The Sermon talked through to the end

Russell Minick 0 Comments

Matthew 5:1-8:1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. (2) And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

(3)“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

(4)“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

(5)“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

(6)“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

(7)“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

(8)“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

(9)“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

(10)“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus told his disciples and the crowds (the crowds respond at the end of the talk) that there is a blessed life which includes virtue (righteous, peacemaking, purity, mercy) and hardship (poor in spirit, mourning, meek, starving for right). This blessed live is belonging with/in the kingdom of heaven, the rule of God. My first question from myself is: do I believe it? Is it possible to live a ‘blessed’ life? What does that even mean?

The word for blessed means someone who is well off, living like they should, happy in a contented sense. O.K., that seems possible. What about the mixed nature of virtue and hardships? Again, that seems to fit. My best times in life have been when I have sacrificed for something worthwhile. Nothing too unusual there. But what about: “…for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”? What is that?

Relying on various sources, most prominently Dallas Willard and N.T. Wright, I am convinced that the kingdom of heaven is quite simply the rule of God. What I think that means is that there is a sort of mutual belonging. God leads and provides and the one who is part of the kingdom of heaven experiences a willing awareness and participation in following God’s leadership and provision. This goes with Henry Blackaby’s study: Experiencing God

If I am aligned with God as the leader and me as the follower, I should experience life as positive and satisfying even though it is difficult. That seems to be the promise. But how does that work?

(5:11)“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.(12)Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.(13)“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.(14)“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.(15)Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house.(16)In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.(17)“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.(18)For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.(19)Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.(20)For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 

This section, Matthew 5:11-20, seems to me to be an explanation of the last beatitude (8thblessed) not a 9th blessed. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness. Jesus seems to be explaining how getting abused is good. His argument is that there is a really big reward “in heaven” because this is how it always is when godly people speak up. I’m even supposed to get really excited about it. I think the hard thing is seeing the future reward as real enough to cheer me up. That must be why looking back at established heroes (at least to other believers) is useful. Prophets who did good but got mistreated were at least recognized by history to have been noble and good and all. So, if I am being persecuted because I am ‘righteous’ I should feel validated; like I am on the right track.

This pushes me back a bit. I have to have a sense of comparison. The good people (who really are right and following God’s right) are distinct enough to get attacked by bad people (who really are rebelling against God’s rule). This is hard because righteousness like nice and niceness (including justice etc.) seems to be a set that does not overlap too exactly with Christians. There are righteous (humanly speaking) non-Christians and Christians, and there are persecuting mean people who are both non-Christians and Christians. Does that mean 1) righteousness is broader than religious categories or 2) that my category of righteous should boldly include the necessity of correctly honoring God in some explicit fashion while doing right? The Jesus message seems to be the second one. Right is not just towards people, it is right towards people as a part of meaningfully being loyal to God as our creator.

This righteousness is described as salt and light. The salt illustration seems to work if we don’t think of salt shakers. Rather, salt is often served in a small dish, at least in village places I know of. Salt can be pinched from the dish, or, food can be dipped into the salt. The problem with the dipping idea is that over time the salt dish ends up mixed with salt and non-salt. Eventually it is too mixed up to serve and is literally tossed onto the ground. I picture Jesus saying this and meaning that our righteousness cannot be mixed. That seems to shore up the idea of being persecuted for righteousness being more than just right to people but not right to God, or vice versa, or any other mixed up semi-righteousness. The righteousness needs to be consistent. That seems hard to me.

He then uses the idea of light. Oil lanterns were lit to light up a house. The light is pure/unmixed (like the salt illustration) but now its problem is not that it is useless because it is covered. Jesus seems to be anticipating how some people go about trying to be righteous: just avoid opportunities for evil. Go hide in a cave. This makes it even tougher. Now Jesus is saying that I need to live right, and not in a mixed way of some right and some wrong, but a pure right; consistently. And, assuming I have that going, I then need to be sure that my consistent right is not covered up and useless. I need to be unmixed and unhindered. Actually right and actively engaged; can he be serious?

Apparently so because he says that he really means more righteous even than the religious professionals is required for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. This is after saying that what we teach and do will be graded. Jesus is not making things easy. If I understand correctly he has followed his ‘good news’ of saying life can be blessed with the intimidating news that a blessed life is an actually righteous life, and that if I can’t live and teach righteousness then I won’t really know what it is like to have God in charge. 

I’m trying to complain, but the last bit gets me. Of course I won’t enjoy life if God is meant to be in charge and we are meant to believe it, live accordingly and speak accordingly. If God…then right with God = the good life. God can only really be a minor side belief if he in fact does not exist. If he does exist, and we exist because of him, then the more our thinking and actions are synchronized with God the more our life seems validated; the more it feels like it ought. Again, to the pluralist world, this is hard. But is it hard because it doesn’t make sense, or hard because it competes with what we are used to?

