2006-09-24_Great Dependence_Matthew 7.7-12
Matthew 7:7-12 | Shaun LePage | September 24, 2006
A. It was during the height of the civil war that President Abraham Lincoln often found solice in a mid-week church service at the New York Presbyterian Church. He would quietly slip into a side door of the sanctuary and sit with his aide off to the side and participate in the worship. This proved to be a wonderful time of relief and release for the president as his soul was burdened with the horrors and tragedies of the war between the states. After one particular service, his aide asked him what he thought of the sermon. The president said, “I thought it was well thought through, powerfully delivered and very eloquent.” “Then you thought it was a great sermon?” said his aide. “No,” said the president. “It failed. It failed because the pastor did not ask of us something great.” (Chuck Swindoll, The Discipline of Determination, Ministry Essentials Series, Dallas Seminary sermon tape T89MEB, 1994)
B. CPS: Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was a great sermon for many reasons. One of those reasons is that Jesus “asks of us something great.” Jesus calls us to a “surpassing righteousness.” Jesus calls us to greatness. Not by the world’s standards, but by the standards of the Kingdom of God. But, Kingdom greatness requires great dependence upon a great God.
C. But what does this “great dependence” look like? It is nowhere more clear than in the second section of chapter 7. Turn with me please as I read Matthew 7:7-12.
II. Body—Matthew 7:7-12
A. Verse 7: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”
1. Three imperatives: “Ask...seek…knock.” (Acrostic ASK; Greek is actually alpha, zeta, kappa—close “AZK”)
a) Some teach that there is a progression here. Seeking is more intense than asking and knocking is more intense than seeking. There may be some truth to this.
b) But, the real point is persistence.
(i) These commands are present, active, imperatives. What that means is, Jesus is telling us to continually come to God and do our asking, seeking and knocking. Listen to this verse in the New Living Translation: “Keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened.” That’s a great translation. “Keep on asking…keep on looking…keep on knocking.”
(ii) Turn to Luke 11. Notice that vs. 9-10 are almost identical to Matthew 7:7-8. But, before Jesus taught this same principle in Luke—obviously on a different occasion—He included this parable of the friend asking for bread. [Read 11:5-10] There’s the word that helps us understand “ask, seek, knock”! “Persistence”—diligence, determination, perseverance.
2. Three corresponding promises: “It will be given to you…you will find…it will be opened to you.”
a) The repetition of the word “will” makes this an astonishing promise—Jesus is promising a certain result. That’s what the word “will” means. Whatever you ask for—God will give it to you. Whatever you seek—God will help you find it. Whatever door you knock on—God will open it for you. What a promise!
b) Now, is Jesus telling us that if we pester God enough, He’ll grant us any wish we want just like a genie in a bottle? No. Nowhere does God give us a blank check that we can spend on whatever selfish desires we have. God is not a genie in a bottle who pops out and grants our three wishes if we just say the right mantra or pray the right formula.
c) So, if Jesus is not giving us a blank check in Matthew 7:7-8, what is He promising? We must read the passage in context to determine that.
(i) The immediate context is “do not judge.” If we’re going to obey this passage, we are going to need to “ask for, seek after, and knock on the door for” God’s wisdom. Turn to James 1:5.
(a) How do we know whether or not we have a log in our eye? We need God’s wisdom. We need Him to show us.
(b) How do we know if we should help a brother or sister remove a “speck” of sin from his/her eye? We need God’s wisdom. We need Him to show us.
(c) How do we know if we should keep our mouths shut and not “give what is holy to dogs or throw pearls to swine”? We need God’s wisdom. We need Him to show us.
(ii) The larger context is the kingdom life He has been describing since the beginning of chapter 5. He’s telling us to ask for what we need in order to live the life He has been describing.
(a) Look at the Beatitudes in 5:1-12. We need God to be this kind of person. We don’t naturally think and feel this way. We don’t naturally “mourn” over our sin. We don’t naturally “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” We aren’t naturally “merciful, pure in heart and peacemakers.” We need God’s strength and supernatural perspective to “rejoice” in the midst of persecution.
