Preacher: Pastor Ray
Text: Matt 7:15-23
If knowing Jesus is your number one pursuit, 2 wonderful things happen. First, you know/do the will of your Father in heaven. Second, you bear much fruit.
– Spiritual signs and wonders are pointers to Jesus. What was Simon fixating on and how does this explain why he was most likely not saved?
– What was the content of Peter’s rebuke to Simon? After Peter rebukes Simon, how does Simon respond and how does his reaction reveal that he doesn’t understand repentance and faith?
– Let’s suppose Simon got what he wanted and received supernatural power from God, but he remained unchanged at the core of his heart in regards to repentance, true faith in Christ and deliverance from bitterness and iniquity. How would Simon be a good example of Jesus’ warning in Matt 7:21-23? What is the wisdom or warning we gain when we connect Acts 8 and Matthew 7 regarding signs and wonders?
– How might we fall into the same trap that Simon fell into? Other than signs and wonders, what other things can easily become the focus of our lives?
– In our hearts, there is no multi-tasking. The eyes of our heart can only focus on one thing at a time. When we focus on something other than Jesus, our eyes have turned away from Jesus and we become utterly blind to Jesus. Do you agree or disagree?
– Describe a person who is truly gospel-centered versus somebody who only has the vocabulary of being gospel-centered.
– Read Matt 7:13-20. What are the odds of finding eternal life? Why is the Christian journey described as a difficult or narrow road?
– Describe the salvation journey from beginning to end, incorporating these terms in your explanation: Jesus is the Alpha, entry, narrow gate, difficult road, testing and trials, Jesus is the Way, abiding in Christ, Jesus is the Life, Jesus is the Omega, exit door, final destination and final salvation.
– You know a tree by its fruit. Bad fruit indicates a bad tree because the roots are bad. What was the fruit of Simon’s life? What is the ultimate fruit that validates our salvation? How can we ensure that we are on the road toward cultivating this kind of fruit?
– The supernaturally gifted ministers in Matt 7 give Jesus a pile of their works to validate their salvation, but Jesus is not primarily interested in their works because He’s interested in their hearts. If Jesus has your heart, you will do kingdom work but the order is extremely important. Do you find it easy or hard to keep this order right?
– Christian life is in one sense so easy. Just fix your eyes on Jesus and never look away. On the other hand, why is Christian life so incredibly hard? Many get tired of looking at Jesus or they lose interest in Him. One other reason to consider is that we become self-sufficient and think that we don’t need Jesus as much, as if He has ‘equipped’ us enough and now we can do this Christian life on our own. Can you identify with any of these?
Article posted on Christianity Today, written by Alister McGrath (Alister McGrath is Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at Oxford University, president of the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, and author).
On a beautiful May morning in 1973, my Christian life took a decisive turn. I had converted to Christianity 18 months before, in the fall of 1971. I had been an aggressive atheist, utterly convinced of the godless worldview. Yet in my first term at Oxford University, I came to realize that Christianity was intellectually superior to my earlier atheism. Christianity simply made sense of life in a way that atheism did not.
Yet a year or so into my Christian life, all was not well. I tended to think of faith as a set of ideas only. Sure, I loved God with all my mind. But what about my heart? And my imagination? I sensed I was standing on the threshold of something enormously rich and satisfying, but I saw it only from a distance, uncertain of whether I could ever grasp it. Like Moses on Mount Nebo, I was glimpsing something that seemed beyond my reach. I knew I had to break free from the cold rationalism of my early faith. But how?
That was why I set out early on that day, cycling to Wytham Woods, a few miles from Oxford City Centre. I found a place to sit on a hillock from which I could see Oxford’s famous “dreaming spires.” Having asked God to help me sort myself out, I opened my Bible and began to read Paul’s letter to the Philippians. One of my friends had told me how it had helped him in his faith to read the book in one sitting. I decided I would do the same out in the countryside, where there were no distractions.
That day I discovered two themes that have transformed my life as a Christian. Both came to me when I was reading Philippians 3, savoring every phrase, trying to identify and digest every nugget of wisdom.
The first breakthrough came as I contemplated Paul’s declaration, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (v. 8, ESV used throughout). As I read and reread those words, I began to realize the true nature of my problem: My faith had affected my mind but left the rest of me untouched. Up to that point, I had thought of spiritual growth in terms of accumulating knowledge. And so I had read biblical commentaries and books on systematic theology. But that hadn’t deepened the quality of my faith. I was like someone who had read books about France but had never visited. Or someone who had read about falling in love but had never experienced it.
Everything in the opening section contributed to my transformed vision of the Christian faith. Yet that single verse seemed to sum up everything so well.
