An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount
by Kent Young
Chapter 8 - HOW TO GAIN THIS RIGHTEOUSNESS
Through Moses the nation of Israel had been given by God the most thorough and just set of laws ever conceived. When viewed within its proper context and with an understanding of its underlying purpose, the Law of Moses can be recognized as being the single greatest code of civil government ever written.
The Mosaic Law is only seen as wrong, weak, or ineffectual when it is being looked at to fulfill a purpose for which it was not given. The Law did not make anyone righteous. It was not given with the intention of making anyone righteous. The Law provided a righteous civil government in order to govern and thus help to preserve a sinful, fleshly people. This is why there are certain necessary concessions within the Law that are actually different than God’s perfect and original standard of righteousness. Do not look at these, however, as errors or flaws within the Law itself as given by God, nor in Moses’ transcription of that Law. With respect to the purpose for which it was given, the Law was complete and without error.
Sadly, however, the Law is often viewed wrongly. The Law is often viewed wrongly in one of two ways. Firstly, the Law has been at times viewed as a means of justification (i.e. being made righteous) before God. A great deal of Protestant New Testament commentary has correctly explained that the Law is insufficient for this task because it presents a standard to which none who have inherited Adam’s fallen flesh can measure up.
More important to understand when considering our present study, though, is the second way of wrongly viewing the Law. This involves viewing the Law as a code by which to govern or guide a believer’s personal, Christian conduct. The Law is equally insufficient for this task. Those who have received the free justification from God which comes through faith in Christ are no longer men of “flesh” but, spiritually, are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). The Law, given to and designed for men of flesh, is therefore completely unsuited for them.
Now, when considering what the Law cannot do, we ought naturally to be directed toward what Jesus can and did do. We know that what the Law could not do as far as man’s justification is concerned, Jesus accomplished by his finished work on the cross (Romans 8:3). When looking into the Sermon on the Mount, we can see that what the Law cannot do for us with respect to guidance in righteous living, Jesus is also able to accomplish.
Jesus’ work with respect to helping his people in their experiential righteousness is two-fold. Firstly, Jesus taught his people the principles for righteous living during the course of his earthly ministry. Perhaps nowhere is this teaching given more clearly than here in the Sermon on the Mount.
Beyond simply giving this teaching, however, Jesus secondly, and even more importantly, offered help to his disciples in obeying this teaching. After his resurrection, Jesus gave the person of the Holy Spirit to empower his people to do the work that he taught them to do during his lifetime. While the Law simply contained regulations for the nation of Israel, along with warnings about consequences for failures, Jesus provides for his disciples the additional element of help.
If we look carefully, we will find that this concept of divine help with respect to obedience to Jesus’ teaching is the underlying message of this next section of the Sermon on the Mount.
“Ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened to you. For any who asks receives, the seeking one finds, and to the knocking one it will be opened.
Or what man among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a serpent, will he? If you, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in the heavens give good to those who ask him.”
As we look into this passage we notice right away three commands in the first sentence. Jesus commands his disciples to “ask,” to “seek,” and finally to “knock.” Let’s look at each of these commands in order.
As we look at Jesus’ command to ask, we will do well to also look at the parallel passage in Luke’s gospel. In Luke, this command is given within the immediate context of instruction regarding persistence in prayer. Jesus had given the model prayer to his disciples (Luke 11:1-4), then he gave a short parable about persistence (Luke 11:5-8) followed by instructions almost identical to those given here in Matthew regarding asking, seeking and knocking (Luke 11:9-13). Clearly, based on the context around the teaching in Luke, Jesus is making a point about persistence in prayer.