(b) Look at vs. 13-16. We need God’s wisdom and guidance to know exactly how to be salt and light in the world. We need Him to provide opportunities and open the hearts of people or we’re just wasting our time trying to do outreach and evangelism.
(c) Look at vs. 17-48. We need God’s power to obey every “letter and stroke” of God’s Word. We need His power to live a life of “surpassing righteousness.” We need His peace to not get angry and commit murder in our hearts. We need His purity to not lust and commit adultery in our hearts. We need His provision to have strong, healthy marriages that don’t end in divorce. We must have His grace to be selfless and forgiving and to love our neighbors. We can never reach His standard of perfection apart from His forgiveness.
(d) And on it goes through the entire sermon. The whole Sermon on the Mount is about living a life that is impossible apart from God’s supernatural help, wisdom, guidance and grace. How can we possibly be a kingdom-minded disciple of Jesus Christ and live a kingdom-focused life? We ask God for what we need and God will provide it! We seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and God will show us the way! We knock and God will swing doors wide open for us removing all obstacles that block the way.
3. Verse 8: “For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.”
a) Jesus rephrases the statement as though everyone who heard v.7 looked completely puzzled. Let me repeat myself, Jesus seems to be saying.
b) Instead of using the word “will” here again to emphasize the certain result, He reemphasizes His point by using the word “everyone”! In this context, Jesus is speaking to His disciples. Certainly, only His disciples will “ask according to His will” so Jesus doesn’t mean “all mankind” but “every disciple”! His point is, this promise is not just for the apostles. It’s not just for pastors. It’s not just for the really mature Christians who’ve learned all the secrets of prayer. The promise is for everyone who “asks…seeks…knocks” according to His will. Everyone who desires to live a kingdom-minded, kingdom-focused life for the glory of God. Everyone who is trying to obey His commands in this Sermon on the Mount will receive the wisdom, the strength, the guidance—whatever they need—to know and obey the will of God.
c) I think Jesus was looking into the faces of His disciples and they were astonished. They were skeptical. “‘Everyone who asks receives’? Come on—what’s the catch?” Look at what Jesus said next.
4. Verses 9-11: “Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? 10 “Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? 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 what is good to those who ask Him!”
a) Why don’t we believe we can “ask and receive, seek and find, knock and walk in”? Jesus says our trouble is we don’t really understand our Father.
b) Jesus asked two simple questions about fathers. The answer to both questions is obvious! No father gives a stone when his son asks for bread. The father’s listening would never give their children a snake when they ask for fish. Even rank pagans—who are proud that they reject the notion of God—will love their own children more than anyone else on the planet. They may be cruel and mean to other people, but they’ll die for their own children. Every father on the planet wants to give his children whatever they ask for. We want to help our children find whatever they’re looking for. We want to kick open every door that stands in our kid’s way.
c) “If you then, being evil…” Jesus said (affirming the doctrine of the depravity—sinfulness—of man), “give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” Our problem is we don’t understand God! Father’s love to give good things to their children. He’s our Father, so He loves to give us good gifts!
d) But the problem is, we don’t think of God in this way. We don’t pray that God would bring the perfect wife for us because we’re sure God will bring us a dog. We don’t pray for just the right husband because we’re sure God will make us wait until we’re 40. We don’t pray that God will help us understand His Word because we think He’s sitting up there angry with us for missing our quiet time yesterday. We don’t pray that God would provide us with that new set of tires that need but can’t afford because we feel foolish about bringing such an unimportant, earthy request to Him.
e) When we think this way, it shows that we do not know our heavenly Father. Why would you think your loving, gracious, merciful, good, perfect heavenly Father would give you that which is less than best? Why would you think your loving, gracious, merciful, good, perfect heavenly Father wouldn’t have time for you? Wouldn’t care about something that’s important to you? Jesus is telling us that this is wrong-headed thinking. Let Jesus’ words transform you mind. Think of God has your Father. Not your boss—though He is Lord. Not your King—though He certainly is that. When you pray, remember that He calls Himself our Father.
