and do for them what you would like to have done for you. Have an impact, be the change, by His grace and with His strength – show them the love of your Father.