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Study Notes:

Matthew 7:13-29

Resurrection Sunday 2018

Fresh Starts and New Beginnings

We gather this morning to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ – an essential, cornerstone doctrine of the Christian faith.  The Bible tells us the resurrection is the gospel – which was preached, which many of us have received, in which we stand and by which we are saved if we hold fast, unless we have believed in vain.

The apostle Paul summarizes it like this:

1 Cor 15:3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures

There is much more that could be said, but this is the condensed heart of what all Christians believe: Jesus died, was buried, and rose again.

From here we could go in many directions.  We could discuss who Jesus was, what it meant to be “the Christ,” and why He had to die “according to the Scriptures.” We could talk about the events leading up to His death. We could go into the details of how His final hours were spent. We could look at His manner of death and spend the entire morning learning how crucifixion worked and what it does to the human body. 

Or we could talk about His resurrection and the details surrounding that event – we could turn to sections of Scripture that tell about the tomb He was buried in, how it was guarded, the angels that were seen there, and how it was eventually found empty.  Or, we could talk about how all of this was also “according to the Scriptures” – fulfilling what God had said He would do long ago.

There are many, many directions we could go this morning – but the one we will take is to keep going in the direction we’ve been travelling.  We have been studying the gospel of Matthew together – looking at this biography of Jesus and specifically, we have been listening to Jesus preaching what we call the Sermon on the Mount.

Now we come to the sermon’s conclusion where we discover that the death and resurrection of Jesus make a new life possible for us today. He sets before us two ways to live.  One of them is natural; it’s the way most people go.  The other is only possible because His death and resurrection have opened up a new way of life for us.  The death and resurrection of Jesus make it possible for us to receive fresh starts and new beginnings – to  change the pattern and destination of our ‘normal’ lives. And so, Jesus said: 

Matthew 7:13 “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.

The vast majority of Americans, including those with no religious preference, believe in Heaven, and most people think they’re going.  But according to Jesus, there are two gates, one that is wide and one that is narrow.

He says the wide one leads to destruction.  And, notice this, He says MANY go this way.  Jesus says the path of least resistance, the easy way to go, is the way that leads to destruction and there are many people going this way.

But then He says, there is also a narrow gate, and a difficult way and there are few who find it.  It’s like a turnstile or a revolving door – only one person can go through at a time.  And that’s appropriate because each of us receives the gift of eternal life individually, one at a time. 

Think about going to the airport or a concert or a sporting event – even if you take the whole family, or go as a group of friends, there comes a time when each of you has to face the attendant alone and have your ticket checked, your ID checked, your hand stamped, and you have to enter the turnstile one at a time.  The gate is narrow, and it’s meant to be that way.

And Jesus says there are “few who find it.”  If this is true – in other words, if you can trust Jesus – this means you can’t just follow the crowds and expect to be swept along if you want to find the gate to eternal life

You really need to know that.  You need to know following Jesus is not always going to be popular, and at some point this is going to cause a problem for you at school, at work, with your family, or with your friends. 

The crowds are going another way, an easier way, while Jesus is calling you toward a “narrow gate” and a “difficult path” – do you see those words?  This is what He said.  So, if following Him feels awkward, uncomfortable, or lonely at times, that’s to be expected.  Remember – Jesus came to save us and that means we needed to be saved – those who have not been saved are headed to destruction – they need salvation. So, do not envy or follow people who need salvation or expect your life to look just like theirs.

Everyone has this one thing in common – we’re all traveling through life, we’re all on the journey, and our paths often cross.  But there are two possible destinations, the wide and easy path, or the narrow and difficult way.  We’re not all headed to the same place. 

And now we find Jesus telling us even more about the differences between these two ways to live.  He says:

Matthew 7:15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. 16 You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Therefore by their fruits you will know them.

We have seen two gates and now we see two types of trees – those that bear good fruit and those that bear bad fruit.  But notice this: they’re both bearing fruit, because that is what trees do.

One is bearing bad fruit, but it’s still fruit. If you were looking on from a distance, you would say, “Well, the tree is bearing fruit, everything must be fine.”  But these bad trees Jesus is talking about don’t bear the kind of fruit He is looking for in our lives.  You see God is most concerned with the kind of fruit we bear, not just the quantity we produce, because this is what indicates our true condition.  What comes out of your life is proof of what is happening inside.