5. A. If you have great dependence on God, you will pray great prayers. Ask persistently and ask boldly for what you need to do God’s will. Perhaps you’re asking, “Why are there times when we don’t get answers to our prayers?” Let me summarize what we’ve discussed thus far and give you three reasons why sometimes we don’t get prayers answered:
a) Sometimes, our problem as individuals, as families and as a church body—is that 1. We don’t ask at all. Jesus told us to ask, but often we just plain disobey this command. Look at James 4:2-3. We need to trust that God—our heavenly Father—desires to provide what we need. Think about it: What do you need in order to do the will of God in your individual situation? What does your family really need in order to do the will of God for your family? What does CBC need in order to do the will of God here in Lawrence? Are you asking?
b) 2. We aren’t desperate enough. As I’ve already discussed, prayer requires persistence and persistence comes with desperation—knowing how much we need God to provide. We’re only desperate when we recognize our great need for God. “Three men were discussing the proper posture for prayer. The first said that one should be on one’s knees with head bowed in reverence to the Almighty. The second argued that one should stand with head raised looking into the heavens and speak into the face of God as a little child. The third spoke up and said ‘I know nothing about these positions, but I do know this: the finest praying I’ve ever done was upside down in a well!’” That guy was desperate! And we will “ask, seek, knock” far better the day we realize how desperate we are before God. Remember what Jesus said in John 15:5? “Apart from Me, you can do nothing!” How desperate are you to see God’s will done in your life? Your children’s lives? Your spouse? Your church?
c) 3. We ask with the wrong motives. Look at 1 John 3:22. If we are being obedient and doing the things which please Him, He will answer our prayers. “Kenneth Bruner, the stepson of a Pentecostal minister, led his seven accomplices in prayer before they held up a jewelry store. Bruner asked God for his divine protection in preparation for the heist of Herman’s Fine Jewelry store in Des Moines, Iowa. God answered his prayer for “divine protection” in that the robbery was foiled and nobody got hurt. The small congregation of thieves ended up with a federal indictment instead of fine jewels” (Beaumont Examiner, March 26, 1998, p. 26). Those guys didn’t get it! We can’t pray, “God, help me have a successful robbery today.” We must be obedient to God’s revealed commands. Look also at 1 John 5:14. If we ask “according to His will” He hears us and “we know we have the requests we have asked from Him.” This lines up perfectly with what Jesus taught on prayer in Matthew 6. Look at v.11. Just before Jesus told us to ask God for what we need, He told us to pray, “Your will be done!”
d) 4. We ask for the wrong stuff. Sometimes, we “children” ask for stones and snakes. We ask for what is not good—or even what is not best—for us.
(i) The great American philosopher…Garth Brooks put it this way: “Just the other night at a hometown football game / My wife and I ran into my old high school flame / And as I introduced them the past came back to me / And I couldn’t help but think of the way things used to be / She was the one that I wanted for all times / And each night I spent praying God would make her mine / And if He’d only grant me this wish I’d wished back then / I’d never ask for anything again / Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers / Remember when you’re talking to the man upstairs / And just because He doesn’t answer doesn’t mean He don’t care / Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”
(ii) So, Jesus is not telling us that God will give us everything we ask for, regardless of whether it is the right request. No, God is our Father! If my daughter asked me for a poisonous snake, I would not give it to her. If my son asked for a drink of bleach, I would not give it to him. Why? Because I’m their father and I will say “yes” to what is right and “no” to what is wrong. God is not a slot machine who spits out whatever is requested. He is our Father who gives what is right and best. Sometimes the best prayers are “unanswered.”
B. Now look at v. 12: “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”
1. If it wasn’t for that important word “therefore,” we might conclude that v.12 is disconnected from the previous verses. It almost seems as though Jesus changes the subject entirely. But “therefore” tells us that obeying the command of v.12 is a logical response to what Jesus taught in the previous verses. So, how does it fit?
2. As you know, this is commonly called “The Golden Rule.” It is the greatest principle of ethics ever spoken. “Law and the Prophets” is another way of saying “Old Testament.” So, Jesus is saying all the commands in the Bible related to human relationships can be fulfilled by treating people the same way you want them to treat you. It really boils down to this: love. Listen to Romans 13:8 and Galatians 5:14.