Its context is significant. Paul explains how his personal journey qualified him as a distinguished Jew: “If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more” (v. 4). Paul was not being ironic. He was listing his many achievements before delivering the point: These achievements pale in comparison to the wonder, joy, and privilege of knowing Christ. “Whatever gain I had,” he said, “I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (v. 7). In the light of Christ, we see things as they really are. What we thought was gold crumbles to dust.
Paul explained that his achievements might actually get in the way of what really matters: knowing Christ. Good things can be a barrier to what is best. I don’t think the word transvaluation was in my vocabulary at that time, but that was what Paul was proposing—a radical revision of my understanding of what mattered in life.
Paul’s words forced me to reconsider my value system. He made it clear that what mattered was not what I achieved, but what Christ achieved within and through me. Our status is given through faith in Christ, not obtained through the works of the law. Paul knew that knowing Christ overshadowed and overwhelmed anything and everything he had previously known and valued.
Could I say that? Did knowing Christ trump everything else I loved and valued? Or was Jesus just one interest among many?
What spoke most powerfully to me that morning was Paul’s distinction between knowing about Jesus Christ and knowing Jesus Christ. Many readers, no doubt, will feel this is blindingly obvious. But everyone has to discover it sometime, and that day I grasped the importance of “spirituality” for nourishing my relationship with God. And the great “Christ hymn” (Phil. 2:5–11) helped me see my need to focus on Jesus’ life and death, and not approach him through a depersonalizing framework of abstract ideas. As a result, hymns like Isaac Watts’s “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”—which I had seen as sentimental emotionalism—took on new meaning as I was able to share and enter into the experience of adoring Christ.
Paul’s words “I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own” (3:12) gave me a framework for growing in my faith. The idea linked together my own responsibility to try to do my best, however limited, and God graciously supplementing my weaknesses and inadequacies. It was because Christ had taken hold of me that I was enabled and encouraged to take hold of him and let him lead me onward and upward through life. Previously, I had tended to see my faith as something I needed to sustain; now I realized it could sustain me.
I began to think of my faith as being grasped and held by Christ, and adjusted every aspect of my life accordingly—my mind, heart, imagination, and hands. I made a connection—perhaps a naive one, but one that spoke deeply to me—with the powerful image of Christ knocking on the door of the church at Laodicea, asking to be welcomed (Rev. 3:20). When I became a Christian, I had invited Christ into my mind, but that was where it had stopped. I realized that I had to allow every “room” of my life to be filled with the life-giving and life-changing presence of Christ.
Of course, I never lost sight of rationally defending the faith. As an atheist who had discovered Christianity, I naturally saw myself as an apologist—someone who was willing and able to rise to the challenges to faith presented by the culture. Yet I progressed in my understanding of what it meant to have faith in Christ. I began to read C. S. Lewis in 1974, and found in him someone who reaffirmed the rationality of faith while showing its rich imaginative dimensions. I also began to read Thomas à Kempis’s classic Imitation of Christ, embracing its challenge to model my life around the crucified Christ. I had previously seen the sermon as the heart of a church service; I began to realize how worship nourished and enriched my faith. No longer did I have to actively work at my faith. It was as if it developed a life and strength of its own, supporting me. The phrase “wings of faith” suddenly became meaningful.
Yet my reading of Philippians helped me answer another question that had troubled me: What is the point of church? The Oxford congregations I had attended provided rather meager fare—sermons that focused on encouraging us to read our Bibles and trust God. As a result, I thought I could get more from reading books or talking to friends than from attending church. I was unaware of the vitality of Christian community. I had not read Cyprian of Carthage’s famous maxim: “He can no longer have God for his Father who has not the church for his mother.” If I had, it would have baffled me. The church, in my view, played merely an educational and social role.
So I was struck by Paul’s words in Philippians 3:20: “our citizenship is in heaven.” When I had attended a lecture at Oxford on the Roman colonial system, I had failed to connect it to this passage, which uses the Greek term politeuma, translated here as “citizenship.” A jumble of thoughts surged through my mind as I began to connect the dots.
The church is an outpost of heaven on earth, what Romans termed a colonia—not to be confused with the English word colony. Philippi was itself a Roman colonia at the time, an outpost of Rome in the distant province of Macedonia. Paul’s readers would have easily related to this imagery. Roman citizens residing in Philippi had the right to return home to the metropolis after serving in the colony. For Paul, one benefit of knowing Christ was being a citizen of heaven. Christians live on earth now, where there is much to accomplish for God’s kingdom. But we are citizens of heaven, and that’s our real home.
