When we began to study the Sermon on the Mount I said that it recalls what happened at Mount Sinai in the days of Moses. At that time, the people gathered at Mount Sinai to listen to the Lord. And here in Matthew, the people gathered at another mountain to listen to the Lord Jesus. In the days of Moses, the Lord gave the people the law which included blessings and curses: the promise of blessing for obedience; and the warning of curses for disobedience. And in Matthew, the Lord Jesus began his sermon with blessings: blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek and so on. And the sermon ends with, not quite curses, but with warnings.
The Lord warns us about the coming judgment, which will mean life for some and destruction for others. And so, he tells us about the two roads: one leads to life, while the other leads to destruction. And he tells us about two trees: one tree produces good fruit and the other produces bad fruit; and every tree that does not produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. And he tells us about two builders: one builds a house which withstands the storm, while other other builds a house which does not. So, the day of judgment is coming. And the Lord warns us to be ready to face that day so that we will not be destroyed, but will go in to enjoy eternal life.
The first section about the two roads begins with a command in verse 13: ‘Enter through the narrow gate.’ The Lord then goes on to say that there’s a wide gate and a broad road; and there’s a small gate and a narrow road. The commentators discuss whether the gates are at the beginning of the roads or at the end of the road. However, it seems to me that it doesn’t really matter, because the main distinction is not between the gates and the roads, but between the two kinds of road: the broad road and the narrow road. And many take the broad road, whereas few find the narrow road. And so, we’re to imagine a wide road which is easy to find. And because it’s easy to find, there are crowds of people on it. But then, there’s also a narrow path. And because it’s a narrow path, it’s only ever found by those who are looking for it. No one is going to miss the broad road, because it’s so obvious. But the narrow path is easily missed and you have to go looking for it. And here’s the thing: the broad road leads to destruction, whereas the narrow road leads to life.
When he refers to the two roads, he’s referring to two kinds of life, isn’t he? Many people choose the broad road, which is the way of unbelief. It’s the way of the world. Most people do not believe and therefore it’s the obvious choice for most people. They don’t have to go looking for it, because unbelief comes naturally to sinful men and women. But at the end of that life, when they face the judgment seat, they will be condemned by God for a lifetime of sin and unbelief and they’ll be sent away to be punished forever.
On the other hand, the narrow path signifies the way of faith. Those who are on the narrow way are trusting in Christ the Saviour. Because it’s narrow, it has to be sought out. You have to go looking for it. And at the end of that life, when they face the judgment seat, those who were on the narrow road will be acquiited by God and will be brought in to the new heavens and earth to enjoy everlasting life with God.
And so, the Lord says to us: Make sure you find the narrow path, because it’s the way that leads to life, whereas the other way leads to destruction. And, of course, that means we’re to follow him, because he’s the only one who can lead us to eternal life.
The first section began with a command: ‘Enter through the narrow gate.’ The next section begins with a warning: ‘Watch out!’ What are we to watch out for? We’re to watch out for false prophets. False prophets are prophets who claim that they have been sent by God and that they speak for him. There were plenty of false prophets in the Old Testament, who deceived the people by claiming to be from God, but their message was not from him. And in the New Testament we often hear about false teachers, who claimed to teach God’s word, but what they taught was not from God. And those who listened to them were led astray from the true God.
Watch out for them, the Saviour said. They come in sheep’s clothing. So, they look harmless enough. In fact, since God’s people are frequently compared to sheep, perhaps the Lord means that the false teachers appear to be believers. But really, they’re wolves, who will only frighten the flock of God and scatter and destroy God’s people. So, watch out for them.
But if they’re dressed as sheep, it’s not easy to identify them, is it? So, how can we recognise them? Verse 16: by their fruit you will recognise them. This is where the Lord speaks about two kinds of tree. And the point of what he says is that, just as a tree is recognised by its fruit, so we can recognise false teachers by the things they do and teach. If what they do is rotten, if it’s harmful, if their teaching is not right, then they are no good. After all, you don’t get grapes which are good from thornbushes. All you get from thornbushes are thorns which hurt. And you don’t get figs which are good from thistles. All you get from thistles are prickles which hurt. Everyone knows that good fruit comes from a good tree and bad fruit comes from a bad tree. And so, good teachers, teachers who are sent from God, will do and teach what’s good; whereas false teachers, teachers who have not been sent from God, will do and teach what’s bad and harmful. And just as a bad tree is cut down and destroyed, so the false teachers will be cut down and destroyed by God when the day of judgment comes.