The context into which Matthew’s gospel places the teaching, though, brings out a different point. It is important to note that, in this passage in Matthew, Jesus admonishes his disciples to “ask,” but he does not specify right away what exactly he is telling his disciple’s to ask for. Now Luke placed the teaching within the context of general instruction regarding persistence in prayer, so there is no need to inquire what is be asked for. In the passage in Luke, Jesus seems to be saying, “Whenever you pray, be persistent.” In Matthew, however, there are twenty-one verses separating this passage and Jesus’ previous instruction regarding prayer. So this passage in Matthew does not have the immediate context of prayer that is found in Luke. How then are we to understand the context in which the teaching is found in Matthew’s gospel? What is Jesus talking about? What is he telling his disciples to ask for?
We can get a clue as to the answers to these questions when we notice the word “therefore” at the beginning of Matthew 7:12. The context of Luke’s account seems only to indicate that Jesus is giving instruction regarding persistence in prayer. In Matthew’s account, however, this teaching is given as the Sermon on the Mount is drawing to a close, and is immediately followed by a summary word of Jesus’ righteous teaching (Matthew 7:12). The word “therefore” at the beginning of this summary word tells us that Jesus’ admonitions to ask, seek, and knock logically lead to the summary word that immediately follows.
It is as if Jesus is finishing giving all of this profound and even impossible (naturally speaking) instruction, and then assumes that his disciples will ask: “But how? How are we supposed to live and act with this complete disregard for our own welfare? As you say yourself, we are evil men! (Matthew 7:11) Where are we supposed to find the faith to trust God alone for both the provision of our daily necessities and even for our physical protection? How can we do this?”
Jesus’ answer is simple and profound: Ask!
Jesus tells his disciples to ask for the empowerment to do these things, then assures them that God will not withhold good things from those who ask him. And if God will not withhold the empowering Holy Spirit from his children, you can therefore be able to treat others, not according to how they treat you, nor according to how you believe that they deserve to be treated, but in everything you can treat them with the perfect love and grace with which you yourself naturally desire to be treated by others (Matthew 7:12).
But this level of righteousness requires the supernatural empowerment of God the Holy Spirit. Look back for a moment at the parallel account in Luke 11:9-13. As we saw, that passage is almost identical to this one in Matthew, but one of the subtle differences is found in verse thirteen. Where Matthew describes Jesus as promising that God will not withhold “good” from those who ask him, Luke quotes Jesus’ promise as being more specifically that God will not withhold “the Holy Spirit” from those who ask. Studying Jesus’ words carefully, we find that what he is admonishing his disciples to ask for is the spiritual empowerment to do the things that he is teaching them. And this, Jesus says, is something that God is pleased to give to them.
Having touched on what Jesus is telling his disciples to ask for, we next need to look into what Jesus means when he tells his disciples to “seek.”
This is the second time in the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus gave the command to seek. We have seen that in commanding his disciples to “ask,” he was referring to their asking for the power of the Holy Spirit that gives them the ability to obey Jesus’ words. The first command to “seek” in the sermon was similar to this. In Matthew 6:33 Jesus commanded his disciples, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.”
Watchman Nee points out the progressive nature of these three commands. He says, “‘To ask’ is an asking generally, but to ‘seek’ is a seeking specifically, and to ‘knock’ is a knocking closely. Hence each action is a step further on than the previous one.”
It is like when Onesiphorus came to Rome in order to find and encourage Paul (1 Timothy 1:16, 17). Not knowing where Paul was being held, no doubt the first thing that Onesiphorus had to do was to ask. Remember that Paul was a prisoner at the time, so it could have been a dicey thing for Onesiphorus to be asking around concerning Paul’s whereabouts. It is no wonder that Paul is grateful for Onesiphorus’ lack of shame concerning his chains (1 Timothy 1:16). But once Onesiphorus gathered information about Paul’s whereabouts, the next step was to seek. Onesiphorus may have never been to Rome, so getting an address or hearing about a popular landmark would have only started him on the right path. Paul told Timothy that Onesiphorus had to search earnestly in order to find him (1 Timothy 1:17).
