January 2, 2011

Sermon on the Mount (10): Heaven’s Choice

by Rev. Jeremiah Cheung

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Today I will be concluding the messages on the Sermon on the Mount, which are a total of ten messages. If you listen to them again (from the first to the tenth message), you will understand the truth in the messages more clearly. Verses 13-27, these 14 verses teach us an important truth: We must make a choice. These 14 verses contain four choices: 1. The Choice of Two Roads 2. The Choice of Two Trees 3. The Choice of Two Pronouncements 4. The Choice of Two Foundations. Jesus reminds us, the listeners, we have to make a choice after hearing the truth.

I. The Choice of Two Roads 7:13-14

There are two roads – one is the narrow road, those who enter through the narrow road will find eternal life; another is the wide road and this road leads to death. Both these roads lead to eternity, one to eternal life, another to eternal death. Today, we must make a choice – will we choose the road of eternal life or death? From these two verses, we can learn three principles:

1. God’s road is narrow, not wide.

God’s truth is not an easy road to take. Prayer isn’t easy, reading the Bible isn’t easy, giving isn’t easy, to always put God at the center of our life isn’t easy, because all these isn’t what our flesh love to do. Our flesh loves pleasure and acclaim. Paul reminds the believers `I beat my body and make it my slave’. To take the narrow road is to take the difficult path, a path of discipline. Do you know that the word discipline means to temporarily give up pleasures and enjoyment? A disciplined person is one who is willing to give up temporary pleasures in order to attain a better goal. For example, a sister who would like to have a slim body is willing to give up the luxury of sleep and pursue her exercise regimen instead. She is willing to give up mouth-watering food (like lechon, peking duck, siao-long-pao, etc.) to eat only fruits and vegetables. It is the same in the spiritual journey, we must practice discipline. We must be willing to give up temporary pleasures, give up that wide road, and walk the narrow path, because that is the path to eternal life!

2. God’s road is not the minority following the majority.

We must remember that the majority of people choose the wide path, yet that is the path to destruction. Only a few are willing to choose the narrow road, the path of eternal life. Therefore, we cannot follow the majority rule to determine which path is God’s path. The Church is not the place for observing democracy (the majority rule); neither must the Church take the path of autocracy. The Church must take the path of God. After coming back from spying the land of Canaan, ten of the 12 spies said they must not enter the land, only two said they must enter the land. In choosing to let the majority rule, with ten against two, the people ended up wandering in the wilderness for 40 long years. God’s path is not a path of democracy, God’s path is the path of Truth. We must choose according to God’s Word (the Truth), and not how many people are taking the path. If we hope to seek the majority’s approval, then we will definitely not take the narrow path of life.

3. The Most Important Part of the Road is the Destination.

These two roads (narrow and wide paths) lead to eternity, but one leads to eternal death, while the other to eternal life. Therefore, what is important is not the roads themselves, but their destination. For example, I want to go to a certain place, and there is this road which will take me to my destination, but this is a difficult path; even if it is difficult, I will still take that road. On the contrary, if another road is smooth and easy, yet it will not take me to my destination, I cannot take that road. The most important part of the road is its destination, not how easy or difficult it is. The Lord Jesus said there are two destinations: one is eternal life, the other is eternal death. If you want eternal life, then you must take the narrow road. If you take the wide path, then you will end up at eternal death. Which path are you on?

II. The Choice of Two Trees 7:15-20

The main point of this passage is in verse 15 which warns believers of false prophets. If a pastor proclaims that since we are saved, we can enjoy life to the utmost, we can eat, drink and be merry, indulge ourselves, and that we do not need to restrain our desires because we are a free people, we will immediately sense something is wrong with the pastor. We will not believe nor accept what he is saying. However, when pastors who are actually wolves in sheepskin, pray and preach with all forms of seeming godliness, we unknowingly become deceived. Jesus said, “Watch out for false prophets.” How do we watch out for them? Jesus tells us a very important guideline in verse 18, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” The true and the false cannot be seen via the external appearance, but through a person’s life. When a tree is abundant, its fruit will be good.

This year, I went to the Dumaguete Christian Church as a speaker in their 75th anniversary celebration. One time, the brethren there brought us to their fruit garden. When I first saw the fruits, I didn’t feel like eating them because I never liked that particular kind of fruit, since I have tasted them here in Manila, and I felt they weren’t anything special, sometimes, they even taste bitter. However, upon trying them, I can say that those were the most delicious fruit of that variety that I have ever tasted. Alex was with me and he agreed that the fruits were especially delicious. The fruits sell for P 150 per kilo. I also tasted other kinds of fruits from their garden and those were similarly good. Later on, I found out that the soil in this place were exceptionally rich. From the fruits, we can know that the tree is good.

Jesus tells us to pay attention to the fruit of a person’s life for that is the manifestation of the inner man. Paul told Timothy that a recent convert may not become an overseer, meaning a new believer cannot be a leader in the church. When we see a new believer’s spiritual life growing very fast, and he quickly takes on different ministries, joins every fellowship and training class, gives generous offerings, then we conclude immediately that he is a potential! During election, we immediately nominate him and elect him as a deacon. Paul said do not do so, because such persons have not gone through a time of testing, their life is still not mature enough. We must see the fruit of their life, and not just how active they are. I have already said before that to know a person, it is best to ask the people who live with them in the home- their helpers, their family members. If they are loved by their workers, then they aren’t too bad, because inside the home our true selves are revealed for all to see.

This is also a choice we need to make – what kind of trees should we be? Good or bad? This is the question of life. I have mentioned before that we are salt and light, that we cannot try to be salt and light. If our life is not light nor salt, we can never act as salt and light. Similarly, if our life is not a good tree, we can never bear good fruit. How can our life bear good fruit? Verses 13 -14 says: “Enter the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” The road you choose will determine whether your fruit is good or bad.