So think about this: it’s possible to be making progress down the path of life, but be headed for the wrong gate, and it’s possible to be bearing fruit in life, but the fruit is actually bad.

Which leads to His next point:

Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

Again, we have two groups.  A number of people come to Jesus and say, “Lord, Lord.”  You get the impression that they’re on the outside of Heaven looking to get in, facing judgment.  And they see Jesus and call out to Him, “Lord, Lord”– trying to get His attention, as if to say – “Hey, you know me, tell them to let me in.”

And apparently Jesus vouches for some of them, and they enter.  But “not everyone,” He says.

Then, the ones who were rejected point out the good things they’ve done.  They point out the things that looked right in their lives.

And Jesus says, “I never knew you, depart from Me.”

Two groups of people, calling Jesus, “Lord, Lord.”  Two groups of people doing good things, just like you had two groups of people moving toward different gates, two groups of trees but only some producing good fruit, here you have two groups of people crying out and only one group is received.  “Many” are on the wide road headed to destruction and “many” plead their case only to be sent away.

But before you think Jesus is just being mean here, notice this critical point – the people Jesus sends away are the ones who “practice lawlessness.” That is, they live the way they want to live. The law Jesus is referring to here is God’s instruction regarding how to live for Him.  These people live without that law and, Jesus says, there are many of them.

There are a shocking number of people who practice lawlessness on Friday and Saturday and come to church on Sunday.  They might even teach a class or sing in the choir – they point to the good things they’ve done and they call Jesus Lord, but people who know them know that God can’t be pleased with the choices they’re making.

On the other hand, doing some of the same good things are people who call Jesus Lord, Lord, and seek to do the will of Our Father in Heaven and these people are blessed and highly favored.  They will enter into the kingdom of Heaven because they not only find forgiveness in Christ, but they also seek to do the will of the Father – to submit to His authority and obey His commands as a pattern of life.  Motive is everything when it comes to serving God.

Now we come to the end of this famous sermon, as Jesus continues to drive His point home:

Matthew 7:24 “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: 25 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.

26 “But everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand: 27 and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.”

We’ve seen two gates, two trees, two claims to know and serve God, and now we discover two ways of building your life.  I’m not the greatest at math, but I can tell you this – two doesn’t seem like one.

And yet, there are a lot of people out there in the world today saying you can live however you want to live – that all paths end up at the same destination.  You have your ways and I have mine.  You have your god and I have mine.  You have your way to worship and I have mine.  But here Jesus says yes, there are multiple ways to live, but they are not all headed for the same destination.  There is a narrow gate and a wide gate, there is good fruit and bad fruit, there are people who do the will of God and people who practice lawlessness.

And now, He adds to that – there are people who build but neglect their foundation.

Picture this: you have two people building. They’ve both got plans, materials, and tools.  They’re working away.  You see the frames go up. The walls are built.  The roofs go on. They’re both cutting and measuring, sawing and sweating.  And when it’s done, you can see the results – they’ve both built something. 

But then clouds form on the horizon and winds begin to blow.  A storm appears and one of the houses begins to shudder, it creaks and moans, and the walls bow until things start to come apart and the place is destroyed.

The other house also shudders, also creaks and moans, maybe it loses a shingle or two, a shutter is blown off, but it weathers the storm.  Why?  Because one was built on a solid foundation and the other was not.

And if that sounds like little more than a bit of good preaching to you, let me tell you the story of some missionaries we support.  In 2011 an earthquake fueled a massive tsunami that struck Northern Japan. 

It was the largest earthquake the nation has ever experienced and produced waves 133 feet tall that traveled up to six miles inland.  The New York Times reported that it moved the island of Honshu, the main island of Japan 8 feet to the east.

Nearly 16,000 people were killed; over 121,000 buildings completely collapsed and another 720,000 were partially damaged.  The World Bank estimated the total economic cost at $235 Billion making it the costliest natural disaster in history. 

These missionaries were living down in Okinawa at the time, serving at the Calvary Chapel Bible College there.  They immediately went up north to the disaster area and began to help with cleanup and recovery, talking and praying with people they met who had lost everything.  As time went on they sensed God was calling them to move to the area and minister long term.  They wound up renting a house that had escaped damage because, no joke, it had been built upon a rock.  The home was built on a large rock outcropping and withstood the waves and the tremors that destroyed many of the other buildings in the city.

