Sunday, June 16, 2024

Fruit Inspectors

Interesting to note, in the previous verses, Jesus uses active verbs:  ask, seek, knock.  Why be so active in this Kingdom of God?  Because as Jesus explains, you have a heavenly Father who longs to give you "good gifts," and because you should do to others what you would have them do to you, those gifts are not selfish or designed for you only.  If you are blessed with abundance--money, compassion, time, wisdom, to name a few--then share as your Father shared with you.

Makes sense, right?  Because maybe next time, you would like someone to share their gift with you.  

But then Jesus makes an interesting observation about all of this.  He talks about it in Matthew 7:13-14: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."

Hmmm.  Doesn't this contradict the rather expansive idea of the Kingdom of God? That the poor, the broken-hearted, those who are hungry and thirsty, all have a place at the table, and yet here it seems Jesus is narrowing the access.

No.  He is narrowing where you get your information.

Consider the next passages with that in mind: 

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 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. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them." (Matthew 7:15-20)

The "narrow gate" is outlined by Jesus in His sermon.  His words, His teaching are "narrow" compared to all the other teachings that will vie for the audience's attention once they leave the hillside after Jesus' sermon is over. The Kingdom of God, while Jesus is speaking, feels to near, so possible, so beautiful.  But once off that hill, back into the religion of the religious leaders, and suddenly, all that possibility recedes and is replaced with burdens, to-do's and a rather joyless relationship with God the Father. 

The gate that religion proposes is wide open and with a push of a large gate, you 're in and on the road.  But then the restrictions start coming and the road grows longer and longer.  The do's and don'ts take over and that width seems suffocating.

It just seemed so wide and free at the beginning and now?  You are on a road destined for destruction. Width and easy gates are not invitations to intimacy with God:  they are shackles described as "freedom."

But where does the invitation to go wide and go home comes from?  Jesus moves into the next part of the teaching:  "false prophets" dressed as "wolves in sheep's clothing."  

False prophets will tell you all about the freedom that awaits you--how their revelation is from God and here what's you need to do in order to gain heaven.

Wait a minute.  Jesus is speaking of the Kingdom of God, and if He is who He says He is, then there is no other way.  The road and gate are Him, and once you enter by His gate and walk down His road, there is no other way.  Yes, compared to all the other "ways" out there vying for your attention, His way and His road do seem rather narrow, yet if He is the Way, the Truth and the Life, then it is narrow:  the focus is on Jesus and on Him alone. 

Jesus is warning His audience that amongst the sheep are individuals who will exploit your desire for a quick and easy answer, with little or no effort on you part.  Just ask the person and BOOM! here's what to do.  Easy breezy.

But all along, Jesus is talking about intimacy with a loving God, so that when you go into your secret place to listen for and to Him, you will know He cares deeply for you.

But we like to short-circuit that time, that effort, and land on answers with little work. 

I once asked a Jehovah's Witness why she went from being a Baptist to joining this church and she said, "They have all the answers."  She could look in their little books and find what she was looking for, in an easy to read format that seemed so right.

But the road to destruction always seems so right until you are far along it, and then realize you are now trapped.

Jesus wanted His audience and us to know how to discern false prophets. He described them as "ferocious wolves."  Not a flattering description, but Jesus did not play nice when truth was at stake, and when someone's life (spiritually and otherwise) was at risk.  

So, how do we know?  Look at their lives--their "fruit."  Jesus says that good fruit comes from good trees, and bad fruit from bad trees. But, how do you know the good from the bad?

Not by observing each other, (we are all fallen) but by observing Jesus and His way of teaching and living out His message.  Every thing He taught, He did. He never flinched when following His own words, because His words came from a heart that sincerely loved God and people.  He never asked His followers to do anything that He wouldn't do or hadn't already done.

A dear lady in my church decided to move to another state and go to a university run by a man who preaches prosperity gospel.  I know of this man's ministry having read one of his books, because a pastor I served under was a dedicated admirer.  So much so that he donated to his university so that he could be blessed and have his own.

I didn't think much of it until I received a letter from her, trying to raise money for a very expensive missionary trip, that was part of the program in this university.  The cost seemed exorbitant, after I looked at airline tickets, cost of living, etc.  I then went online and found the university's tax returns and the leaders' ones as well--all are public record.

Not only was his university was millions of dollars in debt, so was he. 

I was stuck by the incongruity.  Here is a man who preaches God wants us to be prosperous and blessed in all of our endeavors, yet he is in tremendous debt.  Why isn't his prosperity message playing out in his own life?  In his university?

I sent this woman all of what I found with a letter sharing my dismay about how his teaching didn't match his message, and how this huge amount of money for this trip might be used to offset the dire finances of his university. 


I was saddened.  I was once lured away from focusing on Jesus' teachings to that of a pastor's, so I get it. I explained to her I know what that's like: going to someone with all the answers, lured by finding myself part of something exciting and miraculous.

But false prophets know what people want, and sadly, it's easy to get lured into their territory. 

I was spiritually very wounded when I finally ventured back into Jesus's territory and I was seeking to spare her the pain. 

I saw her many months later at our church, when she was visiting, and she looked away.  I am grieved I hurt her, but I couldn't just stand by and say nothing.

We are all at risk for substituting Jesus for a person standing in front of us with "all the answers."

But the gate is narrow and so is the road.  Why?  So you and Jesus can walk through it and start down the road with no one slipping by or trying to push you out of the way. 

The gate and the road are wide enough for just two. 

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