(5:21)“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’(22)But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.(23)So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,(24)leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.(25)Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.(26)Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. 

Now there seems to be a sign of a pattern. If Mt 5:11-20 explained the last of the “blessed are”s, then would this be the next one up? Blessed are the peacemakers? It seems to be. Mt 5:21-26 is all about the murderous thoughts which accompany interpersonal conflict. This section urges us to make peace (come to terms) in very practical ways. If the theory is correct, then it would mean that the next beatitude (blessed) to be illustrated would be the pure in heart. Mt 5:27-37 starts off dealing with adultery in the heart. It really does seem to be a pattern. Interesting; but useful?

Persecuted for righteousness tells me I need righteousness, even though it is hard (because of what others will do, who I will need to be and what I will need to do), is the way to experience God in charge (the kingdom of heaven). Peacemaking tells me where I need to start. I need to be a ‘son of God’: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

What does this tell me? Murder is bad, but so is having ‘murderous’ contempt for people. It is not enough just to not kill people, I actually need to deal with my anger/hurt/bad feelings toward others. Jesus is even extreme enough to say that interpersonal peacemaking can take precedence over acts of worship. It seems that the idea is idealistic and practical. Idealistically it is saying that we can’t have true worship of God unless we are committed to making peace with people. The idea being that the God we would worship is actually one who makes peace, and so peacemaking is an essential part of valuing him, much less worshipping him. Practically speaking it says that not dealing with interpersonal problems is just foolish; it makes things worse. Come to terms or else… or else you will suffer all the junk that accompanies not coming to terms with people.

This one makes sense to me and is relatively established (after more than 20 years as a Christian). I want to make efforts to clear up conflict as much as is up to me.

(5:27)“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’(28)But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.(29)If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.(30)And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.(31)“It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’(32)But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.(33)“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’(34)But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God,(35)or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King.(36)And do not take an oath by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black.(37)Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.

Pure in heart, they see God. Why can’t I see God more clearly? Maybe this section (Mt 5:27-37) is too clear: my heart is not pure. The illustrations are lust, divorce and swearing on whatever. The conclusion is yes=yes and no=no. It is all about a heart that has a simple purity. Adulterous restraint at the physical level is to be appreciated, but ultimately it is a heart issue. If my body is kept from acting on adulterous thoughts it just means I am frustrated. The idea is that if we wish we could get away with indulging our lusts then we are still mixed up. All the illustrations are about minimizing our evil intentions by rationalizing and manipulating. This is not easy at all. But then again, living a confusing life of mixed desires and hiding, rationalizing and manipulating is not easy either.

(38)“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’(39)But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.(40)And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.(41)And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.(42)Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.(43)“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’(44)But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,(45)so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.(46)For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?(47)And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

(5:48)You therefore must be telos, as your heavenly Father is telos.

Following the idea that Jesus listed Bleseed 8 times and then systematically explains each of them, we come to blessed merciful people, they will receive mercy. The teaching is merciful generosity over just limited retribution. The idea is that we treat people as if they were who they should be, merciful overlooking their failures. We do good to people on purpose even when they do bad to us on purpose. We also make a point not to limit our generous ‘do-gooding’ to those who will return the favor. We are merciful good to people because God is mercifully good to us. His telos/perfection/completion/maturity is the ideal we were created to be images of: telos/perfection/completion/maturity enough to be mercifully loving even to the unloving. 

This is the pinnacle of the speech. Jesus’ conclusion to the promise of living a blessed life in the kingdom of the heavens is that we are defined by righteousness like God is. That is overwhelming. The tendency is to quickly move the debate to a bottom line challenge: do I need to be perfect to go to heaven when I die? That seems to not be the essence of what Jesus is saying. He shoots past that. My existence is designed for and subsequently satisfied when I am in relationship with the merciful and righteous God such that my own life is defined by righteousness that is merciful. 

Honestly, that is shocking. Mainly I think we see life as the challenge to be cheerful enough (through whatever means) to keep moving forward instead of giving up. Righteousness is seen, at best, as one way of keeping more smiley faces than sad faces going. Various pleasures and diversions, from chocolate to sport to anything that works are all part of the common recipe. Righteousness sounds obsessive and delusional. Is it really possible, or even desirable? The crowds had come to Jesus because life wasn’t working. They were sick and troubled. He had power and he told them how it worked. Was he serious? If he was (and obviously he was), was he right? 

That is the challenge; to believe that Jesus’ description of what will make my life blessed (righteousness character experiencing God in control) is true and possible. How?

(6:1)“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.