Looking back at Jesus’ command, once his disciples have asked for ability, Jesus says that it (or better “he” referring to the Holy Spirit) will certainly be given. From that point, then, the disciple has the responsibility to seek. By the simple asking, believers are spiritually empowered by the Holy Spirit to live out the righteousness that Jesus calls for. However, simply having the ability is not enough. Believers must “walk by the Spirit” that they have been given (Galatians 5:16). This is what Jesus means when he tells the disciples to seek God’s righteousness in Matthew 6:33. A willful, daily choosing of God’s will over the disciple’s own will, combined with a child-like dependence on the Holy Spirit’s enablement is required for this righteousness to be lived out. If you have asked for this ability, you now must seek to have the day-by-day, even moment-by-moment, living according to this ability that you have been given.
We should notice, however, that God’s righteousness is not the only thing after which Jesus commanded his disciples to seek. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” Jesus had been instructing his disciples about the character of those who will inherit the coming kingdom, and has been continually admonishing them to “seek” that kingdom. Jesus has made clear that none can find that kingdom who do not possess the righteousness of the Lord; thus a seeking of the kingdom is a seeking of God’s righteousness. Having encouraged his disciples to “ask” for the Holy Spirit who can empower them to live this righteousness, he then admonishes to “seek” the experiential outworking of this righteousness that will lead to the reward of entrance into the coming kingdom.
This naturally leads to the final admonition in this progression, which is to “knock.”
Going back to the example of Onesiphorus, after having asked for and having sought after Paul, when he finally arrived at the door where Paul was staying, Onesiphorus only had one thing left to do. He had to knock at the door. Had Paul been a stranger to him, no doubt Onesiphorus would have had some reservations about knocking. Anyone who has had to knock on the door of a stranger’s house will confirm that there is always a bit of nervousness upon first bringing one’s knuckle to the wood. The only way for a person to knock on a door with complete confidence is if he is certain that he knows and is known by the person who will be answering.
Immediately after this section regarding asking, seeking, and knocking, Jesus admonishes his disciples to “enter by the narrow gate.” The parallel passage to this one is in Luke 13:24. There Jesus similarly says to “strive to enter by the narrow door.” He follows both of those admonitions with a warning that there will be some, either at “the gate” of Matthew 7 or “the door” of Luke 13, to whom Jesus will deny entrance. The reason Jesus gives for this denial is the fact that he does not know the person who is requesting entrance. As the gate-keeper in Matthew 7:23 Jesus declares, “I never knew you,” and as the master of the house in Luke 13:25 he says, “I do not know where you come from.”
The disciples, on the other hand, if they have been diligent to ask for the Holy Spirit’s enablement and to seek the righteousness of God, are encouraged that, if they knock, to them the door will be opened. Like Onesiphorus when he finally found where Paul was residing, the disciples are told that the One in charge of the door delights to open to them. They not only are known by the master of the house, but they have been personally invited by him. Thus they are encouraged, “Knock, and it will be opened to you.”
So, if you will notice, I am taking Jesus command to “knock” as specifically referring to knocking on the door of the coming kingdom. As we have just seen, just a few verses after the command to knock Jesus will tell his disciples to “enter by the narrow gate” (Matthew 7:13), a command which has its parallel command in Luke’s gospel when Jesus refers to the “narrow door” (Luke 13:23-30). In the Luke passage Jesus interprets the “narrow door” through which he is admonishing his disciples to enter as representing entrance in the coming messianic “kingdom of God” (Luke 13:28). This lines up exactly with what Jesus had previously instructed his disciples to “seek” (Matthew 6:33; 7:7).
Also, as we have seen, immediately following his command to “enter by the narrow gate” Jesus will warn his disciples about false prophets to whom entrance into the future “kingdom of the heavens” will be denied (Matthew 7:21). Entrance into the kingdom was Jesus’ primary focus, and so it is fair to infer that the “narrow gate” of Matthew 7:13, just like the “narrow door” of Luke 13:24, stands for entrance into the coming kingdom.