The church is a community of believers, an outpost of heaven on earth, a place in which a “spirit of grace” (Zech. 12:10) dwells. Just as the Romans at Philippi spoke the language and kept the laws of Rome, so we observe the customs and values of heaven. As Christians, we live in two worlds and must learn to navigate both while ultimately being faithful to our homeland.
This helped me to finally make sense of Christian community. I began to see the church as a place that helps Christians straddle the two worlds of faith—where we are now and where we shall finally be. It’s like an oasis in a desert, equipping us to work and serve in the world while fostering and safeguarding our distinctiveness as Christians.
I began to realize that the church was an imperfect yet important anticipation of heaven, whose worship and ethos were integral to my faith. The church was a community gathered around the public reading of God’s Word, its interpretation and application through preaching, and its enactment in worship and prayer.
Many readers will rightly note that this—my early thoughts, I remind you—fails to do justice to the full nature of the church. But that’s not the point. As I grew in faith, I read works such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together, which helped me develop a richer and fuller vision of Christian community. But reading Philippians triggered a series of thoughts that helped me solve a serious problem I was facing. However imperfect and inadequate those thoughts of May 1973 may have been, they set me on the road to ordination in the Church of England, so that I might minister within the kind of community I had once considered irrelevant. Although my primary responsibility is teaching at the University of Oxford, I take great pleasure in ministering to village congregations in the Cotswolds, near my home.
Perhaps the most important lesson from my early morning reflections 40-some years ago was how the Bible can speak to us in times of need, transition, and discernment. I was at a crossroads. Like so many others before me, I found that coming to the Bible with real, honest questions—and a willingness to be changed—opened up new possibilities of growth. I know I won’t be the last to make that discovery.
– What drives you? Is It the Lord? Phil 3:8 – do you agree with Paul’s testimony that nothing can compare to the surpassing value of knowing Christ?
– Rev 7 – in the throne room of God, where should our focus be? Where do mission-minded people tend to focus when reading this passage?
– Read 1 Cor 2:6-16. Notice in v14 the different translations for the word “unbeliever.” What is the natural man vs the spiritual man? What parts of our natural man are God-given and what are its limitations?
– What do you think it means when God desires worshipers who worship in the spirit and in truth?
– What did the Holy Spirit do for a nonbeliever during conversion? What does the Holy Spirit continue to do in the life of the believer?
– There’s a world of difference between someone who knows about Jesus versus someone who knows Him relationally. The Holy Spirit reveals the surpassing value of knowing Jesus firsthand to the believer. He’s gotten glimpses of Jesus so that you agree with Paul – Amen, yes, the surpassing value of knowing Christ, that’s what I desire. Have you had such revelations recently?
– Why did the apostles preach in the temple complex? How does this relate to our decision making? How do we normally make decisions? What’s driving those decisions?
– We in the West are very natural thinking? Do you agree or disagree?
– Our work for the Lord needs to overflow from our worship/relationship with the Lord. How do you see this being worked out in the life of Stephen? How was he described? What’s his role in the church? How is Stephen’s life the normative Christian life?
– Who is the audience listening to Stephen’s sermon? What is the main point? God is drawing a line in the sand. Describe the 2 sides. Which side are you on?
How come we treat our relationship with Christ as equal to the church or equal to the work we do at church? In fact, it may be more accurate to say, why do we treat Christ as LESS important than church? Didn’t Paul say in Phil 1:23 that departing this life and being with Christ was FAR BETTER than the fruitful work for Christ, but it was NECESSARY for Paul to remain here for the sake of people? Far better vs. necessary. Underline that phrase–Far better. Don’t we reverse the order without realizing it? We say the fruitful work for Christ is FAR BETTER and we think it is kind of necessary to mention Christ on occasion.
Ministers are drawn to the life of Paul because he accomplished so much. He labored so much. There was so much fruit in his ministry. What minister or church leader doesn’t want to be fruitful in ministry? These are true statements about Paul, but pay close attention to our study of this letter to the church at Philippi and I think you will find that you can’t reduce Paul down to a church planting, missional, ministry machine. As much as Paul was fruitful visibly in ministry, Paul was most fruitful internally. In his heart, in his character, in his joy, in his love for Jesus. The fruit that was born internally as he abided in Christ and walked closely with Him was expressed in terms of fruitful work to be sure. But we must be clear. Paul pursued Christ, not church, not missions, not ministry, not the Great Commission, but his overwhelming pursuit was none other than Jesus Christ. Everything else flowed from his relationship with Jesus.
I want to get there. I want our church to get there. To say, Jesus, you are far better than anything this world has to offer or any spiritual experience or any fruit in ministry. Jesus, you are far better than a good marriage, a good job, family, money, fame. Jesus, you are far better than a thriving church. Don’t get me wrong–it is necessary for us to be engaged in fruitful work and labor to serve others and point them to Jesus. But, the order is important. Jesus has to be the number one priority. He is far better, far better, second place is not even close because Jesus has the supremacy. Brothers and sisters, shouldn’t that be our testimony?
