The Sermon on the Mount: Religious Error
Following the Majority (Matthew 7:13-14)
The general religious trend is to openly accept a wide variety of practices. This often increases followings leading to more prestige and money in the coffers. Jesus teaches us that truth in religion is narrow and falsehood is broad. There is only one truth, but there are many ways to lie.
Broad acceptance is popularly seen as more loving, but Jesus tells us that to reach heaven we must follow a strict (legalistic, if you will) path. We actually expect strict practice in other areas of our life. When we hire a lawyer to close on our house, we expect him to follow all the law’s requirements in detail to ensure our ownership of the house. When we see a doctor, we expect him to give us the exact treatment needed to cure us. When we go to a mechanic, we don’t think he is dogmatic if he says a Ford part doesn’t fit onto an Oldsmobile. But when it comes to religious matters, people are convinced that anything goes and God likes it that way.
What we find, though, is that God demands obedience (Jeremiah 7:21-23). Obedience only comes from strict adherence to what is asked of us.
Most people will naturally pick the easiest route of obeying their own desires. Therefore, most people will end up in Hell and few will find heaven. Most people are convinced they are going in the right direction, but it is not based on what God has said. Following the crowds will not get you to heaven.
False Prophets (Matthew 7:15-20; Luke 6:43-45)
It is sad to see so many people justify their religious practice by saying “my preacher told me this was true.” We cannot be naive about the world; there are false teachers (I John 4:1). To succeed, they most look like the genuine article; therefore, to be on guard against false teachers, we must look beyond the surface.
A person who teaches false doctrine is involved in lying – he is lying about what God has said. This tendency to lie will overflow to other aspects of his life. There will be inconsistencies between what he says and what he does. The actions of his life will not match the righteous that God requires of us.
People overlook error because false teachers will tell people things they want to hear (II Timothy 4:3-4; Jeremiah 5:30-31). False teaching feels good, just as a cat feels being scratched behind an ear. Truth makes us uncomfortable at times because it makes us realize that we aren’t measuring up to God’s standard (Jeremiah 23:28-29).
The warning is important because people frequently excuse the warning signs that appear before them (II Peter 2:1-19). It is easier to ignore disturbing hints than to confront error. Somehow people are convinced they can still good from someone they know is practicing wrong.
Disobedience (Matthew 7:21-23; Luke 6:46)
Even when we see erroneous practices in others, we can still excuse our own bad behavior. People are convinced that so long as they are sincere and acknowledge Jesus as Lord, it doesn’t matter what they say or do. Yet, once again Jesus said the only way to enter into heaven is to do the will of God (Romans 2:6-9).
Jesus uses the illustration of people appearing before him at judgment claiming to have followed him, had prophesied, cast out demons, and done other miraculous works. These are things people seek as proof of righteousness. The problem is that it ignores the truth. God said that miraculous works would come to an end (Zechariah 13:1-3; I Corinthians 13:8-10). Making religious claims is not proof of righteous teaching, but we have a world filled with people who think otherwise.
Stability of Obedience (Matthew 7:24-27; Luke 6:47-49)
When a person both listens to Jesus and applies his teachings to his life, Jesus said he has a firm foundation that will help him through the difficult times of trial (Psalm 92:13-15; Colossians 2:6-7; James 1:12). But a person who only hears and does not obey has not stable foundation. When trials come, he will collapse (James 1:21-25).
It is surprising how many teach that it is all about faith and that what you do has no affect on your salvation (James 2:14-26). Obedience is an integral part of faith (I John 3:22-24).
Reaction to the Sermon (Matthew 7:28-29)
Though Jesus spoke primarily to his disciples (Matthew 5:1-2), we see at the end that a large crowd was listening to the lessons. His lessons were amazing. Jesus did not teach like the Jewish teachers.
Yet, that is to be expected. Jesus is the Word. He is the author of both the Old and New Testament. The writer of a book is always more interesting to hear than a scholar commenting on what someone else wrote. The author knows what he wrote and he knows why he wrote it. He can speak with confidence regarding his own words. A scholar only guesses at the motivations behind the words. He must hedge his statements with possibilities. Therefore, Jesus spoke with the authority that he had (Mark 1:22; Luke 4:32; John 7:46).