The Sermon on the Mount ends with decision, and thus judgement. There are two ways, two trees, two claims and two builders. The choice is one of life or death and the purpose of the illustrations is to warn us that we could well be on the road to ruin.
v13-14. The imagery of the two ways is somewhat vague and leads to a variety of translations. The NIV seems best. There is a wide gate and we may enter it and travel on a broad way to destruction. There is a small gate and we may enter it and travel on a narrow way to life. Sadly, few enter the small gate. The term for "narrow" in v14 is often used of persecution. So, many argue that the narrow way images cross-bearing discipleship and the broad way that of compromised commitment. Yet, it is more than likely that Jesus is warning us that we may well have entered the wide gate and are on the broad road that leads to destruction. We have heard Jesus' call to submit to God's perfect law, to live a life free of hate and anger, 5:21-22, free of lust, 5:27-28, but we have failed to obey.
v15-20. The illustration of the two trees is also somewhat vague, but makes much the same point as the two ways. Jesus uses the example of false prophets; "consider the problem of false prophets." Their "fruit", the product of their false profession, gives them away. The berries of the buckthorn may look like little grapes, but even a glance tells us that the fruit is worthless. The point Jesus is making is simple enough: our behavior, the good or evil that we do, gives us away; it shows whether we are on the way to life, or on the way to death. A life that fails to produce the fruit of obedience will inevitably be "thrown into the fire."
v21-23. Again, Jesus presents the two ways - the way to life and the way to death. Of the two claimants, it is only the one who does the will of the Father who enters the kingdom of heaven. The other claimant may display all the outward marks of a righteous person, but without perfect obedience they can only expect God's word of judgment, "depart from me you perpetrator of lawless deeds", Psalm 6:8.
v24-27. Finally, the illustration of the two builders sums up the two ways - the way of perfect righteousness and the way of self-righteousness. On the day of judgement one will stand and one will fall. "The will of my Father who is in heaven", v21, now becomes "these words of mine." The wise person "hears these words" and "puts them into practice." That is, does exceeding righteousness - perfectly obeys. If "these words of mine" are not "put into practice" then the future involves a "great crash." So, Jesus again illustrates the truth that "no one is good except God alone". We have all built our house on the sand and face destruction. We are left with the question, how then can we survive the "great crash"?
v28-29. The crowd is "amazed" - a response far from faith. They are astonished at Jesus' "authority", ie. he declares God's truth on his own account, unlike the prophets who say "Thus says the Lord."
The Pharisees saw Jesus as a libertine; He associated with unclean people, cared little about Sabbath Day regulations and came "eating and drinking." Jesus in response said he had not "come to abolish the Law and the Prophets." In fact, he came "to fulfill them." By "fulfill" he meant "complete". When it comes to the Law, Jesus taught a righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. In fact, said Jesus, we "will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven" if we fall short of the law-obedience revealed in the Sermon on the Mount. The Mosaic Law may permit "an eye for an eye", but Jesus teaches that perfect righteousness demands that we "do not resist an evil person." The Mosaic Law may denounce murder, but Jesus teaches that perfect righteousness demands a life free from anger.
At the end of the sermon, Jesus calls for self examination. Which gate have we entered, which tree represents us, which claim do we make, which house-builder represents us? Does our law-obedience, either before or after our conversion (even our baptism in the Spirit!!!), in any way get us through the narrow gate, keep us on the narrow way, make us a fruitful tree, support our claim before God, or somehow build our house on rock? The answer is no, for our righteousness is always filthy rages; we have all sinned (and have continued to sin) and fallen short of the glory of God. Who then will rescue us from the "great crash"?
There is one who has entered the narrow gate, who is a tree without corruption, whose house is firmly on the rock; He has done the will of the Father. Those who identify with this one righteous Jew, who hold onto his tassels as he enters the gates of the heavenly city and presents himself before the Ancient of Days, are graciously treated as if they are this righteous man.
So, our task is a simple one. We must seek out the house of this righteous man, knock on his door and ask to come in and there find rest for our soul. The good news is this: "ask and it will be given you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks receives, he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks the door will be opened", Matt.7:7-11.
"There is nothing we can do to make God love us more. There is nothing we can do to make God love us less", Philip Yancey. Discuss this quote in light of the passage before us.