I want to get to a place where the humility of Christ is not merely a concept that we learn about. Or read about. In Matthew 11, Jesus describes himself. This description is important because this is not someone else like Peter or Paul talking about Jesus. This is self-disclosure. Jesus is describing himself. He could have talked about many characteristics, but he chose two. Which two?
Let’s turn to Matthew 11:28-30. [READ]
Jesus describes himself in two ways, as 1) gentle and 2) humble in heart. Gentleness refers to how we treat one another. And this gentleness toward others flows from an inner character of humility. Have you met so-called Christians who are the complete opposite? Instead of gentle and humble, they are harsh and proud, yet they claim to know Christ? These people may know ABOUT Christ, but it is not possible that they know Christ. If Christ is gentle and humble in heart and you are following Christ and spending time with Christ and learning from him, you will become like him. You will become Christ-like. If you want to boil down the essence of Christian character, here it is. A Christian is someone who is gentle with others externally and visibly and humble in heart internally and invisibly because we have been in the presence of someone who embodies gentleness and humility.
The gentleness and humility of Christ–are these concepts you have read about or have you personally experienced that indeed our Lord Jesus is gentle and humble in heart? Can we testify, I know Jesus firsthand and He has been most gentle with me? When I mess up and go to him or I have been a prodigal for many years in a far country, I’ve gone to Jesus and he didn’t yell at me or condemn me, but he welcomed me back gently. That’s the difference between someone who knows about Jesus and someone who has experienced Jesus firsthand.
From Matt 11, we see that being in Christ’s presence also brings rest. Is rest something that is merely conceptual or have you actually entered into the rest that Jesus alone can give? Are you at rest, are you at peace right now, or has it been a while since you have experienced rest in Jesus? Not decades ago when you made a decision for Christ or years ago when you had a breakthrough, but right now, is peace a present reality?
How does Jesus bring rest to His children? Jesus says, MY yoke is easy and MY burden is light. You’ve probably heard many sermons from this passage. I bet many of us can break down and analyze this verse in your head. Many of us know what the yoke is. The yoke is a wooden crosspiece that went around the necks of a couple of oxen to keep them moving together in the same direction. And so when two oxen are yoked, joined, then together, as one unit, they can pull a cart or a plow. This is what it means to be yoked together.
Intellectually, we know that Christians are yoked to Christ. We are not yoked to an idea or a principle. We are not yoked to a lifestyle. We are not yoked to a church or to a group of other Christians. We are yoked to Jesus. Christ is a Person, not a theology or a religion. And might I add the obvious point that this Person is a living Person. We are not yoked to a fallen hero who saved us 2000 years ago. Jesus resurrected 2000 years ago and He is alive today.
How do you know whether you are yoked to a living Jesus instead of a dead Jesus or something OF Jesus or something ABOUT Jesus? It’s quite easy to tell. Your yoke is not easy. And your burden is not light. If you are not yoked to a living Jesus, then you are yoked to someone else or something else and therefore your yoke is hard, it is difficult, complicated, your burdens are heavy, burdensome. With a living Jesus, easy and light. Without a living Jesus, hard and heavy.
Please turn with me to Matthew 12:18-21. [READ]
This is a prophecy from Isaiah about the Servant of the Lord, Jesus Christ. The real Jesus is so humble and gentle that he will not break a bruised reed, and He will not put out a smoldering wick. Consider that picture. A bruised reed is on the verge of breaking. A strong wind could cause it to snap, fall off and die. A smoldering wick is even weaker. It is barely hanging onto life. A little puff of air and it will be out. Do you ever feel like a bruised reed (raise hands) or a smoldering wick? Do you ever feel overwhelmed by life? Even when there is no crisis in your life, just mundane life of school or work and friends and family and juggling everything is a weight too much to bear. Ever feel that way? Then, you’re in good company. All of us have been there often, or perhaps we are there right now.
What are we to do? The answer is so simple. Just go to Jesus. He invites you to come to Him. Cast your cares upon Jesus. Throw off your burdens to Jesus. Let him carry the bulk of the burden, actually, all of the burden. Our only responsibility is to stay yoked to Jesus, draw near to Jesus, follow Jesus as closely as we can. Then, we leave the rest to Him.
This is the pattern of Christian life because it is precisely the pattern that Jesus himself walked. Jesus humbled himself to the point of death and he left the rest in the hands of God the Father. And what did God the Father do? God exalted Jesus.