III. The Choice of Two Pronouncements 7:21- 23

The Lord Jesus tells us there are two kinds of declaration. The first group says to the Lord, “Lord, Lord.” They recognize that Jesus is their Lord, they are a people who have entered the kingdom of heaven. Another group says to the Lord, “Lord, Lord.” They seem to know the Lord Jesus as their Lord, but they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. In this passage, we see two main points:

1. Men without the Holy Spirit and without the Life are able to do God’s work , too – Matt 7:22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ but the Lord will reply, “ I never knew you.” We must understand that some people may do many things for the Lord, but not belong to the Lord. In today’s terms, they may preach, pray, shepherd a church but they do not know the Lord of the Church. Because these things can be learned – preaching, prayer, leading a church, but life cannot be learned. Because life is being, not doing.

2. Only those who obey God’s will can enter the Kingdom of Heaven – Jesus said it clearly, only those who do the will of my Father will enter the kingdom of heaven. This helps us understand an important truth: Serving God is not a mark of spiritual life. Obedience to God’s will is the true mark of spiritual life.

Remember the story of how Saul was rejected by the Lord? The Lord wanted Saul to kill all the Amalekites, including all their cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys. However, although he killed all the Amalekites, Saul spared Agag the king of the Amalekites and the best cattle and sheep. When Samuel rebuked Saul, Saul reasoned that he kept the best of the sheep and cattle so as to sacrifice to the Lord. Let us not judge first whether his argument is true or not. Let us presume that it is true; still, the Lord was not pleased. Samuel replied, “Does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.” To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams.

What does the Lord want? Does he want us to go and preach the gospel, to drive out evil spirits, to perform miracles? Do you think you can do better than the angels? What the Lord wants is our obedience. I am a father. Do you know what five aspects of our children’s lives parents pay a lot of attention to? 1. The children’s health 2. The children’s education 3. The children’s conduct 4. The children’s career 5. The children’s marriage. When these five aspects of our children’s life are going well, then parents feel comforted; but we will not be truly happy unless we see our children serving the Lord. Only then, will we find true joy. John 3:4 “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” We find great joy in seeing our children serving the Lord.

Similarly, our Heavenly Father is very pleased when he sees us obeying him. Spiritual obedience is a difficult lesson to learn. Many young people nowadays find it hard to obey, even leaders find it hard to obey. But we must remember, we cannot impress the Lord with our great accomplishments, but the Lord may be impressed by our obedience. This is a choice we need to make. Do you want to impress the Lord with your great accomplishments or with an obedient life?

IV. The Choice of Two Foundations 7:24-27

This passage speaks of the issue of foundation. Try to imagine two houses, from the outside, they look alike, they are both beautiful, neat, and attractive. The only difference is that one is built on rock, and the other on sand. We cannot see any problem while no rain, flood, or wind occurs, but when the rain comes, flooding occurs, and wind blows, we will realize how great the problem actually is. Most of us aren’t architects, but we understand this principle clearly because we all know that foundations are very important.

What is the foundation referred to in this passage? In referring to foundation, we immediately recall Jesus is the cornerstone of the Church. A house is built on its cornerstone, Jesus is the cornerstone of the Church. However, this passage is not referring to the Lord Jesus. This passage speaks of two kinds of foundation: the first is hearing and putting God’s word into practice. V.24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” This is foundation built on rock. The second one is hearing but not putting it into practice. V.26 “ But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.” This is foundation built on sand.

James 1:19-25 discussed clearly the lesson on hearing and putting the word into practice –“ 22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.” A person who hears but does not do the word is a deceiver. It is just like a man, who after seeing in the mirror that there is dirt on his face, fails to go and wash it up. We look in the mirror in order to understand the problems we have, so that we can correct them. We listen to God’s Word so that it may shine its light upon our problems, so that we can make corrections. We have never heard of anyone looking into the mirror and refusing to clean up the problem he sees. But in the spiritual realm, such things happen, we deceive ourselves. After hearing, we realize our problems but we go away and do nothing about them. We hear the word but do not do the word. Jesus tells us that after hearing his teachings, we must make a choice, that is, you may either hear but not act on it, or hear and act on it. Either way, you’ve got to make a choice.

From chapter five to seven, the Sermon on the Mount discusses different choices we must make. Jesus wants us to make a choice. Will you practice what you have heard or not? May we all make the right choice, because we will all have to reap the consequences of our choices.

Two women brought their children to Malaysia’s Genting Highlands for a vacation, however, the real target of these women was the casino. So, they proceeded and gambled away all their money. Then, they borrowed 75,000 Malaysian money to try and regain what they lost. In the end, they lost it all. Not knowing how to get out of their predicament, they decided to commit suicide. But to commit suicide entails courage; lest one of them shrinks back, they tied themselves together. Someone saw them, and urged them not to jump. The hotel manager came and urged them likewise. The casino manager also urged them not to jump, promising them that they would be allowed to pay their debt gradually; the police came, too. Their children begged them not to jump, but all to no avail. After 3 to 4 hours of struggle, they jumped together to their death. On the ground, the people saw that they were tied up together and still holding onto each other’s hands. These women chose the wrong hand to hold on to, because they couldn’t save one another. If they had held on to the hand of Jesus, their end would have been very different. This is a choice we have to make in this life, whose hand will you choose to hold, whose words do you choose to heed?

Matthew concluded in 7:28-29 “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowd were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” Jesus had authority, not the authority of men, but spiritual authority. Whose words will you heed, men’s word or the word from heaven? You got to make a choice.