3. I think this is one of the few verses in the Bible that a person can take out of its context and still understand it. But we must also read this in context to understand what Jesus’ point was in putting it here in the middle of the seventh chapter of Matthew. The “therefore” links this command to the discussion that began the chapter: “Do not judge…” Ask yourself, “How do I want people to treat me? Do I want them to be unmerciful and judgmental toward me? If I had a sin in my life that was keeping me from experiencing God’s blessing, would I want someone to come and help me get it out of my life—get that speck out of my eye?”
a) For example: If a sister in Christ makes some bad choices and ends up broke and needing help, you could just judge her and say, “Well, she got herself into this mess, she can get herself out.” But, if our guiding principle is the Golden Rule, the question then becomes, “What would I want her to do for me if I made some bad choices?” I would want mercy, and help getting back on my feet.
b) If a brother in Christ is getting too close to a woman who is not his wife and you see it, but he seems oblivious, you have at least two choices. You can either judge him and say, “I always knew he was a scumbag,” or you can apply the Golden Rule. You would want someone to smack you upside the head and say, “Don’t go there.”
4. That’s what Jesus meant in context when He gave the Golden Rule. But again, it is a principle that can be applied in any situation that involves human relationships. In giving us this great ethical principle, Jesus showed once again that He understands us. He knows we are preoccupied with ourselves and He uses that to help us sort things out with other people.
a) The Houston Chronicle reported the story of Florence Nyemitei. She was a New York property owner who was sentenced to live in the apartment building she rents to tenants. In December of 1997, the seventy-one-year-old landlady, pleaded guilty to six violations concerning her property and was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine, plus put up $15,000 for needed repairs. She did neither. The tenants didn’t have any hot water, there was no heat, and because she didn’t pay the electric bill, residents had to string Christmas lights, using electricity from the next door apartment to illumine the hallways. On January 14, 1997, Judge JoAnn Friia ordered Nyemitei to spend at least four nights a week in her building for the next sixty days” (Houston Chronicle, Jan. 18, 1998, p. 12A). That Judge understood the Golden Rule and forced the defendant to put herself in her tenant’s shoes.
b) A psychologist did a very unique experiment on a group of college students. He had each of the students jot down the initials of the people they disliked. Some of the students could only think of one or two people that they disliked. A few other students found the assignment much easier and listed the initials of as many as fourteen people that didn’t quite suit them. After evaluating this simple piece of research, the psychologist discovered that “those who disliked the largest number of people were themselves the most widely disliked.” (Bits & Pieces, Oct. 14, 1993, p. 1). If these students understood and lived by the Golden Rule, their relationships would have been totally different.
5. But, stories like these are no surprise.
a) Everyone loves the Golden Rule. Do a poll and ask people if they try to live by the Golden Rule. You’ll probably find that 99 out of 100 people will say yes. But all around us we see people who selfishly murder, steal, cheat, lie and hurt other people. Is this how they want others to treat them? Of course not. So, why the disconnect? The Bible has the clearest explanation I know of. Man is sinful and desperately needs Jesus Christ to save him from his sinfulness. Listen to Romans 7:14-25. “The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” The Golden Rule is an impossible standard for mankind because apart from the presence of the Holy Spirit—who is given to those who trust Christ—we cannot do it.
b) Certainly, the kind of love required to live out the Golden Rule does not naturally come from our sinful hearts. We must “ask” God to give us His kind of love. We must depend upon Him to love like this. B. If you have great dependence on God, you will love with great love. You will be able to love with great love.
A. Our problems come when we don’t depend on God. We try to live independent of God. Not just our sinful choices, but also we try to live good lives independent of God. So we don’t pray great prayers and we settle for the kind of love we can muster up from sinful hearts. And we fall short of His best for us.
B. But Jesus “asks of us something great.” Something we can’t achieve on our own, but through daily, hourly dependence upon God. Kingdom greatness requires great dependence upon our great God, therefore it has nothing to do with how great we are, but how great God is. The mark of a great Christian—a great disciple of Jesus Christ—is the level at which he recognizes his need for God and depends upon God in every area of life. Simply put, it’s a life of faith. And apart from faith, we cannot please God.
C. I’ll close with Hebrews 11:6: “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.”