First Mennonite Church
September 13, 2020
Discipleship: A Commitment beyond Words
Text: Matthew 7:21-29
Max De Pree, the well-known businessman and leadership author, is fond of saying that beliefs shape practices. If you want to know what you truly believe, you only need to examine your behaviors. Jesus stated it very clear, first, when he said: By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit (Matthew 17: 16-18)
You see, we all have a set of assumed beliefs. That is, we think that we believe certain things. But the truth of the matter is that our actions and behaviors reveal what our true beliefs are. For instance, a person can say he or she believes only what is true, the truth. But if that same person does not hesitate to tell a lie in order to save his skin or to gain an advantage in a situation, his action reveals what his true beliefs are. It is clear that to such person truth is not one of his core beliefs. This principle also applies to us Christians. We can say that in our following Jesus we have a commitment with peace, justice, and compassion. We can say that we know and practice a true spirituality. However, we easily realize what great of a challenge we have in our practice of peace, justice, and compassion in light of the issues plaguing us today. A commitment with peace does not allow us to take sides in a conflict, but first forces us take a closer look at the cause of conflict. A commitment with justice, in the manner of God, the prophets, and Jesus, prompts to take the side of the victims of injustice. In the case of our stated commitment with the virtue of compassion, it moves us to put to good use our privileged position to assist those in need. I said, “Privileged position” because of what study after study has revealed about Christians. Studies have shown that in every context, individuals or families that experience a Christian transformation also experience a social and economic transformation. That is, despite the context, whether it be in a context moderate economic opportunity or an impoverished neighborhood, families that experience a spiritual transform not only acquire a stronger and healthier social network of relationships, but also experience economic improvement in their lives. And the reasons for these transformations are many. Church provides a larger network of friends and support to the individual or family. Wise use of resources and finances might explain some of the improvements in economic situation of the family. Therefore, compassion to others might not necessarily be about helping with material things. It might involve giving spiritual and moral support. It might be giving counsel and guidance on how to raise a family or how to deal with interpersonal conflicts, or, even, on how to manage finances.
We should not forget that our practices and behaviors reveal our true beliefs.
Our passage this morning is the concluding words of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Therefore, Jesus, being the greatest preacher of the Gospel, concludes his sermon by emphasizing the great difference between the true disciple and one who only claims to be a disciple.
The disciple by mouth only
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” This is a powerful statement. It must have been shocking for his disciples to hear this as they were just starting to follow Jesus. However, Jesus wanted to be very clear about the demands of his kingdom from the outset of his ministry. The gospel of John tells us that many stopped following Jesus because his words were hard to bear.
There are many who confess Jesus as Lord, Master, and King. There are many who claim to follow him. There are many who claim to believe in him. But the crux of Jesus’ statement is that belief without deeds are dead. Confessions without concrete actions are not enough. James echoes these words when he said, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you?If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food,and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (James 2:14-17).
The true disciple is known by his or her unwavering pursuit of doing the will of God. Words accompanied by actions secures entrance into the kingdom. Jesus spells out the basic practical ways his disciples carry out the will of God throughout this sermon in chapters five, six and seven. The disciples’ piety is revealed by their actions. At the last count on the day of judgement, words and confessions will not be enough to push anyone to the finish line—entrance into the kingdom of God. Many will say, was I not a preacher, a church goer, a member in one of the church committees, an active and baptized member of the church, etc.? Just as were prophesying, doing exorcisms, and miracle working considered evidence of Jesus-like actions in Matthew’s church, attending worship services, or being a pastor, or a church volunteer, or having an active church membership is considered evidence of a practicing religious person today. But Jesus says, these are not enough if they are not accompanied by doing the will of God.
The disciple by ear only
Jesus then moves on from the disciple by mouth only to the disciple by ear only.
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock.And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!”
This is a powerful passage that gets at the heart of Jesus’ message. To be a follower of Jesus means that behaviors and actions–the manner in which we live out our daily lives–are the artifacts of the inner life of faith. Jesus cuts through the mere forms of religious life. Professing a religion, mere performance of good deeds, even miraculous ones done in the name of Jesus, or random deeds of piety does not guarantee entrance into the kingdom of heaven. Religiosity will not help either. For people like us, church people, the idea of missing out participating in the ultimate goal of our hope is extremely difficult to hear. However, Jesus’ words here will no doubt come as a surprise for many on that last day.
Therefore, if a confession of faith is not enough to secure us entrance into the kingdom, if even attentive hearing the word of Jesus is not enough, then what is required? Jesus’ illustration of two builders gives us an answer to this troubling question.
Jesus closes the Sermon on the Mount with the story of two builders, two houses and the way each one chose to build. The metaphor of the building to describe a life is particularly powerful. It means that what we do or not do in life determines the kind of building our life represents. It means our life not only has a structure that supports it, but that the quality of the structure it has will determine whether it stands the test being a true disciple or not.
One of the builders is the person who hears Jesus’ words and acts on them. This builder puts into practice the will of God. The other builder is like the one hears Jesus’ words and doesn’t act on them. There are two kinds of people and two kinds of responses to Jesus’ message. Doing the will of God, as preached by Jesus on the Sermon of the Mount is like building a house on a rock. Its foundation is strong and secure and can withstand any assault. But simply hearing and not doing the will of God is like building a house on the sand. Its foundation is weak and unstable and will eventually be destroyed by the storm. This final story summarizes the entire Sermon on the Mount. The message is clear: discipleship occurs in the everyday practices of Jesus’ followers. The true disciple confesses Jesus as Lord and Savior, remains attentive to his words, but more importantly, acts on them.
Often times, the words of Paul about being saved by grace and not by works is misunderstood. Paul’s words can be distorted into a gospel of grace without ethical demand. Jesus is not suggesting that a new law replace the old; rather, love for and devotion to God must be accompanied by a life that honors God in our daily living. Or to put it another way, becoming a follower of Jesus is to decide to become a member of his society that is marked by a willingness to live one’s life according to the values and beliefs of God’s kingdom. In the words of Jesus, that society of followers will endure storms, challenges, and rejection for his name’s sake. But they will overcome because they are built on the solid rock. The true disciple is one who confesses Jesus as Lord, who hears attentively his word, but above all, whose daily life reveals Christ as King in his or her heart. Amen!