Wide Ways, Great Grapes and a Foolish Fall

So I will turn toward you and make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will confirm My covenant with you. And you will eat the old supply and clear out the old because of the new.

Matthew 7:13-28

“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it. Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock. And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall.” “The result was that when Jesus had finished these words, the multitudes were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.”

We see something here we have not seen since Matthew 5:2, written words other than that of Jesus. Matthew’s words introduce the mountainous monologue and they conclude the Lord speaking on the mountain but everything in between, for nearly three chapters, are the words of Jesus, retelling and reinterpreting the Law. Similar to Sinai, the Lord has spoken on the mountain. For review, genesis or birth, out of Egypt, baptism, tested in the wilderness, and the mountainous monologue. Jesus is fulfilling all that Israel could not. Let us not deceive ourselves, we cannot do it either. It’s precisely for this reason that Jesus came, fulfilling the Law and the prophets.

Continuing in his mountainous monologue, Jesus says, “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.” Considering the context, where we know to whom Jesus is speaking, and aspiring to see the aspirations of Jesus to the followers, we have to ask ourselves, is Jesus speaking of the Law and the prophets, or himself, when speaking of this metaphorical, narrow gate? The obvious answer would be both, considering the time in which Jesus spoke. Nevertheless, when careful examination of the context is considered, the reader recalls Jesus affirming that he came to fulfill the Law and the prophets. While Jesus may be alluding to the Law, ultimately the Law is a shadow to his substance. Within the context of the mountainous monologue, we must understand that Jesus is referring to himself. Having the completed word of God, we can understand fully that Jesus is referring to none other. Consider another metaphor Jesus uses to confirm this, and it’s only one of many; “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.'” -John 14:6

The narrow way that leads to life is Jesus, himself. It is the real, historical Jesus portrayed by the prophets, the Gospel writers, and the apostles. It is Jesus, who fulfilled the Law and all prophecy. The broad way and the broad gate is anything else but Jesus. This way includes, but is not limited to;

  • Good works. Isaiah 64:6, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.”
  • Keeping the required sacrifices religiously. Isaiah 1:11 “What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?” Says the LORD. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams And the fat of fed cattle; And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats.”
  • Being a good person. Mark 10:18b, “No one is good except God alone.”

If these things are part and parcel to the broad gate of destruction, how broad must that gate be? Broad and narrow, in this mountainous monologue replete with metaphor, are both a literary device known as understatement. For the broad gate is extremely broad and the narrow gate is extremely narrow. Jesus and Jesus alone is the narrow gate, everything else is broad, including a prayer from a unbelieving heart.

We know that it is not our good works that save us but the benevolence of God’s grace. We must consider Ephesians 2:8+9, For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast,” when examining grace and works. We also should consider James 2, “Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.” James does not contradict Paul, but highlights the fact that works are a result of the gift. When one is born again, he has the Spirit of God and therefore, as he grows in God, his mind changes and behavior follows. We see this unfold in Matthew, from John preaching a change of mind to Jesus fulfilling the requirements of the Law, dying a death all men deserve except himself, rising from the dead and commanding his followers to baptize more followers. When careful consideration of the Epistles is made, one sees that it is also grace that gives one the power to do good works. It’s all about grace, which he lavishes upon us.

“Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits.”

It’s a bit odd, christians have their own language, don’t we? For instance we say things like, bearing fruit, hymn-sing, singing praise songs, worshiping in song, getting our worship on and hedge of protection, to name a few. There is even a debate between hymns and praise songs. Problem: they are synonymous. Not only are they synonymous they are exactly the same thing, Biblically speaking. I know, calm down, breathe. Let me say it again. Biblically speaking, hymn means a song of praise. Not metaphorically, but literally, a hymn is a praise song according to the Bible​. I do not wish to enter a debate between what the modern church defines as a hymn and what the modern church defines as a praise song. I have been there and done that–everybody looses. Until we reach the point of treating each other as we wish to be treated, I have nothing to say, concerning the debate, except that both sides are wrong. What I would like to draw attention to, are some words to which we have changed the definitions. Define the word “hymn.” It’s written in a book, called a hymnal, it’s not projected on a screen, it has notes, it’s accompanied by an organ and it is usually sung in 4 part harmony. None of​these things applied to Paul in prison when he sang a song of praise, or literally, hymn. Now forget about all of this and think about the metaphor of fruit. What does fruit mean in modern christian vernacular? I am not sure if I know.