When it comes to buildings and when it comes to life, foundation is everything.  In the story Jesus tells, and in a small village in Japan, the storms of life blew and beat on one, but they destroyed the other.

It’s important to ask the question: what am I building my life on?  Because it’s possible, very possible, to waste your time, energy, and resources building something that looks really nice, but can’t withstand the storms.

We finish the chapter this morning with this:

Matthew 7:28 And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, 29 for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

Jesus taught with authority and people marveled over it.   This morning His words echo through history and speak to us about our lives and how they relate to His.

He’s telling us it’s possible to go through life, moving toward a gate while surrounded by people, because broad is the way and there are many on it – your friends, neighbors, the people in your club, on your team, at your gym.  And things look good – the trees are producing fruit, people are doing good things, volunteering for charity, helping others on occasion, maybe even going to church, or mosque, or synagogue.  A house is being built – framed out, roofed, designed and decorated – I mean, Joanna Gaines would be proud of the the shiplap, hardwood floors, and backsplash.

It all seems OK.  And Jesus says it’s entirely wrong because it has nothing to do with Him.

That’s the message this morning my friends: you can build a life that looks good from the outside and has nothing to do with Him.

Or, you can live for Him and with Him and let Him accomplish all His purposes through you.  We heard about it the narrow gate, the good fruit, good works, and building on a firm foundation this morning.  Well, as you read the Scriptures, you discover that Jesus is everything He’s calling us to pursue and be.

He tells us to enter by the narrow gate, and later tells people, He is the gate.  Jesus said

John 10:7 “Truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.”

He warns us about those who produce bad fruit, and later tells His disciples He wants to produce good fruit through us. He said

John 15:5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.”

When it comes to doing works, we discover that

Eph 2:10 we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

And finally, when it comes building our lives upon a firm foundation that can withstand any storm or flood we later learn that:

1 Cor 3:11 … no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

And so we see two ways to live this morning. 

From a distance, both appear to be headed somewhere. Both appear to be producing fruit. Both appear to be doing good things. Both appear to be building something.  From the outside they seem to have a lot in common.  The difference is on the inside, in the loyalties and motives of the heart and the identity of the one who is really in control.

So, what’s going on in your life today?  Which gate are you headed toward?  What is your life producing, and what is it being built upon?

If the answer is Jesus, then rejoice – He offers everything you need for this life – it will be difficult at times, it will be lonely, and there will be storms, but you are safe and secure, anchored on the Rock.  His resurrection brings you life.

If the answer is anything else, then my friend, in the name of Jesus I call you to repent – to turn around, to leave behind what you’re doing now, and find a fresh start and a new beginning in Jesus Christ.  Don’t waste your life wandering down the broad and easy road, producing fruit that is worthless, good deeds that are meaningless, and building a life that can’t withstand the storms.  Give everything to Jesus and let His resurrection bring you a new life as well.

You can do that right now, right where you’re seated, by praying a prayer like this:

Heavenly Father, have mercy on me.  I believe that I have I been living life my own way and not the way You want.  I want you to forgive me.  I understand that Jesus died on the cross as a sacrifice for my sin.  That His blood pays my debt.  I believe He was buried and that He rose again from the grave and that He lives with you in Heaven today, preparing a place for me.  So, receive me Father.  Adopt me as your own.  I want to live for you.  Help me find the narrow way, help me abide in you, help me do good works for you’re my Lord, and help me build my life on the foundation of Jesus Christ.

And all the rest of us who have already found forgiveness and new life in Christ, and who have already prayed a prayer like that in our own words at our own time, join you in saying Amen!  And we ask the same thing for ourselves this morning.

There’s only one life,

Will soon be passed,

Only what’s done for Christ,

Will last.

Resurrection Sunday is a good time for us all to remember we are offered a new life in Christ, because we need it.  It doesn’t happen on it’s own.  May God bless you this week as you turn yourselves over to God, making yourselves increasingly available to Him.

If there’s anything you want us to pray for, if you have any questions, or if you gave your life to Christ this morning and want to let someone know, please fill out a contact card and drop it at the welcome table, see one of the pastors, or turn to the person who brought you.

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