The first effort at answering my question is about how I ‘practice my righteousness’. The fact that righteousness is a personal practice I have control of stands out. I really do have abilities and responsibilities. I am not a victim of nature or nurture to the point that I can’t choose. I need to want righteousness and actively do righteous things. The warning part is not to go about practicing righteousness with the motivation of being seen by others. That is not the righteousness that is part of the kingdom of heaven. That is the kind of righteousness I mentioned earlier. Anyone, from any or no religion, can do some righteously generous or noble things. People will notice and praise them. But my goal, if I want to live a blessed life experiencing God in charge in a real and meaningful way, requires an interaction with God. That is why I can’t just aim for being approved by people. My actions toward righteousness need to be genuine before God. That is easier said than done.

God is invisible and too quiet too often. Maybe it is because we are not pure of heart that we don’t see God, but I think it is more than that. Collectively we are part of a God rejecting world (according to the Bible) and we share the consequences. God is not immediately visible. We have to live by faith; to trust with limited information instead of unlimited and certain information. We have to consider and choose to trust. That is how we please God and part of how he rewards us. It really is possible and we really are accountable. What about those who don’t know as much as us? That is a different question. We do know as much as we know, and it is more than enough for us to be responsible. God is the source of meaningful good and I should live in such a way to receive that reward, that good, from him.

(6:2)“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.(3)But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,(4)so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Giving to the needy could be to look good, but that only achieves looking good and being praised by people. That is somewhat satisfying, but fickle. True blessed-ness is giving because we want things to be right and we actually get to help make things right. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, and practice righteous contribution to those causes by not playing to the crowds but truly seeking after God’s involvement; they will be satisfied.

For me that means caring more about using causes to make me feel balanced. I should care about causes because causes matter. Praise from people is fine if it comes along with the persecutions, but actually helping is my reward. I can participate in rightness increasing in the world at some level. I can and should pursue that through God. 

(6:5)“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.(6)But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.(7)“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words.(8)Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

(9)Pray then like this:
“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.(10) Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.(11)Give us this day our daily bread,(12)and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.(13)And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.(14)For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you,(15)but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. 

Prayer should be aimed at God, not at people. Sounds obvious, but what if I measured how much (and how) I prayed publicly vs. privately. What would it show about my motivations? It really is possible to pray to God because we believe God can answer our prayers effectively. How should we pray?

Father God you are honored. How you lead where I can’t see is how I want you to lead where I can see. Please provide for my physical, relational and spiritual needs. Apparently this is only able to be prayed if we have forgiven others. By releasing the role of judging, and going back to being needy and trusting to God, we are on course to being changed to be more like him. Blessed are the meek, asking because they need it. They’ll actually achieve in this world (things like physical, relational and spiritual needs being met).

So I really need to daily declare my affectionate loyalty to God and specifically invite him to rule over my main categories of need (physical, relational and spiritual). These categories seem to be related to what Jesus was tempted with in Mt 4:1-10 in the wilderness. In each case the desires were not bad, the problem was not following God’s lead in pursuing them. The prayer is an intentional choice to follow God’s lead for our needs. 

(6:16)“And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.(17)But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,(18)that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Fasting follows the list of giving and prayer. Again, the specific advice is to actually aim for God, not just people thinking you are aiming for God. This corresponds with the beatitude of mourning (gloomy, sad). That is what fasting is related to; grieving that something is not right and you aren’t interested in eating as much as you are in this thing that is not right. The reward is that the discomfort which prompts us to ignore food will in some real way be comforted.

Do I care enough about anything to lose my appetite until I am reassured by God? Do I really expect him to be active in my life? If I’m not distraught by his absence, it may be that I don’t really trust him. it should bother me not to see God’s goodness in various areas. Also, I really should believe that when I take the time to reflect on how sad that makes me, that God will reassure me and I will feel better. That is a very different coping mechanism that amusements and indulgences in immediate pleasures (the more common strategy for dealing with sadness).

(6:19)“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,(20)but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.(21)For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

(22)“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light,(23)but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

(24)“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

What do we really treasure? Or, what is it that I never have enough of? Poor in spirit, if understood this way, is treasuring spiritual satisfaction so much that I always want more; I can’t get enough. Financially most of us would answer the question: “how is your portfolio?” with: “could be better!”. We can’t be financially blessed enough. We all tend to think that IF we were rich… We treasure money and subsequently can’t help but think we are poor in finances relative to what we wish we had.

How about spiritually? Fine. (!?!) No, if we really treasure our spiritual completeness before God, we will see everything in light of that. Even money will be seen other than as a security. It will be seen as an opportunity to grow in spiritual treasures by using that money in ways that make us spiritually more healthy (like giving it to righteous causes).

The problem here is perception. Our eye can’t see things like it should. We perceive things wrongly. Subsequently, if what I perceive to be good (light) is really bad (dark), then how bad is the bad I perceive (really dark)? I need to treasure more wisely if I want to experience the blessed life of my creator in charge of my life he created. But that is the real issue. Who will I trust and serve? God, who is mysterious and subject to rationalization? Or hard cold cash? Who do I really trust and serve?