And the Lord elaborates on the day of judgment in verses 21 to 23 where he says that not everyone who calls him ‘Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven. That is, they will not enter into eternal life. Only those who do the will of his Father in heaven will enter into it. So saying ‘Lord’ is not enough, because we need to treat him as Lord and do what he says and what his Father in heaven says.
Of course, I should add that the whole of the Bible makes clear that we’re justified — pardoned and accepted by God — by faith and not by our obedience. The way to heaven is by believing in Jesus Christ, who gave up his life to pay for our sins and to make peace for us with God. However, the evidence of a true faith is what? The evidence of a true faith is an obedient life, isn’t it? So, we’re pardoned and accepted by faith alone; but a true faith is never alone, but is accompanied by good deeds. And so, don’t misunderstand what the Lord is saying. We do not receive eternal life by keeping the law. We receive eternal life by believing in the Saviour. But having believed, the true believer will seek to do God’s will here on earth.
Having said that, the Lord adds in verse 22 that, when the day of judgment comes, there will be many who will stand before him and they will claim that they prophesied in his name, and they drove out demons in his name, and they performed mighty miracles in his name. And, of course, he’s referring here to the false prophets and teachers. On the day of judgment, many of them will say they acted in his name. But he will say of them that he never knew him. Though they acted in his name, he did not send them. Though they claimed to be from him, they did not come from him. They were not true prophets and teachers, but false prophets and teachers. Instead of doing God’s will, they were evil-doers. Do you see that at the end of verse 23? Instead of doing good, they did what was evil, because though they claimed to be from God, they were not.
And so, the Lord warns us to watch out for false prophets and teachers. And, of course, we should bear in mind that this warning comes at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, in which the Lord contrasted what the teachers of the law were saying about God’s law with what he had to say about God’s law. And the teachers of the law, who claimed to be true teachers, often undermined the truth of God’s law, didn’t they? They said God’s law forbids the act of murder only, whereas the Lord made clear that angry thoughts are forbidden too. They said God’s law forbids the act of adultery only, whereas the Lord made clear that lustful thoughts are forbidden too. They said God’s law permits divorce for any reason, whereas the Lord made clear that divorce is only permissible for adultery. They said God’s law permits you to break your promises, whereas the Lord made clear we’re to keep our promises. They said God’s law requires you to take revenge, whereas the Lord made clear we’re not to take revenge. They said God’s law requires you to hate your enemy, whereas the Lord made clear we’re to love our enemies. They taught that God is satisfied with outward conformity to the law, whereas the Lord Jesus taught us that what God requires is an inward conformity that comes from the heart.
And, of course, what they did was not good either, was it? It wasn’t good because when they gave to the needy, and when they prayed, and when they fasted, they did it, not because they loved God, but because they loved themselves and they wanted people to admire them. So, watch out for those teachers of the law and for those like them who do not teach or do what is good. And, of course, that means we’re to listen to him, because he is the true prophet, sent from God.
And the Sermon on the Mount closes with the parable of the two builders. One is foolish and builds his house on the sand. And when the storm came, his house collapsed. The other builder is wise and he builds his house on the rock. And when the storm came, his house stood firm.
The foolish builder stands for all those who hear the words of the Lord, but who do not put them into practice. Since these people are familiar with his words, they are perhaps people who claim to be believers. They are perhaps members of the church. But since they don’t do what the Lord commands, it seems they’re not genuine believers. They are Christians in name only, and not in reality, because, as I said earlier, while we’re saved by faith alone, true faith is never alone, but is always accompanied by good works and by a desire to obey the Lord and to walk in his ways. So, these people have heard. They may even have professed faith. But their lack of obedience suggests that their profession is not genuine.
On the other hand, the wise builder stands for all those who hear the words of the Lord and put them into practice. And so, this is the person whose faith is genuine. This person possesses a true faith in Christ. And because it’s a true faith it produces a life of obedience.
So, the foolish builder stands for the person who claims to be a believer, but who does not really believe. And the wise builder stands for the person who is a true believer. And the storm stands for the day of judgment. And when that day comes, the foolish builder — and not just his house — will fall. And when the day of judgment comes, the wise builder — and not just his house — will stand.
And so, the Lord finishes his Sermon on the Mount by warning us about the two roads. Which road are you on? One way leads to life, while the other leads to destruction. And he warns us about the two kinds of teacher. Which kind are you listening to? The true teacher who has been sent from God? Or the false teacher who will only lead you astray? And he warns about the two builders. Which kind of builder are you? Wise or foolish? One hears and believes and obeys; whereas the other one only hears. And why should we hear and believe and obey the Lord Jesus? Because he’s the true prophet sent from God; and he’s the one who is able to lead us along the narrow road that leads to life in God’s presence.