The entire Sermon on the Mount has been an instruction to the disciples about how they may be granted entrance into the coming kingdom. In this verse Jesus is encouraging his disciples that, if they will simply ask for the Holy Spirit and his power, and then are diligent to seek to live the kind of righteousness that Jesus is talking about, then when they knock at the gate of the coming kingdom, the door will surely be opened to them.
Though Jesus had given much warning about the strictness of the righteousness he demanded and the seriousness of the consequences for the disciples’ disobedience, he here gives a refreshing word of encouragement. He said something similar in Luke 12:32. After giving the same instruction that he earlier gave in the Sermon on the Mount regarding cessation from worry and the seeking of the kingdom (Luke 12:22-31), Jesus tells his disciples, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Though entrance into the kingdom, unlike initial salvation, must be earned, do not fret, disciple of Jesus. God, the almighty, is on your side. He is working with you and for you. If your will is truly turned to him, he assures us that you will succeed! “Knock, and it will be opened to you...”
“In everything, therefore, whatever you wish for men to do to you, you do likewise, also to them...”
The word “therefore” (Greek: “οὖν”) in this verse must not be overlooked.
In Luke’s gospel this particular command, often called “the Golden Rule,” is found in what seems to be the more logical place: in connection with Jesus’ teaching concerning dealing with enemies (Luke 6:27-36). The natural tendency for men is to justify their own dealings with others by noticing how others treat them. Many moral teachers throughout history have noticed, similar to what Jesus says, that this kind of attitude will lead to nothing but escalating conflict and human suffering. It is far better to resist this natural urge and to treat people with mercy, the way one would like himself to be treated.
None of these other moral teachers, however, have ever taught the level of righteousness that Jesus did, much less have any been able to perfectly live in accordance with this teaching. While this so-called “Golden Rule” has been echoed in various forms by many moral teachers throughout history, Jesus’ placing it in conjunction with his commands to love enemies and to turn the other cheek puts his teaching into a class by itself.
In this section in Matthew’s gospel, however, Jesus places the command in a more unexpected place near the sermon’s conclusion. The placement in Luke’s gospel emphasizes the level of mercy that this teaching of Jesus demands. While men tend to treat others as they feel those others deserve, or in accordance with how those others have treated them, Jesus says that, regardless of the situation, his disciples are to treat others with the same level of mercy that they would want for themselves. In Matthew’s gospel, however, the location of the Golden rule provides it with a different emphasis. Here in the Sermon on the Mount, the point Jesus emphasizes is the means by which this level of mercy can actually be achieved.
Jesus is beginning the wrapping up of his sermon by informing his disciples how, exactly, they can expect to perform the level of righteousness that he is demanding. He tells them that they must “ask” for the Holy Spirit’s power, “seek” the righteousness and kingdom of God, and “knock” on the narrow gate of entrance into that kingdom. He concludes that three-fold admonition by saying that therefore they will be able to treat others with the level of mercy with which they would like to be treated.
Men are naturally very fickle creatures when it comes to their dealings with each other. In one moment a man may love his friend so much that he believes the friend can do no wrong. However, on the next day some minor offense might now be causing him to despise and distrust that same friend. When men treat each other based only on the flimsy whims of what their own senses of justice believe that the others deserve, tremendous chaos and suffering inevitably result.
However, there is one person that each man, regardless of who he is, always treats with the greatest sympathy and mercy. No matter the situation, he always takes this person’s side and desires the best outcome for him. This person that each man loves with an almost infinite mercy and grace is himself. How true are the words of the apostle Paul when he says in Ephesians 6:29, “No one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it.”
While we cannot really comprehend the infinite love and grace of God, we are able to understand our own almost-infinite concern for ourselves. Jesus has already commanded his disciples to mirror the perfect love of God (Matthew 5:44-48). Here he gives them the more down-to-earth, yet seemingly no less strict command to treat others, always, how they would want themselves to be treated.