All of this so far looks like thise:

Blessed (repeated eight times).

1st and last ‘blessed’: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The last one listed (5:10) is the first one explained (5:11-20). By following this sequence there is an explanation for each beatitude such that I end up with an explanation of a blessed life with God in charge. It is about real righteousness being lived out because I treasure God and spiritual maturity more than anything. It moves me from to integrity of character by practicing righteousness toward God (not people).

Working from the boundaries to the center, it looks like this:

  1. Persecuted for righteousness is what happens if I really treasure spiritual things from God instead of money. Action: TREASURE GOD AND HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS
  2. I will have to put off my coping pattern which avoid real peace with people. This will involve grieving over how I have let avoidance and contempt keep me from being who I should be. Action: MOURN THROUGH FASTING AND COMMIT TO SEEKING TO BE A PEACEMAKER
  3. As I let go of my old ways of protecting myself I will need to put on a kind of integrity that doesn’t need protecting. Action: MEEKLY PRAY FOR GOD TO PROVIDE YOUR NEEDS SUCH THAT YOUR HEART IS MORE AND MORE THE SAME AS YOUR ACTIONS (PURE).
  4. Now I am the kind of person who is more concerned about advancing righteousness through mercy than defending myself. Action: GIVE TO MAKE THINGS RIGHT

(6:25)“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?(26)Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?(27)And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?(28)And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,(29

yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.(30)But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?(31)Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’(32)For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.(33)But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.(34)“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Objection number 1 to Jesus’ theory of blessed life: $tuff. Jesus answers the concern about physical needs by challenging us to value life and body above the means to caring for them (food and clothes). The idea is that the reason we have physical needs is because God gives us physical existence. Therefore it should only make sense that seeking to align ourselves with the source of our physical selves should be the first step in caring for our physical needs. First seek God in charge in his right and wise ways and then see what that does for your perspective on meeting physical needs. 

Practical problems are real but anxiety moves us away from integrating ourselves and makes us make poor decisions. I should center on God as the source of my life, including physical needs.

(7:1)“Judge not, that you be not judged.(2)For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.(3)Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?(4)Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?(5)You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.(6)“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

(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 the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.(9)Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?(10)Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent?(11)If you then, who are 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!(12)“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Even if I am not anxious about my physical needs I am sorely tempted to be anxious about everyone around me. I live as part of a complex network of relationships and who I am is very seriously affected by who everyone else is. The temptation is to believe that I need to sort everyone else out in order to make progress for myself. Jesus says this is a mistake.

I should not judge others, not because they aren’t messed up, but because it won’t help me move from unrighteous to righteous. I also should not be pushing pearls of wisdom on them if they aren’t ready for them. I do not need to be presumptuous. It won’t work.

Instead I am supposed to start with God (again). I need to learn to ask, to seek and to knock. It works when my kids come to me asking for good things, I like to give it to them. How much more will God give me good if I come to him?

When I make my relationship with God the first priority it can be surprising what happens to my other relational problems. Like the combo of the blessed merciful and the blessed for hungering for right, everything changes. Suddenly even bad relational dynamics are opportunities for me to live out righteousness. I don’t have to wait until everyone else is kind and wise and merciful and just in order for me to live a blessed life. When I am actively and effectively relying on my relationship with God I am in a position to be free to love rightly regardless.

(7:13)“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.(14)For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

(15)“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.(16)You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?(17)So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit.(18)A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit.(19)Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.(20)Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

(21)“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.(22)On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’(23)And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

This last bit is particularly challenging. Spiritual needs includes getting to the good place after life, but more comprehensively, it means living from the good place now and then. Jesus says to pay attention to how we go about this because it is not glaringly obvious; it is a specific and narrow path. Lot’s of people fall for cheap substitutes. One of the reasons is that we don’t take enough time to ask what certain teachers actually produce.

If someone takes a teacher seriously and does what they say, what kind of person will they be like? Likewise, see what people actually do and you might get past their image to see what they really follow. The sad truth is that the chronic failures in my life are not because of what I believe, they are more likely precisely because of what I believe (despite what I claim to believe and be).

Copying outward actions is not enough. The outward only counts if in fact it is the result of an inward reality. Just because I can act like Jesus is Lord in what I say and do doesn’t actually mean that I do believe he is Lord. There is a real danger of kidding ourselves and being exposed by Christ himself. So what should I do?

(7:24)“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.(25)And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.(26)And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.(27)And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”

(28)And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching,(29)for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.(8:1)When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him.

I have heard the words of Jesus related to living a blessed life. I should decide whether I trust him. If I do, I should actually follow his advice and build a life which has internal strength. I should actually seek to receive and live out the wisdom and righteousness of God. That would be a blessed life.

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