Monday, January 25, 2016

Two Paths, One Choice

My Life Group lesson for Jan. 24, 2016, using Lifeway's "Explore the Bible" commentary as a guide ...

FIRST THOUGHTS

“Where do you want to eat?”

Who has had lengthy arguments about this question?

If that’s the hardest decision you have to make this week, then Hallelujah, am I right?!

What other simple choices can cause great debate?

Small but important debates might include: When to let your daughters get their ears pierced, wear makeup, go on dates … On a trip do you take the shortest route or the scenic route … Do you watch channel 3, 5, 13 or 24 for severe weather coverage? (Hopefully 13. Just sayin'.)

Of course, many daily alternatives may not matter greatly, since the consequences are not serious or long-lasting either way.

However, some choices matter greatly.

UNDERSTAND THE CONTEXT

Matthew 7:1-29

*** We've spent the past few weeks discussing Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount. This week we'll wrap it up.

*** Chapters 5 and 6 describe how we as Christians are supposed to act. The Beatitudes promised blessings on those who act according to His character. Jesus called for us to be salt and light to the world. Jesus called us to go above and beyond the law of the Old Testament and be more righteous than the hypocritical leaders. Jesus then provided a model for how we are to pray and fast with your heart in the right place.

*** Jesus ended his sermon with warnings for those who would build their lives on anything other than Jesus and His teachings.

NARROW VERSUS WIDE? (Matt. 7:13-14)

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. 14 How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it.

*** The road not taken.

--- We have the free will to choose between two paths. One leads to glory, one leads to damnation.

--- I don't know if Robert Frost meant to evoke Christian imagery in his poem "The Road Not Taken," but he was certainly onto something when he ended it with "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference."

--- Jesus is the only path to truth, so in his sermon He wanted people to understand where the alternative path leads.

--- When I leave work I have to go around a dozen different potholes on Highland Avenue, plus construction at the 40/240 flyover, but it's worth it because it leads me to the promised land of my wife and children (who may not run to the door in delight anymore but I'm glad to be home).

--- Likewise, the narrow path to the narrow gate of heaven may be rough, full of persecution, but it also brings joy and blessings.

--- People may be traveling the wide path without even really knowing. It's the natural path, appears to be more pleasant, without risk and all the cool people may be on it. How could so many people be wrong?

--- However, things are not always as they seem: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Prov. 14:12).

--- If you notice surveys they always seem to show a majority of the country considers themselves Christian (78 percent in a 2007 survey of 35,000 Americans), which means a lot of people have been fooled by Satan into thinking they’re on the correct path.

*** Question - What keeps people from choosing the narrow path?

Deuteronomy 11:26-28 provides an example of God’s desire for us to choose wisely: “Look, today I set before you a blessing and a curse: there will be a blessing, if you obey the commands of the Lord your God I am giving you today, and a curse, if you do not obey the commands of the Lord your God and you turn aside from the path I command you today by following other gods you have not known.”

GOOD VERSUS BAD? (Matt. 7:15-21)

15 Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. 16 You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So you’ll recognize them by their fruit. 21 Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father in heaven.

*** Don’t be a big faker.

--- Verses 13 and 14 dealt with salvation. In these verses Jesus deals with false prophets, those who claim to speak and work for God but aren’t, and those who have deceived themselves into thinking that they are on the right path.

--- These wolves in sheep’s clothing are dangerous because they work from within the church and among believers, speaking with a lot of influence.

--- God knows who the pretenders are, so it is a doomed strategy to pretend to follow Him.

--- As believers we have to be careful which teachers and preachers we allow to shape our lives.

*** Let your light shine.

--- We will recognize whether prophets or religious leaders are genuine by the fruit they produce.

--- Fruit in the New Testament is a metaphor for good works rooted in a life devoted to God.

--- The inner change that following Jesus brings is shown through our conduct in public. The way we act isn’t a path to salvation, but proof of it.

--- True believers still sin, but we should also be striving to be more like Jesus and to do His will.

*** Cut off from God.

--- It's going to be a rude awakening in the end days when many people who thought they were on the fast-track to heaven are turned away.

--- Jesus used this metaphor several times, such as John 15 when he said that branches that don't bear fruit would be cut off and thrown into the fire.

Jesus cursed the fig tree, so did He also curse the temple because it was not producing the fruit God intended—namely, to be a house of prayer for all nations (Matt. 21:12-13,18-19; Mark 11:12-17).

*** Question - How can you tell whether a Christian is producing fruit?

ROCK VERSUS SAND? (Matt. 7:24-27)

24 Therefore, everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them will be like a sensible man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain fell, the rivers rose, and the winds blew and pounded that house. Yet it didn’t collapse, because its foundation was on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of Mine and doesn’t act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 The rain fell, the rivers rose, the winds blew and pounded that house, and it collapsed. And its collapse was great!”

*** Two sets of Jones'.

--- Jesus compared the choice facing His hearers with the building of a house on sand or on rock.

--- In their day, they mostly lived in houses made of mud bricks and thatch roofs. Heavy rains and flash floods were pretty dangerous. If you didn’t build on solid rock then woosh! See ya!

--- Likewise, choosing to live your life on anything other than Jesus Christ and the Bible leads to disaster.

*** How we respond to Jesus’ teachings.

--- If we act on what Jesus has taught us correctly, then we’re building a solid foundation.

--- If we don’t act correctly, then it will be very apparent when the storms come.

--- What is a house but security from the outside? That’s why our spiritual security is not in our deeds but in Jesus.

*** Question – (Out of curiosity) Does anyone have a story about riding out a hurricane, a tornado or even just a really bad storm? What was the experience like? Did it matter what kind of building you were in?

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

Making choices is part of our everyday experience. While many choices don’t result in severe consequences, some choices matter greatly. Regarding spiritual choices, we have alternatives to Jesus. How we choose will determine our eternal destiny and the life we will experience. Today’s session was about making the choice to follow Christ every day.

*** Do you know anyone wrestling with an important choice? Is there something you can do to help them make the right choice that affects their eternal destiny?

*** Have you built your spiritual home on rock or on sand? Are you prepared for what comes your way?

*** Trusting Jesus is the only way to experience a real, fruitful and stable life. Any other way leads to destruction.

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