As is all of the Jesus’ teaching, this is a command that absolutely requires the enabling power of God the Holy Spirit. This is why Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, states that obedience to this command is the result of obedience to his prior commands to ask, seek, and knock. That crucial word “therefore” at the beginning of the verse helps us to see that while Jesus’ teaching is in fact just as strict as its face-value appears to be, it is expected to be obeyed only as a result of the disciples’ reception of God’s gracious empowerment. Jesus demands nothing from us that he does not also give to us. Praise God!
“...For this is the Law and the Prophets.”
We started this section by looking at the proper understanding of the Mosaic Law. The Law was complete and without error, serving perfectly the purpose for which it was given.
However, when looking for a means of bringing about righteousness in men, the Law is exposed as ineffectual. The weakness of the Law was not in its content, but in the natural disposition of its hearers. Because the Law was given by God, the apostle Paul was able to say, “The Law is spiritual,” but the next phrase brings out the problem: “But I am fleshly, sold under sin!” (Romans 8:14) The Law did nothing to change this basic characteristic of those who were under it. Thus, its commands, rather than producing righteousness, produced more and more sin (Romans 7:7-9).
Jesus, on the other hand, does deal with this natural disposition of man. Romans chapters 6 and 7 go into great detail about the spiritual work that Jesus accomplished by his death and resurrection. By the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus’ disciples are able to be delivered from the power of sin which rendered them incapable of responding appropriately to many of the righteous commands of the Law. Therefore, while Moses could only give the command to be obeyed, Jesus is able to say, “Ask and the power to obey will be given to you!”
Paul makes this point in Romans 8:3 when he says, “God has done what the Law, weakened by the flesh, could not do, by sending his own Son...” But then in the next verse he goes on to make a surprising statement when he says that God did this “in order that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the spirit” (Romans 8:4). Just like Jesus did in Matthew 5:17, Paul wants to preclude the assumption that the righteousness of Christ is something antagonistic toward the commands of the Law. Paul had spent a great deal of time explaining the important advantage that Jesus has over the Law (Romans 1-7). Similarly Jesus spent a great deal of time earlier in the Sermon on the Mount contrasting what was written in the Law (“it was said...” – Matthew 5:21,27,31,33,38,43) with what he himself was then teaching his disciples (“but I say to you...” – Matthew 5:22,28,32,34,39,44). But both Jesus and Paul strove to make sure that all understood that the God they were serving was One and the same as the God who gave the Law, and thus the righteousness that they were teaching was in agreement with the righteousness taught in the Law; the differences only being the result of the different contextual situations into which they were given.
In 2 Timothy 3:16 Paul taught his closest fellow-worker that all scripture is useful for training in righteousness. Just because the situation is different now that the Christ has come, does not mean that the Law is discarded as useless. In fact, it is we who walk by the Spirit of God, now made available through Christ, who are able to actually fulfil the righteous demands of the Law. This was Paul’s point in Romans 8:4, and this is Jesus’ point here in Matthew 7:12. When asked what is the greatest commandment in the Law, Jesus said number one is “love the Lord your God...” and number two is “love your neighbor as yourself,” and on these two hang all the rest (Matthew 22:35-40). Similarly, here he says, “By asking for and walking by the Spirit’s power, you are able to treat others with the same mercy and grace that you desire for yourself. And in so doing, you will fulfill even all the righteousness that was demanded in the Law and Prophets.”
And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer. 29:13, NASB)
 “Good” in this passage is another example of the substantival adjective. Many translations will insert the word “things” to make the English sound more natural. I take the word “good” not simply to mean “good things” generally, but more specifically to mean that which is good for the asker (understanding that the word is plural in the Greek). He is saying that if you ask for the strength to obey, this is something “good” and God will not withhold it. ↑
 (Nee, The King and the Kingdom of Heaven, 1978, p. 71) ↑
 For an explanation of the superiority of Jesus’ teaching over other moral or religious teachers and their uses of the “Golden Rule” see Robert Govett’s commentary on the passage: (Govett, Sermon on the Mount, 1984, pp. 200, 201) ↑