Matt 7:7-12 (18)
If we, as British subjects, are travelling abroad and get into difficulties we are entitled to ask our embassy for help but we also have a responsibility to act in a way that honours the citizenship we claim. Jesus, in portraying the kingdom citizen, has raised the standard so high that it seems impossible to achieve and so he gives us assurance of help being at hand. As he begins to draw the sermon to a close he returns to two subjects, prayer and action, which have been central to all that has gone before.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matt 7:7-8)
These verses, unfortunately, have often been wrested from their sermon setting and made to mean something that Jesus never intended. It does not mean that we will receive anything we ask for as some would claim. Jesus has shown clearly that our heavenly Father knows our needs and promises to provide for them but that these should not be our first or most important desire. In his pattern for prayer, the kingdom and God`s will came before asking for our daily needs. He also said, ‘seek FIRST the kingdom of God and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you’. (Matt 6:33) The kingdom is to be our chief desire and as it`s citizens we should want our lives to honour it, but we are all too aware that we fall pitifully short. As Jesus said ‘without me you can do nothing’. (John 15:5)
Many see this as referring to different levels of prayer: asking – a request; seeking – a more intense searching and knocking – not being satisfied till we have received an answer. Jesus would later tell a parable (Luke 18:1-8) to encourage us to be persistent in prayer so there is much merit to this view. However, let us find out what is being asked for and remember that an answer is assured whether we are asking, seeking or knocking.
“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt 7:9-11).
Jesus in using these examples goes from the lesser to the greater linking them together with the words ‘how much more’. Most fathers try to give their children the best they can and would not purposely give something which would harm them. This action comes about because of the love a parent has for his child and yet Jesus says in comparison to God human parents are ‘evil’. A statement like that is sure to rile the hearers but isn`t it true? We sometimes give what we think is the best only to find later that it was harmful. So Jesus can rightly say ‘how much more’ will our heavenly Father, who loves us and knows us perfectly, give to His children that which is best for them. Luke gives us a clearer picture of the ‘good things’ being promised, ‘So if you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who keep asking him!’ (Luke 11:13).
Now it becomes clear how it is possible to live as a kingdom citizen. When Jesus was on earth the disciples depended upon him for guidance but when the time drew near for him to leave them, he promised the Holy Spirit who would guide them into ‘all truth’. God has given of himself. ‘His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the full knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence.’ (2 Peter 1:3)
‘There is no allowance whatever in the New testament for the man who says he is saved by grace but who does not produce the graceful goods. Jesus Christ by his redemption can make our actual life in keeping with our religious profession.’ (Oswald Chambers) When we quote Jesus words ‘greater things than these will you do’, (John 14:12) we usually want to apply them to healing the sick, raising the dead and commanding this or that. How often do we apply them to our own lives? How can we: Rid our hearts of murderous or adulterous thoughts? Love our enemies? Live to please God not men? Not worry? Or judge correctly? Only as we allow the Holy Spirit to transform us, who were hell-bound sinners, into kingdom citizens who are heaven-bound with a lifestyle that reflects that new status?
Sir Walter Raleigh so wearied Queen Elizabeth I by asking her for favours that one day she said, ‘Raleigh, when will you cease to be a beggar?’ Immediately came his reply, ‘When your Majesty ceases to be a benefactress and to grant me favours.’ We should be glad that we come to a great Father who knows what we need and does ‘exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.’ (Eph 3:20) However, we should not presume, we do have to ask. ‘You do not get things because you do not ask for them! You ask for something but do not get it because you ask for it for the wrong reason- for your own pleasure.’ (James 4:2-3) When we judge ourselves rightly and see our constant need of God`s help we will be persistent in asking, seeking and knocking so that with His help we can truly live as kingdom citizens.
“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 7:12)
Since the Fall, when man`s relationship with God was fractured and thereby all our relationships suffer, books, by the ton, have been written to try to help. ‘All the great textbooks on ethics and social relationships and morality, and on all the other subjects which deal with the problems of human relationships in the modern world can really be reduced to this.’ (D M Lloyd-Jones) Only Jesus could come up with this, so succinct, Golden Rule. Many said similar things but all negative. Rabbi Hillel (c.20 BC) said this, ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to anyone else. This is the whole law; all the rest is commentary.’ The Pharisees attitude was to focus on the ‘not doing’ rather than the doing. To say ‘I`ve never done anyone any harm,’ falls far short of what we are to do.
Jesus` mission was not negative, ‘the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.’ (Matt 20:28) He came to do his Father`s will, to seek and save the lost. In summing up the law He said: “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” and “love your neighbour as yourself.” ‘The Law and the Prophets’ depend on these two commandments.’ (Matt 22:37-40) Both very positive statements. Jesus had come to fulfil the ‘Law and the Prophets’ and now he passes to his kingdom citizens the responsibility of living out the Law not in rules and regulations but by a transformed heart and life. We are to set the standard by being pro-active rather than reactive. We remember that God acted positively on our behalf, not according to what we deserve, but in love and mercy, and as His children we must do the same. In the same way that the law was given to the people of Israel to mark them out as separated unto God so we as kingdom citizens are to show, by our dealings with everyone, that our lives have been transformed by the Holy Spirit so that we might glorify God in everything we do. Paul wrote, ‘so that the righteousness of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.’ (Rom 8:4).