I always assumed, like Martin Luther, I would be expelled, if not excommunicated, from the local churches in which I served because of my teachings. This is true, it is not metaphorical or hyperbole, every week I awaited for the pastor to say, “we need to talk, there have been some complaints.” I expected to be told to tone down the rhetoric, to which I would have answered, no! A credit to the churches in which I served, this was never the case. Don’t get me wrong, I have been asked a thousand times, “what did you mean by that?” I relished this question because it meant people were listening, they heard something but needed further explanation. In fairness, I would usually use one outlandish oratory every evening to see what people paid attention to, the rock solid conclusion or the outlandish example. The outlandish won out, every time. One particular incident happened after I taught on these very verses. Narrow is the way… You’ll know them by their fruit. After teaching on these verses, I was told that I was not to judge the fruit of others. Do you see the conundrum?

Here, in the context of don’t judge lest you be judged and take the log out of your own eye, we also have the narrow way and the bad fruit. We need the true definition of fruit. I mean literally. Jesus uses it metaphorically but he does this based upon its literal meaning. Fruit: the usually edible, yet often times not, reproductive body of a seed plant; especially one having a pulp or fleshy substance associated with the seed. Fruit, contains seed. Fruit is the flesh or pulp that contains the seed and is not always edible. Reconsider the context. 

“You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit; but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.” From the beginning to almost the end, the Bible is full of two types of fruit. Jesus, metaphorically speaking of fruit, literally explains that there is good trees that bear good fruit and bad trees that bear bad fruit. The metaphor is not good or bad but the fruit. As discerning disciples we aren’t looking for fruit but for good fruit. Because one bears fruit, it doesn’t indicate that they are a true disciple. Fruit is not the distinction but good fruit defines the disciple. Bad fruit therefore defines the false prophet or teacher. And we are not talking about rotten apples. Jesus says, “Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes, nor figs from thistles, are they?” This is why I can’t stop writing, “Context is King!” When we rip verses out of context, or worse, insert things that are not there, we end up changing the definitions of words based on our presuppositions. Enough time goes by and we begin to teach tradition rather than the word of God. This is exactly how I get into trouble, trying to trample trite tradition while attempting to teach the truth.

Many have said to me, “there’s fruit there.” I usually bite my tongue, hard to believe, I know, but I want to ask, good fruit or bad fruit? I was taught that if one asks Jesus into their heart, they will be saved. Perhaps you were taught the same thing. Problem: the Bible, never, ever, ever, ever…ever, ever, ever, ever: ever; ever, ever, ever says this. What it does say is to change your way of thinking, enter by the narrow gate of Jesus and confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead. Therefore, when one teaches to, “simply pray this prayer and ask Jesus into your heart,” is that good fruit or bad fruit? (Here is the exact point where I always get into trouble when speaking. However when writing, I have the context recorded which will exonerate me.) It depends on the heart condition of the person praying. If with belief in the true Jesus, son of God and creator of all things, the person praying has been born again, it is absolutely good fruit. The seed has sprung, by Jesus’ own good pleasure. It’s not the prayer, it’s not the works, it’s by faith because of grace that one is born again. However, the converse is also true. Consider the context.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts upon them, may be compared to a wise man, who built his house upon the rock. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded upon the rock. And everyone who hears these words of Mine, and does not act upon them, will be like a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand. And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall.”

It’s right there in black and white; or in this case, taupe and black–they say taupe is very soothing, whoever they are. I thought it would sooth the reader in contrast to my abrasive words. Nevertheless, we too often teach tradition. A prayer doesn’t save a person, Jesus does. Again, can a personal prayer be reflective of the saving grace of Jesus? Absolutely, and more often than not. But it is not the prayer that saves. We have all seen the one who responded well to the Gospel but as time went by, their interest waned. They had built on a bad foundation. You’ve probably heard it said, “I prayed the prayer, I’m all set.” And like Humpty Dumpty they had a great fall. This is exactly what Jesus is referring to here. Their foundation was not on Christ but on themselves. That’s bad fruit from false teaching. Can good fruit come from false teaching? Yes, but it is rare. I do know people who came to know the Lord through false teachers. They heard that they needed Jesus and shut off the television and found a good church. For more on this read Philippians one. But the majority of false teaching produces bad fruit. Not sour grapes or rotten apples but thorns and thistles. I hope I can post this and stay out of trouble. Which brings us back to Matthew’s words that conclude this mountainous monologue.

The result was that when Jesus had finished these words, the multitudes were amazed at His teaching; for He was teaching them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.” The scribes taught tradition, Jesus taught truth. I may be the most imperfect and obscure person on the planet, it is why I must use the CAGED method of Biblical hermeneutics to destroy tradition and mine for gold in the context of the Bible. Context, aspirations of author to his, audience, genre, expository exegesis of examples and dividing rightly the word of truth. If I can do it, anyone can do it, with a little discernment and the Spirit. Jesus is the ultimate author and all authority has been given to him. We must scour the scripture, seeking our savior’s shadow and substance.

 

 

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